Just sitting here and thinking of my baby and our trip to Niagara Falls in May 2010. I loved that trip and thought I’d put a few pics up. As always just click on a pic to see it full size.
Here I was again. Back in the US Border Patrol’s Secondary Investigation unit at Toronto Airport. I still couldn’t believe it. I had done all this yesterday. I had my passport stamped and my I-94 entry permit to enter the US stapled into it valid until July 2011. And just because my flight was cancelled last night I was back here again? WHY? What could of changed since yesterday?
After about 45 minutes of waiting and muttered swearing I was called up. Not to the original lady but further back to the luggage inspection table. My luggage was opened and checked. I was questioned as to why I was entering the USA again. Unbelievable! But I was duly authorised, processed, sanctioned and allowed once again to get my sweet butt into the US. I made my way back through security. Belt off, shoes off, laptop out. Beep goes the scanner, out comes the wand and I am through. Now puh-lease don’t cancel my flight again tonight. I had checked the weather earlier and it looked clear… hopefully.
I made my way to the bar. The same one as yesterday and I paid an extortionate price again for a couple of beers and a Gin and Tonic. I could see the runways and aprons and they looked clear and so this was it. The final leg of my journey back to my Raven. I swigged the last of my G&T and made my way to the gate. After about 30 minutes we embarked.
My flight to Columbus was to be on a Bombardier Dash 8. It only carries 39 passengers and inside it looks more like a bus than a plane. And … this plane has propellers …Eek! The flight is less than half full so I can choose my seat. I do. As near the front as possible and in an aisle seat. I chat with the passenger across the aisle. It turns out he is from Nova Scotia. The part he is from is populated mostly by people whose families originated in Dorset England and they still speak with the vestiges of the Dorset accent. Amazing. He is researching this and is in the process of writing a book and so I give him my card. Hope I’ll hear from him soon. We also seem to share an interest in Arthurian legends and he shows me a book he is reading. I do remember reading the same one many years back myself.
And here we go. The lights in the cabin dim. We belt up and get the safety spiel from the charming lady in charge of the cabin. I watch as the props spool up and we head off towards the runway. It seems a long way and I wonder if the pilot has decided to drive to Ohio instead but no. We stop briefly and the engine noise grows. I can’t even see the props. They are just a blur and then…. we are off. Eek! One of the properties of the Dash 8 is it’s short distance take-off and in what seems an impossibly short time we are up. The aircraft shakes and shudders. My heart beat speeds up and I watch in spellbound terror as the undercarriage retracts and a snowy Toronto grows small below me. But soon the seatbelt sign goes off with it’s comforting ‘ding’ and we settle in for the short flight across Lake Erie and down through Ohio to Columbus.
Time for a Glenfiddich I feel and so I ask the charming stewardess for a ginger ale. It arrives along with a plastic glass filled with ice. I pull out a Glenfiddich and screw off the top. The stewardess appears again with nibbles and tells me I shouldn’t be using my own whiskey. Now after the 24 hours I’ve just had I am willing to fight her if she tries to take it away but no. She smiles and tells me to put it away as I can have some from her ‘private stash’. A minute later she is back with 2 miniatures of Johnny Walker. I think of asking her to marry me as I pop the cap and top up my glass with scotch and ginger ale. One BIG sip and the world is put to rights. I even dare to look out of the window. These small planes don’t fly that high and the night must be clear as I admire the twinkling lights below. I can make out a shoreline and I raise my glass as we cross the lake and this cowboy is back in America.
I even start to enjoy the flight as I chat to my friend across the aisle and the stewardess as I mellow out on Johnny Walker and before long the announcement comes that we are starting our approach into Columbus. I look out of the window and below me Columbus stretches out in the night. That old familiar skyline looks beautiful by night. I can see roads below as traffic moves around the city. The small plane banks and we belt in as the stewardess collects our empties. Lower and lower till I can see individual cars driving along. We even pass over a sports stadium. The beautiful green field shines in it’s floodlit glory. A brief moment of fear as the undercarriage lowers with a disconcerting thud and then we are down. I feel like I am back home.
It doesn’t take long for us to disembark and to be honest I can hardly contain my excitement. I am wearing the biggest grin as I stroll through the terminal. No immigration to go through. That was all done in Toronto. And then … there she is. My baby looking a beautiful vision in a long red coat. That smile and Raven black hair that I have missed so badly for the last 6 months. All the problems of my flight and my last abortive trip fade as I walk towards her. I can see she is taking pictures as I walk up to her and into her arms. “Baby I’m home.”
Next I collect ‘the luggage’. It’s good to see it has arrived safely too and we leave the terminal. I am in a daze by now. Happiness and relief that I got here this time and Raven tells me that we are being picked up. I suspect her daughter has come to get us but I am totally gob-smacked as a massive white limo glides up in front of us. “Surprise baby.” she chuckles.
© 2011 Stan Rogers. All rights reserved.
Man I was happy. I mean H-A-P-P-Y. I had survived the taxi ride to Heathrow. I had survived the flight to Canada. I had even made it through the US Border Patrol relatively easily. I had spilt coffee down myself but I was happy. I looked at my watch. Hmmm. It was 6:00pm. I was at Toronto Airport and my flight to Columbus Ohio boarded at 7:40pm. Time for beer I thought and made my way to a nice little bar. Darn it weren’t cheap but I ordered a bottle of Molson Canadian for $6 happily. Couple of these and a G&T or two and I’ll be ready for my next flight.
I sat by the window and savoured my beer. I could see the taxi ways and aircraft waiting for passengers boarding. There was a light dusting of snow out there now and with all the lights it looked real pretty. I remembered being a little disappointed as we had come in to land. I mean this was Canada right. I had imagined a beautiful snowy landscape dotted randomly with moose and mounties but it looked just like the UK. Just a built up city and no snow, but at least the snow seemed to be coming down now. And as I enjoyed my second beer I noticed it was getting heavy. I watched as teams of snow ploughs headed out to clear the runways, merry orange lights a-twinkle. I did worry briefly about my next flight being cancelled but … naaaaa this was Canada. A little snow is nothing to them right?
I ordered a G&T and watched the multi-TV screens in the bar. Hmmmm lots of ice hockey games. I watched for a while idly as I sipped my drink. One screen also cycled through the departures and my one was still showing up as on-time as the snow built up outside steadily. So I finished my G&T and picking up my flight bag I sauntered off to my departure gate. It was bloody miles away. Most of the way I was alone and I was just soooo tempted to find a quiet corner to risk a fag but knowing my luck I’d get busted and I didn’t want to tempt fate.
Finally after what seemed like a major hike I arrived at my gate. The guy in charge seemed to be getting flustered. Looking up at the info screen I realised why. My bloody flight had been cancelled and he was surrounded by pissed-off passengers. I joined them. It turned out that Canada (Toronto Airport specifically) hadn’t been expecting the snow and had been caught with it’s pants down. Mine wasn’t the only flight being cancelled. But we expect this to happen in the UK don’t we, where even the trains come to a complete standstill because the ‘wrong kind of snow’ has fallen. Actually a small part of me smiled that this could happen even in Canada but it didn’t help for long. I talked to the Air Canada guy and apart from the remote chance of a flight to Cleveland I wasn’t going anywhere until tomorrow. “SHIT”. I was stuck in Canada yet again. What was I going to do?
Full marks to Air Canada again. The guy at the check in desk gave me a voucher for a hotel for the night including dinner and breakfast so at least I wouldn’t be sleeping in the terminal. It meant I had to go and collect my luggage and go through Canadian immigration though and the queues were disconcertingly serpentine. It seemed that lots of flights had been cancelled judging by the moans and groans of my fellow queuers. But eventually I was through and re-united with the luggage. Straight outside for a cigarette and WOW…..cold. I felt like I’d arrived in the Arctic. Man it was cold and so goodbye to the pork pie hat. I had fortuitously packed the woolly hat and gloves in the pocket of the suitcase. Travel educates you to expect all eventualities so I wrapped up to enjoy another cigarette. I had called Raven and told her of my unexpected stay for the night in Toronto again but somehow it wasn’t as bad as in October, at least I would be in Columbus even if a day late. I wasn’t going home this time.
I waited a while in the bitingly cold Toronto night but soon my shuttle bus arrived to transport me to the Crown Plaza Hotel. The roads were pretty bad. Cars abandoned everywhere but we were at the hotel in about ten minutes. I had to join the queue at reception but before long I was talking to an amazingly friendly receptionist. She swapped my room for a smoking allowed one. Great stuff. I was on the tenth floor and I wouldn’t have to negotiate the lift every time I wanted to smoke. I grabbed my free dinner which wasn’t half bad. Chicken and chips plus I got a ginger ale for my Glenfiddich night cap. Life didn’t look too bad after that and Raven called too to put a smile on my face. Yes it was disappointing. I should have been with her in Columbus then but … well … after our six months apart one day extra couldn’t be too disastrous. Hopefully I could get an early flight out in the morning. All Air Canada could tell me was to ring in the morning. And so that was my day. I watched a little Canadian TV before setting my alarm. Surely I could get a flight out in the morning?
© 2011 Stan Rogers. All rights reserved.
The flight was good. Nice and smooth with no turbulence. Just how I like it. The food wasn’t bad as airline food goes and I even got free wine. Great stuff Air Canada. Unusually for me I actually watched a film all the way through ( She’s Out of My League) which wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be. I had a couple of scotches and almost cheered when the pilot announced we’d be arriving 15 minutes early, pretty good as we’d been 40 minutes late taking off. But all the time I was dreading my arrival in some ways.
Last time I took this trip I ended up going no farther than Toronto. Before you transfer to the US bound plane you have to clear US immigration in Toronto and last time I didn’t. The US Border Patrol told me that as I had spent 6 months in the USA already last year I had to be out of the country for 6 months before I could return. I had only spent 4 months out last October and so I got turned back. Yes it turned out to be a very expensive day trip to Canada for me along with the heartbreak of being just a few hundred miles away from my Raven and not seeing her but the full tale of woe was posted earlier on in an earlier blog which you can read HERE…. So here I am wondering if I’ll get problems again entering the US. I had even emailed them beforehand to check. Fine they told me. No problems they told me but they told me that last October too so I wasn’t putting a lot of faith in that.
The descent began into Toronto at and we landed at 2:45pm local time. This had to be one of the smoothest landings I have ever encountered. Hardly a bump before we landed back on Terra firma. I offered a prayer of thanks to the gods of aeronautical engineering and disembarked wondering how the next few hours would go. Luckily my connecting flight to Columbus Ohio wasn’t until 8:20pm so I had plenty of time to get through immigration … hopefully. I was disappointed not to see snow on the ground in Canada as we landed although it did start to snow a little as we disembarked.
I made my way through the Terminal at Toronto and boy was my heart pumping. I hadn’t let on to my Raven how worried I was about being turned away again but I think she knew and bless her she didn’t let on. But anyway finally I reached the luggage carousel. I filled my immigration form in and waited. Before long I spied one of my cases. I have learned to make my cases easily identifiable just for this purpose by putting bright blue straps around them. It makes it a lot easier than trying to spot your case amongst the rest of the similar luggage. I loaded it onto my trolley and awaited the second one… and waited … and waited. Finally I was the only person left there. Oh buggerit! Don’t tell me that the bugga’s had lost half of my luggage? I checked with one of the guys working nearby. He took my bag receipt and disappeared ‘backstage’. I finally saw my lonely case appear and breathed a sigh of relief. It turned out to have got stuck in the conveyor loading area.
Next it was Border Patrol time. I girded my loins and made it through to the immigration hall. Now Border Patrol officers are a special breed. I think one of the entry tests must be to tell them jokes. If they smile???… FAIL! Mercifully the queue was short and I met my man. The usual unsmiling questions followed along with fingerprinting and a retinal scan. And just like last time I got the big red ‘SI’ scrawled across my file. I was directed to the ‘Secondary Investigation’ office, handed over my file and was told to sit. I waited … and waited. My nerves were shot by now and a very very large scotch with a smoke seemed an impossible wish. Was my nightmare about to repeat itself. Along with an inability to smile it also seems a necessity for the Border Patrol not to hurry. Those guys really know how to take their time.
After about an hour I was called. Here we go again I thought. I mentally prepared myself for the third degree and the luggage search. But … it never happened. The guy was actually courteous and after a minimum of questions he apologised to me and told me that he’d made a note in my file so I wouldn’t have problems in future. I could of kissed that guy. I would happily have had his children and mentioned him in my will. And I was through. I had to book in my luggage for the onward flight to Ohio and go through the customary shoes off, belt off, laptop out, beep beep of the scanner but the security guys must’ve thought I was on something judging by the smile on my face. I wanted to shake them all by the hand and thank them personally … but nah. I just made my way to the departures lounge in search of a beer or a coffee. No smoke unfortunately but I needed a drink.
I called Raven first though. I was a little wicked and told her I had bad news. I heard her voice falter so quickly I told her. “The bad news is that you have to pick me up in a few hours … I’m through babe.” We were both over the moon. Only a few hours now and I’d be back in my baby’s arms in Ohio. I decided to get a coffee first as I still had a few hours to waste till I embarked. Finding a ‘hole in the wall’ Starbucks I ordered a large Pike Place, laced it heavily with cream and Splenda (Gotta watch the figure ya know) and headed off to find a seat. I found one right by a shoe shine guy. I nodded hello as I sat down and promptly spilt a good measure of coffee down my jeans. As my baby says “Ya can’t take me anywhere.” but did I care?….Naaaa. I was on my way back home and still sporting a huge smile. The Rabbi having his shoes polished must have thought the beaming coffee stained idiot in the pork pie hat was an escaped lunatic.
I finished my coffee and wandered around the shops for a while. No mistaking I was in the ‘Land of the Beaver’. There were raccoon hats, fluffy mooses dressed as mounties, Maple-leaf beer glasses and all sorts of local paraphernalia by the box-load. I contemplated buying a raccoon tail hat till I saw the price. Maybe I should get into the raccoon tail supply business? This is Canada, there must be shed loads of the little critters willing to donate their tails to help out with my finances?
Looking at my watch I realised that I only had an hour or two till embarkation on the last leg of my journey and it was fast approaching beer o’clock. I headed off to find a nice bar safe in the knowledge that only a few hours remained before I was back with my baby …..
Little did I know how wrong I was…..
© 2011 Stan Rogers. All rights reserved.
So here I am in Toronto Airport. I have just been refused entry into the US by the American border patrol who have handed me over to Canadian immigration. Mercifully the Canadians are great and I get the feeling that there is no love lost between the competing border guards. The Canadian guard asks me a couple of questions and that’s it. He stamps my passport and I am allowed into Canada. I tell him my tale of woe. He smiles and grins. “Fucking bunch of ass holes.”
he says in reference to the US Border guards. I must admit that I agree.
And that’s it. I am in Toronto, Canada. Alone and wondering what the hell to do next. I look at my watch and see that in ten minutes time I should have been landing in Columbus Ohio. I call my Raven immediately now that I can use my phone. She is waiting for me to walk through arrivals there and I tell her the bad news. We are both devastated. Only about 200 miles apart but that might as well be 20,000 miles. I am stuck. In a foreign country and alone after travelling all day. What to do next?
I tell my poor Raven to go home and we will talk soon but I need to get sorted out. It is a daunting feeling in many ways. Cast adrift in a foreign city 3500 miles from home. So my first stop is at a bureau de change to swap 50 US bucks for some Canadian cash. I guess I won’t be needing the US ones this trip now and I am struck by the friendliness of the lady there. I tell her briefly of my plight and she even fiddles with her machine so I only pay $2 commission instead of $4. She is also disdainful of the US border patrol bless her. I move on to Starbucks and grabbing a coffee I balance it on my airport trolley with my two suitcases and head rapidly for the exit to smoke my first cigarette since London about 14 hours previously. It tastes so good and I have another while watching the steady stream of limos, taxis and shuttle buses passing through.
Next job I suppose is to sort out a return ticket asap, and so I wheel my world on a trolley over to the Air Canada booking desk. Again I tell my tale of woe to the counter clerk who again is so friendly and sympathetic. She manages to get me on the early morning flight back to London at 07:50 and I am really surprised that she doesn’t charge me a cent. All other times I have changed flight details it has cost around a $100 so this is excellent news at least. She asks me if I need a hotel but I reckon I can kip in the airport till morning and by now I am feeling so shattered. I’ve been on the go for about 24 hours now and even the last sleep I had was short and broken by my pre flight nerves. So I need more coffee and nicotine now that my return is sorted.
And so back outside the terminal with more coffee and my fags. I start talking to a young Chinese guy who is doing the same as me, smoking and drinking coffee. Of course I again go through my tale and he commiserates with me. Then he asks me if I can drive. Of course. And he offers me a job driving for his parents … Amazing. I’ve only been here an hour or so and I have a job offer. Gawd knows what I’d be doing. Taxi-ing or food deliveries? Who knows but I thank him and regretfully refuse his kind offer but I did get tempted for a few seconds there. I just can’t get over these Canadians. Everyone of them has been so damned friendly to me. I am impressed and my faith is restored in human nature to some extent.
My Chinese friend flicks away his cigarette and high fives me before going back into the terminal. I contemplate people and think of an old saying. ‘Rules are for the guidance of wise men and obedience by fools.’ I smiled and thought how appropriate that is in regard to the US border patrol. I finish my own ciggie and re-enter the terminal too.
Raven calls me back and I tell her of my progress but she won’t hear of me sleeping in the airport lounge and she insists I get a hotel for the night. Is it any wonder that I love this woman so much? And so I go back outside and ask one of the shuttle bus drivers for the number of a reasonable hotel. He suggests the Comfort Suites on Carling View Road and I call Raven back with the number. Bless her, she arranges it all for me and even though her computer has gone ‘tit’s up’ she visits a 24 hour fax place in Columbus to book a night for me. By now I am drooping noticeably but she calls me back in about half an hour to tell me that she has sorted it. I grab another coffee and a sandwich from Tim Horton‘s this time and head back out to the shuttle buses.
But all the buses are for specific hotels and I am so tired that I forgot the name of mine. Damn … Bright idea. I have the phone number written in my wallet so back into the terminal and depositing some Canadian cash into a payphone I call them. They remind me of the name and tell me the driver will look out for me when he arrives in about 5 minutes. Excellent and so I go back to the shuttle stop. For some reason I go to look for my wallet….. arghhhhhhh. It’s gone. I flap about wildly like a wounded duck, slapping pockets but no … it’s gone. I run (well I move as fast as I can pushing a trolley with 2 suitcases on) and thank gawd. There it is. Still laying open on the payphone. I grab it quickly and rush out yet again just as my bus turns up. Sleep beckons.
© 2010 Stan Rogers. All rights reserved.
We had a great trip to Canada over the weekend. Only just into Canada admittedly but Canada nonetheless to visit Niagara Falls. We had dinner out with some of my Raven’s family a few weeks back and they recommended it to us. Neither Raven nor I have seen the falls or Canada and after researching our visit beforehand it seems that the falls are a far more enticing proposition from the Canadian side and so that is where we headed for two nights of fun and enlightenment at the Radisson Hotel there.
It’s about a 350 mile 6 hour drive from Columbus, Ohio and so we set off early. The sun shone from a blue sky. It was a beautiful warm Thursday. Raven drove while I navigated and rode shotgun. A part of our route was along the I-271 east of Cleveland and it was spectacular. Mile after mile of forested hills interlaced with beautiful rocky boulder strewn rivers. Prime deer country too judging by the amount of their carcasses laying by the roadside. A man could make a good living here by setting up an eatery selling barbecued road-kill ribs. Some guy probably has.
We did stop for breakfast. In Amish country. The restaurant was great. It was enormous and I tried a full breakfast including a first for me … ‘grits‘. Now I have heard of grits and wondered what to expect. I must admit that I expected something … well … gritty? My full breakfast was served up by an enthusiastic Amish lady who smiled and commented on my empty coffee mug which I had emptied in about 10 seconds. “You sure was thirsty boy, she laughed, you sucked that one dry.” But with my coffee top up came the grits. Served in a separate bowl they looked suspiciously like Ready Brek, Or porridge. I was about to pour them on my breakfast bacon but decided against it. Instead I studied them as I shoveled down mouthfuls of bacon, eggs and hash browns. Finally it was grits time and on Ravens advice I poured maple syrup on them first. And tried them … yep they were just like Ready Brek or porridge and not gritty at all and so I sent them to follow my bacon in bellysville. Mission accomplished and we were back on the road.
Our drive was fairly uneventful. We travelled up the southern shore of Lake Erie on the I-90 but never really close enough to enjoy it. We stopped occasionally for coffee and for me to take the air … well ‘navigating’ is thirsty work after all. My lovely Raven developed a sixth sense for when I was running on caffeine empty or maybe it was just the enthusiastic slurping noises I made. Who knows? Ha. But the miles rolled down as we travelled out of Ohio through Pennsylvania and New York State.
New York State seemed to be full of vineyards. Mile after mile of them but soon we were stopping for a last coffee before our destination. Most of the last part of our journey was on the New York through-way which is a toll road. One oddity was the information officer at the services. We were a mere few miles from the toll booths but the guy behind the counter didn’t have a clue whether we had to pay the toll by card or cash. He actually told us to ask the girl in the sweet shop. Amazing.
$3.15 lighter and we approached Buffalo. I had imagined Buffalo as a quaint small picturesque one horse town but hey what do I know. It is enormous. Skyscrapers factories, the full Monty. But we passed by and before long we approached the border on the Peace Bridge. Large signs proclaimed ‘WELCOME TO CANADA’.
People that remember my piece on here about arriving in the States will recall my joyful encounter with the US Border Patrol. I know not to wisecrack unless I want to enjoy assuming the position as I watch the rubber gloves coming out and so we were all sweetness and light with the Canadian border guard. I must admit I did have to bite my lip when we were asked for our reason for visiting Canada but I managed not to tell her. “Moose hunting Ma’am. I hear they taste good. Where perchance may I purchase a very large gun.?” … “To see the falls.” we meekly replied and my passport was duly stamped. Raven’s wasn’t but I presume that was because she is a US citizen. And we were in Canada and Niagara Falls bound before long.
My poor Raven was a little confused at first as the speed limits are posted in kilometres per hour but we guessed and got by fine. No mounties pulled us over for speeding even though I did look out for their horses and bright red jackets. I was actually disappointed when we saw a police cruiser. No horses. Where are the horses? I wanted mounted men in red but obviously that wasn’t to be. I sighed and we drove into the town of Niagara Falls.
We found our hotel easily enough and onto my next fear. Now anyone that knows me will recall my fear of heights and I must admit that my butt cheeks were clenching at the thought of our room maybe being on say the 99th floor and getting to it would involve a glass fronted lift … eek. Would I be OK or would a change of underpants be imminent? But I was OK. We were on the fifth floor. That’s the fourth floor in England. North Americans seem to have lost their first floors for some strange reason. The second floor is above the ground floor. Strange but true. I have pictures. Ha.
Now this is Mothers Day weekend in the US and Canada. Another oddity. It is back in March in the UK but that’s by the by. So it is a busy weekend here for tourists and when Raven booked the hotel we couldn’t get a room with either a falls view or a jacuzzi. We booked a city view room with just a bath/shower. So imagine our pleasure at finding our room did have a falls view AND a whirlpool bath. Brilliant. And so here we were. Unpacking. An amazing view of the falls from our window and a jacuzzi to look forward to later. But it was still mid afternoon and time to unleash ourselves on the unsuspecting Canadians. What would they make of a mad English guy dressed in cowboy gear with his beautiful lady. Would I be mistaken for an Australian yet again?
…. to be continued …
© 2010 Stan Rogers. All rights reserved.