SEA from YYZ with A-C (Abounding Cynicism)

Trip Start Oct 20, 2004
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Flag of United States  , Washington
Friday, August 19, 2011

August 19th 2011

Two and a half weeks flitted by in a blur of friends and family visited; comfort food eaten; motorcycle rides enjoyed under sweltering, clear blue skies and beers partaken of in pleasant companionship. But it wasn't all peaches, cream and stress-free relaxation. Rolling up the metal garage door on my first visit to the storage locker resulted in a moment of stunned silence, quickly followed by a string of venomous epithets that shocked even my dad; himself a former master of inventive invective. A 'preventative maintenance’ roofing renewal had leaked liquid tar into our unit, where it had slid down the walls and dripped black and goopily onto all that lay beneath; mostly May’s furniture.

I was not impressed; truth be told I was more than a little miffed. My poor dad was introduced to a brave and shocking new world of evocative malediction. In his day, and in generationally typically English fashion, he was known to favour the ‘Bloody this and that’ line of swearing. However, he had been no stranger to dropping the occasional, gloriously appalling F-bomb, although it had rarely been coupled with, or preceded by, the word ‘mother’. The curse had sprung from my mouth with glee and now hung heavy between us, oozing toxins in the summer heat. Even the birds stopped twittering. Dad was still looking stunned as I wheeled away to summon the manager; sensing the heavy footed approach of catastrophic kismet he suggested we deal with it at a later date, when cooler heads may have prevailed. Unfortunately, I don’t work that way; with only a couple of weeks in Ontario I was determined to get it sorted immediately, not put it off and have to deal with at a later date. Besides, it would just nag at me.

As it turned out, the manager was a very reasonable fellow, who apologized profusely and offered a solution; his staff would clean up the pieces they could and whatever they couldn’t fix would be shipped out for professional refinishing. Problem solved; all that remained was to thoroughly sweep and clean the locker and wait for everything to be returned, so that I could drape it all with a thick plastic drop sheet to, hopefully, avoid a repeat performance.

On August 18th I prepped my bike for storage. Cleaned, oiled, clothed in old blankets and with its electrolyte heart removed, set on a shelf and hooked up to a monitoring trickle charger, it was encased once again in its lumber lair. After storing gear, keys and important items in places that I hoped I would recall the next time around; I swept out the cozy little apartment above the garage and once more bid it ‘adieu’. My luggage was packed for a trip back to Taiwan with a difference. This time around I wasn’t flying direct. The return leg was to be interrupted by a week-long Alaskan Cruise with family, which itself would be followed by a few days in Vancouver and a motorcycle ride up the scenic and serpentine Sea to Sky Highway, which wends its way along British Columbia’s stunning West Coast.

Another adventure beckoned.

On the road again…

I drove into Toronto, following the very precise instructions of my dad, who steadfastly ignored those of my mum to ‘Leave him alone Malc, he knows what he’s doing". Thanks mum. You tried. After finding a spot in one of the Park ‘n’ Fly facilities close to the airport, we were shuttled to our terminal in a white passenger van along with a half-dozen other people who were edgily checking their watches, peering forward through the windshield and making tutting sounds. They were late and cutting it close.

Arriving at the correct terminal we hurried to get in line, but were directed instead to the self-service check-in booths by someone who looked official. Although we managed to figure them out, we were still required to stand in line to check our luggage, so I was quietly bewildered as to the actual benefit of the automated, touch-screen machines. Mistakenly, I had thought it was designed to streamline and accelerate the process but the only thing it appeared to accomplish was to give the check-in attendants less work to do. Obviously I was missing something…

***

I know how our American neighbours are going to conquer Canada during the bicentennial re-enactment of the War of 1812. At Toronto Pearson International Airport you officially clear U.S customs and immigration while still on Canadian soil. The U.S Department of Homeland Security, Border Control, Racial Profiling and General Paranoia justifies it by calling it ‘preclearance’ but I call it a small, seemingly innocuous but irrefutable foot jammed solidly in Canada’s door. Apparently, the concept is that it makes border procedures more efficient and facilitates travel between preclearance locations and U.S. airports. In actual fact, while undeniably reducing border-clearing congestion at ports of entry in the U.S, it just increases it at ports of departure to the U.S.

The real bonus for the USDoHS,BC,RP&GP however, is that it gives customs and immigration officers the chance to refuse entry to anybody they choose before they set foot in the ‘Land of the Free’. This reduces paperwork and embarrassing scenes at the airport. Furthermore, it eases the burden on American taxpayers who no longer have to foot the bill to process and ship home dusky skinned individuals, who knew a guy, who went to school with a girl, who had a cousin, who once received spam e-mail from the son of a woman, whose nephew lived in the same city as a Muslim, who may have, in passing, once said he hated Americans.

The policy also serves to put passengers travelling to America in a bad mood before they board the plane, thus greatly increasing the likelihood of in-flight violence and spontaneous hi-jackings. Nothing ruins the start of a trip quite as quickly as being marginalised and rudely treated by a Grade 10 educated, 350lb lump of cellulite who (until he/she can ingest some sugary, grease saturated, jelly filled dough) is determined to make everyone’s day as miserable as humanly possible. You expect it after your flight; it’s all part of the process of flying to America, and you’re probably feeling cranky by then anyways (particularly if you have flown Air Canada) but, in my opinion, making people angry before they even get to the departure gate is just asking for someone armed with a pop can pull-tab and a plastic butter knife to seize control of the plane and demand to be let out somewhere over Tuktoyaktuk.

So, my question is this; if you are allowed to enter the U.S once you have been poked, prodded, x-rayed and interrogated in Toronto, then are you theoretically entering the U.S once you have cleared pre-clearance? If you are considered of sound mind and body; don’t obviously pose a threat to U.S national security; haven’t secreted any miniature thermo-nuclear devices in your flip-flops or received acceptance letters from terrorist training centers in Afghanistan and thus, have been granted the dubious honour of entering the most paranoid country on the face of the planet, then is your departure lounge considered an extension of American territory? If so, all Mr. Obama has to do is convince Stephen Harper that harmonious relations would be fostered by increasing Toronto’s preclearance area to include – Oh, I don’t know – say, the 90 mile swath of Canada which borders America and contains 75% of the population? Fence it; top it with razor wire; patrol it with mean men armed with big sticks, bigger guns and snarling, sharp toothed, slightly more agreeable dogs and ‘Voila!’ – Bob’s yer Uncle Tom – Territorial creep…

What a complete pain in the arse it is to enter or pass through the States. Then again; all things considered, I suppose I’d rather be inspected, grilled and made to feel irrationally guilty by an overweight, surly, humourless immigration officer, than be tumbling to earth from 32,000 feet with my clothes on fire and missing vital body parts…

****

We flew into Seattle on Air Canada and I whiled away the time, amusing myself by conjuring up apropos labels for the A C acronym – Absolutely Crappy / Abysmal Chairs / Absolutely (nothing) Complimentary / Aging and Cantankerous (in flight hostesses) … the list goes on, but most include four letter words too rude for polite society and which would give my mother heart palpitations. However, let me just state, for the record, that Air Canada’s policy of not providing complimentary meals or drinks on national flights is a complete joke. Is it really too much to expect a free plate of lukewarm food on a flight within a country so vast that it would take over 80 hours of driving at the national speed limit to get from Boundary Peak (the westernmost point in British Columbia) to Cape Spear (the easternmost point in Newfoundland)?  

If that’s not bad enough, apparently Seattle, Washington is close enough to the Great White North that Air Canada considers it ‘almost Canadian’ and consequently they don’t provide complimentary anything if you’re flying there either. Between clearing customs and immigration for the States in T.O and not being fed on ‘internal flights’ which somehow covers American cities within an hour or so of the border, it seems there are some very flexible interpretations of where the respective national boundaries actually lie.

***

We touched down in Seattle and hailed a cab to downtown. None of us were sure quite how far it was, so when we arrived at the hotel I was shocked to see $45 U.S showing on the meter; enough to cover a flight for both Cathy and I with complimentary meals in the Philippines. As my parents were in the process of looking for a new car, the Toyota Prius Taxi had afforded us a topic of conversation. Unfortunately the answers to their enquiries pertaining to mileage, reliability and maintenance costs were largely incomprehensible due to the East Indian cab driver’s combination of a heavy accent and mumbling pronunciation. Nonetheless, we nodded politely and made non-committal ‘Mmmmm’ing noises intended to signal our understanding.

After checking into well-worn but comfy rooms at the Best Western / Loyola Inn we immediately went in search of something to eat. Air Canada makes a mockery of the old business adage ‘Under-sell and over-deliver’. Essentially they reverse the ideal by promoting delicious looking meals in glossy in-flight magazine, but serving tepid, greasy ‘food’ with all the nutritional value of a strip of cardboard. My parents had splurged on some form of sustenance (which failed to sustain them for very long) but I hadn’t eaten since leaving Puslinch and was famished. Based on a recommendation from the harried, sleep-deprived fellow manning the reception desk, we wandered over to an Italian eatery. Thin crust pizza and bruschetta really hit the spot and it wasn’t long before we were waddling back to our rooms with full bellies. It was only 11:30 pm locally in the West but it was 2:30 am in Ontario and it had been a long day. Certain we would see my sister and her family the next morning for breakfast, we didn’t bother to disturb them and made tentative plans to spend the day exploring Seattle together. Cathy and May would be arriving sometime later in the afternoon. By dinnertime the family would be together once again.

***

Postscript: - As much as I badmouthed the flight, it wasn’t entirely terrible. I did manage to watch a pretty good movie. If you get the chance, check out ‘The Bang Bang Club’, an engrossing and shocking based-on-real-life drama chronicling the experiences of four combat photographers during the final days of apartheid in South Africa. One of them (Kevin Carter) captured, and was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for, a deeply disturbing, but iconic image of a vulture stalking a starving young girl during the Sudanese famine of 1993. His role in the scene, and the atrocities he had witnessed, haunted him until his suicide in 1994.
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