Fool’s errand

After a rather lengthy (five year) process that involved three attempts and several outrageously stupid mistakes – paperwork that was mailed out one day too late, and submitting the wrong paperwork only to be told to repeat the process – four out of five Johnsons finally got pseudo permission to remain in Canada. Indefinitely.

Four out of five because it took all three of those attempts for Canada to decide that Percy is in fact, Canadian, and can remain here forever. Without the rigamarole of filling out any paperwork.

We received a congratulatory letter with official documents sometime at the beginning of 2016 and, with our work permits due to expire in July, we found ourselves having, on occasion, a pseudo-discussion about when we should venture ‘to the border’ to become ‘landed’. [As in being interviewed by someone official and signing a form in their presence.]

A pseudo-discussion, for those unfamiliar with indirect and pointless communication, is when one person brings something up to another person and that person feigns interest without contributing anything definitive to the conversation. As in, ‘we need to get that permanent residency thing done!’ ‘Yes, we should.’

[Cue: Walk out of the room to get laundry or return to equally pointless web-surfing.]

After doing this a few times we miraculously reached the same conclusion (likely driven by our Google Calendar and upcoming air travel) that our only opportunity for making a run-for-the-border would be the May long weekend. Faster than you can say ‘I thought you guys were incapable of making decisions’, I created a red rectangle of our intentions on Google and booked a hotel in five-hours-away Whitefish, Montana.

Why Whitefish? Mostly because it is ‘only’ five hours away. And because it is close to Kalispell (i.e. it has a Target). And for its proximity to Glacier National Park which boasts a scenic drive known as ‘Going to the Sun Road’. (The professor is something of a sucker for a scenic drive as you might recall.)

A day or two before we left, I was talking to my mom on the phone. She’s a detail oriented worrier and felt the need to ask questions about this strange roadtrip of ours, like ‘are you sure you can do this at any border’ or something like that. Later when I was gathering all our relevant documents for the trip, I took a moment to read through the letter we’d gotten back in January or February. The letter neither of us actually bothered to read all the way through.

‘If you are residing in Canada….please contact a CIC office near your place of residence to arrange an appointment.’

[Though I don’t know what a CIC office is, exactly, I know there is one less than 8km from my house.]

I relayed the news to the professor when he got home and we had another pseudo-discussion about whether we should call off the trip. ‘So, should we not go?” [Silence, accompanied by reciprocal thinking-without-opining stares.] ‘Well, we’ve already booked the hotel. Might as well have some fun.’

The next morning, after an astonishingly protracted departure given the fact we were going to be gone for all of 48 hours, one that involved digging out our winter jackets after a glance at the forecast revealed less than desirable weather, we hopped in the car at 8:34am. By 8:37am, the Hen had already consumed his day’s allotment of junk food – an entire row of Oreos. At 10:01am the Gort asked ‘Mom, can I have a sandwich?’ And at 10:03am someone asked ‘have we crossed the border yet?’

Man, do I love roadtrips.

I’d intended to read Tina Fey’s Bossypants aloud during the drive, in an effort to keep the professor from listening to baseball or his very eclectic ipod playlist entertained. It’s true, he actually plays this ‘game’ where he finds an annoying song, turns it up way too loud and then counts, silently, how long it takes me to freak out.

Apparently it’s six seconds, if I’m busy deleting pictures from my phone. Point seven five if my hands are idle.

After reading through the first chapter, I determined Bossypants was neither hysterically funny nor appropriate to read aloud with six potentially listening ears in the backseat. So I settled on reading Will Ferguson’s ‘Why I Hate Canadians’ instead. A book that is both funny and esoteric enough that the 12-and-under set are unlikely to persist in paying attention. Not to mention educational for the 40-and-over American-but-living-in-Canada set.

During the drive, when I wasn’t reading, I formulated a rough itinerary for our visit to Montana. Day 1: visit Target and everything I love about America that Kalispell has to offer. (This is an important distinction because I love Trader Joe’s but Kalispell does not have one.) Day 2: visit Glacier National Park. Day 3: drive home and become landed permanent residents.

Eventually we arrived at Whitefish’s very brand-new Hampton Inn & Suites. The boys, who can all read, as luck would have it, saw the dreaded P-O-O-L sign and my itinerary received its first adjustment: sitting in the extremely warm pool room while three boys cavorted in chlorinated water and the professor took a nap in a quiet room.

I sweated for an hour, imagining all the familial goodwill I was purchasing with my sacrificial act, and then we left the pool and readied ourselves for some fun in 15-miles-away Kalispell. We entered the town via a settlement of strip malls, the kind I like to deride for lack of imagination and terrible architecture but secretly love: Target, Costco, Starbucks, a natural grocery store and an enormous movie theater surrounded by the culinary likes of Famous Dave’s and Applebees. Yes!

‘Mom, if you love this place so much, why don’t we live here?’ the ever logical Gort inquired from the back. Indeed, why weren’t we living in Montana? (Besides the obvious dearth of architecture programs.)

Despite idealizing it from afar, imagining a romantic, granola-chic existence surrounded by spectacular scenery, whenever I’m in Montana I inevitably find it lean on the chic and heavy on the rustic. Not to mention the vehicle to domicile ratio exceeds my comfort level. I simply don’t understand it, especially not when a percentage of those vehicles are obviously not in working condition.

Why keep them around?

I explained my Montanaversion* by mumbling something about employment opportunities, plus ‘I just don’t think I can live in a state that does not have at least one big[ish] city.’ To my mind it would be like living on a cruise ship. Sure, you have everything you need, but there’s nowhere to escape.

We strolled through the aisles of Target – really just the toy aisles. And though I purchased nothing for myself, I felt buoyed by seeing the Marimekko for Target collection along with the different flavors of Oreos not available in Canada. After a quick browse through two-stores-down TJ Maxx, which yielded nothing but a soccer bag for the Hen, we drove across the highway to Famous Dave’s.

The main reason we willingly eat at Famous Dave’s – aside from our boy-children’s ardent appreciation of pork covered in barbeque sauce – is because we used to eat there when we lived in Minneapolis, many moons ago. When Dave had only two or three franchises to his name.

Good times were had. We dined under faux antler chandeliers. Our efficient and attentive waitress brought us free barbeque chips. And we drove back to the hotel where all four boy-men indulged in their roadtrip ritual of watching cable television until far too late, while I fell asleep convincing myself that I would get up early and go for a run before we headed to Glacier National Park.

Because I am now a person who exercises. Regularly.

[Please note I did not say ‘because I am now a person who eschews eating excessive quantities of disgusting cake to the point of illness. No, rest assured, I still do that.]

The night transpired in the manner of one spent in the confines of a hotel room with unfamiliar thermostat settings and four other people shifting and coughing and stealing your covers.

At some point I emerged from my bone tired cocoon and put on the running clothes I’d carefully set out the night before. In an effort to gauge how many layers I would need, I walked towards the window for a peek at the outdoors.

It was raining. Neither a drizzle nor a downpour, but steady, confident precipitation. I may be a person who exercises regularly, but I am not a person who willingly goes out into the rain to do so. [This pseudo-litmust test will undoubtedly rule out the possibility of relocating to Washington or Oregon.] I stood, staring at the steady rain, trying to decide how to handle this turn of events. (I guess sometimes the weather forecast with the raindrops coming from a cloud actually means something.)

‘You could go to the gym. I’m sure they have a treadmill,’ the professor finally stated the obvious. Which was just as well since I would have never reached this conclusion on my own.

Relieved at the thought of not having to jog along a highway in my better half’s rain jacket, I made my way to the brand new, unoccupied gym. It’s of very little consequence, but I can not, for the life of me, recall the last time I might have been on a treadmill.

Was it 1993? Maybe 2001 for that brief two month period when the professor and I belonged to a gym? (Also in Minneapolis.)

I hopped on the machine which seemed to look much the same as the last treadmill I used. I hit a slew of buttons and the conveyor belt began to move, albeit slower than crystallized honey.

‘I will die if I have to spend three minutes on a treadmill this slow,’ I thought to myself. I kept punching arrows but the treadmill wouldn’t go any faster. I got off and tried another treadmill. Same thing. I was fairly confident that I was the culprit, that there was no way a brand-new hotel would have two broken treadmills. Finally, I saw it: another set of arrows and boom, I was able to adjust the speed from 30 minutes a mile to something in the slightly more respectable range.

As an added bonus, I had a giant television screen two inches from my face; the tell-tale HGTV letters displayed in the bottom right hand corner. After my struggle with the treadmill, I didn’t even contemplate touching the remote in an effort to find something more entertaining to watch. So Flip or Flop it was.

I endured thirty minutes of Tarek and Christina dealing with renovations and unexpected costs, trying to push through that anxious, tension-riddled feeling reality television always gives me; doing my best to ignore the fact that the temperature in the room hovered around 85 degrees. And then I hopped off the treadmill – luckily the ‘stop’ button is still easy to find in 2016 or I might have had a Bridget Jones situation on my hands.

I grabbed a triangle paper cup from the dispenser and held it underneath the water cooler, pressing one button and then the other with zero success. Red-faced and dehydrated, I returned to my television-watching junkies and gathered them for the free breakfast downstairs. Where, hopefully, I would find some water.

I hate free hotel breakfasts. Or maybe I just hate taking my children to free hotel breakfasts. I inevitably stand around, trying to assess the situation, as in ‘what is the least offensive thing we can eat here’ and in the roughly 90 seconds I spend doing that, my boys have dumped apple jacks into cardboard bowls, filled paper cups with a beverage labelled ‘orange juice’ though it looks decidedly like flat orange crush, and have piled plastic looking danishes onto plates. They’ve also drained the contents of several strawberry banana Yoplait yogurts.

This causes me to freak out a bit and say things like ‘what is this beverage in this cup?’ ‘It’s orange juice.’ ‘This is definitely not orange juice.’ ‘But it says so on the machine.’ I taste the orange kool aid crush in the off chance orange juice in Montana is just a different color than it is in the rest of the world, shake my head vigorously and say ‘you’re not drinking this’. They get mildly annoyed but they’ve also come to expect this level of insanity. So they disperse to our corner table and quietly eat their apple jacks and nibble on plastic danishes while the Gort scampers off in search of the coffee station because he is 12 and pretends to drink coffee on occasion.

The rain showed no sign of abating so it seemed rather pointless to rush off to Glacier National Park. The boys returned to the hotel pool under the watchful eye of the professor reading his large-print copy of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, while I drove ‘into town’ in search of palatable coffee.

We read our books and drank our coffee for as long as we could tolerate the humid pool area, which was suddenly crowded with three other families also at a loss about what to do on a rainy Sunday in Whitefish. And then we packed up our room which, again, seemed like a rather extensive prospect considering the timeframe of our stay. And we drove back to Kalispell.


*This litmus test would also rule out Idaho. Wyoming. North Dakota. South Dakota.  and Utah. Not to mention a host of other, smaller states, though I’d argue proximity to New York City or Boston would render states like New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut eligible. Also, full disclosure: I don’t really know where New Hampshire is.



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