As “Animal House” and “American Pie” sequels continued in the Senate Judiciary Committee chambers and on cable news 24/7, I actually did what grandstanding Hollywood types merely threaten when any Republican win is imminent: I fled to Canada.
The last time I was in Canada for fun was in the early 1990s with the wife and kids. We lived in Houston during the last really big oil bust. Both then and now, the itineraries involved airline round-trip passes that were about to expire.
From Houston Intercontinental, American Airlines freebies took 3-year-old daughter Kathryn and me to Seattle via Alaska Airlines joint service. Waiting to board, Kathryn saw the aircraft’s logo — a giant, stern Aleut on the tail dressed in animal fur. She did not want to fly on the plane with that scary man. Her screaming stopped once aboard and a flight attendant gave her crew wings and crayons.
Wife Linda, grade-school daughters Laura and Emily and toddler son Theo arrived separately thanks to redeemed miles on Continental. With the Talley entourage reassembled, we rented a Dodge minivan, enjoyed Seattle for a few days, drove to British Columbia and boarded a Canadian ferry to Vancouver Island and charming, historic Victoria. We stayed at the venerable Empress Hotel where the girls enjoyed high tea. We visited English-style gardens and shopped, of course. This was during innocent, pre-9/11 days when one could freely travel to and from Canada or Mexico with only a driver’s license as identification.
In Victoria we learned of ferry service across the narrow Strait of Juan de Fuca, a much shorter return to Washington State. We opted for it.
The day of departure back to the United States, breakfast room service arrived late. Hair bows and sandals went missing, then found. In this routine chaos, man-child and I had but one duty, to get him and his diaper bag into the van. Finally, our caravan loaded into the Caravan. We were the last to drive onto the boat.
Midway across I readied my Texas license. Linda reached for her purse. It had been left behind at the hotel. The diaper bag held an old wallet with her Kroger check-cashing card, a Dillard’s lingerie department coupon and, luckily, her photo ID Sam’s Club membership card.
At customs in Port Angeles, Washington, the agent viewed the Sam’s Club card while our little ones looked on, fearing Mom would have to get back on the boat. As agents often do, he quizzed with a few current event questions, as in “How are things with the Houston economy?”
Linda answered correctly, “Getting better since oil prices are going up.”
“Welcome home, Mrs. Talley,” he said.
Current century: Saturday two weeks ago, I left my home in Bentonville, Arkansas, bound for Kansas City International, the closest Southwest Airlines airport to me with service to the Northeast. Bearing a round-trip pass expiring five days later, I flew to Maine, state No. 49 on my bucket list of 50.
After two days enjoying end-of-summer beaches and start-of-fall foliage in southern Maine, I boarded The Cat, a sleek, jet-powered ferry from Portland to Nova Scotia. Again, I was on a ferry between the United States and Canada with a Dodge Caravan, the only vehicle available upon my arrival in Portland.
Following the route along the Bay of Fundy and the land of the Acadians, I happened upon Grand-Pré, the settlement from which the French were driven out. Most eventually arrived in the southwest prairies and bayous of my native Louisiana. In July I had visited by chance the Evangeline statue where she waited for rendezvous with her Gabriel under the famous oak in St. Martinville, La. In Canada in October, here she was again before her fateful departure. With nary a drop of French blood in my veins, I became misty-eyed reading the names of those who were cruelly expelled by the English (my heritage) — surnames shared by hundreds of my childhood schoolmates and life-long family friends.
Ever since watching a junior high science film about the Bay of Fundy, I’ve wanted to see the famous tides. Tidal bores flowing near the towns of Truro and Maitland as high tide arrived were dramatic, as were boats, seen earlier on my route, resting in the muck at low tide 20 feet below the docks. Another bucket list check-off.
Returning to Maine via New Brunswick, I detoured to Prince Edward Island for a dockside lobster roll lunch. Crossing the high, 8-mile-long Confederation Bridge to the island province was exhilarating and ethereal at once. I was driving across the Atlantic Ocean in a rainstorm! Well, close enough: It was the Northumberland Strait.
Following the less-traveled coastal route, I crossed the border at Calais. The amiable U.S. agent scanned my passport. Among routine matters, he asked, “Is there anything in Bentonville other than Walmart?”
I took the cue and recited my tourism capsule about Alice Walton’s art museum and the ensuing cultural changes. I continued, relating how my late wife is buried down the lane from Sam Walton’s grave in the old city cemetery. So I expect my kids will never be worried with cemetery upkeep.
Laughing, he stamped my passport. “Welcome home, Mr. Talley.”
Once again, Sam’s Club “membership” eased me home from Canada.