Today was a day of transitions. We were to drive from Toronto to Montreal, from West to East, from British-influenced Canada to French-influenced. It was to be around 7 hours, but it took a bit longer, as you'll see. Oh, & we also had the crap scared out of us. More on that later as well.
After our long day in Niagara Falls, we awoke the next morning tired. David & Denise left to run a few last-minute errands while I showered & packed. When they got back, they had a present for me, one that our buddy Ben Jones will tease me about, since I teased him. Yes, I am now the possessor of a Man Bag. No, it's not a purse! It's a Man Bag! And boy, it makes city exploration a lot easier, lemme tell ya.
We loaded our stuff into the van, said goodbye to Howard Johnson's (which really was a great place to stay in Toronto), & left. Since we were hungry, & since we all love Asian food, we decided to stop in Chinatown & grab lunch before the long drive. It took a while to find even a parking spot on a side street, because Chinatown was hopping. The street we stopped on was like all the others: narrow, with small houses on each side crammed together.
In fact, the house right next to my van had an interesting occupant in the postage stamp sized front yard: a bedraggled white cat on a leash. The kitty didn't look very happy; understandable, since it had been drizzling most of the morning, & was even then getting more & more gray & overcast all the time.
Then we reached Spadina Street, a main thoroughfare in Toronto & the central location for Chinatown. Every other shop was a restaurant, & the ones between the restaurants were either a clothing shop, an Internet cafe, a general store, or something totally in Chinese or some other Asian language (often Vietnamese) that I couldn't read. It was a riot of color, signage, people, & stuff. Many of these stores had sample wares out on the sidewalk in front, so pedestrians were constantly presented with new items of interest. Granted, many of them utilized wicker or bamboo, but it was still tempting.
We weren't yet famished, so we stopped in one place, whose name I can't remember. It had Chinese clothing in it, as well as a huge assortment of American baseball hats with stupid things written on them. There were clothes for men as well as women, and one outfit caught my eye. It was dark olive green (to match all my other clothing), & consisted of drawstring pants & a Chinese shirt. Instead of buttons, there were hard knots that slipped through a kind of cloth eye on the other side. It was a bit scratchy, but it looked cool, & I thought it would be fun. Besides, it was only about $20. I asked the girl working there if they had something bigger than M, like XL, & she walked over & pointed to the last one on a hanger. XXL! It seemed huge, but I tried the shirt on, & it was too short & too tight! Clearly, when I'm wearing Chinese clothing, I need at least an XXXL.
Meanwhile, David found Denise a faux fur baseball cap & put it on her head, which was funny by itself. Then Denise found a really cool Chinese shirt, bright red, shiny, & fun. She tried it on, forgetting to take the cap off. Here she is. I really liked the shirt, but she didn't buy it.
We left & contined making our way down the busy street. Dragon World Trading, besides the cool name, looked inviting, so we stopped, intending to go inside & check it out.
We stepped over the threshold, & the young woman working there immediately smiled & firmly told us, "Wholesale only!" We beat a hasty retreat, wondering how she could tell!
On we walked, & then we hit the jackpot: a general store! They had everything you could want: knives, carved Buddhas, cups, screwdriver kits, lamps, mirrors, baskets, pens, chopsticks, tea sets, placemats, power strips, t-shirts, magnets, woks, luggage, shoes, nightstands, fans, & much, much more. The narrow, winding aisles were crowded floor to ceiling with stuff.
They even had cool statues of what looked to be a zombified Bruce Lee, cocked back in a martial arts pose, but still looking for brains to eat … at least, I think that's what the sickly green cast to Bruce's skin meant. Or maybe it was like a Bruce Lee/Hulk combo: "Bruce smash! Or at least leap in air & kick in head! Arrrgh!"
David & I were especially amused by the demonic dog charms. Who wouldn't want that on their keyring?
And of course, the ever-popular "Big Knife", for only $2.99!
Best of all, Engrish! Engrish is the language we see on labels & signs written by Asians who don't have the best understanding of our native tongue. In fact, there's at least one web site all about it, with tons of pictures & examples (just Google for "Engrish" & you'll find it). Here are some of the Engrish signs & labels I found in that store.
So nice to see it
Feel nice when hold it
But if you break it
Consider it sold!
We reserve the right
to inspect all of your
bags that bring into
This one was for a spinning toy that you hold in your hand & get going by rotating your wrist:
Not suit for kids under 6-year-oldest
Dont touch the inner ball when it
Keep out any dirties
That's gotta be my favorite of all time: "Keep out any dirties"! Well, yes!
Finally it was time for lunch. After looking at several places, we settled on the Lucky Dragon, mostly because the prices looked good on the posted menu, there was a lunch special that looked tasty, & the owner or somebody else who liked the place a lot kept coming out & compelling us to come in. In fact, that seemed to be about the extent of his English: "Come in! Come on in! You like! Very good! Come in! You come in? Very good! Good food. Good price! Come in!"
In we went, & we had a wonderful lunch, & for only about $5 each. They first brought over a big bowl of Hot & Sour soup, & we each ladeled out some into a smaller bowl. The soup was spicy, & as I gulped it down, I soon began to sweat profusely. But we had no water. A choice: food & pain, or wait & have water. I chose pain. Finally I just reached behind me to a pitcher of water sitting on an empty table, & poured water for everyone. Ahhhhh …
After lunch, we could tell that the skies were about to erupt any minute, so we ran quickly back down the narrow side street until we reached the van again. The houses were just a bit too crowded together on that street for my taste.
It was time to leave Toronto, a city all of us had fallen in love with, & head for Montreal. Unfortunately, there was an immense traffic jam leaving Toronto, & it was raining cats 'n shih-tzus, so we did not make good time, & poor David had to sit there behind the wheel, barely inching forward a foot at a time. Onward we crawled, for at least an hour & a half, before things finally broke up on the road, & David could begin driving with a bit of speed. At one point, David even took a movie of the road & the interior of the car. I really don't want to know how he did it while he was driving.
2005-0819-driving-to-montreal.mp4 (5 MB MP4) ← Warning! This is a big, 5 MB file!
Just before we entered the province of Quebec, while we were still in Ontario, we pulled off to get some supper. It was a small town, & for some reason David & Denise wanted to stop at a place called "Kelsey's".
From the outside, I was reminded of Applebee's. On the inside, when I looked at the decorations, I was reminded of Applebee's. Once we sat down & looked at the menu, I was reminded of Applebee's. Then I got up to go to the John, & I read a sign in the bathroom that told some of the history of Kelsey's which, it turns out, is Canada's largest restaurant chain, with 140 locations. Aha! It's the Canadian Applebee's!
The food was about like Applebee's, too: not bad, but not great, & better than the norm for a small town. We ate, drank good Canadian beer, paid our bill, & cruised on to Montreal.
Along the way, Denise spent well over an hour trying to find a place for us to stay in the city. After making call after call, she finally found one place: B&B Revolution, run by a man named Christian (pronounced the French way, as "Chris-tee-anne") Alacocque. The man was obviously a Quebecois through and through, as his English was very heavily accented, & he had certain … shall we say, Gallic tendencies. As in this conversation he had with Denise, which was actually the 2nd or 3rd they'd had as we drove.
Denise: Bonjour, Christian. We are still driving towards Montreal. We should be there about 9 pm.
Christian: Ah. Do you know whar you ahre?
Denise: No, not completely.
Christian: Than 'ow do you know you will be 'ere at 9 pee ahm?
When confronted by Cartesian logic such as that, there's really not a lot you can do except promise to get there as quickly & as early as possible. However, we had a hell of a time driving in Montreal. It was still raining, & the streets were one way & packed with drivers speeding along, crossing from lane to lane in a cacophony of metal, plastic, & glass. We finally found our B&B's address on a narrow one way street, parked the van, & stepped out. We were at the house of Alacocque.
It was a lanky, tall building, with a tiny wooden porch at the top of steps that managed to be steep and narrow, even though there were only 5 of them. The light was fitful & yellow. We climbed the stairs & rang the bell. Nothing. Huh. Denise called Christian's cell phone number, but no answer. By this point, I had to urinate something fierce, so I really wanted that door to open. We waited for another moment, then knocked & rang the bell.
"Allo?" I cried. "Allo?"
Nothing. I walked to the sidewalk & looked up & down the street. No one. I turned back toward the house, & Denise & David were gone. Vanished. I climbed the stairs with trepidation & noticed that the front door was just barely ajar, so I pushed it. It swung slowly open, & I was in a long, three-foot-wide hallway with a few dim lights in the ceiling & framed magazine pages, decades old, hung seemingly at random on the walls.
As I walked down the hall, I could see the old pictures on the wall, & even a clock, each move of its pendulum hesitating before heading back the other direction.
Denise & David were at the end of then hall, facing a door. To their left a stairway twisted away downstairs. I stepped forward, perhaps a little quicker than I would have normally, & whispered, for whispering seemed the proper way to speak in such an atmosphere, "What happened?"
"We tried that door & it was open, so we came on in," David said.
At that, I reached my hand out to the doorknob in front of us & turned it. It refused to move in my hand.
"We already tried that!" Denise said.
"Oh. What about downstairs?" I said, still whispering.
"We're not sure about what's down there," said Denise.
"Let me try," I told them. Raising my voice a little, I called down the stairs, "Allo! Is anyone there? Allo?"
Silence. And then, quietly, so quiet that we could barely hear it, we heard … a noise. Someone, or some thing, was moving downstairs. A shuffle, a pause, another shuffle, a longer pause. We were all holding in our breaths, waiting. Shuffle. Pause. Pause. Shuffle. Then the slow creak of an ancient door closing at an agonizingly slow pace—crrrrrrrrrrreeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaakkkkkkk—& another pause. Finally, as we strained our ears, we heard a final, almost imperceptible, click of a key being turned in an old, rusted lock. And then, nothing.
I was about to crap myself, I was so creeped out.
I turned back to look at Denise & David. Their eyes were wide as saucers, & their mouths were big round O's, just like mine. "What was that?" David whispered.
"I don't know," I said, "but I can see a bathroom door open at the bottom of these stairs. I'm going down there."
"You can't!" pled Denise. "Someone is down there. You'll wake them up!"
"I can't wait any longer," I said, "& I'll be quiet, & anyway, someone needs to find out just who's down there!"
So down I went. Carefully, looking all around me. I walked into the bathroom, switched on the light, and found … a human head!
Actually, just a toilet, a sink, & a shower. Typical bathroom stuff. But I still closed the door while I peed, & then I opened it real careful like when it was time to leave that bathroom. I made it back up the stairs to the narrow hallway, only to find that David & Denise were gone. Vanished!
At that moment, I heard a wolf howl it's mournful cry, & then a scream burst from the floor above me, cut off suddenly by a loud thump. Actually, I heard what was perhaps worse: silence. I listened, but I heard nothing. "Oh man," I thought, "I've seen this movie. I know how this ends: with me either in a pit in the basement having someone say "It puts the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again", or chopped up & fed to the next guests at this B&B. I should just drive away right now."
Instead, I walked toward the front door we'd come in (perhaps I was going to drive away), when I heard a small step to my right. To my right? There was nothing there but a tapestry attached to the wall, almost like wallpaper.
Wait a second! There was a small handle on the wall, because that wasn't a wall at all—it was a door. I opened the door, only to find a narrow stairway heading to the second floor, with more stuff all over the walls. I took each step carefully, listening for Denise or David, and then, near the top, I heard them. "Hey, what are you guys doing?" I asked, still whispering.
"We found this door & came upstairs," said Denise, keeping her voice low as well. "Someone lives up here, I think."
It sure looked like it to me, especially the kitchen that had, on its stove, baking pans with dough on them, ready for the next morning's croissants. We stepped forward, into the darkened kitchen, & turned around to see … a human head! No, just more dough.
"Hey, what did you find downstairs?" asked David. "Anything weird?"
"No, nothing," I answered him, "Except for the two hobos hung up by their heels & gutted."
We chuckled nervously. I looked around some more, & it just didn't look like we were supposed to be up here.
"You know, we'd better get out of here before someone finds us up here!" I told the 2 D's.
"Let's go!" said David, already half way down the stairs.
Back in the hallway, we stopped, unsure what to do. Do we go back outside, where it's dark & rainy? Do we go downstairs to the strange noise, where I'm almost certain that any moment flesh-eating zombies are going to appear? Do we head back upstairs, to Hannibal Lector's quarters? Or do we just hunker down in the hallway & make wooden stakes & crosses?
Our dilemma became even more real a few seconds later, when we heard a noise on the other side of the locked door. Someone walked a few feet. "Allo?" we said. Someone opened a door close by the door we were standing in front of. "Allo?" we said. Someone lifted something hard & banged it into something else hard. "Allo?" we said. And then we heard it: the unmistakable sounds of someone taking a long, satisfying piss. For about 5 minutes. On and on and on he peed. This was a serious urination session. It stopped. There was a flush, & then footsteps moving towards our door. The rustle of keys turning in a lock. The door was about to open …
At that point, I was first in line, with Denise behind me, & David behind her. I didn't like that arrangement, & thought that "Ladies first" was a darn good precept for a time like this. Shouldn't Denise, being the woman, be first in line to greet whoever opened that door? Why, certainly! It was the polite, thoughtful thing to do. So I grabbed Denise's arm & tried to yank her in front of me. She, however, wished to stay where she was—ensconced safely behind my largeness—& not only pulled desperately away from my hand, but also shoved me repeatedly as hard as she could so that I remained in front of her. I was whispering, "Go on in front! Go ahead!", while she was whispering "Stay there! Stay there! Leave me alone!", & David was whispering, "What are you two doing? Someone stand there!" Of course, he was in the back, so that was easy for him for him to say. We have a movie of the last few seconds of this scene, & I really like how shaky & dark it is. It's like being in a real-life Blair Witch Project!
2005-0819-bnb-allo.mp4 (2.3 MB MP4)
The door opened … & there stood Christian. How do I describe him? In his 40s, with thin, Gallic features & a tall, lanky body. Shoulder length dirty blond hair, kinda stringy & kinda curly, topped by a sailor's cap pulled down low on his head, so the hair stuck out the bottom of the cap in all directions & his glowing eyes just barely showed. He wore faded low riding hip hugger jeans that were tight on his ass & thighs & looser on his calves, especially since they were bell bottomed. His burgundy t-shirt was both too tight & too short, allowing 2 inches of his very small, hairy pot belly to show above the low rider jeans. He still had on a black leather jacket, of course.
This was to be our landlord for the next two days. He was not happy we had arrived so late—it was after 11 pm—& so he had been at the local bar drinking red wine. There were no rooms in this B&B, he explained in his very accented English, but he did have a flat 2 doors down in a building that he owned & rented during the schoolyear. We could have the flat. Would that be OK? Certainly!
He walked us down, showed us the flat, gave us the keys, & left. It consisted of 3 beds in 2 rooms, with a 3rd room still being renovated. a small kitchen, a tiny bathroom, & a long, thin hallway, which seemed to be a hallmark of all his residences. Here's our discussion of these rooms.
2005-0819-bnb-rooms.mp4 (4.9 MB MP4) ← Warning! This is a 4.9 MB file!
There was one thing that was really weird about this place: there were all these little bitty doors everywhere. The biggest was maybe 3 feet tall, but a couple were maybe 2 feet.
To David, I said, "Maybe this one leads to John Malcovich's head!"
David replied, "Me first! Let me go first!"
"All I know is," I said, "If I wake up in the night to see a small purple dwarf with an evil grin creeping out of one of those doors holding a long sharp knife, I am so out of here!"
We even took a movie of Denise's presentation of these strange doors leading to alternate dimensions.
2005-0819-bnb-doors.mp4 (2.9 MB MP4)
We finally settled down, unpacked our stuff, poured ourselves some wine, got into our beds, & turned out the lights. I didn't see any purple dwarfs that night, which was, needless to say, a very good thing.