Land of the Taxidermist

patinoire at west edmonton mallI’ve driven through large swaths of Canada several times now—if I’d stitched them together they would pretty much connect the east and west coasts, except for the fact that I’ve never driven into Manitoba. That said, I have not driven in Canada much at all and for someone used to watching out for bands of small, white-tailed deer, Canada is a bit of a different game. In the way that junior varsity basketball players against NHL left wing players match up. Which is to say that they don’t.

In making the 14-hour trek to Edmonton, which, it turns out, was not a preferred activity for little blueberry/dragon, we plotted a course to Spokane and hung a right into the panhandle of Idaho, heading to the Bonner’s Ferry border crossing. This took us past the beautiful but somewhat frightening mountain range north of Coeur d’Alene and the infamous-to-us Disciple Way, which we’ve debated for years now regarding what lies at the end of it. My money says it’s a white supremacist camp. Susanne and her brother Kurt, who has come with us on both of our passes through this area, don’t disagree with me. Okay, so maybe it’s not much of a debate so much as a unanimous suspicion. But far be it for me to bring up how Congress operates.

Susanne has, over the years, prepped me for efficient, trouble-free border crossings. Her rules to me: 1. Just answer their questions; 2. Don’t embellish; 3. Don’t make jokes; and 4. No stories. Though I once drove into the frequent-crosser lane and got chewed out while on our way to Vancouver three years ago, I just nodded at the guard and she let us through. Usually it’s simpler than that, although we have been questioned for many minutes about a ziploc bag of cherries, and one time, coming back to the states from Victoria, we were nonconsentually subjected to the comic stylings of a US guard, for which we offered forced and quiet laughs. Susanne isn’t usually in a joking mood after having her retinas scanned for signs of terrorist activity, after all.

We pulled up to the border gate, looking at the disarray of it all—it’s under construction to meet Homeland Security’s new standards, or something, because we all know Canada is just that dangerous. With only one vehicle in front of us, we made our way to the window quickly, and I handed over our passports. This is when, I suppose, the agent’s suspicions were aroused. One Canadian citizen with permanent resident status, two American passports, and none of us with the same last name. Susanne isn’t even wearing her wedding ring these days because her hands have swelled up from the pregnancy.

Which brings me to…the pregnancy. Okay, I guess I can see how we looked a little sketchy. The car was piled with stuff, there was a dude in the back and a visibly pregnant woman in the front, with Mr. Semitic at the wheel.

I also need to mention that due to sheer coincidence plus a pinch of Pacific Northwest style, we were all wearing dark hoodies. So maybe I’d have given us a twice-over, too.

He asked the usual questions, which was fine, but then proceeded to ask more, seemingly unsatisfied with my responses.

“So what brings you to Canada today,” he asked.

“We’re here for a funeral,” I said. No smile, just answer. Check.

“I’m sorry but I need to ask, who’s funeral?”

“Their uncle passed away,” I said. I found this somewhat helpful information. Susanne interjected.

“I’m married to him and he’s my brother,” she said, figuring that the three last names was throwing him off.

We all looked at him as innocent as newborn lambs.

“Have you ever been before a judge,” he asked, looking only at Kurtis and me. I immediately thought of when I got married at the courthouse, but then calculated that this wasn’t what he had in mind, and anyway, there’s rule #4: No stories.

“No,” I said. I hoped I hadn’t thought about it too long.

“No felonies or convictions?” Again, this was posed only to the men in the car. Little miss sunshine here could have engineered the Enron scandal, but he wasn’t concerned about her. I suppose he was concerned for her. Maybe we were running her off to have her baby in a secret dungeon for sale to the wealthiest Labor Party official. No stories, no stories. No jokes.

“No sir.”

“Do you have any gifts?”

What did he think we were, the post-modern version of the Magi?

“No, no gifts.” Now I felt like an asshole, heading to a funeral without a little something from stateside. Thanks, checkpoint Charlie.

He let us through, presumably to pepper the next driver, who had been tailgating me for 80 miles, with unexpected questions.

As the light slowly faded around us, rather late in the day, I kept my eyes peeled for deer, and instead had to brake for four extremely large elk. We saw mountain goats on the cliffs around us, and passed a few signs warning us about big horn sheep. Oh, Canada. When we finally found our hotel—a real winner with a sign that only presented its name on one side but that boldly declared had the best wings in town—we were unsurprised to find a taxidermy sculpture of a badger and a cougar in the moment before confrontation. It was entitled, Suspicion.

Because every hotel guest should have a little motto to think about during their stay.

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Categories: driving, visiting


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