I left the hotel about 8am and headed north, coffee in hand. The drive was uneventful and slow, due to the high concentration of Washington state troopers out celebrating the holiday in the best way they knew how: penalizing drivers. I pulled off at the last exit before Canada to get gas, then went into the store to ask for the bathroom key. The guy behind the counter stared at me in confusion for a long time, then turned to ask the woman who had just walked in. I wondered what he was doing at the register, since he obviously didn’t work there. The woman pointed at the key hanging on a post. I grabbed it and ran behind the building. It didn’t work in the lock, and when I looked at it, I realized it was for the men’s room.
Just then, a busload of Japanese tourists was unloading in the parking lot, and lines were forming at by the bathrooms. I went over and opened the door to the men’s room, and turned to smile at the group of men, who were exclaiming in dismay. On the way out, I handed the key to the first guy in line, who was clearly upset.
I tried to get back on the highway, but there was no northbound entrance. I had to drive south for five miles, then turn around. Note to self: don’t leave the interstate if you have time goals in mind. I got to the border around 10:30am, and waited in line. There’s a big park there, where people get out of their cars and wander around, celebrating international peace and understanding, or something.
It took about 20 minutes to get across the border. The woman in the booth asked rapidfire questions: Where was I from? (I answered, ‘Minnesota’, which struck me as strange, since I always say ‘Minneapolis’.) Was I meeting anyone in Canada? Why was I visiting? What did I do ‘there in Minnesota’? Did I have any guns or weapons, eh? I stopped at the visitor center just inside the border and got brochures and huge postcards of the Canadian flag. At the information desk, I talked to the Friendliest Woman AliveTM, and tried not to giggle at her accent. I headed off towards Vancouver, which was 30 miles from the border. Since I am very easily amused, I was excited to be driving 100km/h. You may not know it, but the metric system is funny. Almost, but not quite, as funny as Canadians.
I make the mistake of following the signs pointing to downtown Vancouver and end up in local traffic for an hour. Vancouver has a huge Asian population, and the downtown looks more Japanese than western. There’s every kind of Asian food imaginable. I was hungry and in need of non-Starbucks coffee (the bluehouse guys had informed me that Vancouver had the best coffee in the universe). I finally found parking and wandered into Gastown. It’s the old part of the city, all cobblestones and restored storefronts. Too touristy, though; most of the shops are selling everything you could ever want, as long as what you want is emblazoned with a maple leaf.
I stopped at the Luna Cafe for a veggie sandwich and coffee. I peered at my friendly Canadian map, and decided to go see Chinatown. Within about five blocks, I crossed from cute, touristy area to crappy, dirty area with used condoms in the gutter, to Chinatown. It was not as exciting as I had expected, for a city with such a large Asian population; I was hoping for something on the order of New York. I decided to stop and see the the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, which came highly recommended by my friendly Canada brochure.
The gardens were beautiful, and it was the perfect day outside. The gift shop was even more perfect, and I bought a ton of souvenirs. I walked from Chinatown over to Harbour Center to go up to the lookout. It’s just like the Space Needle, only indoors, and Canadian.
I went up and peered at Vancouver from above. It’s a big city. It’s proud to be hosting the Olympics. There were cruise ships in the harbor, probably destined for Alaska. There was a floating Chevron station. I was pretty sure I was the only person in the lookout tower who spoke English, which was kind of cool. Apart from the super-nice girls at the coffee bar. I was starting to sense a trend: everyone there was incredibly nice. Like, too nice. But when you passed them on the street, they didn’t even make eye contact. Coming from what I figured was the least-outgoing place on earth, this was a surprise. People more reticent than Minnesotans? It was hard to believe.
I walked up Granville Street to Robson, and wandered around the swanky shopping area. There were great little boutiques, and good fashion. There’s a huge nouveau-punk scene in Vancouver. Also, people were dressed up to shop, which was a big surprise after the ultracasualness of Seattle (where they still take ‘grunge’ literally). There were a few places on my trip where I felt completely, glaringly out-of-place, and Vancouver was one of them. I cringed when I saw a group of American tourists walking around with flag tshirts on. I walked back to my car and drove over to Stanley Park, which was across the harbor from downtown. I took pictures and giggled at the lawn bowling club. Then I drove across the bridge into Kitsitano Beach, aka ‘Kits’, the trendy shopping/dining area. I was following my friendly Canadian restaurant guide to a vegetarian place called The Naam. I got the special, pea and paneer curry with mango chutney, and a protein shake. At that moment, I was pretty damn happy with Canada.
Back in the car post-dinner, I finally acknowledged that my brakes were completely shot, and in need of replacing. Not only was my car a safety hazard, it had become an embarrassment, squealing loudly every time I slowed down. I resolved to call the Saab dealership in Bellevue the next morning, and get the brakes done before I headed to Portland, even though I was worried that they’d tell me the entire car was about to fall apart, and needed 100% replacement. But I knew it had to be done. By 7pm, I was waiting in line to get back into America. The line was longer to return, and moved slower. My car was a perpetual noise machine, even though I tried really, really hard to ignore it.
I saw several people walking across the border. At first, I thought they were just going to pre-check their stuff through customs, but then I realized they were actually walking across. To where? There’s nothing on the other side. Just a whole lot of empty Washington. Very strange.
There was a guy walking up and down the line of cars with an ice cream cart. I was bored to death waiting, so I sat and messaged Heather, which was probably costing a ton. I propped my journal up on the steering wheel and wrote, slowly squealing my way towards the US. Finally, I got to the crossing. The guard asked me a few questions and peered at my license. He ended with, “Got any meat? Transporting mad cow disease or anything?” I replied, “I’m vegetarian!” He let me go. I drove like hell back to Seattle, getting back to my hotel just as I started to see fireworks on the horizon. I decided to skip the party at the bluehouse, since I was exhausted. I went up to my room, opened the curtains, and sat with my feet up on the windowsill, calling the parents while watching fireworks. They were going off in a hundred different locations along the mountains in the horizon. After I got off the phone, I started hearing huge explosions nearby, and seeing flashing from behind the building. I pulled on my jeans, grabbed my key, and went out into the hall, barefoot and braless (if I were to publish this as a book, I’d call it ‘Braless in Seattle’). At the end of the hall, there was a Japanese tourist couple and another guy who gave me his spot so he could go upstairs to watch. They were shooting fireworks from the roof of the mall across the street. It was incredible; I’d never seen fireworks up that close, or the actual process of firing them. The show went on for a long time, rattling windows and setting off car alarms. After a while, the couple went back to their room and I was left alone. I sat and pressed my back against the glass so I could feel the explosions. I could still see a bunch of other displays off in the distance, including Lake Washington and Puget Sound. They all seemed to reach their finales at once, so I got to witness this huge fireworks orgy over Seattle. It was kind of amazing.
I went back to my room, packed quickly, looked up the number for Saab, and went to sleep.
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random notes from my travel journal:
i’ve seen two celine dion lookalikes so far.
what’s with the blinking green semaphore?? so confused.
hey, canadians seem to be proud of their country, too. weird.
i like how they can slap a maple leaf on anything and make it canadian. sears! only canadian! ha.
did i get sunburnt today? my neck hurts. is it that obvious i’m american? apart from my accent?
ok, server boy is super cute and making much eye contact. he makes up for the other shy canadians. i’m going to leave him the rest of my canadian cash and head back to my country, which is busy celebrating itself today.
on the street downtown today, i heard someone behind me yelling my name. i almost turned and looked, then realized that no one could possibly know me here. it was such a strange sensation, knowing that i was 2000 miles from home, and absolutely anonymous. it made me sad to be so alone in a city in another country, for god’s sake.
heather just messaged that barry white died. holy shit, i’m never leaving america again if this is what happens. wait, shouldn’t those flags be at half-mast?
i almost freaked leaving vancouver when i saw a sign reading ‘seattle: 222’. then i realized that was km. ha. i’m bad with converting the metric. i bought a tshirt for $22 canadian. what’s that, like $15? when i bought postcards at the visitor center, i gave her $10 us and got $10+ canadian in change.
seattle radio, which comes in in vancouver as well: nirvana (1), alice in chains (2). stuck in the 90s.
man, it’s cool that there’s a turnaround in case you change your mind and decide to return to canada. i’m not. i’ve had enough ‘aboot’ for one day.
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