Once again, to celebrate Linda’s birthday, we have arrived in Montréal, the closest we can get to France without flying over the North Atlantic. It does seem like only weeks ago I was describing the lobby of the W Hotel in Square Victoria (where we stayed for last year’s birthday extravaganza), just a few blocks east of us here in the Marriott Château-Champlain—no, we’re not following the sun, we’re following the room rates. The hotel gods, with the assistance of some of Linda’s terrestrial admirers, whom we know number in the hundreds, if not thousands, have smiled again. Not quite as luxe (or weird) as the W, but what the hell, the dollar is also worth about 20 cents less against the Canadian dollar (talk about loony) than a year ago, at which time the dollar was slowly circling the global currency exchange rate drain.
One thing I must note. We took a slightly different route this time, traveling on US Route 93 North almost all the way to the border (it never actually makes it to Canada, peeling off into 91N just after St. Johnsbury). The border is not much farther away.
This route keeps you on multi-lane superhighway practically to the perpetual bottle neck on the Champlain Bridge into Montreal, but it’s also about 50 miles longer than the leisurely sojourn from 89N about 30 miles north of Burlington, through the cornfields of southern Quebec with its parade of one-horse towns (the towns that can afford the horse) and the battlefield conditions of the secondary roads.
Nevertheless, coming by either route, the last 20 miles or so into the city of Montreal are on Canada Route 10 West. The difference was, by today’s route we drove that much longer on 10.
I am positive that for the entire route, once we braved the weapons quiz from the stalwart young woman in her Canadian customs officer’s get-up, "This is the only important question, really, I have for you: any weapons, mace, firearms… you ma’am? any mace or firearms?"… there was not another American car to be seen on the highway, as we passed and were passed innumerable times on the 72 mile trek to the city. Now we did take a "rest" stop at the Customs and Immigrations shed before actually entering Canada, and maybe some Massachusetts or New Hampshire vehicles slipped past us as we relieved ourselves.
But I’m pretty sure we’re the only Americans at present in Quebec province.
I have to think about this. What could possibly explain it? The profoundly reduced buying power of the dollar, especially since the Canadians haven’t lowered their price tags? Has national shame finally reached a critical delimiter? Dare we show our faces outside our borders ever again? Even in "friendly" Canada? Well, this part is practically France, it’s true, but still. A year ago, we sometimes were one of a virtual phalanx of Massachusetts cars tooling down the pock-ridden byways of Quebec province. Forcing the notorious speed demons of lower Canada into the right lane as we roared past.
I mean, Karl Rove did quit. No matter. Even the stock market has gotten timid.
Skype blamed a massive network failure last week (leaving millions of subscribers doomed actually to pay for their long distance phone calls for a couple of days, using a real telephone) on a sudden surge in Windows PC re-boots, as millions of Windows users installed a much needed service patch for the decrepit Vista operating system (on a re-boot Skype automatically logs in, and all those log-ins into the Skype servers were not unlike all those toilets flushing at the first commercial break during the Super Bowl broadcast). Maybe, similarly, millions of U.S. passports expired at once. Neglect, you know? The anticipation of disuse.
I don’t blame you my fellow citizens. Not one bit.