Thursday, June 9, 2011

Wrong Turns, Bubble Tea, and a British GPS (Part 2 of 2)

Previously on Joe and Gamy's Adventures...
Gamy and I had just had a somewhat difficult, but far more comical border crossing experience, and were on our way into Canada, to Markham, Ontario, part of the Greater Toronto Area, and once home to Gamy Wong.

At this point we realized that we had absolutely no idea how to get to Markham, where Gamy's friends were (hopefully) going to meet us. Then we realized that we had not made arrangements to actually meet any of Gamy's friends. So Gamy bit the International Roaming bullet and called up his friends. Thankfully, some of them were around. We drove on the QEW for a while, and eventually pulled off to figure out (using Gamy's phone's GPS) which way to go. Wrote down the directions so we wouldn't overuse his phone, and took off again. Unfortunately for the two of us, I have a terrible sense of direction while driving. Walking I do quite well, but in driving I am somewhat terrible at navigation. I am getting better, but it's still pretty sucky, especially when I am driving in a new place. After a couple of wrong turns and ending up on a few random streets and tiny little one-horse towns, we reconsulted Gamy's phone's GPS and this time left it on. We eventually pulled into the Toronto suburb of Markham, Ontario around 9:00 PM, and following Gamy's friend's directions over the phone, we finally found First Market Place and its Asian Mall. By this time we were frazzled and it was getting dark and God knows we could not see straight. We walked around the mall, trying to find A Place For Us, a tea place, where Gamy's friends were meeting us and where I was going to experience my first bubble tea.

We wandered around that mall for a solid fifteen minutes and then waited by an entrance another ten. Finally we couldn't stand it anymore and called Gamy's friend again. Turns out...we walked past it once or twice. Oy. Our only solace is that after such a crazy day and drive, we were completely frazzled. Once inside, we met up with Gamy's friends and I finally was able to put faces to the names of Eric and Kelvin. Cool guys, finishing school and working in the Greater Toronto Area. Something that has always interested me is the kind of jobs people can get that are somewhat off the beaten path. Kelvin gets paid to travel on behalf of a travel agency, and also works as a photographer for a couple of companies. Eric, still a student, is currently in a co-op with the Toronto Transit Commission. Not necessarily outlandish, but definitely a creative use of their college degrees and their skills. Many of my other friends are making similarly interesting career moves, and I am always fascinated by where their education and networking takes them.

We stayed there talking for close to an hour and a half, talking about topics ranging from Gamy, Eric, and Kelvin's old schoolteachers to their jobs to RHA to why America is better than Canada and vice versa, to the disappointing game the Vancouver Canucks were playing. But eventually, realizing we had a 3-hour drive back to Brockport ahead of us, we left the bubble tea shop around 11:00 PM. In the colossal "duh" moment of the evening, we realized that we needn't have relied on Gamy's GPS and its roaming charges, because simply changing the country on my plug-in GPS in my car would've enabled us to navigate Canada's unfamiliar roads. You may now facepalm, as I did.

On the way back we stopped at a Tim Horton's - it was Canada and it seemed to be the right thing to do, especially it being so late. I am of the opinion that Timmy Ho's most commonly served beverage is rather on the poorer side of coffee, but I am not enough of a coffee snob to snub it. I also buy coffee iced more often than not, because I get extremely annoyed when I burn my tongue on every other hot cup of coffee that I drink, so my selection of coffees is limited. But I digress. The reason I bring this up is because I made the mistake of ordering a small iced coffee. Canadians are serious about the size of their small. I have never seen the movie Super Size Me or anything like that, but it never hit home just how generous America is with its portions until I ordered a small drink and it was brought out in a cup about as tall as two, maybe 2 1/2 Timbits stacked on top of each other. The drink barely lasted halfway out of Markham as we departed. I only made one wrong turn. A few other things we learned on the way home:
  1. At 12:45 AM, the waxing crescent moon looks like it has a nose.
  2. A crushed Corvette makes my heart weep.
  3. It is impossible to find an open bathroom in Amherst, NY at 1:30 AM.
    • The Delta Sonic was completely closed.
    • The next gas station where I filled up had a bathroom out-of-order.
    • The nearest restaurants with bars were both closed for the night, since it was a Monday night and no sane people were out.
    • We finally turned to the Marriott for relief.
  4. There are no discount retail stores open in Buffalo at 1:30 AM, either. At least, not in the immediate vicinity of Niagara Falls Boulevard and the 290. (Author's note: I have since realized that the Wegmans I use most was about 2 minutes away from where we were. Sleep-deprived fail.) I had forgotten to pack a pillow and a blanket when I moved to Brockport, and lying on a cold bed using a curled-up sweatshirt in one's pillowcase is not ideal.
Finally giving up on finding an open Wal-Mart or Target in Buffalo, we set off for Brockport. A few miles after exit 48, the sheer amount of driving I had done all day was getting to be too much and I pulled off the road, slapped my hazard lights on, and settled back for a 10-minute power nap. I woke up 5 minutes later to Gamy announcing that a police car, lights flashing, had just pulled up behind us.

The cop asked us what was going on, I explained the situation, and he pointed out with the barest hint of annoyed warning that there was a rest stop a few miles down the road. For my part, the shortened nap had actually done wonders and I drove us the rest of the way home to Brockport. We pulled into the Wal-Mart parking lot and found out that at 3 AM, Gamy and I are too tired to navigate our way through a store. In trying to find the right pillow and the right size blanket for my bed, I must have grabbed the wrong size three times each, sometimes grabbing the same wrong size off the shelf twice, convinced it was actually the right one. In retrospect, I don't know what on earth was wrong with my brain-to-eye-to-hand nerve signals.

We finally made it home to my apartment and proceeded to slowly sleepwalk through our evening routine. I had left my apartment at 2:00 PM that Monday. Over a tankful of gas, close to 400 road miles, and nearly 14 hours later, my head hit my new pillow a little before 4 AM. Yup - pretty epic things can happen when you put me and Gamy together.

Oh, by the way, the bubble tea was delicious.

A Day With Gamy Wong, or How Spontaneity Can Drive You Insane (Part 1 of 2)

So Gamy Wong came to visit me on Monday.

Well, he didn't really come to visit me as much as to go check out his home country of Canada. Being an international student with a Canadian passport, he's gotta check in with them every now and then. Getting to see each other was a perk for us and what was originally supposed to be a simple cross-over-and-back trip became a rather epic trip.

Before I tell you this epic tale, let me give you a little background on a couple of things:
1) I am currently residing in Brockport, working for the month of June. This village/college town is located just west of Rochester, a little over an hour away from Buffalo. This detail is to illustrate the driving we had to do.
2) awesome. He just graduated, but while he was studying at Ithaca, if you were anyone at Ithaca or in Northeast Affiliate of College and University Residence Halls, you probably met Gamy. He has a way of reaching out to everyone around him and he's instantly likeable. He also somehow manages to be on Facebook 24/7 without being annoying about it. He was a valuable asset to Ithaca's Residence Hall Association and, like me, it became a semi-obsession for his four years of college. AND (also like me), he's a huge musicophile. I know that's not really a word, but you can figure out what I mean. So we had some pretty amazing conversations about music while he was staying with me, but those happened between the epic events of Monday night. Ready to hear about that? Cool. Here we go.

Gamy arrived around 3:45 PM or so. We then made our way to UB's North Campus. When I had checked out of my apartment the previous week, I had accidentally left two bathroom rugs there, and wanted to go pick those up so the apartments staff would not charge me for their removal. The staff was only too happy to help me and then we headed off to dinner at Santora's, whose food was excellent as always. We then decided to get his Canada visit out of the way that night because my Tuesday was going to be rather busy. In discussions along the way, we decided that rather than just go to Niagara Falls and cross over to the Canadian side and back, we should give Gamy the opportunity to see some old friends from his hometown, since it would be the first time he would be anywhere in Canada in over nine years (save one trip to Vancouver, which isn't exactly close). This was somewhat impromptu, but we decided to go for it. So we drove to Niagara Falls and onto the Rainbow Bridge. Here's where the story gets interesting.

See, that afternoon when I'd left Brockport, I was so excited to go to Buffalo and see Gamy (and thinking about how I had to go fetch those rugs) that I forgot to take all the stuff out of my car. So when we pulled up to the Canadian Border Customs agent at about 6:30 PM, here's the conversation we had after we handed over passports:
Agent: Where are you from?
Joe: I'm from Bu- Brockport, New York, he lives in New York City.
Agent: Whose car is this?
Joe: Mine.
Agent: You're from Brockport...but you have Pennsylvania plates? What are you doing there?
Joe: Oh...I just moved there, I'm a musician.
Agent: How long ago?
Joe: A day (this was true).
Agent: How did you two meet?
Joe: We're students, we met at conferences.
Agent: Where are you students?
Joe: I'm at U at Buffalo, he's from Ithaca.
Agent (to Gamy): You're international? Do you have proof that you're a student? (Gamy fetches his ID forms). Where are you going?
Joe: Toronto.
Agent: For how long?
Joe: Just the evening, we'll be back tonight.
Agent: You're driving all the way to And coming back tonight?
Joe: Yeah, I have work in the morning.
Agent: Why are you going there?
Joe: Seeing friends and family.
Agent: What kind of family?

After we answered that, the agent then proceeded to repeat every single question she had already asked, in different order. We patiently answered, and then she stated that they needed to "verify our claim." She had us pull over and an officer came to search our car. It was then that I realized I had a ton of stuff in my car that one does not normally carry in a vehicle. The officer opened the backseat and found a large bag full of percussion stands, very sharp metal objects with lots of knobs and pokey parts. Then he noticed the cymbals underneath that bag. Then he found a bag of 10 novels I'd picked up when one of my father's co-workers gave away a bunch of her old books. His expression was already perplexed. Proceeding to the trunk, he found my rolled-up bathroom rugs, a UB Residence Hall Association shoulder bag that was empty, and Gamy's suitcase. After rifling through that, he came around to the other side and searched both of our backpacks and then discovered a large rolled-up object. My jaw dropped as I realized he was unrolling a giant window cling of Chewbacca that I had inherited from an RHA predecessor. He just stared at me and asked what it was, and continued to stare in disbelief when I told him. "Sir, you have a lot of random stuff in your vehicle" was all he could say. He then proceeded to ask me about what kind of music I played, expressed his disbelief at the fact that we were traveling all the way to Toronto for less than a night, and sent us on our way. We drove off into the Canadian evening, on our way to Markham and Gamy's friends. But that border crossing was only the first challenge on our epic journey.

To be continued...