Barbarella
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If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere. — Frank A. Clark

The only burp so far on our maiden voyage to Montreal had been the poutine. As a foodie, David was eager to sample the famous Québécois dish of french fries smothered in chicken gravy and “squeaky” cheese curds. But it only took two bites for us to realize that, like a burrito from a 24-hour Mexican joint, such an improbable trinity of greasy glop should only be consumed after one’s ability to recite the alphabet has been wholly wrecked by alcohol. Still, aside from that little disappointment, the trip had been nothing short of perfect. David had planned the surprise excursion as a brief, exotic escape from my day-to-day. From first-class seats on United to a designer boutique hotel in Old Montreal, his plans had gone off without a hitch — even the sky remained clear despite forecasts of rain. So splendid and easy, it’s no wonder I never saw disaster coming.

David set the alarm for early Sunday morning, the day of our departure, so that we could have breakfast and check out at our leisure. We made it to the bus station with an hour to spare, so we established which gate was ours, grabbed a few beverages, and found seats nearby. When we noticed a fast-growing queue at our gate, we hustled to the end as other stragglers lined up behind us. There seemed to be more people than could fit on a bus, so David left me with the bags and went to investigate.

As he made his way back through the crowd, David’s face was a mask of indignation. “What is it?” I asked, once he was within hearing distance.

“Our bus left. They changed the schedule. Come on,” he said, already heading back to the front of the line. Surprised, but not overly concerned, I threw my messenger bag over my shoulder, grabbed my suitcase, and followed after him to a small room with a window and counter, behind which two pimply faced teenagers stood waiting.

“The schedule changes every month, you should have checked,” said one.

“It says right here on the ticket, 11:45,” snapped David.

“You’re supposed to get here an hour early anyway. We made an announcement,” said the other. “The bus left at 11. The next one is at 3:45.”

“We were an hour early,” I whined. Turning to David, I said, “We were here when it left, we were right here!” It hit me that if we had to wait until 3:45 to embark on the two-and-a-half-hour ride to the airport in Vermont, we would miss our plane; if we didn’t make it on the plane in Vermont, we’d never make our tight connection in Chicago; if we didn’t make that connection, we’d end up having to crash somewhere and wait until the following morning to return home. My heartbeat quickened, and I suddenly found it very hard to breathe. Then my self-control blew the escape hatch and I hurled a Tourette-like barrage of muttered obscenities at the floor. Infected by my behavior, David unloaded an uncharacteristic string of profanity.

Witnessing the emotional deterioration of my incessantly serene love snapped me out of hysteria. “Let’s take a taxi,” I said. David shook his head, saying that would cost a fortune. The taller teen suggested that if we took a taxi, we might catch the bus at the border crossing. I continued, “If we miss our planes, it’ll cost more to reschedule and get a room. Plus, we might lose our first-class seats.”

At the mention of losing our seats, the glaze of despair in David’s eyes disappeared, and he said, “We better hurry.”

Outside, we approached a line of taxis from the back; each driver directed us forward. The first guy in line didn’t speak English, so we asked the second driver — a compact man with graying, Super Mario–style hair and mustache — to take us. “No, no, this guy is good driver, you don’t worry,” he said, lifting our bags into the trunk of the first car. The monolingual driver — a tall, silent type who wore dark, second-day stubble on his face like a ski mask — seemed to agree with us that he was not the right guy for the job. Mario translated as we explained that we had to get to the border to catch a bus, but if we didn’t catch the bus, we needed to be taken all the way to Burlington. I could tell from the shaking of the tall man’s head and his pantomiming with his road map and wallet that he had no idea how to get to the border and that even if he made it that far, he did not have the necessary papers for entering the States.

I looked Mario in the eyes and said, “We might need to be taken to Burlington.” Mario pushed us into the car and said, “It’s fine, it’s fine, he take you, and if bus not there, we have taxis at border on other side. Don’t worry!” Our driver continued arguing with Mario, who then grabbed the map and jabbed at different spots as he spoke. In the backseat of the cab, David and I furrowed our brows at each other. This was not cool, but our options were limited. Just after our driver started the car, Mario leaned in through the front window, reached back, and slapped David hard on the arm. “Don’t worry!” he said. Then he slapped the driver’s arm, said something in French, and we lurched forward as the driver zoomed out of the lot.

Relying on his iPhone and five years of French classes, David directed the driver to the point of entry at which our bus was scheduled to stop. An hour and a half later, we learned of Mario’s first lie — our driver could not accept credit cards. A young checker at a duty-free shop directed us to the nearest ATM, a 20-minute drive away.

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Comments

pete78 Sept. 10, 2008 @ 5:16 p.m.

Sounds like a riproaring adventure. Remind me to tell you about the crack motel in the Tenderloin district in San Francisco that I almost stayed at sometime. It's a real hoot.

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Barbarella Fokos Sept. 10, 2008 @ 6:08 p.m.

Aren't all the motels in that area "crack motels?"

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MrBaseballsWife Sept. 12, 2008 @ 10:31 a.m.

Holy Mother of God, Jesus, Mary AND Joseph - what a complete and total nightmare...the cool thing though is now you forever have a helluva travel tale to share, your cocktail party conversations will never be the same!!

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MrBill Sept. 12, 2008 @ 1:04 p.m.

It is really nice to see that we frequently get what we earn.

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Barbarella Fokos Sept. 12, 2008 @ 1:25 p.m.

You definitely know how to look at the positive side, MrBaseballsWife! ;) I have to admit, as frustrating as it was in the moment, it is a fun experience to reflect on and share after the fact -- all the best adventures stem from something not going as planned.

As Mark Twain wrote in his original way of describing how we cannot truly appreciate the good without having endured the bad, "Do not undervalue the headache. While it is at its sharpest it seems a bad investment; but when relief begins, the unexpired remainder is worth $4 a minute."

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Barbarella Fokos Sept. 12, 2008 @ 1:25 p.m.

Ollie, if you add an "almighty" after that, you'll sound just like my mother. ;)

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a2zresource Sept. 13, 2008 @ 7:11 p.m.

Trips to foreign countries are almost always fun.

Decades ago, I recall more than a few trips south of Ensenada that were temporarily interrupted by people in combat boots, fatigues, OD helmet liners, and tiny Red Cross lapel pins, looking bored with their automatic weapons as they hit up my dad for a donation before letting us get back on the road. Eventually, we finally figured out that as long as we kept a little Red Cross sticker in the windshield and a few spare cases of beer in the back of the truck (dad never drank), we were OK yanquis...

It's really funny how back then, before there were a paved road south of Colonet, even Che Guevara Chicanos were considered yanquis if you went far enough south of the border, 'cause we smelled different than they did down there. Maybe it was those early hormones injected into American beef finding their way into our rolled tacos...

My last visit to the foreign nation of Tumwater was fantastic... a land of free beer! In water fountains!! After a few slugs of Hamms Dark, it was like we were on another planet...

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Kim Sept. 17, 2008 @ 4:57 p.m.

When living in the Mid-west there was a special resturant in the small town we lived in that had 'World Famous Hot Hamburgers" When you ordered a hamburger, they asked you - "Ya want that hot?", "Umm Yeah", You got a BIG plate and from the bottom up - bottom hamburger bun, hamburger, french fries. brown gravy (large glops there of) top bun to the side. Ack - no "sqeeky cheese" but ACK none the less.

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