Every so often I get to travel internationally, in this case to Canada. I enjoy Canada. Every-time I’ve been there I liken it to the movie “Demolition Man”. Clean scrubbed, well dressed people walking around greeting each other ‘good morning citizen’.
So this week finds me in Montreal Canada. My previous trips have been to the British rather than French side. Montreal is completely different than my travels to the Brit side. Regardless, this time of year presents a challenge to traveling to the great white north. It’s 85 degrees where I live. It’s 30s up there. Carrying a coat with your bags in the Texas heat at DFW sucks. I picked my motorcycle jacket. It’s the least bulky jacket I own.
Let’s start with the flights. Most left way, way too early for me. The others arrived way, way too late.
So I flew out on Air Canada, on a rather cozy Embraer 175. Bad thing about Air Canada is it leaves out of terminal E at DFW – The Chump Terminal. It’s also the only one I’ve seen here that is bifurcated. I found that out when the parking dude dumped me off a mile from check-in. When I got my boarding all sorted I headed to security, and showed them my passport and boarding pass. The genius asked if I were Canadian. Without missing a beat, I asked “If I was can I go in that line? (pointing at the priority line). He let me go. A nice touch that got me more time at the bar, sitting next to some marketing chick with a horrible, annoying vocal fry.
This flight had the most civilized boarding ever. I’m used to fighting a scrum of group fives and sixes to board. It helped that the plane was only half full, another thing I haven’t seen in years.
Customs was reasonably efficient. Scan the passport, the machine prints a declaration. The agent gives it a cursory “meh” and sends me on my way.
No car this time, since we were booked near the office. So first thing I realized was that my mobile was now roaming. Bob and Jerry’s wireless offered me a data plan. Luckily, Montreal airport has free wireless, so I hit that to sort things out. Second thing I figured was that my cards had expired in my apps. So Ubering to the Hotel was going to be an issue. I plopped in my digits, and soon enough an Uber driver whisked me away to the hotel. Note to self, check that stuff before you get on the plane.
Another thing to do is tell your credit cards that you are going out of the country. The only one I don’t have to do that with is Amex. Needless to say, I forgot to do that and had to do it later.
First surprise was, this is a fairly ugly downtown area. Sort of like Pittsburgh, if it were built by the soviets. Lots of raw concrete buildings, including my Marriott. I wasn’t sure if it was retro seventies, or they simply hadn’t updated it since. My kitchen area looked like one of the shitty condos my daughter was looking at in urban Dallas. It sported a scary balcony overlooking the street. No way that exists in the US. I went out to size it up and scared myself. I’m not squeamish of heights. But I was on that. Something didn’t seem right. My coworker told me later his wasn’t level, it pointed down. I figured it had to have been an apartment building they converted. One of the desk agents told us it was, in fact, an apartment building before becoming a hotel. Still, it’s a Marriott, and has nothing if not consistent good service. Cool view too. This trip was the first time I’ve bothered with the Marriott App. I must say, it was cool checking in on the way there, and having things in order when I arrived.
Montreal is of course in French Canada, and while somewhat bilingual, they start of every interaction in French, assuming you speak the language. I don’t.
So there’s this funny thing where they babble in French. You gurn at them and say something in English, and they start talking in English.
This happened the second I hit the streets looking for grub. I really got myself in a bind, not having told my MasterCard I was out and about in Canada, and when I did, there was a time period before the notification hit. This left me with Amex. Unfortunately, many many places outside the US shun Amex. So I had to pick a place that looked big enough to maybe accommodate it.
So I picked a sports bar. I waddle in, tell the hostess, “One. It’ll just be me”, whereupon she commenced talking to me in rapid-fire French. I smiled, so she went on and on. Finally, I laughed and said I didn’t speak French. “Oh! Ha ha! I’m sorry! Well, you can sit anywhere, follow me!” So I sat and she handed me a menu and took off. The menu was in French. I know enough Spanish that I can sort out the root of Latin based languages, enough to ID the meat type and whatnot. We had this issue nearly everywhere we went.
And we went to some really stupid places. The worst had to be what I would call a “utility” sushi restaurant. To be honest, it was gross and we should have known better. Our plate showed up, all stuck together. I could barely identify what we ordered. The spider roll was most assuredly wrong. At that point I looked around and noticed too many pale faced hipsters and zero Asians. That was a clue we somehow missed. You’d think three hardcore travelers would have noticed that walking in the door.
Couple funny things I picked up on:
- Most of the cars I saw were missing hubcaps. I asked the clerk at the hotel why this was, and she gave me a long winded explanation along the lines of they don’t like them. I figured it was that they would be destroyed by the snow.
- People are very orderly here. It’s funny to see a line queued up for the elevators. Everyone seems to stand in their place and take their turn. Never see that in the US.
- Speaking of standing, the random people I ran into would stand in front of any kind of counter, oblivious that you were waiting. Like at the coffee bar in the hotel. There they’d stand, right in the middle, pour coffee, pick up condiments, casually fixing their drink. Everywhere else, one pours coffee, and moves out of the way for the next guy while applying fixings. I can’t tell how many times “For chrisstsakes, get the fuck out of the way” had to be choked off in my throat.
- The three of us seemed to tower above the general population and are used to being assertive while travelling. Walking head up, scanning for a bar, looking people in the eye seemed to make the male population (at least where we were), quail around us. Sort of like we were Huns. I’m 6′. My buddies are 6’4, 6’5 and look like trouble. It was odd to be in a large city and not run into one dude that you’d just as soon avoid. I didn’t see one male that intimidated me in any way. Apparently, thug life is not a thing there.
At the end of our week we hit an Uber to the airport and mostly went our separate ways. I was flying back on American, and unlike with the trip out, the trip back was a scrum. I knew it was coming when I saw the obligatory dozen or so first classers hovering a half hour before boarding. I’m flummoxed why they do this. I myself sit until the group before mine is called, then move into a strategic spot for when my group is called. It’s typically group 5, roughly translated as “priority access”. Normally, I’ll find a path to get where I need without cheezing someone off.
The first leg was a typical American flight, blissfully free of drama. I connected through Pittsburgh. This was when I knew I was back. The crowd hovering at the gate was nothing short of astonishing. I picked a strategic spot in a front chair, facing the gate. For a plane that seats something like 220, I counted maybe 40-50 keysters in seats. The rest were all standing in a crowd at the gate, blocking the hallway. It’s sad that in older airports like these, they have those seats in rows. Everyone sits in every other chair. This time, I had zero compunction about plopping down in-between people. In this case, between a business traveler of some type, and an old Chinese woman, who appeared to be group 9. (I look at boarding passes, often wondering why they are hovering with that high a number.)
Sure enough, when group one started boarding, the old woman gathered up her stuff and elbowed her way into line, only to be rebuffed and turned back. It honestly warmed my heart that in the this scrum, they were enforcing the rules. When they called the group before mine, I had a clear shot and made it on the plane with ease.
Luckily, another uneventful flight. Until the end, of course. Turns out we either left late, or had to wait to take off. Whichever, there were a number of the wretched that may miss connections. The stewardess attempted to address this by helpfully announcing that there were wretched aboard, and could we all wait to exit so they could make their connections? What happened next wasn’t a scrum. It was a pig-pile. Only a lucky few that had their shit and were ready to git got anywhere near the exit before the works were absolutely gummed up with douchebags that sought to gain advantage. How do I know? I saw them after I deplaned, taking their time in the restrooms, standing in line at food stands.
There is no queuing with the commoners in the US, only the pig-pile or scrum. This woman should have known this, and known DFW. If you think you probably will miss your connection, you will. Most assuredly. It’s a huge airport, each terminal is something on the order of 35 gates, nearly 1/2 mile long. And unless you are fit, and you connection is in the same terminal, you are doomed. There’s no doing a “Go OJ, Go!” between terminals at DFW. See the gate agent, make arrangements.
Having carried on, I sauntered out of the plane, hit the head, and walked out into the Texas heat.