When I was living in Brooklyn, USA, my best friend (with apologies to my Lab) and I decided to take a trip north-of-the-border to Montreal. This was an “important” trip, as it was the “shake-down trip” for my friend’s new used car, and it was an amazing adventure to say the least.
Now, before I get into this, I have to explain something. My friend, with whom I had so many adventures both in and out of NYC, was an amazing person and a real native Brooklynite: Bright, a Catholic school survivor with a propensity for wearing black, with her “Goth” accessories that hid the fact that she was brilliant, artistic and an in-demand computer “jockey”. She was a street-wise as I was not and for that I admired her, as she taught me how to bely my SoCal “innocence” and act “like a real native New Yorker”.
Unfortunately she has been incommunicado with me since about 2001, as I recall. She sadly, lost her husband to cancer, and shockingly, I had to hear the awful news in an email from a friend and former colleague of mine. I was so shaken-up, but I had no way to express my condolences to my dear friend, nor get back in touch with her. So, with that in mind, since I have no permission to use her name, I’m going to change her name to something else, like a very generic “Jane”. So read on for more “Fun with Susie and Jane”, as we took our show on the road through Upstate New York, across the border, into Canada.
I remember that it was a cool, early spring day: The kind of day when despite the last few remnants of snow were still scattered around the flower beds surrounding my co-op building, while shoots of green were starting to make their way out of the frosty soil, reminding me that winter was finally over. (I hoped.) On the other hand, it was the kind of weather that made me truly understand something that Garrison Keillor said when I was at his New York broadcast of “A Prairie Home Companion”. He said (and I paraphrasing here) “New Yorkers, who experienced a particularly harsh winter really deserve spring and all its promise. How true.
But on this weekend afternoon, I got a call from Jane, telling me to wait a few minutes and then go downstairs and stand on the sidewalk on the side of my building. I had a feeling that Jane might have gotten a new car, because afterall, she’d had to junk her beloved first car, an old AMC that was a kind of revolting lime green/chartreuse, which she appropriately named “Swampy”. Swampy finally died, and he was towed away by a Rasta-man, according to Jane. She really went into mourning, playing New Orleans jazz dirges all day. I don’t remember if I still had the car I shared with my cousin (a bright red Ford Escort that was very troublesome. She called it “The Tomato”, while I called it (and I think aptly) “The Cherry Bomb”.
But back to Jane, and her mysterious call. I went down and waited on the sidewalk as instructed, and down the street I see a silver car driving along the left side of the one-way street, heading right toward me. There was Jane behind the wheel of her “new” used car, a silver Chevy Celebrity sedan, a model that was popular in the 80s, I believe. Jane told me to get in to go for a drive. I ran upstairs, grabbed my purse, a neck scarf, and one of my numerous hats. I gave Duncan, my Lab, a hug and told him I’d be back in time for dinner, (a word he knew well) and grabbed the elevator down to the street.
So, there we were, in Jane’s new wheels, and it felt as if we could go anywhere. Well, she decided that we should go over to the main drag in Park Slope, the neighborhood in which I lived. There we were on Seventh Avenue, and we decided to go in and have a drink at one of our favorite haunts, a bar with a restaurant in the back, where incidentally, I saw my very first salad bar in New York! (Hey now, give me a break! I was living in London, returned home to SoCal, and sixth months later it was off to New York, so I missed all the salad bars that had become staples in California restaurants.)
Sorry about that…Back to Jane and the joy I could see on her face she drove us about Brooklyn, fortunately not to any of the “scary blocks” we had discovered while ”exploring around” in her old car. Those were small blocks over near the Gowanus Canal (which used to be notorious for being the place where cops would find bodies that had managed to float to the top) in a neighborhood of warehouses and a few auto garages (and probably “chop shops”) which were mostly “uninhabited” by anyone during the day. At least we never saw anything other than a lot of grafitti scrawled over the metal “garage doors” that came down over the warhouse entrances. I was glad we didn’t go around there in the dark. (I would’ve really felt out of my “element” in that case.)
So, Jane (and I) were so happy about her new car. On a trip home I even bought a license plate frame for her that I had made at the Orange County Swap Meet. It read, “My Other Car is a Hearse”. She loved that, so fitting with her macabre sense of humor. (In reality, I know that Jane had a secret desire to buy an old hearse for transportation! Thank God she didn’t find any on the used car lot(s) run by Russian immigrants she checked-out when looking for a second used car.
Now with the new used car, Jane decided it was time to “take the show on the road”. She phoned me one evening not long after I got done walking my dog in Prospect Park, and asked me if I could get a few days off work. I told her that my office was in a “low point” in the City’s budget cycle, meaning that things were quiet until the next budget came out. I checked with my vet’s office to see if they would have room for Duncan for about four days, and they told me, as usual, that he was “always welcome.” Check. That was taken care of. Next, I had to check with my boss if there was anything that might come up during the first few days of the following week. (We were making the trip a “long weekend”. )
I immediately phoned Jane and told her that I was on board and would be ready to leave Friday night. Good. Everything was set.
Thursday night I packed my duffel bag and rucksack (including my pillow and my teddy bear.) Not having been to Montreal, and wanting very much to try my French, which I hadn’t really spoken in ages, uh, years, I was quite excited anticipating the “road trip”.
Friday morning, I looked out the window and discovered that the weatherman on WNBC’s 11:00 p.m. newscast Thursday night was, unfortunately, spot on: it was raining, when just a day before, the sun was shining and the sky clear and blue! Damn, what a letdown that was, to say the least.
I put my raincoat over my “mud clothes” and a baseball cap on my head, and took Duncan to the park, where we had off-leash hours before 9:00 a.m. It seemed like only the “die-hard” core of Park Slope “dog people” were their with their canine friends. Nevermind that, Duncan and his yellow Lab “girlfriend”, Shirley, and my friend Beth’s huge golden retriever, Jordan, seemed to be enjoying the muddy field they were playing and running around in. The three of them, somehow “led” by Duncan, who is definitely not an “alpha dog”, were rolling in the muddiest part of the field: an area bordering one of the many baseball diamonds. Those of us who had “dirty dogs” had to get going, so I ushered Duncan home, and of course he shook himself off right in the lobby of my building! We hustled upstairs, and once again, Duncan decided to shake off in the elevator. Thank God there were no other passengers. I got to my door and got Duncan, aka “Stinky”, a name given him by my cousin Elizabeth, who lived nearby, into the entrance hall and made him stand still while I took a beach towel I had handy for the task, and wiped off the mud embedded in the pads of his paws, wiped his legs, and tried to get the rest of his body, especially his tail, that was apt to wag and hit anything around the house. Fortunately, with hardwood floors, I would have an easy cleanup on the floors when I got home.
Got to work that morning, a little soggy, but no worse for wear. I talked to Jane on the phone and told her I was going to leave work early, to get Duncan to the vet’s office.
Well, after a quiet day in the office (which was pretty unusual), I took off and when I got home, I saw “tail prints” all over the light pink walls in the long entry hall. Nothing unexpected, but I thought I’d better wipe them off when I got home from taking Duncan to the veterinarian’s office. I called a gypsy cab aka “car service”, which were independent taxis that served areas that were more residential than the City, or other areas of Brooklyn. Luckily, I found a car that could come immediately, and didn’t mind having a dog along as a passenger. So, down to the vestibule, the area between the outer unlocked doors of the building, and the locked doors, that could only be opened with keys or when a guest was buzzed in by a resident contacted first via the intercomm system. We waited for the cab, which came right away, and Duncan and I were whisked off quickly to the Park Slope Animal Hospital. I took Dunky in and they said they’d give him a bath for me. Guess there was no way to disguise his grunginess from the receptionist at the animal hospital. They took Duncan after I said a goodbye, and I ran back out into the rain and jumped into the cab and was taken home. I paid the cabby and jumped out at home.
I had a message on my machine from Jane to give me a call as soon as I got home. Having been all packed since the night before, I grabbed my leather jacket, a scarf and beret, and I was ready! I called Jane, and she asked when she could come pick me up. I told her that I was ready whenever she wanted to go. After she replied that she was going to leave right away, I went downstairs with my stuff, and waited for Jane, who said she’d pull up in front of the building so I wouldn’t have to wait out in the rain.
In about 5 minutes, Jane was there, honking for me, just for the “obnoxious fun of it”. I ran out with my bags, which I threw into the back seat, so as not to have to fool around with the trunk in the rain.
And with that, we were finally off. Susie and Jane were on their way! North to Canada. (It somehow doesn’t have the “ring” of “North to Alaska”, but we were still taking the “silver streak”, as I called the car, on her first long road trip! We both had our Triple A cards with us, which if you read on in “Part Deux”, you’ll understand the significance of the gesture.
So, off in the rain, and rush hour traffic, we headed toward the NY Thruway, which took us a lot more time than anticipated, due to the heavy downpours and the slow rush hour movement of traffic, because some of the roads were flooded in places where the East River had risen to the level of the FDR Drive.
So,we come to the end of the first installment of “My Crazy-assed Road Trip to Montreal c.1995.” Believe me, it gets better, and waaay crazier (and funny)!
So, stay tuned for “Part Deux” of this story. I promise it will not be three months, like the time since my last blog! Look for it within a week or so!
And thanks to all my friends, relatives, and enemies who read this (and hopefully enjoyed it, and didn’t think it was a complete waste of time.)