We had scheduled two days of skiing at Sugarbush Mountain in Vermont, but after an unfortunate skiing accident left Rhonda with an injured knee, we were in need of new plans for the next day. Montreal was only a two- or three-hour drive from Burlington and the idea of seeing a new big city was exciting. Plus, we would get to use the zero French we knew between to the two of us! Passports in hand, we hopped in our rented Nissan and set off for Canada. The scenic route held more interest for us than the interstate so we wound our way through Vermont and New York, along vast stretches of farmland with enormous wind turbines spinning peacefully in the distance.
At some point along the trip we pulled over next to a frozen lake to take some pictures. One thing led to another, and I ended up standing on the ice for some reason. Looking back, it’s tough to remember why it seemed like a reasonable idea at the time, but there I was. The ground was likely no more than a foot below the surface of the ice, but that didn’t stop me from hustling back to shore when the ice began to ominously crack beneath my feet. I think a life well-lived should have at a least a few unexplainable, silly little moments like that to reminisce about.
Our anticipation of seeing a new country was growing as roadside signs began to appear with both French and English, along with the foreign kilometer measurements. Because we were taking a lightly traveled road into Canada the border crossing was empty as we approached the guard building. Upon reaching the window, the border guard asked for our passports and the reason for our visit. His demeanor did not invite any extra conversation. This man was all business. After a few more questions he told us to pull the car into an open garage just inside Canadian territory and to wait there until they came out. We did as told and sat pondering what was going on. What could they want? Did we do something wrong? Why didn’t they just stamp our passports and send us on our way?
My nervousness increased as the minutes passed. I remember it as about fifteen minutes while Rhonda remembers it as forty-five. Whatever the length of time, it was unnerving. Eventually the same guard came out and asked me to step out of the car. Gulp. Again, I followed his orders. He asked me to take off my jacket and roll up the sleeves of my sweater. Despite the cold February weather, I probably began to sweat a little. As a consummate rule-follower, the idea of being questioned by the authorities made me scared. Especially since this was no longer my home country. Twenty feet south, the US taunted me by being so close and so far. The guard questioned me about any tattoos I had after showing him my ink-free forearms. After telling me to get back in the car he disappeared back inside the guard building.
More minutes pass. More nervousness. Eventually two guards come out and ask both of us to exit the vehicle. I explained that Rhonda was injured and needed help getting out and needed crutches from the back seat. The first guard told me to go stand in front of the hood while the second guard helped her out. They then proceeded to search the entire car. They went through the glove box, center console, looked under the seats with flashlights and then popped the trunk. Internally I was freaking out wondering about who had rented the car before us. Had a previous renter used the car for a drug deal and accidentally dropped some under a seat? Probably a little unreasonably, I began to picture horrible outcomes. And then it was over. The guard handed our passports back and told us we could go. There was no explanation or apology. We were left to forever wonder why. Back in the car, Rhonda looked at the passports and noticed we didn’t get a stamp. She was disappointed and told me I should go ask the guard for a stamp to add to our collection. Heck no! On to Montreal!