October 21-25, 2010...
Thursday: "Northwardness Pilgrimage or, I can't believe I'm missing 30 Rock for this..."
There's nothing like arriving to a new city by walking through an underground mall (that I suspect stretches out across all Quebec) and then being treated to an inexplicable siren that sounds exactly like the warning alarm from Jurassic Park (foreshadowing!!) right before the power is turned back on and Timmy flies off the perimeter fence. It was uncanny. "Push to close" I said to Christie as we walked briskly to catch the bus. Meeting Patty and my pen pal/Canadian Wife Megan was awesome, and not just because she told me there was a screening of Back to the Future in a legit theatre on Saturday. From there it was Patati Patata, a free beer glass forced upon us with purchase, and maybe the most inspired and important decision of the trip...watching Short Circuit II. Cinematic brilliance, a dvd trailers menu from Mars (Buddy, Jumanji, and a Starship Troopers CGI movie??), and the final 10 minutes replayed dubbed in french. Michael McKean yelling for Johnny 5, "Cinnnnqqqq!!", was quoted nearly as much as Christopher Guest.
Friday: "Poutine, Pick-Up Lines, and Speilbergian Winter Carols"
We went to 5 record stores today, my Canadian hosts were too kind. Especially since I didn't buy anything until the last one, AND had to borrow cash from Christie. Whoever heard of a record store that was cash only? Maybe the best part of all was at store #4, all three of us witnessed the store clerk hitting on a customer...hardcore. "So what are you doing tomorrow night? Oh, you're busy well how about tonight? Alright you're not sure well here's my card, call anytime, I get off around..." It was amazing, effortless yet desperate, impressive yet embarrassing. On the one hand I had to give him credit, I doubt I'll ever be able to cold ask out anyone ever and this dude had it down. However, he WAS an aging record store guy...time is not on his side in the "chicks" department. Moving on, this daylong trip also included poutine, free tea samps, and one of the best cupcakes I've ever had. Once back at the apartment it was like olden tymes, friends gathered around the radio (more accurately, whatever device plays Ipod stuff, I am thoroughly un-modern) with hot beverages and listened to the comedy stylings of Mitch Hedberg and Brian Regan until it was decided what to do with our night. The decision was something I'd heard mythologized once or twice and was eager to participate in: Wiizza. I can't, for one reason or another, pronounce this term. I understand how to say it but whenever I do it comes out "wheat-za". Just typing it and looking at it makes me laugh at my own incompetence. Either way, off we went, leaving Megan to her homework. Upon arrival at Anna's apartment we heard the sounds of the greatest film ever made by man: Jurassic Park. A vacation involving Christie, I'd expect nothing less. Next up I got to meet some new friends, including Anna's cat Bear who, by the end of the night, I wished I could hang out with every night forever. We discussed the logical pitfalls and mysteries of JP (as well as what Laura Dern earned for her role in JP III), ate delicious homemade pizza and then, a shocker of a following film: Can't Hardly Wait?? The kind of inspired choice that only Wiizza can create!! (I like to treat Wiizza as THE cultural event of Montreal librarians, and I kind of think it fits with the dramatic tone I'm trying to give this story). As the ladies fawned over Ethan Embry I remembered my long-forgotten crush on Lauren Ambrose. "What happened to her!?" I asked. "She was on Six Feet Under..." but other than that I think we were stumped. It made me want to go right out and buy Psycho Beach Party. Once we finished discussing our high school wardrobes and social statuses Wiizza was over and we made our way home. The new friends I mentioned really were awesome and welcoming and as nice as anyone could hope. Maybe they felt bad for me being the only dude in the room, but whatever it was I had an excellent time. And then home, and then sleep.
Saturday: "Me, Myself, and Megan (and Misadventure and Mod Night)"
Today would be Christieless until early evening so the pen pals had to get acquainted, and quick! No problem, we had Back to the Future at 12:30, plenty of walkin' around time, and plans for Mod Night to cap it all off. Today began with a walk through the park and an in depth discussion of the Mad Men finale and the series in general. Jurassic Park and Mad Men discussions were the only two things I could be sure I'd participate in on this trip. Over the hill and through "the ghetto" (truly terrifying) and it was on to my first Tim Horton's. However, since it was a carbon copy of a New Jersey Dunkin' Donuts it was maybe the least foreign place possible. It was here that Megan and I lamented the loss of certain Canadian hockey teams (the Quebec Nordiques and by beloved Winnipeg Jets) and I told her that Saskatchewan would never have an NHL team because their city names weren't memorable enough. She then opened up about the hardships that SK has been dealing with and her issues with certain other providences. For someone who's always loved Canada, but not really known much about it, Megan is a wealth of fiery knowledge.
On to the AMC for BttF. There was, and please pardon the tired term but I really mean it, excitement in the air. You could feel how stoked everyone was to experience this. There was even a kid dressed very convincingly as Marty McFly. Time passed, the lights dimmed and came back up, the "please don't talk and please silence your cell phone" clip was played (many, many times), and our hopeful applause soon turned to 'boos'. Megan and I kept our heads up, relentlessly optimistic that an engineer (perhaps Michael J. Fox himself!) would arrive to fix whatever projection problem was occurring, but in the end it was a lost cause. Out into the lobby to retrieve our refund and free pass for all the trouble. An hour and a half spent in the theatre and another 30 minutes in line after, but in a way it was almost better than the movie. All we did was talk and laugh and make jokes and it's probably a better story and memory for it. Plus I now have a commemorative miniature flier to "Save The Clock Tower" hanging on my wall at work.
Back outside into the Montreal hustle and bustle, talk of shops and bobble-heads and jokes about what a bust the day had been. On the walk up to Sherbooke, where we would part ways, there it was! Cheap Thrills! This came after a bit of a wild goose chase. Easily the best record store I'd been in yet. Megan had to leave but not before buying a Brian Eno record on my recommendation (which made me more than happy). I stayed for a bit, this place had an excellent used section. I ended up buying some Roky Erickson, Beirut, a couple Harlan Ellison books, and Volume 2 of the 'Rodney on the Roq' compilation. I walked out of that store feeling on top of the world!
It is at this point in the story that I walk from Cheap Trills to the Pie-IX metro station via Sherbrooke, hopelessly lost in Montreal. You know that feeling, "Okay, I'll go one more block up..." even though you know you're lost. It kind of had to happen though didn't it? What's a vacation without getting a little lost?
Once I got back on track I went to a few more record stores, got made fun of by one of the clerks (he acted like a mummy at me), finally found some Teenage Head records (that I already had, but it was nice to one of my favor tie Canadian punk bands in a Canadian punk store), got another bagel and finally headed home to meet Christie. I was about as tired as I've ever been and Christie had the perfect remedy. It's called Katamari Damacy, one of the most ridiculous and fun video games I've ever seen. I watched her play for a bit, relaxed like crazy, and then we all enjoyed a little Zoolander. We had plenty of time to kill before Mod-ing it up, and I think we used it very well.
Out the door and through the streets at 11:15 passing drunk people and those soon to be. We made a right at the scooters and entered to a crowd of hipsters and people who are sick of hipsters. I soon after met Bri, yet another new friend. A few minutes of small talk and then onto the dance floor, sadly without Christie who was exhausted. I have to say that this "Mod Night" could have been more accurately described as "R&B and Garage Night", not that I'm complaining, any chance I get to dance to "96 Tears" I'll take. As the night went on the crowd thinned a bit and we took our rightful place, front and center! I never expected to dance to "Helter Skelter", but apparently the replacement DJ was known to be somewhat sub-par. Hunkiness does not a DJ make. But dancing to "Jeepster" and "I Want Candy" afforded plenty of chances to clap along, and I got so into "The Witch" that my hat flew off. It was such a wonderfully odd thing to be dancing with these two girls that I had essentially just met. I haven't gone dancing like that in years and it was easily one of the best parts of the trip. It eventually got late, we all shared a water, and made our way home. A big thank you to Megan and Bri, and at the risk of sounding a bit histrionic, I think that night was when I fell in love with Montreal.
Sunday: "Anonymous Stories and The Best Mask"
Sunday morning with Megan was about two things: having my first legitimate Canadian bagel, and listening to CBC radio. Tim Horton's, I was assured, was not a purveyor of true "Canadian" bagels, so Megan and I hit the road and picked some up. I can't seem to remember the name of the store, but there was a line out the door and plenty of overstuffed pigeons trolling the sidewalk. The bagels were decent, thinner and crunchier than I'm used to, but enjoyable. CBC radio took over the next few hours of my visit, a staple of my pen pal's weekly life, I just had a seat and took it in. CBC is no joke, not only was there intelligent and lucid political and social commentary, but they actually followed up a story about lemon meringue pie with a song called "Lemon Meringue Pie". I think I felt my most Canadian during these few relaxed hours.
Christie arrived home, plans were made, sweaters were put on, and it was back to Pie-IX for some thrift shopping. It was a short walk to Village des Valeurs. I had heard great things about this place and was eager to check it out, however, my choice to throw on one extra layer coupled with a very crowed store had resulted in profuse sweating and a feverish sick feeling. Luckily I found Christie lounging on her dream 70's couch and plopped down with her while waiting for Megan, the marathon browser. Christie also raided the children's book section for me earlier, picking up all the french R.L. Stine she could find (which is why there was none when I looked). Once it was time to head out I got my first and only eye-roll for not being able to speak french from the check out girl. It's strange, when I visited a decade ago I also only experienced that once. The other thrift shop we wanted to check out was closed so it was back to the Metro station and back home for pizza. Sunday was wonderfully casual.
I also forget the name of the fantastic pizza place we went to, Pizzaolio, or Pizzamoly, or Pizzarino's...something like that. Either way, it was great. A discussion of ideal travel locations followed and I was informed that people who say they want to visit every Canadian providence don't actually mean it. But I do, I want to go to Saskatchewan AND Alberta AND Manitoba. Will I ever...who knows? Then there was slightly depressing talk about life goals, but my friends' positivity was really refreshing and appreciated. Back home.
Sunday stayed casual, a viewing of Night at the Museum and delicious hot chocolate courtesy of Megan was perfect. We then tired to watch The Emperor's New Groove, but it was almost 10pm and obviously, we were beat.
Monday: "So Long, Sailboat"
I spent the first 20 minutes of Monday with Christie and Megan, not wanting to leave, and dreading the train back home. I spent the following 14-ish hours traveling, first by BUS due to weekend fires on Amtrack routes through Albany. The bus is an excruciating way to travel, especially when you flip the mixtape you're listening to and Broken Social Scene comes on as the Montreal skyline fades from view. I may be a bit dramatic and/or romantic, but who wouldn't take that like a shot in the gut? It was 10 hours to Penn Station, (where a NJ Transit train had derailed earlier that day causing widespread delays and cancellations) and then finally back home.
It's taken me a week to write this all out, the first attempt was MUCH too detailed (who needs a paragraph about how I wanted to befriend a drug sniffing dog??) and my lack of internet access forced me to write in bits and pieces. I find it hard to purposely leave anything out though, I don't wanna slight one second of this trip. I want to thank all of Christie and Megan's friends I met for making me feel not only welcome, but also at ease, most certainly not an easy task. I want to thank Megan for taking what I can only consider a leap of faith in welcoming some random friend of a friend/pen pal/American Husband into her home and actually being more amazing than I could have hoped. And finally the biggest thank you to Christie for convincing me to come up and making the time and dealing with my indecision and record store lust. All of you were great and really made me look at New Jersey like the toxic waste dump that the rest of the world already thinks it is. Until next time...