When I wake up, I look out to a line of cars ahead of us. “Holy shit, Jed–are we at the border already? What time is it?” He looks over at me and laughs.
“Jesus. Should we be worried about border control? Are you sure there aren’t any drugs hiding in this van right now? Are we gonna get arrested?”
“Calm down, Gretchen. I don’t think there’s anything in here.”
“You don’t think…”
“I checked. Just calm down. Here. Want some?” Jed holds out a half-eaten McDouble.
“Ew…you’re disgusting…” I take the burger, realizing I’m starving, and take a bite. For a cold, grey meat sandwich, it’s perfect. I wolf down the three remaining bites.
“So disgusting…” Jed smirks.
“Shut up.” I turn up the radio, which Jed has switched to some hip hop station and sing along: “Ass fat! Yeah I know! The mo’ you spendin’, the fasta it go!” I do my best Nikki Minaj impression, and Jed looks surprised. “C’mon Jed. I know you know the words, too. Throw some mo’! Throw some mo’!” He grins.
“You’re fucking crazy. Turn it off for now; we’re coming up to the booth.” I turn off the radio, as we drive up to the woman checking passports. She asks Jed a bunch of questions about our trip and what kind of shit we have in the car.
“OK, can you pull up there and go inside so that we can check your car?” Fuck. I knew this was going to end in a drug bust or something.
“Jed, what the hell? No other cars ahead of us got checked.”
“I don’t know. It’s probably just routine. Don’t worry about it.” We get out of the car and go into the building. To take my mind off the situation at hand, I read some brochures about Canadian tourism and maple syrup, but my hands are sweaty, and I have to pee. After a few minutes, the man who went out to inspect the car comes in and says something to another guard at the desk. I can’t hear what they’re saying, but I see the second guard put on a pair of gloves and go out to the car. We’re totally fucked. I shouldn’t have come to Canada with this stranger. I don’t want to go to jail.
A couple minutes later, I see another guard summoned out to the car.
“Jed…this is not looking good.” I can tell he’s trying to stay calm for my sake. How patronizing. A few minutes later, the first guard comes back in and walks over to us with a serious expression.
“You can go back out to your car.” I feel relieved but also confused. We walk out the door, and one of the guards looks up.
“Where did you get this car?”
“It’s my friend’s…”
“This is the same van Rush used when they first started touring. Not just the same model, but the same van! Geddy Lee rode in this car!” he exclaims in a heavy French accent.
“My friend’s uncle helped organize Rush’s first tour in America. Their van was on its final days, so they left it with him in America, and later on, he gave it to my friend to fix up if he wanted. It’s a miracle it runs, but it does.”
“Bobo fucking owns Rush’s old tour van? We’re driving Rush’s old tour van? Jed!” I’m at once ecstatic and offended Jed hadn’t told me before. He smiles, and the guard gives him the keys.
“Have fun in Montreal,” the guard says.
I’m still trying to calm down, and as I get back into the van, I feel jittery. “Alright, Jed. Well, that was fucked up. And I can’t believe you didn’t tell me. Fuck you! Anyway, I guess it’s appropriate to put this on, then.” As he turns his key in the ignition and starts to drive, I put some Rush on my phone and turn it all the way up. “MONDAY WARRIOR MEAN, MEAN STRIDE, TODAY’S TOM SAWYER, MEAN, MEAN PRIDE!” I yell. Jed smiles and joins in. “THOUGH HIS MIND IS NOT FOR RENT, DON’T PUT HIM DOWN AS ARROGANT!” We do a wonderful, terrible job singing the song, and I laugh to myself, briefly thinking that Jed is a little bit of a Tom Sawyer guy.
“So I’m really hungry. Should we just go put our shit in the hotel and go get some food right away?”
“Yes,” I agree. I’m fucking hungry, and I would love a drink. Actually, I would love a bathroom, and then a drink, and then some food. Dennis went to Canada last year, and he said the food was amazing. “Should we go try some of this poutine shit, or should we go somewhere fancy? After all, this is a very sophisticated getaway week for us, is it not?”
“I say fancy. I mean, haven’t you had your fill of poutine in New York? It’s at every hip eatery.”
“But I would hope it’s better here.”
“Maybe so. Oh, here it is,” Jed points to a pretty brick building and pulls up to the valet. The hotel looks really nice, and I feel a little bad that he’s spending his money on our room. However, it’s not every day people my age get to do such things, so I brush off the guilt. We check in and go up to our room.
“A king?” I look at him with a playfully annoyed smirk. Like hell I’m sharing a bed with a random man I just met. But I don’t mind. I’ll sleep on the luxurious looking leather couch.
“It’s all they had available.”
“Naturally.” We drop our bags and go downstairs to ask the receptionists about restaurant recommendations. Typically, I have a whole list of places to go when I travel, but something about the spontaneity of this trip made me want to wing everything. The hostess is a young woman probably not much older than me, and although she is well dressed and groomed, something about her vibe seems a little punky and badass. When we ask her where we should eat, she pauses, sizing us up, probably wondering what two younger, somewhat grungy Americans are doing at a nice hotel in Montreal in the middle of the winter. Barely missing a beat, she recommends a place called Gros.
“What’s it like?” I ask.
“It’s hard to really say,” she starts. “But just go. I think you two will like it.”
“What kind of attire is it?”
“Go as you are,” she smiles in a strangely mysterious, all knowing way.
“Well OK, let’s do it, then,” Jed seems pleased with the bare amount of information we’ve received.
“Fuck it, yeah. Let’s go. I’m starving.” We walk toward the door, and as Jed opens it, I ask, “Is it wrong to trust someone’s restaurant recommendation just because she’s hot?” He laughs, realizing we’ve both trusted this receptionist in blind faith, and says,
“No. I think it’s perfectly fine.”
Gros is only five blocks from our hotel. It’s pretty busy when we get there, but it is also small.
“Table for two?”
“OK, just give me one moment…here. Have these while I get your table ready.” The host hands us shots of brown liquor.
“That’s how I always want to be greeted. Everywhere I go,” I say, as I sniff the beverage, verifying that it’s whiskey. “Cheers, Jed.”
“Cheers, m’lady!” We down the fiery shots, and my belly warms up immediately. My stomach growls, wondering why I’m only sending it alcohol when it really wants food. Shhh…I tell it. Food to come. The host sits us at a table in the back corner, which is dim and beautiful.
“Well, how romantic!” I joke. Jed laughs, but there’s a hint of something else in the laugh that worries me. I hope he doesn’t feel this is a romantic dinner. Or is it? Canada feels like an alternate universe to me. Maybe I will create a new world today. This place…this food…this person…for now, I love them all? I could love everything here. And that might be perfect. And yet, maybe this is the whiskey talking.
“What can I get you two to drink?” A woman appears next to our table. We order a large bottle of La Fin Du Monde, a beer made in Montreal, to split. A few minutes later, the waitress comes back with two glasses and the bottle and pours it for us. She sets down a basket of biscuits between us and gives us some time to look at the menu.
“Cheers!” I clink glasses with Jed, and some of the tall, white foam runs over the side of my glass. The beer is refreshing and strong, and the biscuits are warm. “Do we even need anything else?”
“Haha…yes…but this is pretty great by itself,” he agrees. “What about this braised goose tacos situation?”
“Mmm…that sounds great. What about this lobster po’ boy with crispy pig ears and Ranch?”
“Should we have smoked before coming here?”
“Maybe. But we’re pretty hungry already.”
“Excuse me,” a woman at the table next to us looks over at us. “I don’t mean to intrude, but would you like to go smoke? My husband and I are taking a break in our meal, and we’re going to step outside. People actually do it here quite frequently. The restaurant doesn’t really mind; there’s an alley right next door.”
“Seriously?” Jed looks happy, and the woman nods. “Gretchen?”
“Sure. Let’s go.” We put our napkins on the table and walk outside. It’s started to snow, and most of the streets are empty. I realize it’s already ten, and that makes me happy. Late dinners are one of my favorite things. The woman pulls a joint out of a small tin in her purse and lights it with a match from a Gros matchbook.
“So where are you two from?”
“New York,” I say. “Are you from here?”
“No, actually we’re from Toronto, but my husband is a graphic designer, and I’m a musician, so we moved here, because it’s more conducive to our work. Perhaps not because of the work itself, but, em…the nature of the environment,” she laughs, taking a pointed drag. “And what do you do?”
“I’m a salesman, and she’s a cook,” Jed replies.
“And how long have you been together?”
“Two years,” Jed cuts me off. I smirk. I can play this game. We talk with the couple, Bette and Louis, some more, and when we finish the joint, we return to dinner. Back in the restaurant, we push our tables together and order a ton of food. Even though Bette and Louis were once half way through their meal, they’re again ravenous.
It turns out they’re both devout wine lovers, so they order wines with our food that make everything perfect. Muscadet with our seafood, Carignan with our goose tacos, a Cote du Rhone with a fried rabbit dish. Although at first I was nervous about prices, it eventually becomes clear that the chef is good friends with Bette and Louis, and by extension, everything is on the house.
“We’ve known Jean for ten years,” Louis says. “He was my best man in our wedding. He’s like a brother to me. I design all his menus and book covers, and I eat here free. It’s the essence of a symbiotic relationship.”
“To symbiosis!” I toast, as I begin to feel quite drunk.
“Symbiosis!” Everyone cheers, in unison. After the other tables have cleared out of the restaurant, Jean and a few other chefs come out of the kitchen with some more food and a few bottles of Pastis. We all drink, talk, and smoke in only candlelight, now, and I feel a sense of peace that I’ve never before experienced. Jed looks happy, too, which makes me happy. He looks up and catches my eye, and I smirk, thinking, yes, two years, we’ve been together now. He looks healthy in the candle light, and something like love bubbles up in me for a moment. I’m surprised, but I suspend the concern to prolong the good feeling.
“Well, then,” Jean announces, stirring me from my dream-like state, “I think it’s time to go have some fun. To the bars!”
“To the bars!” Bette echoes. Jed and I exchange looks of surprise, considering we clearly underestimated just how hard these French Canadians could party, and we shrug, chiming in,
“To the bars!”