Tuesday, February 06, 2007

What a day! (Or why I need my shopping gene examined!)

Monday is the one business day a week that my shop is not open. This day is reserved for doing important stuff--like getting the daughter's passport renewed because she is going to France in April. Monday was P-Day (otherwise known as passport day). Aside from being beastly cold, the day dawned just fine.

We got up super early and headed down to Oshawa to catch the GO train. No problem, except that all the commuters had arrived prior to us. Which meant that we had to park way the heck out in the boonies and walk up to the station. Did I mention that the train arrived just as we did? And how cold it was? The wind had nothing to block it as it blew across the parking lot. We were pleased to have a reason to walk quickly.

I am not too bashful to admit that I enjoy taking the GO train. It means that I am on my way to an Adventure in the Big City. Monday was no different. Once on board the train, we began filling out the passport application. She already had a passport, so it should be a breeze, right? Wrong. The silly application requires her Social Security Number (the American equivalent to a Canadian SIN). No problem. We'll call home when we get to Union Station. We sit back and pull out our knitting.

Upon arrival at Union Station, we stop at the first pay phone (thank goodness THEY still exist!) and make the collect call home. Daughter had a call-home card ... does she have it with her? Nope. So collect it is. Explain to the husband what I need and where to find it. Several tax returns later, we find a year wherein I claimed the daughter, complete with SSN. Whew.

Now to find a pay-locker so that we can leave our knitting and purses. Why? Because the U.S. Consulate website claims that you cannot take any bags of any type into the Consulate with you. Did you know that there are no lockers at Union Station any more? Deemed a safety risk, they were removed in the post 9/11 security craze. OK, fine. There must be some in the PATH, right? Nope.

Daughter and I trudge onwards, heading always north and parallel with University Ave, looking fruitlessly for a pay-locker. Finally, we run out of walkway. Arriving at street level, I confirm with a friendly security guard that we are, indeed, just one block away from University Avenue and that the Consulate is still north of our location. Does she know of anywhere we could leave our bags? Nope. But then I had a brilliant thought--could she watch them for us? She thought about it for a minute, and then said sure. I handed her my purse, claiming there was nothing of value therein because I had to take my wallet with me. The REAL valuables were the knitting projects in the second bag.

Away we went in search of the Consulate. I did mention that it was cold, right? Two blocks directly into the wind to University Avenue, two blocks north to the Consulate. No problem, except that it was "blowing like stink" to quote my husband. Brr.

We U.S. citizens have an awful lot for which to thank George Bush. The Consulate has had concrete posts in the sidewalk to prevent cars being driven into it for a long time. And the bullet-proof glass has likewise been present for a long time. But the requirement for U.S. citizens to enter the building at the rear? To stand in line with visa applicants, a safe 15 feet from the rear door and guard area, while everyone is questioned closely before being allowed into the building? The demand that you enter with only your wallet and documents in hand? The demeaning treatment rendered by the security guards, attempting to safeguard the safety of the building's employees?

Did you know that a jeweler's screwdriver is a lethal weapon? I didn't either. I carry it on my keychain because my glasses frequently fall apart. The jeweler's screwdriver is small enough that it will work with the teeny, tiny, microscopic screws used to hold eyeglasses together. The security guard insisted it was a lethal weapon and not allowed. To make things more difficult, he was not very fluent in English, and could not understand that I was asking him to discard the offending weapon. Daughter, meanwhile, watched the discussions with bated breath, and wondered how she could get herself home after I was arrested for assaulting the guard.

Not to worry. I resolved the problem by snatching up the screwdriver, stomping to the nearest door, flinging said door wide open and hurling the screwdriver as far and hard as possible.

"NOW can I come in?" I demanded. Apparently so. The car keys were then put back into my coat pocket and run through the x-ray machine. After being scanned with a handwand, I was cleared to enter the building. I must then gather my possessions and IMMEDIATELY go through the next door, leaving my daughter behind. Not a problem when the child is 16; the family ahead of us had a two-year-old, and she was distraught at having to watch her mommy disappear behind a door, and walk all by herself towards a strange man who held something in his hand.

Anyway, once clear of the first security hurdle, U.S. citizens have the supreme pleasure of getting to bypass the line of visa applicants and proceed directly into the first waiting room. Where you are greeted by a security guard who demands to know why you are coming in through this exit door. He escorts you to the next locked door and opens it for you, whereupon you are accosted by yet another guard who likewise demands to know why you have come through the apparently forbidden doorway.

Once we finally reached the appropriate floor and department, everything went swimmingly and without problem. Daughter will have her passport in two weeks or less. Whew. Explorica will be happy.

What I find terrifying is that Canada is a "friendly" country. Truly it is. Daughter and I have felt very welcomed every day of our presence. And the U.S. feels the need to take these draconian steps to insure the safety of its employees. How difficult is it to access the Embassy or Consulate in a not-so-friendly country? Thank you, George W., for your diligence in protecting U.S. citizens, at home and abroad. (Please note--heavy sarcasm used here!)

Then, since we were in town and there was really no way Daughter could attend her afternoon classes, we decided to do some shopping. Of course, to do this we had to retrieve our purses and knitting from the friendly security person. Two blocks south to Adelaide, two blocks east (with our backs to the wind!), and we are at the right building. We retrieve our bags with no problem, and put our minds to shopping.

After all, the Eaton Centre is in downtown Toronto and that is exactly where we are. Shopping here we come. After walking back down to Union Station, looking in vain for the mall, we patrol Front Street, searching for clues. All to no avail. Undaunted, we return to Union Station and head back into the PATH. We should be able to find the mall this way. Right?

Two hours later, we still have not yet found the mall. Plenty of shopping on the PATH, but no mall. We finally succumb to hunger and head for the nearest coffee shop. The kind lady sells us warm beverages and sandwiches, and assures us that if we head north we will find The Bay within two blocks. I know The Bay is part of the Eaton Centre, so we are good. We sit down, have lunch, and knit for a while. To soothe our nerves ... also to convince ourselves that we really know where we are headed.

The nice lady was right. The Bay was only two blocks north. Along the way, I have tripped and stumbled to my knees and crashed my eyeglasses onto the ground. (It was a far better choice than a face-plant onto the looming light pole.) Fortunately, the glasses did not self-destruct--especially since the security guard had forced me to discard my screwdriver. Also fortunately, I did not grab onto Daughter as I went down. She still had some warm coffee in her hand.

We found The Bay. We found the PATH. (It looks strangely familiar. Have we been here before? Don't answer that!!) Did we find the mall? No. We wandered in circles in The Bay. We felt extremely foolish. How can two reasonably intelligent women not be able to find a MALL? For crying out loud, we had credit cards with us!!!

In an effort to salvage some resemblance of pride, we refused to request directions. I suppose that technically speaking we WERE in the Eaton Centre. It just didn't look or feel like it.

After another half hour of wandering fruitlessly, we gave up. Daughter then said, and I quote, "If you can find Nathan Philip Square, I can find the Eaton Centre." Well, I had seen several signs on the PATH that directed one toward City Hall. Nathan Philip Square is right in front of City Hall.

If only she had thought of that option earlier. Say two and a half hours earlier?

Shopping ensues. We find a shoe store with lots of shoes that Daughter finds cute. And her favorites are not only cute, but inexpensive! Does life get any better? Only if they have the right size in stock. Test fits follow, and three pairs in the appropriate sizes are decided upon. We pay up and head home. Via the PATH, which does indeed take us directly to Union Station.

A mad dash to catch the next train, leisurely knitting on the GO, a quick drive home, speedy dinner, and I race out to teach my knitting class in Uxbridge.

Know what happened at home in my absence? Daughter discovers that we brought home two pair of shoes in the wrong size.



Anonymous said...

Sorry you were subjected to that treatment by the US Government Officials. It sounds like our adventure with the border guards at Niagara Falls, and similar to the attitude we received by customs in Seattle.

And of course, customs in Shanghai, China, were delighted to see me (an American) and couldn't have been friendlier.

I'm glad it turned out alright (minus the shoe sizes).


Christy J said...

What an adventure! I always get lost underground too. I am much better on street level and would have to brave the biting wind to find any of my favorite destinations. In TO I always navigate to the World's Largest Book Store, the Eaton Centre, Lettuce Knit and Romni Wool. But I guess with your own yarn store now, you can forego the last two.