There’s no easy way to get into the USA these days. Even as a US citizen. Even from Canada, which does its utmost to expedite the process of getting rid of us by importing and housing large flocks of US Customs officials at its airports and other gateways.
We had done our best to find a pleasant way of fleeing the Polite North by booking on the high-speed Victoria Clipper for a three hour ferry ride to downtown Seattle. After walking a mile to the wharf with our wheelie bags noisily jostling behind, I was disappointed to find the customs line-up started a hundred meters outside the building before snaking another hundred inside. At least it was a pleasant and sunny day. Standing in the rain would have sucked. Continue reading 16. Planet Rosehip
Months ago, not long after I was advised of my mother’s death – I think it was about twenty seconds – I did a rough calculation of the dollar amount I stood to inherit. Scottish heritage, don’t you know. It wasn’t a huge amount, nevertheless it was a something of a windfall since her mother lived to the age of a gazillion. Gramma left her estate nearly penniless, having squandered her dwindling fortune on life. I had expected nothing more or less from Mom.
After Mom’s funeral, I was feeling flush, as well as grateful to the friend who had put us up for several days. In thanks, I offered to buy him and his extended family dinner at a local restaurant named Brine on State Street in Newburyport. We sat down and started ordering “flights” of geographically diverse oysters. Even those from Long Island Sound were tasty and did not kill us. Yet, anyway.
A lovely time was had by all, the food was great, the service better. The check came to eight hundred dollars, which is quite reasonable for seven people at a fancy restaurant. Nevertheless, it represented a couple percent of my inheritance. Realizing that if I did this fifty more times, well, “poof”, Ma might as well have lived another twenty years, I reviewed the bill carefully.
I had spent over four hundred dollars on oysters. Continue reading 15. Inspiring Victoria
Ah, Vancouver. At once hip and conformist, flakey and staid. For years Vancouver has jousted with my home town, Melbourne, for the ill-defined and less understood title of “Most Liveable City”. One could be forgiven for concluding that a city’s “liveability” requires it to have exorbitant housing costs, one of many traits Melbourne and Vancouver share. (Note that San Francisco is often the USA’s “Most Liveable City”.)
Melbourne has won the worldwide title five years running, while Vancouver is has faded a tad, recently yielding its runner-up position to Vienna. Nothing is more certain than change, which dictates that Melbourne and Vancouver can only grow less livable, at least in relative terms.
We found ourselves visiting with Lauren and Peter in their uber-efficient one bedroom apartment smack dab in the middle of downtown Vancouver. Yes, the same Lauren and Peter we had seen married only days earlier on the prairies of Alberta. We were going to skip Vancouver, but then realized that we hadn’t actually spent any time with Lauren, despite having spent four days at her “wedding that kept on giving”. For a couple that had just written, directed, produced, cast, starred in, built the sets, promoted, and swept the theatre for an eighty-four hour production, they were remarkably well rested and relaxed. Our overnight stay did not appear to disrupt their honeymoon in the least. To be sure, honeymoons aren’t what they used to be.
Continue reading 14. A Stopover and a Popover
I forgot to mention that in addition to visiting seven wineries and a cheese maker, the wine tour also included a stop to pick up some fruit. The Okanagan has been cranking out a lot of this fruit stuff for a long time. In fact, the vineyards are the johnny-come-latelies. Most of our crew raved about the peaches, which had come in early due to the unusually early, long and hot summer.
I’m something of an apple man – the fruit more so than the computer – so I was impressed by the apple orchards with trees “trained” to grow into perfect rectangles only as high as a person can reach, and in neat rows to boot. These tactics, developed by the Canadian government’s farm scientists, result in reducing the farmers harvesting costs considerably while increasing output substantially. All this with bits of string, wire, and pruning, producing a mind-boggling wide variety of apples, many of which I had never heard of. Pretty cool. Continue reading 13. Fire Mountain
Things got off to an upbeat start. Matt from Experience Wine Tours picked us at eight-thirty, right on time. The van quickly filled up with ten paying customers in surprising comfort. Matt drove us off towards the Naramata Bench, a fertile hillside that slopes from a clifftop rising from Okanagan Lake, an hour south of Kelowna. Our new companions were a reasonable crew, friendly but not intrusive, interested in wine but neither snobby nor obsessed. These are important attributes for folks with whom I would spend seven hours in a van.
As were headed down the lakeshore Matt gave sparse but informative commentary, a relief since over-talkative tour guides can be most irritating. On the contrary, Matt had us introduce ourselves – something many a second-rate tour guide will neglect to do – and asked almost as many questions as he answered.
A column of smoke marked another wildfire in the forest not far from our destination. For the rest of the day, lake water-skimming tanker planes flew low overhead on their way to pick up and dump huge quantities of water on the blaze, a dangerous business.
Today, though, was all about the wine. I had looked forward to this day more than any other we had planned. To start at the end, I will say I was not disappointed – to the contrary, the tour surpassed my expectations. [For those readers amongst of you who complain that I complain too much, nyaah.]
Continue reading 12. Wine Whine
I enjoy anticipation. As one who depends almost entirely on intuition to guide my life, I am rather good at “regarding a future as probable; expecting or predicting”. Which is not to say that I am ever right about it. On the contrary, I enjoy anticipation because the reality that follows is almost always a disappointment. Nevertheless I find anticipation far preferable to anxiety, which unhelpfully demands the acknowledgement of uncertainty.
In anticipation of stunning views over the Canadian Rockies, I giddily demanded a window seat for the hour-long flight from Calgary to Kelowna. Predictably – although not predicted by me – the Rockies were entirely shrouded in clouds, providing the reality of a rather dull and cramped flight. Continue reading 11. My Kelowna
Late in the planning of this trip the decision was made to spend a night in Calgary rather than another in Airdrie. A good thing, too. The wedding that kept on giving had finally stopped giving, and even with that considerable three day diversion, we had seen and done everything there was to be seen or done in Airdrie three days earlier.
Our Montrealler friend Daisy, who also had persevered the pleasures of recent events, would be joining our travels for the next week or so. The three of us squeezed our considerable baggage into the car of a mutual friend who kindly drove us the 40 minutes to our AirBnB.com accommodation in Calgary.
My first AirBnb experience (earlier in the week in Edmonton) was a good one, preferable in many respects to a hotel, particularly in offering a glimpse of what it might be like to live in the neighbourhood. Other than a treadmill in the living room and an overly soft pillow-top mattress cover, everything was as expected. Which is to say it was less disappointing than I usually find hotels.
Having come directly from the wedding recovery breakfast, we arrived at the Calgary AirBnB apartment well before the usual check-in time. The owners, a young Chinese couple, permitted us to drop off our bags before we headed out. They were hard at work cleaning the place, and with the house rules requiring us to remove our shoes before entering, we had a favourable impression that cleanliness was important to them. Continue reading 10. Deconstructing Calgary
Sitting crossed-legged in the entry way of a closed bank on Jasper Avenue, Edmonton’s premier boulevard, the scruffy busker strummed his guitar, smiling hopefully at a passing businessman.
“…And the Colorado rocky mountain high, I’ve seen it rainin’ fire in the sky…”
The businessman apparently had not, continuing on his way without a glance at the busker. The music ended abruptly, the busker bellowing “What is wrong with the goddam fucking people in this town? You’re all assholes!” Then the busker started singing again.
“You can talk to God and listen to the casual reply, rocky mountain high, hi, hi, lo, lo…”
A young woman passed. “You bitch! You’re a fucking bitch!” he blurted, then picking up where he had left off once again.
“Now his life is full of wonder but his heart still knows some fear…”
My seventh campaign pledge: The Smiling Kodiak administration will provide mental health services to any busker that expects tips for singing John Denver tunes.
Continue reading 09. Prairie Singers
Arrival in Edmonton marked my first experience with AirBnB.com accommodation. While I have rented many apartments from web-based services in the past, AirBnB has emerged as the dominant force in the market. It is having effects on the hospitality industry not unlike those Uber is having on the taxi industry. The benefit of the AirBnB arrangement is a higher quality product delivered at less cost – in this case a fully furnished and equipped apartment for $150 per night, versus a cramped hotel room for $250 a night. The cost is that one bears the risk of a substandard experience, with limited recourse.
Or worse. I recently overheard a group exchanging their fears of AirBnB: fraud, robbery, peeping video cameras, sexual assault in the night, even kidnapping and murder. Yikes. Continue reading 08. Edmonton? Why?
The Canadian customs official was a pleasant but sturdy black woman in her early thirties. She seemed happy to see us, as the remote border crossing between Vermont and Quebec was otherwise quiet. She approached the passenger side of the car, motioning us to roll down the windows. “Passports, please. Purpose of visit?”
My sister-in-law handed over four US Passports. “Niece’s wedding in Kingston.”
“Are you bringing any gifts? Guns?”
Canadian customs pretty much assume every American has a gun and is unaware that Canada has laws about such things.
The customs officer looked sceptical. But we were on the level. Each of us had contributed cash to the newlyweds’ house fund, and I think I was the only one of us to have ever fired a gun, much less travelled with one.
“Beer, wine or liquor?”
She had us there. “Um, yes, half a case of wine, six bottles, in the back.” Continue reading 07. My Canadian Family