Sunday, June 03, 2007

To the Border, Part 2 of 2

My adventure to the border I mentioned in Part 1, I had a serious problem to deal with because I had no idea how to get into Vancouver or the layout of the city or a map or guidebook or anything. While wondering what I was going to do, I took a turnoff and found myself at the airport. It was easy enough to find my way out again and it bought me some time to think about it.

As I got back on the road I saw a very small blue sign that proved to be my salvation:


It was such a small sign, very easy to disregard. There was a simple line drawing of a ship with some waves underneath in that road-signy style. Since I knew Vancouver was a waterfront city, I figured following the sign would at least get me to the water so I took the exit.

I found myself on a big wide street about six lanes wide. It was like a big expressway with traffic lights. No matter how much I looked around, I couldn't figure out the name of the street. I kept looking around at everything, then I noticed that at some intersections the stoplights were flashing yellow all the time. I had no idea what that means and I still don't. I know what the red flashing stoplights mean (treat this intersection like a four way stop sign - some of the lights here in SF flash that way late at night). Not knowing what else to do, I just kept barreling right through the lights along with everyone else. As I drove, I wondered if I would get stopped by the police. I wondered if I would get a ticket. I wondered if the officer would tell me where the city was. I wondered how I was going to attend traffic court in Canada.

I was on this wide expressway-type street for a long time. The little blue cruise ship terminal sign never failed me. Just when I would start looking around and wondering where I was I would see the sign again. I drove through a pretty part of the city. The trees were lit up with white holiday lights, there appeared to be many restaurants, and many people wandered to and fro. I thought about stopping, but pressed on.

Then at some point, there was a curve in the road and a slight rise...

and there it was, Vancouver! I was on a big bridge going straight into the city! It was lit up like grand magic. I could see the water and the huge buildings. It was so beautiful that I started screaming inside my car. I was so excited that I missed the turnoff to the Cruise Ship Terminal. No matter. I had made it to my destination! It was around 8:15 p.m. or so.

The bridge was quite long, so long that I was a little calmer when I got onto the island. At first I thought about trying to find my way to the Cruise Ship Terminal, but decided to make a right turn as soon as possible. I didn't know where I was going to end up, but somehow it didn't matter. I drove along the road, the buildings tall and twinkling around me. There was some major construction going on and I had to make several turns onto smaller streets. Since I had to use the loo, I resolved to find a place to park. This proved difficult as there seemed to be cars everywhere. Finally, I found a small parking lot that had a space and got out the the car. It was a fairly warm night and the cars were parked at an odd angle on the narrow street. Then I looked around and I was in the middle of a huge area full of restaurants, bars, sushi bars, Starbucks and pool halls. People were out walking their dogs. I found a bar and used the loo, and although I wanted to try one of the restaurants, I was too full still from eating that the Twin Peaks diner earlier that day.

Jeez. Seeing the waterfalls and that diner seemed like half a world away, but it was only a few hours earlier!

I wandered around some more and found the waterfront. It was dark, but I could see I was in a nice park. I kept to the streets in case it was a little unsafe there. The streets were very wide. I took a couple of pictures to prove I was there:

Okay, so it doesn't show the location, but I couldn't help but snap this sign that shows kilometers. We don't have signs like that here.

Yes, the proof that I was there. It was so dark that I couldn't see the park at all, but I have a feeling it's a pretty place.

Believe it or not, I was only in Vancouver for a couple of hours wandering around before I decided to get back into my car and make my way back to Seattle. I was worried I would have trouble crossing the border. As I drove back over the bridge towards the freeway (if that's what you want to call it), I resolved to visit this beautiful city for a long weekend.

The 30 or so miles back seemed to go very quickly. I was getting really worried as I got closer to the border. I kept wondering what would happen if they wouldn't let me back across. I took several deep breaths as I waited in the long line of cars. I thought about what I'd say to the border guard.

When it was my turn, the guard expressed dismay that I only had a driver's license. I kept apologizing. He was a middle aged Asian man with a slightly thick accent.

"How am I supposed to know this is really you?" he asked me, holding up my driver's license. "People make fake ones all the time and the fake ones are good."

"I'm sorry, I really am. I didn't plan to make this trip. I don't even have a map," I said.

"You know," he said leaning a little closer, "People complain to us that our borders are porous, that we could have prevented the 9/11 attacks if we had been tougher on everyone who crosses into our country. Do you have any idea how that makes us feel? And then nice people like you show up with just your driver's license."

I looked at him without saying anything. I got tears in my eyes. I felt his frustration. Then I apologized again in a soft voice. We looked at each other without speaking and then he waved me on.

"Have a nice evening and don't forget to bring your passport next time," he said.

"I won't. I won't."

"And don't forget to tell everyone you know how important it is to have proper identification so we can protect our borders," he said.

"I will. I promise." I waved at him and drove on into the black night.

The drive back to Seattle and the hotel didn't seem to take that long. All along with way, the road was dark with some street lights there and there. I stopped for gas. Everything seemed friendly. The road and I had gotten to know each other well.

I got to the hotel after midnight. I had an early morning flight later that morning and I was going from SFO straight to work. As I lay in my hotel bed nodding off to sleep, I wondered if I'd really gone to Pike's Place Market in the morning to buy my Dad some smoked salmon, seen the Twin Peaks waterfalls and diner and then drove to Vancouver and back. It was all vivid and real, but seemed so unlikely.


Soon after my trip, the laws were changed. A passport or birth certificate is now required to cross the border from Canada to here. At least I'm keeping my promise to that border guard now.

When I got to work the first thing I did was Google "Vancouver." It was there that I saw my first pictures of the city in the daylight. I had no idea Vancouver was an island. I couldn't really tell in the dark.


anne said...

Excellent, excellent post!

anne said...
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