A Latino from the East Bay heads north
Al Carlos Hernandez
It is rare for West Coast Latinos to make a northern run for the border during summer vacation, but that is exactly what we did. My wife and I returned from a week-long road trip that took us up north to Portland, Seattle and our final destination: Vancouver, British Colombia, Canada. I lost nine pounds, walked an average of 7 hours a day, and drove over two thousand miles, but we really needed the rest.
Published on LatinoLA: September 15, 2002
Ok, I didn?t want to go. There was good demographic reason to believe that the farther north we would go, the less of a chance Latinos would be living there and the greater possibility of meeting Big Foot. I could be borderline Anglo-a-phobic.
We did research on the trip, carefully mapped out our route, and choose to do a leisurely cruise up the coast. The best advice I had received was to drive a conservative sedan, rather than our red drop top. Way up northerners tend to disparage and mad-dog stare down city slickers who look like cartel members in rap video Euro-sports, yet think nothing of spending 45 grand on a four-wheel drive truck pulling their living room to the fishing hole and back.
The first leg of our trip took us to Portland, Oregon. Portland looks like an Old World Berkeley and it seems that many of the flower children hippies of the sixties have moved up there and now hold positions of municipal responsibility. We walked the streets, visited the malls and got juiced on the coffee, then headed for Seattle the next day.
Seattle is a mini-San Francisco; some of the sights and smells of the Farmers Market triggered a visceral remembrance of walking through fresh air markets alive with the vibrant reds, greens, and yellows of vegetables. The stink of fresh fish, the sticky aroma of cotton candy and caramel corn, and roasted chicken wafted through scented currents of patchouli oil and card table incense.
My wife was keeping a digital record of the trip, via VCR and 35mm camera. You can see my mood change as we approached the Canadian border. I didn?t know what to expect. I remember an uncomfortable incident coming back from Tijuana once when they asked my what country I was from. I answered "Oakland."
We waited in an In-N-Out Burger-type line. The park area around the Canadian border was very clean and landscaped almost too perfect, almost surreal in its flowered cuteness. We rolled up to the window. Things started off on the wrong foot as the guy asked me to take off my sunglasses. That is never a good sign. We handed him our identification, my wife the business woman with her passport, and me with a Xeroxed copy of my birth certificate and a drivers license picture that looked like I chugged a quart of Nyquil.
He asked me point blank, "Do you have any guns or mace?" I was promptly arrested by a look from my wife as my mouth formed the phase, ?If y?all needed some, you should have asked me sooner.?
What came out of my mouth instead was, ?No, Sir.? It is entirely possible that my wife has been studying ventriloquism, because it is rare for me to call anyone, ?Sir.?
Entering into Canada is a little like Roger Rabbit going into Toon Town, kilometers, petrol, blue money, et al.
We made our way to the Westin Resort through a maze of amazing store-lined shops and outlets. There are no freeways in Vancouver; they spend their money on parks and starched Mountie hats. All the while, my wife was making mental notes as to which stores we were going to visit, and by the end of the trip we sho-nuf hit them all.
Amazingly, we were booked into a four star hotel that we paid for with Motel 6 money, thanks to Priceline.com. Believe that. The best thing about Canada is that if you give them one hundred bucks they give you back one hundred fifty. That being said, it does look whack flashing a roll of monopoly money while trying to get your floss-on.
The room was a 12-floor suite with a balcony overlooking the bay. The corner of the room looked over the impressive skyscraper-lined cityscape.
As my wife snapped pictures and rolled tape, I regally put on the lush terry cloth hotel-supplied robe. I quickly found out that the robe is designed primarily to be worn indoors and not out on the town with black socks and Stacy Adams, as is the native custom of many of my tribe member?s back in the East Bay.
Part two next week.
Al Carlos Hernandez:
Al Carlos is a weekly contributing columnist.