Trip #3. There exists a real irony in big American cars that are made in Canada. However, be that as it may, Crown Victoria's are, or rather were - since production ended in 2011, made in Canada at Ford's St. Thomas Factory not too far from Toronto. I was able to visit this plant a few years ago through work, and for a sedan junkie like me, it was nothing short of PHENOMENAL. It was amazing - Crown Victoria's, 980 a day, spawning from what looks like just the shell of a car roof to metamorphosing into an actual brand new car within a few short hours. In the parking lot, as far as the eye could see was a sea of color of various Crown Victoria's and Mercury Grand Marquis' awaiting their picks in life. I admit, my usual sappy self took great emotional stock in knowing that every Crown Victoria I've ever driven - from police cars to my old 89 station wagon, rolled down this same line that has not changed for the better part since the 50's when Crown Victoria's first started getting made. Anyhow - when a car is made, it is already sold, it's not like Ford Motor Company owns the cars at the factory. Actually, the car is sold before the metal is even poured to make what will become a car. A dealership orders cars - either through a customers desires, or, at the whim of the dealership. A VIN is assigned by Ford and stamped on paper, and once that future car's turn is called, that piece of paper with the list of options follows the car down the line until the factory poops out the final product.
So, now that you know this riveting fact, you have likely surmised that the grand high exalted mystic traveler known as 8D69 was born in Canada. It's American parents, Best Ford in the Bronx were the ones responsible for it's life - at least sort of kind of. Now, just because it was born there, doesn't mean it really ever got to *see* Canada, so on February 20, 2012, I had a vacation day and decided to take the 500 mile round mile trip to Montreal in my old cab. A homecoming of sorts. Well, not really, but you get the gist of what I mean. Of course, the car ran well, and prior to crossing the border I filled up as I didn't want to bother to change my U.S. currency into Canadian as the exchange rate sucks, and I was only going for the day. When I wheeled up to the stop sign at the border to wait my turn to speak with the border officer, I noticed other Canadian border agents in the building to my left opening the shades and looking at my car and smiling and talking amongst themselves. Well, I admit I assume that the car was the root cause, unless Canadian Border Officers spend all day lifting shades, pointing and giggling at *every* car that rolls through there.
When it was my turn, I rolled up to the border officer in the booth, who was very pleasant. I gave him my passport and he asked me where I was going and for what reason. I didn't tell him the real reason, which is that I am a complete nutcase and I was treating my car like it was my date. Instead, I just told him I wanted to wheel into Montreal for the day for fun and then head home. He handed me back my passport and told me to have an enjoyable day. It's funny, every time I have crossed into Canada as an "alien", officials there have been nothing but friendly. But whenever I come back HOME, the U.S. guys start in with the inquisition as to why I traveled to a city in a friendly non warring country only an hour from the border. More on that later.
Driving in Canada is always pleasant. In Quebec, the language difference from English to French is immediate - from road signs to the radio station. There is no easing into it. Quebec is French, and is in fact the second most French speaking place in the world. Also immediate is the text message your cell phone gets stating you are out of coverage unless you want the international plan. All I was thinking at that moment was PUHLEEZ don't die on me 8D69, or I am royally SCREWED! No money and no means to communicate in a foreign country is probably not the brightest decision I have ever made. Anyways, not even 500 feet into the country you are transported from mph to the metric system. So, "100" doesn't really mean ONE HUNDRED. In a car made for the USA, one now has to rely on those teeny tiny kilometers on the speedo. For being so far up north, the area in which I traveled was as flat as Kansas with large farms everywhere. People tend to drive pretty fast in Quebec, but there are plenty of passing zones so one doesn't have to feel stressed out when you just want to cruise. One thing I do not do in 8D69, is drive fast in it. It has far too many miles on the clock to be driven like a madman. I will spin it up to 75 or so on an interstate if it gets away from me by accident, but that is about it. People are all very friendly as well, in fact, whenever one roams about North America in rural areas, one should feel fairly self assured that if you ran into trouble, someone will aid you. Sort of a pay it forward system without actually knowing that expression even exists. I'm not naive, it's just simply my experience.
While cruising for about an hour, and trying to decipher how on earth their exit sign numbers work, I was able to find the major highway to Montreal. Getting in was easy, the road signs for finding places in Canada are all well marked. Finding how to get BACK to the U.S. though...? Well, let's just say it does not appear to be a high priority for the transportation department of Canada. I crossed the Pont Champlain Bridge and took the exit to Old Montreal, which is the old seaport section of Montreal. It has a very definite Euro feel to it, with it's cobbled streets and narrow passageways. Many of the buildings look absolutely ancient, as if they belonged in Rome.
Naturally, being the taxi geek I am, I noticed the cab system there also must be regulated. I noticed all the cabs were unmarked regular cars, from Impala's to Camry's with one tiny little sign on the roof. They are also everywhere. They did not look to be very busy, and the few I saw with passengers, the driver's drove slow and respectful like. Quite a few gave me a hat tip so to speak and at a stoplight to my right, a driver motioned for me to roll my window down. As I did so, he was smiling and reading the fare amounts on my rear door and then jokingly asked me for directions to the Empire State Building. At this point, wherever I was, I was lost, and I told him that for the first time in my life, I really didn't know. He smiled and the light turned green and off he went down another street. I noticed most of the cars in Montreal were small to medium sized. Finding a parking space became a challenge for me, but I was finally able to find one that the big Ford could fit in.
I walked around a bit and noticed later that my car was parked near the famous chapel Notre Dame.
It was a bit windy and cold, so I thought I would head back to the car and just cruise around instead. When I got back I was a little embarrassed to go near the car as it appeared that 8D69 was stealing all the attention of tourists away from Notre Dame. People were posing next to it, a dozen cameras and cell phones trained on it as it sat slowly ticking away it's heat from the drive up. I waited a bit for the scene to clear out so I could slip back into the car without any question, but - well, the scene never did clear out. I couldn't believe it - here was this car that went from total absolute obscurity and disdain, to what appears to be a traveling roadshow. I was off in the distant as to not be a third wheel and spoil their fun, but after getting a little too nippy, I finally walked toward the car, and I noticed everyone was speaking french. Nobody asked me anything about it, which made me happy - and I just nodded and smiled to be polite and then got in and drove away. Not even two blocks away I rolled up to a stoplight. To my right was about 40 people on the sidewalk, some of whom appeared to be young adults on a class trip of some sort. I saw one older guy nod his head my way - clearly announcing a NYC Taxi was over yonder, to which the remaining 39 heads locked eyes with the cab. Next thing I see, is everyone holding up cameras, yelling "New York City Taxi" in their heavy french accents and smiling and waving. It was really something - I felt as though old 8D69 took a breath and pushed it's chest out as if to say "Hell Yeah I am" (or was - lol). Quite literally, most every street I went down that was populated or at least had groups of people that were not walking, it was similar situations, so - at that, I thought it time to move on back home. Montreal is a beautiful, clean and progressive city and I highly recommend it to anyone. I would just recommend it in warmer months!
On my way back, I took a different route home to end up in upstate New York. It was a nice ride with plenty of neat views of rural living once you head out of the city limits. I've never seen farm fields as large as the ones I saw in Canada. As we approached the border of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, as the sign says in impressively large block letters as you approach the border, I took my camera out to snap a photo. Quite a bit of a different welcome as opposed to Canada. The first thing you see are cameras. Everywhere. Different sizes, planted here planted there - it makes you feel worried that someone will smell Cuban Cigar on your breath. I'm not whining about it, I get it and all, but it's like wow. I imagined I was on the red carpet of the Oscars - a flash here, a flash there. As I waited my turn behind a silver Impala (who was earlier taking pictures of me while on the road), I rolled up to the booth.
Like the language change is immediate when you enter Canada, so is the immediacy of a change from pleasantries to one of suspicion. So this border inspector....lol - I can't complain as I appreciate his astuteness, but woo hoo!. He starts in with this flat, blase 'I've Done This a Thousand Times Before' attitude. He asked me at least a dozen questions, each time looking at me in disbelief as I would answer. It felt like an interrogation and he would ask me questions verbalized in such a way that he *really* already knew the answer. Of course, when you're at the border, you're pretty much the most powerless and vulnerable person on earth - it's best just to smile and nod and answer lest you wish to have your time wasted by someone searching your car. It wouldn't have bothered me at all if it was, but, I don't imagine it is a whole lot of fun and good conversation. At one point while he was typing my info into the computer, his phone rang. He answered the phone and he said "I know, I'm running it now". Not sure what all that meant, but, when the guy was done asking questions, he was looking at his computer screen. He handed my passport back to me without looking, of which I took. I didn't know if he was completely done, so I sat there. After a moment of silent awkwardness, I asked him if I was all set; he said NOTHING - he just looked straight ahead at the next car that would roll through once I left. I mean this literally. He appeared to be disgusted with me, it was very confusing. So, after a few more seconds, I assumed he was indeed done, so I thanked him and wished him a good day, put the car in drive and drove away....slowly...just in case he wasn't..?... I was very confused as to just what he was doing! So, since no sirens or alarms went off, I pulled away a little faster and got the speedometer up to oh......3 mph. Just prior to leaving I had to drive through a series of cones and twists and turns. While I am the ilk of person to encourage border scrutiny, I have to admit I was a little perplexed. But oh well - life goes on and the road calls. Anyhow, enough of that.
On my way back through New York State, I cut back into Vermont and rolled 8D69 through the islands of Lake Champlain which is a very nice route. I've never been on Route 2 before and it was nice rolling and smooth ride. I was tempted to be the first person in known history to drive a NYC Taxi on the frozen surface of Lake Champlain, as many others were driving their trucks out on the ice, but decided against it. Heading south, I thought I would keep heading southeast and be the first person to drive a NYC Taxi across the oldest and longest covered bridge in the world which connects Vermont to New Hampshire before steering my way home.
After a nearly 600 mile day, I made it back to home base, got out - affectionately tapped 8D69 on the fender and thanked her for another great ride.