Around Labo(u)r Day each year, I fondly remember once upon a time…
In September 2009, on Labo(u)r Day weekend, I moved to Ottawa, Ontario, to study for a Master’s in Canadian Studies at Carleton University. I had found a room in a house to rent using some sort of internet-based search (possibly Craigslist). Since it was a holiday weekend, my brand new housemates headed off on a caping trip a few minutes after I moved in. They left me a key and I, intrepid explorer that I am, saved my unpacking for later and headed off to join in the Grad Welcome Weeks events on campus.
As I left my new house for the first time, firmly locking the door behind me, I thought, “You know, I am in a new city in a foreign country for the first time. I don’t have a cell phone or really anything other than a wallet with U.S. currency in it. I’d better just check and make sure that I can get back into the house in case I get back late, in the dark, and / or I am kind of tipsy from Canadian beers.” (After all, some of the Welcome Weeks events were scheduled to occur in a pub called “Mike’s Place.”) I’d like to give a slight tip of the hat to Past Amanda for looking out for Future Amanda. Whatever part of my lizard brain made me double-check my ability to unlock the door turned out to be a Good Instinct.
Turning back to the house, I tried my new key on the door that I had locked behind me. I jiggled the key to the left. I jiggled the key to the right. I tried the handle. The door didn’t open. I retried the key. The door didn’t open. I thought about the consequences of being locked out of a new house in a new city with no cell phone and limited / no Canadian cash assets, unable to contact my new roommates away on a camping trip (their cell numbers were safely locked inside the house with the land line telephone), with new neighbo(u)rs who didn’t know me at all and probably thought I was trying to break in…
Then I figured I should focus up and try the key again. No dice. After a few more futile attempts (okay, several more increasingly panicked futile attempts), I reevaluated the situation.
“Well,” I thought to myself, “I can stand here all day being locked out of the house until it gets dark and one of the neighbo(u)rs finally calls the cops about my break-in attempts, or I can head off to campus and see what I can do about that Canadian beer. If I leave right now, I might just barely make it to the Welcome Weeks parade event on time.”
Off to campus I rapidly wandered, getting a little lost along the way because the part of Ottawa that I was in had looked way more walkable on Google maps before I left my computer and phone and internet access behind a locked door.
About an hour later, a bit breathless and sunburnt, I arrived at something called an “O-Train” station just in time to meet up with the departing Welcome Weeks group that was headed to a citywide Labo(u)r Day parade.
“Hello!” I introduced myself to the group of fellow newbie grad students and our fearless Welcome Weeks coordinator. “My name is Amanda! I’m from Chicago and I was wondering if I could sleep over at anyone’s house tonight because I sure am locked out of mine.”
Most of the other newbie grad students shuffled their feet and looked askance at this admittedly bizarre request, but one Canadian (whose name I later learned was AY) exclaimed: “At least you’re not locked out of your house in Chicago!”
“HOW DARE YOU SPEAK THAT WAY ABOUT CHICAGO, YOU TERRIBLE PERSON,” I thought to myself. “Why are Canadians always hating on the United States and our ridiculous crime rates?! What sanctimonious jerks.” (Not to mention, being locked out of my house in Chicago wouldn’t have been quite as much of a problem for me, since I actually knew other human residents of Chicago. And had a U.S. cell phone. And U.S. currency. Needless to say, I did not appreciate her point at the time.)
“Uh huh…” I said out loud. “So, can I sleep over at your place or what?”
“Well, I’m AY. It’s nice to meet you, I think… Let me just check with my brand new housemates, but it should probably be fine!”
In the end, it turned out that we all had a lovely time at the parade, a fabulous time at the over-crowded Mike’s Place, and that AY had actually attended the University of Chicago so kind of had a reasonable justification about her “not being locked out in Chicago” comment. Her housemates were amenable (enough) to a random person spending the night, and thus a friendship was forged from the initial flames of animosity.
The next day, I had my student ID photo taken, and I still have my disheveled, sunburnt, day-old outfit photo to commemorate the kindness of strangers (even Canadian strangers) who became fast friends through their kindness, generosity, and general awesomeness. My housemates eventually returned from their camping trip to find me on the front stoop.
“Oh, I forgot to tell you – the lock is really tricky,” one of them said.
P.S. AY’s totally at my house right now – our first non-family house guest since we had a kid! Although really, I do consider her family (along with the chick that I followed to Wal-Mart to befriend, and the chick I met on a trampoline at the gym, but those are stories for another time). Who else would let you just sleep over with no questions asked, coming to your aid when you needed it quite a bit!?
Happy Friend-aversary, Friend. :-D