Some things we take for granted: death, taxes, and titles that are descriptive of their content.
When we headed into the wilderness of Pennsylvania truck stops and Amish Walmarts, it was with the understanding that this detour would conclude at Niagara Falls. Yet, this was not the intent when we left Tennessee. I had left my passport in the Volunteer state along with other assets that we considered unnecessary for this leg of our trip. Thus, it was important that we stay on the US side of the falls. In hindsight, I know that that would have given us such a limited experience of the falls.
All the same, when I opened the Hotel Tonight app on my phone, I appreciated that the suggested locations search terms for Niagara distinguished between the New York and Ontario sides. I selected the New York side and a hotel. You see where this is going, no? I certainly didn’t. I was the navigator and even I didn’t realize exactly where we were going until we were on the Rainbow Bridge crossing into Canada. Let’s say the border guard was incredulous when we explained that I lacked a passport because I didn’t intend to come to Canada. I’m not sure if my obsessive travel fallbacks were a boon or if it was simply suspicious that I did have a photocopy of my passport but no passport. Maybe it was. After all, as soon as two curious border guards searched through Dodgy, we were allowed to proceed to our ill-fated hotel.
Yet, this set the tone for the trip. I had heard about the egregious breaches of civil liberties that my country commits upon its own citizens along the border. I knew that in less than two days I would have to cross back and, in that interim, the Sword of Damocles ominously hung above my head. Thus, I didn’t take it well when I was informed by hotel staff that the room service that attracted me to this particular hotel was no longer offered. I took it less well when I discovered there was no soap in the bathroom. And I learned that there were even greater depths to which I could “not take it well” when I paid $30 for a mediocre entree at a restaurant sporting stale bread and frozen butter. Ah, and then a quick check of CNBC informed me that the thirty Canadian dollars I had just spent exchanged at a rate of one Canadian dollar to 1.33 American dollars.*
I went to bed sour and woke up dour but resigned.
If everything was going to cost an arm and a leg—and I had one day left before attempting to return to a country so paranoid about its borders that Donald Trump can have a remotely viable political career—I might as well spend all our collective arms and the legs at an elevated revolving restaurant overlooking the falls. For a moment, I was enjoying myself.
And then I came down, both literally and metaphorically. That night, I could barely sleep. I was fighting off dogs in my fleeting dreams until it was 4:30 AM: time to go.
We had agreed to leave early after seeing the parade of cars waiting to cross into the US perform their best imitation of snails. Waiting in that queue was too much to even contemplate. Thus, we were at the US border at 5:15 explaining our implausible mistake. The border agent looked at my passport photocopy, at his computer, then back to my passport photocopy while I searched for a mantra to remember not to say anything stupid. Now was not the time to engage a uniformed stranger in a discussion on the long term ramifications of America’s war on drugs or the shortcomings of the federal contractor bidding process. And, yet, after reassuring him that I’m an American citizen, born in America, who lives in America he let us through without even searching the van. I was a warm, fuzzy ball of delight until exhaustion hit an hour later.
*This was actually the result of poor presentation, the exchange rate was the inverse.