Once upon a time, it was Labo(u)r Day in Canada-land, and I was moving in to a house with people I had found on the internet to start my MA program at Carleton University. After a whirlwind tour of the house with a brief mention of the fact that the front door has a trick to it, my roommates took off for the holiday weekend and left me to unpack, which I did with gusto by overturning my suitcase and promptly leaving the house for orientation shindiggery.
As I left, I locked the front door behind me, remembered the brief, hurried warning about the front door trick, and decided to practice my re-entry in the mid-afternoon sunlight so I would be able to open the door more easily should I return under cover of darkness late at night. So I put the key in the lock and turned.
And turned the other way.
And turned it a few more times.
I pulled on the door. I banged on the door. I jiggled the handle. I swore at the doorknob. I pleaded with the doorknob. I pondered my cell-phone-and-internet-less sistuation. I panicked. I calmed down. I panicked one more time.
All in all, I spend about 15 minutes – while bemused and VERY UNHELPFUL neighbo(u)rs looked on – struggling, pleading, and futzing with the door. In the end, I gave up the struggle, left a note for my roommates telling them I’d be back the following afternoon and could they please wait around until I got there so they could let me in, and walked to campus, which took me another 40 minutes (I’m sick of your lies, Google Maps!), almost causing me to miss the meeting time for the orientation activity.
Once I made it to campus, I found a pay phone and tried to call the only Ottawa-area contact that I had, the mother of a friend of mine from McGill who works for the federal government (a fact that is incredibly surprising in that town not at all). Unfortunately, the use of pay phones eluded me. Only later did I learn that I had to dial the AREA CODE but NOT the number 1 before the phone number. After I got a bilingual error message for the third time, I cried like a boss (Grandma, don’t click on that link! It’s the uncensored YouTube version for my Canadian friends, since ether can’t see the SNL version on Hulu.) and decided that my remaining 75 cents could be better spent on gum balls.
I finally made it over to the orientation event meeting place, and upon reaching the O-train station with the other parade / protest goers (they like you to hit the ground running in grad school), I promptly voiced my tale of tragedy, woe, and non-functional door parts to the other folks in attendance, asking if any of them could house a hopeless American for the night (until my roommates returned with the secret password / magic door opening dance).
One lady there laughed at my story and said it was a good thing I wasn’t locked out of my apartment in Chicago, at least, because that’d be scarier than Ottawa. Although she may have been right about that, I decided to hate her forever for talking smack about my city. But then she introduced herself and said she’d check with her new roommates about hosting this impromptu sleepover.
Turns out she had some valid claims to knowledge about Chicago, since she went to the University of Chicago. Frankly, I don’t think it would be pleasant to be locked out of an apartment in certain parts of Hyde Park at certain hours of the night. So I stopped hating her and became amused by this Canadian who went to undergrad in America-land, much as she seemed bemused by this American who went to undergrad in Canada-land and returned for higher degrees in Canadian Studies and what is that exactly?
After that parade, followed by an evening of fun and frolicking, many dinner parties, long chats, attending cool student rate shows at the National Arts Centre together, and participating in some perogy-making protests, I realized that we were actually BFFs. She came to our wedding, came to visit us in Illinois, and generally has proven to be a superior confidant. She even wrote me a letter! For the record, I LOVE GETTING MAIL.
It just goes to show you that (a) first impressions can be incredibly off-base (even if someone is making fun of Chicago, maybe it’s because their sociology class went on a field trip to poll people living on the street at 3 am in a sketchy van) and (b) you should totally sleep over at the homes of people you just met whose names you don’t even know, because you might become BFFs.
This might be the first time my mom is hearing this story, and she might have a different opinion about stranger danger and how I should get a cell phone to use when I am in a foreign country, but it seemed like a good idea at the time and I’m cheap (respectively).
This leads me to a final piece of advice: (c) wait until at least 2 years and 3 friendly encounters with the person have passed before you tell your mom how you met someone if the circumstances are in any way dangerous-sounding. Like the trampoline incident! But that’s for another post.