Border Bliz

12 10 2013

My first visit to Canada almost did not happen. It gave me pause, literally.

Still in Seattle celebrating the end to a four-month long and arduous government contract, I decided to take a trip and see what our neighbors to the north were like. Ryan had to work so I was on my own. He recommended taking this “bullet bus” that cost just 20 bucks, but I stubbornly ignored him, intent on purchasing my fare from the Amtrak Station. It took a couple buses to get there as the station was located near the NFL football stadium and, by chance, there was a game that day. Seattle has a good team this year. The Seahawks they are called.

Of course it was raining.

The station was elegantly designed and the Amtrak tellers sharply dressed in their vests and ties. I showed the Ginger behind the window my passport and bought a one-way ticket to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. As we waited, the rain continued to fall and Seahawks fans filled the terminal. Leaving around midday meant that I would not be taking a train, but rather a bus. I quickly made friends with the driver.

“Is there a bar on this thing?” I asked.

“You’ve had enough,” he shot back with a grin. The driver had a stomach that overhung his belt. It looked like blubber. He also chain-smoked. But he would ultimately come to my aid. The bus didn’t even display the company markings of Amtrak — “Cantrail,” it read on the side in big green letters. It was about half full of Canadians and Americans. As we left, the crowd from neighboring Century Link Field roared with the excitement of the Seahawks doing battle against the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars.

“What’s that sound?,” one young lady asked, oblivious to the sports world.

I sat near the back, wearing Levi blue jeans, a white and tan plaid shirt, my trusty Columbia hiking boots and Yellowstone ball cap. I had just my black hiking backpack with me. Someone on a previous trip had even left a copy of the Vancouver Weekly in the seat so I perused it while filling out customs form. The entertainment ads were quite impressive. Everything was perfect.

And then we stopped at the border.

Everyone had to get off the bus and go through a border “security” line. Posted directions were in English and French. The first border patrol officer, in his 40s, tall and resembling an Indian, perhaps, with dark black hair and brown complexion, asked me where I was going. “Vancouver,” I responded. He looked at my passport and asked me who I was going to see. “Friends,” I responded.

“How did you meet these friends,” the officer asked.

“On the internet,” I replied.

“What website?,” the officer asked.

And without thinking … “Instagram,” I replied.

This answer prompted him to send me into the office behind him, while everyone else on the bus was allowed to exit stage left and reboard. The next border patrol officer, from behind a counter, stood up to greet me as soon as I walked in — asking my occupation, who I worked for and what I was doing in Canada. I explained I had recently finished an assignment in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and was traveling on vacation and while I was a freelance journalist, I had no itinerary and, more troubling to him, no hotel reservations.

“All this sounds suspicious,” the officer said. He was younger than the first guard and had much more of a dominant attitude. Caucasian, 6-foot-5, blond buzz cut. He didn’t like me. “Give me the address of where your friends live,” he continued.

I didn’t have it.

Frustrated, the Canadian pressed forward.

“What kind of articles do you write?”

“Travel and adventure,” I replied. And this was certainly turning into just that. The officer, dressed in cobalt fatigues with the name “Anderson” etched across his left chest, continued his questioning as the rest of my fellow travelers sat on the bus waiting.

“I can’t believe you don’t have a address or a hotel reservation. Do you have a ticket back to Florida?”

I did, but I did not have a way of showing him. My I-phone was jammed. No signal. Now, I felt he was clearly playing games. He made it clear that he did not want me to overstay my welcome and enroll for Canada’s “social services.” I told him we had this issue in America and I assured him this would not happen. I then complained that I had recently traveled to Italy and getting in was not nearly like this.

“Yeah, well, Europe has a lot more lax standards,” he said.

The interrogation would continue.


Seattle First Report

22 09 2013

I’m in Seattle. Gloomy clouds linger over the skyline. I have a perfect view from my friend’s flat in Capitol Hill. Ryan and I are former colleagues in journalism from my time in the Florida panhandle. Ryan did four years. I stupidly stayed 10. Glad to be reunited in Seattle. This is my first visit and the city is quite amazing, its terrain much like that of the hilly layout found in West Coast neighbor San Francisco. I have had no problem hiking this concrete jungle, rarely getting winded. Yellowstone has prepared me well.

Ryan has been taking me to some of Seattle’s unique nightclubs and already I have encountered interesting characters. The Queer community here is strong and appears to be well organized. Ryan usually spots a friendly face. I have experienced similar reactions during my daily patrols of the city. People here seem to strive to be nice. I have seen quite a few gestures of kindness and goodwill toward fellow man. While waiting for Ryan to finish work at a smoothie shop in Queen Anne (the rich neighbourhood) I saw this eldery man attempt to drive his vehicle the wrong way on a one-way street. He didn’t get too far. Thankfully. Another man came off the sidewalk, hands waving and yelling for the car to “Stop!”  It did, thankfully,  without incident and was able to turn around and continue on.

Walking in the city has been my mode of transportation. I am reminded of how Stephen Ambrose described Merriweather Lewis as a good explorer, writing that he had “long legs” which allowed him to cover much ground in one day. While not near the level of Lewis’ Oregon Trail journey, my time here is one of discovery nevertheless. My dear Ann is in Chicago, staying at a hostel at last word. I pleaded with her not to go to the south side where there is so much violence and death reported. She probably thinks I’m being an overcautious daddy. She might be right.

I have perused the Pike’s public market these last two days. Fresh fruit, chocolate, cheese and fish in abundance. From the docks you can take a scenic cruise into the bay or beyond with a chance of seeing whales. Everyone here seems happy. It is quite touristy, but the workers do a good job of entertaining. An old hippie playing a wooden piano in the center of the market earns a good living. Music is a major part of Seattle. While still a baby compared to its European contemporaries, Barcelona and Krakow, perhaps, Seattle is definitely an emerging travel destination. Rooted in a grungy style of rock & roll with favorite sons such as Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix, Seattle, certainly, has its place in sound. So far I have only experienced those talents of a record dee-jay although I hope to see a band perform soon.

Despite its socialist tendencies, Seattle does require money to live in as I’m finding out. Ryan works two jobs and lives in a fabulous neighborhood, neatly mixed with brick apartment complexes and wooden row houses. The locals call it Capitol Hill or “The Hill” for short. There are pretty coffee shops and retail shopping nearby as well as that big bank bastard BofA. I like the bus stop just a few blocks down le rue. Lots of cultures here as one bus ride will tell you and it takes a true talent to drive one of those things up and down some of these hills. On my ride down to the Space Needle our driver must have thrown at least five people off the bus. Just by his driving alone. He looked like a crazy mad scientist type, just back from resurrecting Frankenstein.

Gotta go. Write later.

Pike's Place

Pike’s Place