I quit my insurance job for another insurance job in Hartford, Conn. I packed everything I own into the Buick that my grampa left me—my beautiful big body Buick—and drove 100 miles deeper into New England.
My stock farewell for exes and departing friends has been, see you later. I like to imagine we will meet again, if the world requires it, if only at the resurrection of the dead. My last day at work didn't feel like anything more than the last day before a long vacation, from which I would inevitably return.
Quebec via Blandford
Between jobs, I went on a road trip to Quebec. I figured Quebec was the closest thing to a foreign country that I could get to for $100. Passing thru Blandford, Mass., I saw a foreboding sign warning of “Low Flying Planes”.
If you found yourself naked on the side of a highway in, say, the Adirondacks, what one item would you want with you? Your cell phone? Your wallet? A gun? Shoes?
In French Canada, Starbucks is called Café Starbucks. The detour sign says Détour. The deer sign is the same.
The hostel feels like a college dorm. It smells like a college dorm. I slept in a room with five damp Frenchmen. The steam from the attached shower completed our locker room. We mostly laid in the dark and looked at our respective smartphones.
Having quit drinking, there is an empty space in my life, and it's shaped like a pub crawl.
I spent the morning at the university library. I walked in the front door and found a seat in the study area. I was questioned by a security guard, but I just pretended to have forgotten my student ID and he relented. There was only one other person there, on a whole floor of long tables and dim cubicles—and he had probly just come in off the street too.
At a fancy vegan restaurant, I was given a ginger-root beet-juice drink by mistake. I took a sip, knowing it was a mistake, but suppressing this knowledge. I hoped it was somehow complementary or part of the tofu sandwich I had ordered, tho it was nowhere on the menu. The waitstaff discovered their error and suggested I pay for the drink, which I had by then drank. I complied, thinking it couldn't cost that much, and ended up spending 8,95 CAD on some thin red wet.
Downtown Montreal feels like a clean, depopulated Manhattan.
I stepped into a biblioteque anarchiste just to browse.
This city, like all cities, has been weaponized against transients.
I drove thru a brown landscape that reminded me more of Iowa than France. I was doing 120 in the 100km/h.
The old part of Quebec looks like Europe for someone who has never been to Europe, which I haven't. The facade of the buildings are kept as they were, but inside there are T-shirt shops. It's like Colonial Williamsburg without the pre-diabetic wheelwright going on about the Stamp Act.
I walked in from the rain to a cathedral—the oldest in America north of Mexico—and I took off my hat in a gesture of reverence. But it felt ridiculous. Why this reverence? For this so-called House-o-God, built by forced labor, on stolen land, with stone tore up out the ground, and gold leaf by way of Senegal, etc., etc.
In making monuments of the oldest settlements, we venerate scar tissue, while the new wounds still bleed.
At the border, I propped my door open to talk, since my window won't go down. The guy took the opportunity to shake it back and forth, I suppose to detect hidden contraband. Border guards are always suspicious when you are an American returning to America. (Only now do I wonder about my Fourth Amendment.)
They ask you basic questions like “Where do you live?” but in a pointed way, like they expect anyone other than an upright citizen to be unable to respond. And however commonplace the answer, they take it with exaggerated incredulity. I told him I was on vacation, and he goes “Alone?” with a little grin. I guess they want to rattle you, to see what falls out.
He looked at me hard and then at the row of cars behind and conceded to his gut's calculus. He was disappointed to let me go.