April 27, 2018

An American Driver in Canada


I’m a good enough driver when I’m in familiar surroundings, but I’ll freely admit that I always seem to be in the wrong lane or fifty feet past my exit when driving in a strange city. If I’m driving a strange car, it just adds to the excitement.

During one of our vacations, we flew to Seattle, rented a car, drove to Vancouver (that’s in Canada), and caught a ship for Alaska (that’s back in the United States). A trip of that length is fraught with hazards. The first thing I learned is that rental car companies try to trick you.

My wife had made reservations for a four-door compact car. At the counter, the clerk told us that our reservation was for a Geo Metro hatchback two-door, and she pointed at a picture of a little green car approximately the size of our smallest suitcase.

Wife pointed out that our reservation clearly stated four-door, to which the clerk replied, “Well, it’ll still be a hatchback like this,” pointing to a slightly larger (but just as ugly) car.

“That’s fine.” I said.

“You’ll be in this car for over a week. For just fifty-nine dollars more, you can have a fully loaded Chevy Cavalier and be a lot more comfortable,” she coaxed.

“No. We’ll drive it three hours today, park it for a week, and drive it three hours back. There’s just no need.”

She finally gave up, gave us our paperwork and we headed for the parking garage. As we walked along the row of cars I looked for our Geo Metro, and I saw none. There was not a single Geo Metro in the garage, two-door, four-door, hatchback, or otherwise. When we finally got to our car it was a brand new four-door Chevy Cavalier. The odometer showed 7 miles, and it still had protective tape around one of the door handles. If we’d paid the fifty-nine bucks we’d have gotten the same car.

However, my definition of fully loaded is slightly different, unless A/C, automatic transmission, and a radio is fully loaded. No cruise, electric windows, or electric locks. Not even an interior release for the trunk or gas filler, we would just have to rough it.

According to my map, all I had to do is point the grill north on I-5, smack dab through the center of Seattle and just keep going. At the Canadian Border, the highway number would change to 99, but straight and true, right into Vancouver. It was a little after rush hour. We qualified for the car pool lane. All I had to do was get into the left lane and go. Simple enough, one would think. Near the middle of Seattle, I-5, a five-lane highway, does a double split. The two left lanes become an exit leading to downtown Seattle, the far right lane is an exit towards North Seattle, and the two lanes in the middle remain I-5, and of course, I was not in one of the two middle lanes, so I moved over.

“What are you doing?” my wife yelled.

“I gotta get over.”

“Why?”

“This lane is an exit lane.”

“Who puts an exit on the left?”

“Apparently Seattleites.”

I turned on my right blinker, held up two fingers (for two lanes), and shot through a gap across two lanes. Other drivers responded by holding up a finger or shaking a fist. The rest of the trip to the border was uneventful.

The border guard asked, “Where ya from?”

“Phoenix, Arizona.”

“Where ya going?”

“Vancouver to catch a cruise ship.”

“Any guns in the car?”

“Nope.”

“Left ‘em all home, eh?”

“Yep.”

And he waved us through. The first thing I noticed different from the States was the speed limit. It was a hundred.

“Man, this is great.”

Not so great. It meant a hundred kilometers. Luckily, I realized the difference before I had the opportunity to meet any Mounties.

The next thing I noticed was the traffic lights. Sometimes they were normal, sometimes the green blinked. At first, I thought it blinked just before it turned yellow, but I soon realized it blinked right from the start. What’s up with that? If a flashing red means stop and then go, does a flashing green mean go and then stop? Later I asked a native and was told, “The blinking green is under pedestrian control,” whatever that means.

Metric road signs, blinking traffic lights and, as if I didn’t have enough to cope with, I’ll bet they’ve got  gestures I’m not familiar with as well.

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