I am in Montreal.
It is no easy task to get here. Two flights, minimum, which promises to be a whole-day affair with at least one meal eaten in a terminal somewhere.
I left Denver at 3:30 this morning and spent the day at the mercy of United. On planes and runways, defying the physics and gravity and the biological and psychological compositions of sleep. We are constantly rushing to be on time for a layover flight that is ultimately delayed.
And delayed, and delayed again. The math running in the back of my head is now considering getting back on a plane and going home, I’ve already missed meetings and dinners with people I’m supposed to be signing deals with. All the other abandoned passengers are huddled around the walls and feeding from the outlets. All but one — Mr. Global Services — who will stand at the head of the queue for the next three hours as we are given nervously worded updates from the gate attendant. Mr. Global services — with his immaculately packed roller board, his dark blue double breasted suit, and his security friendly slip on/off shoes. He would eventually be first on the plane that shows up in questionable condition — good for him! — and he would be three people ahead of us in the absurdly long line of Canadian customs. He will be pissed off, he will be upset, he would send a letter to the United customer care and threaten to end his Rewards Plus membership and possibly never travel to Montreal again.
Can’t say I blame him
Eventually we are inside of Montreal. I miss my 4 PM meeting by three hours leaving me to figure my way through ancient streets and poorly lit neighborhoods to find the place I’ve rented out for the next two nights. It’s not a hotel, but a full apartment — Air B&B — so there is no well-lit lobby or driveway with doormen eager for tips. Instead, I meet the girl with the key at the foot of a completely dark walk up, immediately upstairs from an antique store — one of a dozen on this block alone — I unlock and figure out the light switches and dump my bags. I sit on the edge of the bed just long enough to realize I’ve only eaten the worst in airport food all day. I need food and the ancient city around me needs attention. It may have been one of the longest days on record but the taste for exploration .
I sneak downstairs and half a block over to the loud bar that is staffed by people who looked like a combination of all the roommates I’ve had throughout the years— the ones who never had a job that they needed to wake at a reasonable hour for. The kind of jobs that require trendy clothing and a loose knowledge of how to pour a drink or tell people where to sit. I sit at the bar and one of the devilishly trendy people in front of me is a woman I used to know way back when, back when I could still use a camera and capture light in a way it could be printed and sold. We were friends then, good ones. She always had aspirations of being somewhere between a tattoo artist and an alternative model. Then she moved and the distance between us went from five minutes of walking to thirty minutes of driving. Now I travel 1,600 miles over two flights to accidentally run into her.
She looks the same, like she hasn’t cared enough to age. I see her eyes dance around me, taking a moment to place just where it is she knows me from. I have grown a bit older, heavier, and I’m wearing the kind of professionally fitted clothes I always swore to never wear. She smiles a little and says my name and asks how I’ve been even though she doesn’t really care. Her sleeves are cut off and her ink is everywhere and the only thing that is really different now from back then is that I’m in that weird place where I feel the need to wear a sport coat at 10:30 on a Thursday night, at a bar in a country that is foreign but not unlike my own. Looking around the bar, the people, this city, I can see why someone like her would have wanted to move here. She had been shrugging of the American way of life ever since she learned it was an option. As a teen, this meant a few stints in a juvenile hall, lots of time in detention, and at the constant worry of her parents as to why she couldn’t just brush her hair normal and sing to the latest Top 40. To an American, Montreal is as close as you can get to European without having to cross an ocean. It’s a wonder more expats aren’t winding up here — so close yet so far. A thirty minute drive puts you back in New York. A two hour flight lands you back in D.C. Even if everything went to hell, you could still retreat to the motherland. Even if things only went halfway to hell, there’s always Tim Horton’s.
I had set out for the lat night menu but all I order is a G&T. This girl I know makes it for me by pouring off two fingers of gin into a glass and uncapping a six ounce bottle of something — the label is worn, the light is low. I pour from bottle to glass and end up having the best cocktail of my entire life. Whatever fermented botanicals this bottle held I’ll never know. Mixed at a ratio of my own desire. All night long this girl will seduce customer after customer with each cocktail she pulls together and the end of her slender, tattoo’d arms. Maybe giving me that little bottle of tonic water was practice. Maybe it was her giving me whatever I actually needed and letting me piece the rest together.
Back up in the little apartment I’ve rented, everything is silent.. I can barely hear the activity of the bars or the cars rolling past two stories below. I am here now, using the shower and drinking from the tap and resting on the sheets. Someone lives here. The wall surrounding the TV is packed with dense history texts written in French. The dresser, full of socks and shirts I would never wear, houses an extensive collection of cologne — something I wasn’t aware any men wore, especially those of a certain caliber.
Must be a French thing.
This is a business trip. So I try to not look out the windows of all the trees exploding in orange and gold in these early days of October. I try to not enjoy the bright, glorious sun on the skin below my rolled up sleeves as I walk from one appointment to the next. This is business. I may be a tourist but the people around are ones who live here, who work here. .
The city is old, ancient, with architecture that makes no sense for these modern times but is preserved decade after decade. Us tourists, we walk in the middle of traffic — the cobblestone streets — because we have sidewalks at home that look just like them. Inside the walls of these ancient buildings are young people doing young things — tech startups, development, making money out of computers that figure new ways to talk to each other. On Fridays, the young people leave their offices to go and nap — to give themselves a brief pause between a week of work and a night of drinking and eating. They will be served perfect cocktails by women who they thought they would never see again.