In August of 1992, I lived in York, Pennsylvania. I was twenty-four, and I lived alone in a small, second-floor apartment on Philadelphia Street. It was a dark time.
My summer teaching job had ended, and I had lots of time to read and think and read and listen to loud music and read and think and read and swim long distances at the YMCA. And during my five-thousand-yard swims–often twice a day–I would think some more.
I overthought, and the reading and loud music could not stop me from doing it. My friends–one of whom lived upstairs from me–saw me less and less. I could not sleep properly. I ate poorly. I kept swimming obsessively. I continued to overthink.
One Friday night, Joel from upstairs told me where all my friends would be having drinks. I did not want to go. Maybe they would come back to Joel’s later that night, and I could see them then. I wanted to listen to “Secret Journey” by the Police sixty times while I overthought.
I knew I would not sleep, but I tried to go to bed at ten o’clock. As I had predicted, all I could do was lie there and overthink.
After two hours, I took a shower. Then I got dressed. It was after midnight, and I felt hungry for the first time in days. But I did not know what I wanted to eat.
I want to go out for breakfast, I thought. But where?
Another thought, another voice: Canada.
I put on my shoes and got my keys. I’m driving to Canada for breakfast.
I stepped outside my door and headed down the staircase. I heard the exterior door open, along with some familiar laughter–Joel and Pete, coming back from the Gingerbread Man, where they had had a few.
“Hey, loser!” Joel crooned as he looked up at me coming down the stairs. “I’m firing up the grill. You, Pete, and I are having turkey burgers.”
Pete put his arm around Joel and shook his head as if to say, We ain’t grillin’ after midnight, bud.
“You going somewhere?” Joel asked.
“Me?” I said. “Just going for a drive.”
“It’s after midnight. You drunk?”
“Not tonight,” I said. “I need to get away for a while.”
“Where?” he pressed. “Come on up with us. Turkey burgers!”
“Sorry,” I said. “I’m going out for breakfast.”
“Where? The Majestic?”
“No. I want to try some other diner. Something more…exotic.”
“Where?” Joel was insistent. Pete shook his head again.
“Canada,” I said. Pete and Joel both howled, bent over in their laughter. Then they headed up the stairs, squeezing by me.
“Canada!” Pete whimpered between guffaws. “Pretty funny, Paul!”
“Of course,” I said as I stood by the door, “I’m joking.” Then I stepped out into the night.
I wasn’t joking though.
I walked out back to my parking spot, got into my white Mitsubishi Mirage, started it, and gently let the clutch grab first gear. In ten minutes, I was on Interstate 81, heading north.
And in seven hours, the sun was up, I crossed the bridge over the St. Lawrence River, and my little white hatchback approached the Canada Border Services Agency.
There was no line, and I pulled my car into one of the lanes that led to the border gate. At the booth, an agent looked up at me as I rolled down my window. He was perhaps thirty five, of medium build, with dark features.
He started what was obviously a familiar routine: “Citizenship?”
“United States,” I replied.
“Where do you live?”
“This your car?”
“What brings you to Canada?”
The agent, who had looked down at some paperwork in his booth, suddenly looked back up and glared at me. “Say that again?”
“How long do you plan to be here?” he asked. It was part of the regular script, I was sure, but his tone had changed significantly.
“I don’t know. About forty-five minutes?”
He simply stared for a moment.
“How long have you been driving?”
“Looks like…about seven hours.”
“And you drove all the way up here for breakfast?”
“Yes. Can you recommend a place? I’m pretty hungry.”
“Don’t move,” he ordered. He shut the window of his booth and picked up a phone.
Boy, was I getting hungry.
To be continued…
I am participating in the Slice of Life Challenge sponsored by Two Writing Teachers.