The next in my series on “the invasion of Canada.” I hope you like it.
Part IV – The Allied Forces Stand Their Ground but Don’t Step on the Right Pedals
You can probably imagine what happened to me at this point. I tried to start the car, and it started. Yay! Then, it stalled. With nobody there to show me what to do, I had a hard time trying to get it to even move. It was jerky and kept bouncing around, doing odd dance routines and making unhappy noises. I was so busy trying to work the stick shift, I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going and almost took out poor Bob’s mailbox. The truck kept jerking, bumping, grinding, making odd noises, and the like, but I finally got it going a bit. My guess is, in hindsight, I probably found something, there in the snowy dark shadow of the Canadian border, that somewhat resembled something you might call “second gear.” Somehow, through luck, magic, or just me being a happy idiot, I started actually moving.
Luckily, I knew the roads and the route to the Canadian jail quite well (No, not for that reason. I had driven past it a few times, on my way to get Chinese food, silly.) In those parts, there are wide open roads, almost highways, with few traffic lights. There were mostly stop signs between Bob’s house and the border, which was a welcome relief. At such an odd time of night, nobody was on the road, so I could just sort of roll through the stop signs without actually slowing down. I was too afraid to hit the brakes, for fear I would stall again, and then have to figure out, there, in the middle of the cold, snowy empty road, how to start it (again.) I had to turn a few times, but I somehow managed that with surprisingly few issues. I think I did stall it a bit, but somehow managed to get it rolling again, with nobody the wiser.
The border itself is actually a large bridge that takes you over the river and onto the Canadian side. You don’t actually stop at the Canadian customs point until you’re on the other side of the bridge, actually in the city of Cornwall. Like most border crossings, it’s guarded. The Mounties man small stations, they look almost like little toll booths (you know the ones, they have a little gate that comes down? Yes, those.) They ask you questions or welcome your entry into Canada. There’s a larger, border “house” like structure, with a separate parking lot, off to the side, in case you need to go in and get inspected, fill out more complicated forms, or the like. The idea behind the whole setup is that you’re supposed to pull your car up to the little gate, stop, say, “Hello” to the nice Mountie police officer, he (or she) welcomes you into Canada, then you continue driving and be on your way.
Part V – The Invasion Begins
The trouble with all of that “theory” is that, well, I didn’t know how to drive the truck. Luckily for me, the nice Mountie was wearing a red jacket so I could spot him easily and he figured out pretty quickly that I really didn’t know what I was doing. Pulling up to the little gatehouse, I tried to slow the truck down a bit but, alas, as soon as I tried to step on the break, it stalled. I think he knew what was happening. He tilted his Mountie helmet and head in my general direction, noticed the truck had stalled, and raised the gate, probably so I wouldn’t hit it. He motioned for me to roll up to the normal stopping point. I tried to start the truck again, but it was dark, I was anxious about crossing the border, and I really had no clue how to drive a stick shift. The car made some odd sort of noises, didn’t move, and I started to look around to see what to do. I was trying to figure out if I should step on a pedal, change a gear lever, or do something else, when the truck suddenly jerked forward, lunging me clear across the border into Canada. I tried to stop it again, but it had lurched past the international border check point. Ah, yes, Canada, that sovereign nation to the north, our friendly neighbors, the last great white snowy hope between us and the north pole, I’m sorry to say, had just been invaded. The Mountie even sort of waved at me as I looked back at him and made a face that I’d hoped was the Canadian equivalent of, “Sorry, chap. I really didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t mean to invade your great land. I just pushed the wrong lever, stepped on the wrong pedal, or, you know, something like that, and now here I am.”
Being a smart Mountie, he grabbed a clipboard from the gatehouse and walked up to my truck, leaving me stalled, on the Canadian side of the border, in the snow, but not forced to try and throw the truck in reverse to repeat the fiasco of my earlier border crossing. He asked me a few questions.
Mountie: “Welcome to Canada. Most people stop at our border and let us wave them in. Are you having a bit of car trouble today?”
Me: “Sorry ’bout that. I would have stopped, you see, but this car is a stick shift and I don’t know how to drive…”
Mountie: “I noticed you popped the clutch back there…”
Me (trying to sound like I knew what I was doing): “Oh, yes, yes, the clutch.”
Mountie (laughing): “It’s the pedal down there on the left.” (Points to the floor.)
Me: “Oh that extra one. Right. I guess I’m supposed to step on that, before I try to do other things, huh?”
Mountie (laughing now): “Don’t worry. You’ll get the hang of it eventually.” (Pauses and looks down at clipboard.) “What is the purpose of your trip today?”
Now, this is normally an easy question, and one I had fielded many times before. I had routinely crossed the Canadian border while at school, and knew all of the ins and outs of going north. There was a popular restaurant that served as a wonderful cover for such a question, usually you could respond by saying something like, “I’m going to Jack Lee’s for dinner” and that would get you through. Not this time. This time, I was there at 3:30 in the morning, in a truck I could not really drive, with a hide-a-key, attempting to cross the border to bail some friends out of jail. I didn’t want to lie, but I couldn’t tell him the truth and expect to be let in, so I had to come up with something.
Part VI – Twenty Questions Continues
Me (thinking, “ok bailing my friends out of jail is not a good answer”): “I’m going to pick-up some friends.”
Mountie: “Pick them up? In your truck?”
Me (thinking, “oh great, I just told him I’m picking people up when it’s clear I don’t know how to drive this thing.”): “Yes, they are a bit…um…tied up at the moment and I thought I’d go pick them up.”
Mountie: “They are tied up? What are they doing?”
Me (thinking, “rotting in prison”): “Um….ah…well, you see they had a bit too much to drink and…”
Mountie: “Oh, so you’re going to drive up and get them, I see…What’s that on the seat next to you. Is that a package? Do you have anything to declare?”
Me (thinking, “Oh, that’s just bail money”): “That’s, um, just some money. I had just stopped at the cash machine when I got the call to come and get them.” (Yes, yes, I know. Most people routinely stop at the ATM at 3 o’clock in the morning but, hey, considering the circumstances, I was actually doing pretty good until this point.)
Mountie: “So you’re visiting from Michigan then?”
Me (thinking, “what? Huh? Who said anything about Michigan?”): “What? Michigan? I’ve never even been to Michigan before. What makes you think I’m visiting from Michigan? No, I’m from New York, not Michigan, and…”
Mountie: “Your license plate.” (Pauses) “It says Michigan.”
Me (thinking, “Oh, that’s right. Bob is from Michigan. I forgot. And this would be his truck. Oh great I’m busted now.”): “Um, yes, Michigan. It’s lovely this time of year.” (rolls eyes up towards freezing snow falling from the winter sky and thinks, “oh that just blew it.”)
Mountie: “I’m going to need to see your license and registration please.”
(to be continued.)
Next, I tell you what happens when I open up the glove box in the dark.
Until next time…