Red Leather Shoes, A Red Rental Car, and an Unplanned Road Trip Across Canada
How is that for a title?
From my last post you learned that I was in Montreal. I spoke volumes about how much I love Quebec. We spent five wonderful days in Montreal. The food was amazing, the people are colourful, and the vibe of the city suits me well. I know it is a good trip when I find a pair of red shoes that I MUST have. This was indeed one of those trips. A loquacious salesman on St. Catherines assisted me in purchasing the most beautiful red leather shoes, hand made in Bosnia-Herzegovnia.
It was the day before we were to fly home to Kelowna, and we were soaking in the city. We went out to a Tibetan restaurant with good friends and drank wine, told stories, laughed, loved, and cried. My partner and I went home that night, satisfied that we had painted the town “red” and we were ready to leave.
The alarm clock went off, rudely, at 6:05 AM. We dragged ourselves from slumber and tried to shake ourselves into the reality of heading home and plugging back into life. We didn’t talk much but rather pointed and grunted as we loaded suitcases and tried to make the room look a little less Bohemian. We schlepped the cases down to the street and hailed a cab to the airport. Being somebody who once suffered a panic attack just before a plane was to push back, I now know what to do to make my journey less stressful. I arrive long before my departure time, I prophylactically take an Ativan, I always take an aisle seat, and I do my deep breathing.
We arrived on time at the Montreal airport, checked our bags, passed though security – all without a hitch. We even found time for a quick bite of breakfast. While waiting at gate A 50, that old feeling started to inexplicably creep up. I quickly swallowed an Ativan. These pills take about 30 minutes to reach peak effectiveness – right about the time we were to board. We waited until everyone else had passed through the gate before being funneled like cattle into the jetway. Why do they make people stand in line, only to make them wait in line in the jetway and then stand in the airless tube (aka jet)? Of course, it is that cheap bugger who refused to pay to check their “carry on” and is now trying to stuff a bag large enough to smuggle a horse into the overhead compartment!
We finally took our seats but I could feel that the Ativan was not doing what I had hoped it would. I took another. Then, just before they armed the door, I told my partner, “I gotta go!” This time, unlike the last time this happened, she followed me. We got to the front of the plane and I said to the attendant, “I have to get off the plane – I am having a panic attack”. He looked at me and said, “well you can’t just leave!” This was the start off a humiliating and embarrassing experience. The attendant talked to the pilots who rolled their eyes at my excuse for needing to “de-plane”. The attendant then radioed to the person at the gate who came down the jetway to shake his head at me and look into the air as if to say “what an idiot”. He then radioed to the ground crew to pull our bags. We were then, very unceremoniously, marched back to gate and made to sit while more calls were made to managers and more insults and disappointing stares were directed at me.
I sat helplessly at Gate A 50 while they decided what to do with me. They told me I could not fly with Air Canada again until I was “medically cleared”. I was officially on their “do not fly list!” Knowing I could not find time to see a doctor in Montreal to get paperwork signed in time to fly that day, my partner and I considered, our very few options. One of us needed to get home as our kids were to be picked up from school. I could not risk flying with another airline as it wasn’t looking like I was going to feel less anxious now! I looked into a train ride home but that is not exactly convenient and still takes days. My only option…rent a car and drive from Montreal to Kelowna, B.C. – 4,643.00 kilometers!
I was still numb – partially due to the fact that the Ativan was FINALLY working and due to the fact that I had decided to drive home as fast as I could, by myself. I love driving but my chariots back home are two, red (of course), Volkswagen vans and I am not used to driving for more than 4 hours a day! My partner was confirmed to take a later flight back home. She has a couple of hours before her flight so she accompanied me while I went to rent my car. She was vital to this process too as she saved us $400.00 in rental charges! Finally the deal was done and we were escorted out to look over my ride. It was, of course, a red, little economy car. While I loved the colour, I was a bit scared of its diminutive stature. I was going to be on the Trans Canada highway for 4, 643.00 kilometers; I was hoping for something a little more robust looking.
I loaded the suitcases in the little red wagon and with tears in my eyes and a heavy heart, I said goodbye to my partner. I told her that I planned to make the drive in 2.5 days. She looked at me with some fear as she knew I would make it or die trying. I pulled out of the airport parking lot feeling shattered. Why was this happening to me? I used to love flying! What happened? I hoped that the drive would perhaps answer some of these questions. I had always wanted to drive across Canada but I thought it would be different. I thought myself, and my partner, and our kids would take a month and toodle across and site see and really immerse ourselves in Canadiana. This would not be that kind of trip.
I will spare you all the details of the drive but I will tell you that I did make the trip in 2.5 days. I drove 12 hours the first, half-day, seventeen hours the next day, and another seventeen the final day. I was completely alone for most of the drive. I only stopped for a sleep at two motels and of course for coffee and food. I consumed approximately 20 cups of the most wretched gas station coffee and ate approximately 6 hoagies. I drank Gatorade as my “health food”. It turned out that the empty Gatorade container was useful when stuck on the freeway outside of Toronto when nature called.
During the drive I experienced snow, freezing rain, beautiful prairie skies, dense fog, amazing sunsets, and stunning scenery. I am profoundly grateful for CBC radio! The programming on the CBC helped me make it through some really lonely stretches.
As I promised my partner, I arrived home at 10:00 PM on Saturday night. Before the taxi driver was to take me home, I asked for a quick stop. I dashed into the local Cold Beer and Wine store and bought myself some Molson Canadian beer. Normally, I would buy some snobby micro-brew, but tonight this all-Canadian beer seemed fitting. I arrived home, never more happy to see my family. I wept as my partner and I embraced. I carried my Molson Canadian into the kitchen like a hunter bringing home the kill. I twisted off the cap, took a long swig, wiped my mouth and smiled. I was home. I am safe. I am loved and I am a proud Canadian.