Toronto was, of course, magnificent. If I had to pick a city other than Buffalo to call home, that would probably be the one. We went to the St. Lawrence Market first, for some shopping and lunch. That place is staggeringly cool and I wish I'd known to go there years ago: two levels of food and art vendors, street musicians, craftsmen, and just general amazement abounded. From there it was off to Casa Loma, another Toronto tourist landmark that is nevertheless a great place to visit; we passed a couple hours there before heading farther north to the Yorkdale Mall, where the Rainforest Cafe resides. We love the Rainforest Cafe. Not because the food's any better than any other chain theme joint, because it isn't, but because the decor is so inherently cool. Yeah, it's overpriced claptrap. Sue me.
Then it was off to find a hotel, and we ended up at a place outside St. Catherines, Ontario, that had formerly been a Days Inn but was no longer a Days Inn despite still having the Days Inn logo on the ice buckets. (And no cable TV, either -- what the hell kind of hotel doesn't have cable?!) Sunday it was off to the Falls, for lots of oohing and aahing and picture-taking on our new camera (I'll get 'em on Flickr sometime later this week), and then at about 12:30 we left the Falls for the Lewiston Bridge back to the US, and then home.
The Lewiston Bridge was backed up. Badly. We rolled to a stop about 1.5 KM short of the bridge itself, whereupon we spent the next three hours slowly inching forward, closer and closer to the bridge, then over the bridge, and finally to the Customs checkpoint into the US.
Three hours. About two miles total distance. I am not making this up: minutes after we first braked to a complete stop, I tuned in the radio to hear the kickoff of the Bills game. Ryan Lindell's game-winning field goal, kicked as the last three seconds of the fourth quarter expired, split the uprights when we were still four cars shy of our customs inspection. This was a combination of the heaviest border traffic I've ever seen (holiday weekend, duh) and customs checks that seemed to be averaging about five minutes per vehicle.
When it was our turn, the agent demanded our identification, which we provided (our drivers' licenses, and The Daughter's birth certificate). First I had to explain why the address on my license doesn't match the address on The Wife's (The Wife has renewed her license since we've lived in our current home, where I haven't, since my license doesn't expire until 2009). Then I had to explain that no, the vehicle we were driving wasn't registered in my name (it was my parents' minivan). Then I had to explain why we had my parents' minivan (we borrowed it while The Wife's car is in the shop getting repaired after a fender-bender). Then I had to explain why we just didn't take my car for our trip (overnight trip with family: 2003 minivan versus 1994 Plymouth Acclaim -- a tough decision, that).
And we were just getting started:
AGENT: Where do you work?
ME: I work for ______. (naming The Store)
AGENT: And what kind of business is that?
ME: It's a grocery store.
[Clearly an attempt to suss out falsity on my part; no way anybody lives and works in this area but doesn't know the name of one of the two big grocery chains in this area.]
AGENT: When did you cross into Canada?
ME: Yesterday morning.
AGENT: Where did you cross?
ME: The Peace Bridge.
AGENT: Where did you go in Canada?
ME: We went to Toronto to do some sightseeing.
AGENT: And what was the purpose of your trip?
ME: [a tad confused since I've just indicated the answer to this] We went sightseeing, at the St. Lawrence Market and Casa Loma and the Falls.
AGENT: The Falls aren't in Toronto.
ME: [Huh?!] Well, they were on the way home.
AGENT: How did you get this van from your parents?
ME: They drove it up for us.
AGENT: From where?
ME: They live in ______. [naming the Southern Tier town in which they live]
AGENT: And how did they get home?
ME: Well, they drove up in two cars and then returned in one.
AGENT: That sounds like a lot of driving. Are they retired?
ME: My mother is. My father teaches at ______. [naming his college]
AGENT: Hmmmm. Are you bringing any food back into the US?
ME: Just some candy we bought for our daughter.
AGENT: What kind?
ME: Licorice and Gummi Bears.
[Thank f***ing God she didn't point out that both of those things are available stateside. Also thank God she didn't ask me to specifically name the St. Catherines hotel at which we stayed, because I can't remember it for the life of me. They only had one sign, and it faces Toronto-bound traffic, not St. Catherines-bound traffic like us.]
AGENT: Shut off your vehicle and give me the keys.
[I comply. Agent goes to the back of the van, pops the back, and starts looking through our two small suitcases.]
AGENT: When did you enter Canada?
ME: Yesterday morning.
ME: The Peace Bridge.
[Clearly an attempt to see if my story is changing. Either that or she's got the worst memory of any person working for Customs.]
AGENT: Where are your daughter's clothes?
ME: They're right there in the same suitcase.
AGENT: There are only three sets of clothes here.
ME: That's right.
AGENT: Whose jeans are these?
ME: [What the f***?!] Ummm, they're either mine or my wife's. [I couldn't see the jeans in question.]
AGENT: Seems like you're packing kind of light.
ME: We only stayed one night. [by some miracle I avoid saying something like, "How many f***ing clothes do you think we f***ing need for one f***ing night in a hotel, you over-officious jerk?!"]
AGENT: Do you have any other luggage?
ME: I have my bookbag here.
[Nevertheless the Agent doesn't show any interest at all in my bookbag. Instead she rifles through our insulated drink carrier bag and randomly taps on the walls of the van on the inside, looking I guess for the secret compartments which I use to conceal myself when I am infiltrating Imperial battle stations. Then she closes up the van, returns to her little booth, gazes at the licenses some more. Then she hands me the IDs and the keys back. I look at her. She looks at me. I look at her. She looks at me. I am terrified of speaking one more syllable in her presence, but the silence finally becomes too awkward....]
ME: Are we OK?
AGENT: Have a nice day.
ME: Thank you.
[I can't roll that window up fast enough, nor can I start the van or get the hell out of there fast enough. I'd been about to ask her if she knew of a nearby place where I could exchange the $45.00 in Canadian money I still have in my wallet, but decide against it. I'll figure that out another day. I pulled away, thanking God for getting us through without being ordered to pull over to where they really inspect your vehicle.]
I know, I know -- this is life in America after 9-11, we can't be too careful, yada yada yada. But I'm getting awfully tired of being made to feel guilty for exercising those freedom things we tell ourselves we hold dear. If nothing else, surely the agents can do their jobs without sending a clear message "Yeah, you'd better think twice before leaving the country ever again, jerk-off. You can spend your money right here."
Anyway, the experience with the Customs Agent made me completely forget why it might not be so good an idea to take the route home that passed closest to Ralph Wilson Stadium, where an NFL game had let out just ninety minutes before. Oops.
And in the "It could always be worse" department, it certainly can: while inching our way across the Lewiston Bridge, we had to change lanes to go around some poor slob whose car actually broke down at the exact middle of the Bridge. That had to suck.