Sammy Hagar and Montreal

I’ve been trying to read this dreadfully boring Sammy Hagar article in the latest Rolling Stone (the one with Snooki humping a rocket on the cover…don’t get me started) and it reminded me of the first time I went to Canada.

It was June, 1996, and I had just wrapped up final exams for my sophomore year.  A senior friend of mine had rented a car for his family during graduation weekend and he asked me to return it.  “Sure thing,” I said.  “You have another day left on the rental if you want to wait until tomorrow,” he said.  “Ding-ding-ding,” rang the little bell in my head.

My friend Joni and I were sticking around Dartmouth for the interim until “Sophomore summer” classes began.  The campus was desolate with finals being over, graduations and reunions mostly wrapped up, dining halls were closed… there was not much going on.  So we decided to drive the car to get some food.  Except it went something like this:

“Hey, I have Mark’s rental until tomorrow.  You want go to Montreal, grab a bite to eat?”

“Sure!”

So we jumped into this tiny, white Dodge Neon and drove north on I-89.  Joni fell asleep after an hour on the road.  I entertained myself with the radio until I had to wake Joni up so she could hear the French-techno music I found.  Those crazy Quebecers.

It was surprisingly easy to get into Canada.

Customs attendant: “Identification and registration, please.”

Me: “The car is a rental, here’s the paperwork.  And here are our IDs.”

Attendant: “What is the nature of your trip?”

Me: “We’re going to Montreal to do a little sight-seeing.”  (That sounded WAY better than, “We are a couple irresponsible teenagers who got tired of our own land of plenty.   On a lark, we decided to invade the Great White North for some food and merriment.”)

Attendant: “Thank you.  Enjoy your visit to Canada.”

We went on our way.  The drive was boring – nothing but flat pasture – but we sped along.  Literally.  At one point, I said to Joni, “Wow!  I don’t know HOW these Canadians can make these corners doing 90!”  Because I was following road signs that looked just like this:

It took about 15 more minutes of me careening around turns to realize… wait for it… that we were in metric-land where “90” = 90 kilometers-per-hour.  Which translates to approximately 55 miles-per-hour.  We laughed until we cried, singing Sammy Hagar’s hook for the rest of trip: I can’t drive 55!

(That was the tangent that brought me from Hagar to Montreal this morning.  Get it?)

By this time, it was late – we had been driving for about 3 hours – so we parked the car on a downtown street, walked to the nearest restaurant, and ordered… something… I don’t even remember what we ate.  But I do remember ordering a beer just because we legally could.  Then we walked around for a couple of hours — no drinking and driving! — and actually did some night-time sightseeing.  Joni wanted to buy some pipe-tobacco so we popped into this cigar shop before the trip back home.

Somehow, somewhere along the way we got gloriously lost.  This was pre-GPS and we were practically delirious from lack of sleep.  Instead of re-entering the states on I-89 at the Vermont border, we ended up in upstate New York on I-87 where the customs attendant was not so friendly.  Though, I think we might have looked a little suspicious: two sleep-deprived, 19-year old students in a rental car at  3AM on a weeknight.

A quick search had them sniffing Joni’s apple- and grape-flavored tobacco purchases.  Then they grilled me about the rental car paperwork.  We must have looked just pathetic and not dangerous enough because they let us go.

Did I mention we were sleep-deprived?  Because we got lost about 20 times trying to navigate upstate New York to cut over to Vermont.  We stopped in the Yankee version of Deliverance-country to ask a guy with a lot of hair and very little teeth where in hell we ended up.

He said, “You two are in Vagins.”

Joni screeched, “WHAT?!?!  VAH-gins?  Like VAH-gina?!?!”

“No, Vagins. VAH-gins.  V-E-R-G…” and he pointed to a town named “Vergennes” on our map.

“Oh, VER-gins,” I repeated, loudly and incorrectly, while laughing my ass off.  Joni and I hopped back in the car, new route mapped out, and we made fun of virgins as we drove through Vermont.  And again, we got completely turned around.  This time we knew where we ended up.   On top of Mt. Killington, the ski resort!

A three hour trip to Canada followed by a nearly seven hour trip back to Hanover.  Yes, we eventually made our way home, the car was returned to the rental lot safe and sound, Joni got to keep her pipe tobacco and I got to sleep.  And no rules were broken!  Except trying to drive 90 MPH in a 90 KPH zone.

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