I'm not bräve, just naïve...

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Please Mr. Mountie, let my girlfriend in...

I first came to Canada in 2002, for some exploration of the prairies and one heck of a stag night / hen night / Ukranian wedding / party / hangover in rural Alberta. Without much choice in terms of travel options, I flew very expensively with American Airlines from Manchester to Calgary, via Chicago. After the long trans-Atlantic flight in a cramped centre-section seat, my very first view of North America was had by craning my neck round and looking across three other passengers, and out of a small window in the aeroplane's fuselage. We approached O'Hare International Airport exactly in line with the city's grid of streets, and as we descended towards the airport, I watched block after block of parallel suburban streets flash past beneath us, each stretching away to an indiscernable point of infiniti, hidden by the smog that hugged the ground in the August heat.

In less than two weeks, I will be returning to Chicago with enough time to actually see the city, only this time without the benefit of a few thousand feet to appreciate the masterplanning of the metropolis... will it be as enthralling to me as it was then, when I didn't even have time to leave the airport?

The second flight was on a smaller regional jet. I sat next to a very large (by my standard) American business man. After take off, he ordered a whiskey from the stewardess. But before he had placed it on the flimsy fold down table, he was asleep. He slept soundly, not touching his drink, all the way to Calgary (a flight of three and a half hours). I was still bemused to see anyone ask for a whiskey with that much ice. I watched it slowly melt and dillute, until we began our descent into Calgary and he woke up. He knocked back the whiskey, smiled at me and continued to block my view for the most scenic part of the flight, as we banked over mile upon mile of suburban streets, drawn like listless doodles on the vast prairie fields that were being appropriated by the rapidly expanding city.

At Montréal Trudeau airport the customs officers are dressed smartly but soberly, seemingly in uniforms designed to match the new arrivals terminal. But at Calgary Airport, when I came forward with my passport and a mental list of reasons why I should be allowed to enter the country on holiday, I was faced with a mountie. A genuine Canadian mountie, wearing a red blazer and a hat. It wasn't the most practical of uniforms, but it certainly stunned everyone was arriving for the first time, and probably confirmed many suspicions of the more cynical Americans amongst the passengers.

Despite the usual questions, I was allowed in (fools), A firm grip on the nation's security was delivered with sympathy and a friendly smile.

And a cowboy hat.

So, Mr. Mountie, whichever one of you is on duty at Halifax International Airport on the afternoon of Sunday 14 May, please look kindly upon my girlfriend. If you let me in, you shouldn't even have to take a second glance at her :)



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