My dad one of those people who is always involved in some kind of antics. This means that none of us (Grandma Rose, Grandma Murphy, Mom, Meg, Bub, T, or I) were particularly surprised when he suggested driving a Winnebago from Indiana to Montreal to drop me off at McGill University in the summer of 2004.
It was a great trip – we went to an amusement park in Ohio, a baseball hall of fame in New York, and played cards at the Winnebago table while The Parents drove and adamantly refused to let The Grandmotherly Duo drive.
When we got to Ye Olde Arbitrary Borderline between Canada-land and America-land, the immigration official asked my dad (who was driving at the time) if everyone in the vehicle was related to him. My dad, in true dad fashion, replied with a blank stare. After considering for a moment, he said, “Well, I’m not sure.” My mom, from the Passenger Seat of Sense, said “YES. Yes, everyone in this vehicle is related to you.”
They proceeded to debate the semantics and finer points of familial terms like “mother-in-law” versus “biological mother” and what “related” means. The border guard eventually intervened and suggested that if the only persons in the vehicle not related-by-blood to my dad were his wife and mother-in-law then, yes, we are all related.
My dad thought this would be a good opportunity to interject “Oh, yes, we’re all related, except for the illegal immigrants in the trunk.”
My mother promptly punched him in the arm.
The border guard asked us to all please exit the Winnebago and stand over there while he and his battalion checked our trunk. This was quite a process, because the Winnebago apparently has lots of cabinets in which a Human Bean could hide. I hope they enjoyed those Pop Tarts!
After all that, we were back on our way to a Kampground of Amerika (KOA) outside of Montreal, where we happily passed the evening.
The next morning, my dad asked the KOA manager where the best place to park a Winnebago would be on the Island of Montreal.
The English-speaking manager informed him in no uncertain terms that it was not advisable, and indeed barely possible, to drive a Winnebago on the Island of Montreal.
My dad replied something to the effect of “I don’t understand French!” and loaded us all back into the party truck for a ride to Montreal.
Now, there are three important things to know about driving in Montreal:
1) Arret means stop. You will see it, in cunning white letters, on those red hexagons at the end of some blocks. All of my dad’s training in engineering stop and go lights apparently did not prepare him for this anomaly.
Pro tip: Stop at the Arret signs!
Masters Level: If you are driving a Winnebago, other people will stop for you, because who wants to get plowed over by a Winnebago?
2) Flashing green means that you can turn left.
Pro tip: There. are. no. words.
3) It is illegal to take a right turn at a red light. (Or a left turn, for that matter – see 2.) However, to quote myself, “If you are driving a Winnebago…”
All of that was fun, but THE BEST PART was when we parked in the middle of de la Montagne to unload my school / apartment supplies. People were honking and cursing and waiting patiently the way only Quebec drivers can, and my dad was just smiling, carrying my suitcases up three flights of stairs, and yelling “I don’t understand French!” at random passerby.
THEN he drove off to park the Winnebago so we could enjoy the rest of the day in Montreal unimpeded and on foot. He was gone for like FOUR HOURS. (No cell phones – it’s Canada and that is expensive.) When he finally got back, he told us that he had parked by the airport or something and WALKED BACK DOWNTOWN, hence the delay.
I guess that’s where I get my penchant for the flaneur lifestyle. (Accent marks, turns out, are not necessary in French. Learned that from one of EZH’s students.)
All that to say, it was an amazing start to my McGill career.
And his “I don’t understand French business” came in really handy when I tried to graduate, but that’s a story for another day.