Oblivious in America: Part 8

Portal, North Dakota

Sitting in the drivers seat of my car; three vehicles deep; waiting to speak to the border agent at the drive-through window. Stuffed beneath the center console were a few extra packs of cigarettes; in addition to the second full carton hidden in my suitcase that I had no plans to declare.

Passport, please.

Three and a half days of stubble on my face; tanned from the springtime sun; I hand the melanin-positive-female-passport-gestapo my passport… the one with all of the squiggly stamps on it. She asks if I have anything to declare. I declare the first carton of cigarettes; and 40 ounces of my 66 ounce bottle of brandy.

Pull into the garage, sir.

Was it the squiggly airport stamps or the visa from Afghanistan, I’d wondered.

I sit on one of my suitcases; my sand-colored flight bag to be precise. At present; it was the only bag to have been completely searched by both border agents plus the dog. My car doors are open; the hood is up; the trunk is cleared; and the spare tire is out.

The dog is running coordinated paths around, under, and inside of my car. He’s standing on the engine, sniffing under the hood. I just smile. This is fun. How much trouble can a bloke get into for a carton of Pall Malls?

You didn’t declare this, sir.

He found the second carton of cigarettes; my Pall Malls. I declared my Marlboro’s. Neither the male; the female; nor the pooch mentioned diddly-dick about the extra 26 ounces of brandy.

I smile.

You missed some smokes, eh.

The pretty lady guard smiles.

I pop the center console and produce 6 extra individual packages of Marlboro’s that I’d picked up along the way.

What now?

The guy tells me that I have two choices. My first choice is to go pay the tax on the additional carton of cigarettes and leave with a good story to tell at some un-determined time and place in the future. My second choice was that they confiscate my contraband and I get put on a special list of people that border guards have; but I wouldn’t have to pay the tax.

I choose the former; and here we are.

Onward to Estevan.

Oblivious in Canada: Calgary – Part 1

“Spend the weekend in Calgary; check out some property in Red Deer.” he said.

Sitting at the base of a mountain coal mine that I’d just descended in my black-dust-covered white Prius; I excitedly embrace the words of my superior. Having just crossed the Southern Interior of the province, starting in Kelowna at midnight and riding South through the Okanagan through the wee hours until hitting Osoyoos.

I think back to where I’d landed the day before…

Driving through Kelowna early on a Thursday morning, leaving the airport at half past midnight after landing late on a flight from Saskatchewan – where I had been criss-crossing the province visiting potash mines all week; I was tired.

My goal was to be asleep in Osoyoos by 2:30; then showered and awake and on the road for 5:30 to make it to Trail for a Thursday morning meeting at the metal smelting plant.

On this calm evening, I took as many deep breaths as I could muster; slowly and in through my nose. I could see the dark impressions of the beautiful cliff-faces; contrasted ever so slightly against the dark night sky. If a place to visit before my death be chosen; the Okanagan Valley be the place I doth explore. I’ll need a designated driver, of course.

After passing a road crew painting lines on the road; I stopped for gas. That smell. I couldn’t place it. The entire valley smelled of it. Was it the nature? Was nature to blame for the peace and love I felt here? Orchards and fruit farms and wineries; everywhere.

But now, Friday, two hotels later – I’m sitting outside a restaurant called the Arrowana; about a half hour from the border with Alberta. My employer tells me that after being away for a week; I was required to be in Vancouver on Monday to pick up some tender documents. I smirk.

“There’s no bloody way I’m driving back through those mountains.”

Setting the GPS for Calgary; the following several hours of my life showed me some of the most breathtaking scenic realities available in our country. The Western window of my Prius contains miles and miles of lush green, perfectly manicured fields; the odd farm house atop a mound of grass; back-dropped by the Rocky Mountains.

The Easterly view be full of rain clouds that were quick upon me; cleansing my small emasculating rental car of the sins it committed climbing above the clouds as it scaled the coal mountain just hours before.

I text my brother on the East Coast and ask him to find me the address of a strip club in Calgary. I’d never spent any time in Calgary; or really any time in a strip club; aside from a few dodgy ethnic dance joints in the Middle East. Turns out his roommate at university; a guy sitting in the same room as him; is from Calgary.

He gives me a name and an address.

I re-calibrate the GPS and press on Northward.

Oblivious in America: Part 7

On a hill in Northern Minnesota

I exit the roadside dive and hit the road. This state is home to my hero; Bob Dylan. I hit North Dakota and head North to Saskatchewan. The beautiful rolling buffalo grazing hills of North Dakota were one of the most pleasant landscapes I have encountered until crossing into Alberta from the Southern Interior of British Columbia several years later.

Roaring down the highway, between hills of green, I can’t help but think of bison hunts; men riding on horseback with musket in hand – laying waste to this land’s population of both man and beast.

“Discovered” and “uncovered” America did you? Hah!

The same shit-stain capitalists that simultaneously monopolized trade and labor at the turn of the 19th century by driving down their own costs by lowering wages and cutting jobs; are the same shit-stain capitalists that crashed the stock market in 2007 and received Taxpayer money to bail their corporations out of the shit-hole of Taxpayer debt that they created by being dishonest shit-stains.

My hope was that the rolling hills and pump-jacks would continue into Canada. The  most unique sight I found traversing North Dakota was the abundance of pump-jacks; oil pumping machines; in the backyards of farmers.

Capitalism screws up the landscape.

Alas, the Canadian border is approaching.

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Part 8

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Oblivious in Dubai: Part 1

There I was.

Nineteen, tanned, clean-shaven; business casual.

Standing in the hallway of the top floor of a strange hotel, just after midnight in Dubai; pushing the elevator button relentlessly in an effort to speed up my not-so-swift retreat.

Flight to Kandahar in seven and a half short hours. There wouldn’t be another flight for a few days; I can’t miss it.

There she was.  All 80 enraged pounds of her.

The geriatric mama-san that was screaming at me, almost inaudibly, in angry Mandarin.

How the hell did I end up here?

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ABOUT AN HOUR EARLIER

Just finished my shower and gotten cleaned after the 30 or so hours of flights and layovers I’d just put behind me.

I was hungry.  Looking off of the balcony of my 6th floor suite; that familiar vision of a Burger King sign peeked between the buildings and across the parking lot.  Only eight hours or so until my flight; plenty of time to fill my belly.  Not like I was going to get much sleep anyway.

Jet-lagged but up for some exploration.

I finish my chicken sandwiches on the second floor of the nicest Burger King I’d ever seen. Head downstairs and outside to the patio for a smoke.

There she was.

Crossing the six lane road, roaring with midnight traffic; two beautiful, petite, and well dressed Asian ladies walking with two imposing looking Caucasian fellows.

Puff… Puff… pretty girls I thought; lucky fellows.

They get to the corner I’m standing on; the two fellows and one of the girls cross the road.

The other girl walks up to me.

Hey there,” she says as she touches my back, “you want massage?

This should have been clue number one.

Of course I ‘want massage’!  My hotel is just over there...”  I point.

No, no.  You come to my hotel.

So I put my arm around this strange petite woman and follow her across a parking lot, between some buildings, down an alley, and into a parking garage.

It’s probably also relevant to mention that when you fly across the ocean on most major airlines – the beer is free.  So I had that going for me.

Along the way we talked.  She told me she was from China.  I told her I was here for the night on business, catching a plane in the morning.

She says, “What country you go to?”

To which I replied, “Afghanistan” matter of factly.

Oh yes, Afghanistan very nice.

In hindsight, this should have been clue number two.

She also said a number of other things while we walked and talked, things like:

  • “Two hundred US, two hundred US.”
  • “You work you work, you come you come.”
  • “Come for massage, my hotel.”

This should have been clue number three.

She pushes the button for the elevator.  Hits the button for the top floor.

Elevator goes up; door opens.  I see three doors in a tiny, dimly lit hallway; two clotheslines strung across it.

She approaches the door on the right.

HER:  Knock, knock, knock

NOT HER:  Knock, knock

HER:  Knock

In hindsight, the secret knock should have been clue number four.

I’m led in to a room with five sliding doors; all of them open except one.

From behind the closed door:

  • Grunting
  • Bed squeaking rhythmically

Oh.  Fuck.  Now I get it.

I did what any 19 year old man would do in the same situation.  I let the geriatric mama-san lead me into one of the open doors.  Inside, there’s a single bed, clean sheets, a night stand, tissues and a garbage can.

She leaves.

Fuck.  Now I really get it.

So the “masseuse” comes in and I take out my wallet, I’ve got 20 US and a bit of local currency – nowhere close to the 200 in US green-backs that she’s expecting.

What followed was lots of screaming, hand waving, finger waving, finger pointing, more yelling and what I’m sure was a less-than-positive glare – all this from the senior citizen.

There had to be muscle there.  Had to be.  I was expecting to get throat-punched by someone who was trained in the ancient art of the throat-punch.

I ran out while buttoning my shirt screaming, “ohfuckohfucksorryimsorryfuckimsorryohfuckohfuck,” over and over again.  I barrelled past the mama-san, ran under the clotheslines and poked that elevator call button over and over and over again.

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That's where it all happened.

That’s where it all started.

Part Two —>

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