Prozac was great; it took away my depression, but it made me very impulsive. One such impulse was to drive to Montreal, Canada, on a whim the weekend before Thanksgiving break. I convinced my roommate that we could go there, hit the bars, and drive home all in one weekend. Of course, we would get our partners in crime on the floor, Sam and Jack, who had the room next to ours, to go with us. So, Friday came, and we were off. Grabbed a pizza and threw it in the trunk for dinner later. It was a seven-hour drive to Montreal from campus.
We crossed the border into Canada without issue, and we were about an hour outside of Montreal, just about the time when all the road signs turned to French. Then without warning, the radio stopped working, the interior lights went out, and then the headlights went out. One by one, everything requiring power went out. Within minutes and before any of us could formulate a plan, the car was dead on the side of the road in the middle of Nowhere Canada. No one in the car spoke French. We had eaten the pizza about 2 hours ago, and we had just enough money for beer and a hotel. We did not factor major car repairs into our plan. We also did not have a cell phone. It was 1992, and only the rich and famous had cell phones. In the distance, about a half-mile through a field, we saw some row houses with lights on. We had no other choice but to hike it to civilization. It was cold and had just started to snow when we began our hike. What appeared to be a half-mile was more like two miles, and by the time we got to the street with the row houses, most of the lights were off. It was well past eleven o’clock at night, and here we were, four college-age guys trying to find help in a French speaking Montreal suburb. We knocked on the one door that had a light on, and much to our surprise a teenager who spoke English answered the door. His parents were not home, and his little brother was upstairs watching TV. He welcomed us in and allowed us to use the phone to call CAA, the Canadian equivalent to the American Automobile Association (AAA). Thank God for my father’s insistence that I have AAA if I took the car to college. I quickly learned that even CAA was French speaking, and we had to use the young lad to translate for us on the phone. Well, we finally figured out where the car was and that my AAA coverage was transferable into Canada. Thank you, Jesus, I thought. We would thank our gracious host and hike back the two miles to the car just in time to meet the tow truck driver. While he spoke broken English, we made it work. We were going to make the best of the evening since we were obviously not hitting the bars that night. We told him to first find a 24-hour Beer Store. That’s what they call their liquor stores in Canada, The Beer Store. Find a cheap hotel and find a garage that we could leave the car with a note. With luck, we found a cheap hotel next to a 24-hour Beer Store and a block away from a Petro station that had a garage that would be open the next day. I checked into the hotel with my father’s credit card, and we got a room for the night. It was well after 1:00 a.m., and I was dead tired. I had one beer and passed out. One of us had to be responsible and get up in the morning to address the issue of transportation home. I did get up that morning to find a winter storm bearing down on the region. Sleet, hail, and freezing rain was the mix of the day. I walked the block to the Petro station to find the mechanic on duty. We had left the key with a note saying we would be there in the morning to talk about the needed repairs. To my surprise, the car was already in the garage bay up on the lift being looked at. The mechanic, who also spoke broken English, told me the alternator had failed and needed to be replaced. Now. This was something that I know I could do with my dad; we had replaced the alternator on the Dodge 024 prior to it burning to the ground. I knew the parts’ cost was only $50 bucks, but this guy would charge me $450 for parts and labor. I had no choice but to let him fix it and rob me blind of $450. When I went to pay for it with Dad’s Visa, it was declined. Oh man, what was I going to do? We had just enough cash on hand for gas and tolls on the way home. We didn’t even have money for food. I had to call Dad, collect, tell him what was happening, and ask him about the Visa. He said that the Visa company contacted him about the motel charge, and because he could not get ahold of me at school, he canceled my card, and it was too late to turn it back on. He would have to wire me the money to fix the car via Western Union. The problem was that the only open Western Union location was two miles down the road, and the area was amid a winter storm. I hiked down to the Western Union, which did not have cash on hand because it was a Saturday, so they issued me a check. Yes, a check. What the hell was I going to do with a check? It was about as good as my Visa card. I walked down to a bank another mile or so down the road to cash the check. Thank God I had my school ID because the bank required two photo ID forms to cash the check. I was now about three miles away from the hotel, frozen solid with $500 in cash. Thanks to the exchange rate, my dad’s $450 American turn into just over $500 Canadian. Bonus, we had money for food. I walked back to the Petro station, paid the mechanic, and I was on my way. I stopped back to the hotel and found my friends still sleeping. It was good that they were so concerned. We left the hotel without checking out for fear that we would get in trouble for using a credit card that had been canceled. The ride home was quiet, really quiet, but we had heat and radio and headlights that worked. We got to the border, and all I wanted to do was get across the bridge and get to America. I was done with Canada. We pulled into the inspection station, and we handed the Guard our respective licenses. When asked what our trip’s purpose was, I don’t know what came over me, but I just told the truth. “Strippers and beer, officer, we went to Montreal to find strippers and beer.” The officer was not at all amused by my blunder; oh, to the contrary. We were immediately pulled over, told to park the car, and go into the office for further inspection. There we would be separated, questioned, and frisked. The vehicle would be torn apart, including having the seats removed and placed on the car’s side. After a few hours of questioning, they must have realized that we were just stupid American students out for a weekend of fun. They did have the last laugh because they let us go only to find the car needed to be put back together, seats and all. No one spoke a word on the way back from the border. It was probably for the best. We would all go home that week with a story to tell our families over Thanksgiving dinner; I had to go home and face an outraged father.
You can now order your copy of I, Rob Graves from a local independent bookstore.