Saturday, January 29, 2011

Canadian Adventure, Part 0: The Reasons I Went Crazy and Drove to Another Country On a Whim

It was Wednesday, February 11, 2008. I had been on jury duty for more than a month, which means that for nearly a month, I was banned from telling people the details of my day, worrying about slipping up and accidentally telling someone about my day, and under pressure from the job where some people were making their displeasure with me and my absence very clear. Every day that I was in court, a juror on this case (that was the first article that came up in a Google search), I felt like a spectator in someone else's life. My own life was on hold, since I wasn't going to work and I was staying at my parents' house instead of my own apartment. At this time, the ideas that turned into a move to Oregon were starting to form in my head. Discontent with most aspects of my life was beginning to grow, but daily it would get hidden behind my blank face as I sat in the courtroom, watching the events of someone else's life unfold. I constantly thought of the situation as bizarre, like I was watching a movie that was real, a novel being acted out, like my life and the lives of the other seven jurors didn't matter to anyone else in the room-- we mattered to everyone there, but the events of our lives did not. Those were things we had put on hold. Even personal relationships that we'd go home to were altered, since we couldn't talk about what we'd done that day and we certainly couldn't reveal how we felt about it. The whole experience was pretty surreal.

On February 11th, the time when we'd stop being spectators of these people's lives and be asked to intervene, to judge, to make a statement that had the potential to change their lives, was approaching. Both the plaintiff and the defendant were seeking validation. Even though we weren't sending anyone to jail, it felt like a big deal to those of us who'd been sitting there, an audience to the distress of both of them. The defendant's career probably depended on our judgment; on the other hand, though the plaintiff's life and career might not be altered by our judgment, her peace of mind might. She'd been accused of dishonesty, daydreaming, and delusion, and our judgment would either validate those claims or hers.

So, by February 11th, I was going a little nuts. When the judge dismissed us that day, he announced that Thursday and Monday were government holidays, so there'd be no trial, and that Friday there was something else happening, so we wouldn't return to the courthouse until the following Tuesday. (Frequently, there was something happening on Friday so that we had no court.) I didn't have to work on government holidays; mine were the same as the court's, and since I'd worked on the weekend, I didn't have to go in on Friday or I'd be working overtime. So, I suddenly found myself with a five day weekend.

Where would I go? It was the dead of a Northeast winter. I checked the forecast for any snowstorms that could make driving dangerous. None. Could I take a train anywhere and have enough time to enjoy the place before turning around and coming back to New Jersey? I studied Amtrak's website. I studied HI-USA's listings of cheap hostels. All of the trains had left or would be leaving soon from New York, so I'd have to wait until the following night to go anywhere and oh! those trains were already full. Other people were taking advantage of the holiday weekend. Wednesday's sun had set, so the chance to get a head start on travel was gone.

I could have returned to my apartment, started a big therapeutic cleaning project, pre-packed a little for the out-of-state move I was dreaming of making, applied for some jobs, visited my friends, worked on craft projects, cooked in my kitchen, rented some movies--all of the homebody things I liked. But I needed a break from the things I liked to do. I wanted to go away, as far as possible!

If I drove nine hours, I could get to Quebec City. Montreal was six hours away. Trois Rivieres, a small, old city I'd never heard of until I found the hostel listing for it from HI-USA (well, I guess Canada, not USA), was halfway between them. It sounded beautiful and interesting, full of history, and it sounded quiet, like a good place to retreat to. Also, parking was reported to be free and easy to find, which was not the case for Montreal and Quebec City. (Perhaps too many of my life's decisions are based on ease of finding a parking spot.)

My college roommate, JS, was a graduate student at Williams College in Williamstown, MA, and when she heard of my traveling plans, she invited me her home for at least the first two days. I invited her to continue with me to Canada; Montreal was only three hours from her house. We could leave in the morning, explore until dinnertime, and get home without having to go to bed late! I believe at this point, she didn't say no or yes.

So, on Thursday, February 12th, I set out for my journey north. I stopped at my apartment to grab some travel essentials, or at least that's what I said. In truth, I was looking for my passport. I don't remember why exactly, and it's probably really boring, but I have this image of my apartment being a disastrous mess that day. I imagine myself wading through piles of STUFF looking for that passport. I told myself that if I could find my passport by noon, then it was meant to be. At noon, I would stop looking and just go to Massachusetts; maybe I'd come home from there or maybe I'd go to Vermont, where I knew there was an inexpensive youth hostel, and explore New England some more.

I found my passport in a pretty normal place - my desk, where it belonged. Before I left, I checked my e-mail and found that a job I'd applied to in Portland had been filled before I'd even sent in my application; they'd just forgotten to take down the announcement. With this news on my mind, I got in the car and onto I-287 northbound.

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