Sunday, April 20, 2014

Trouble at the Border

Well, we are back from that quick trip to Seattle.  It definitely did not play out the way I expected.  I guess I really didn't expect half of Vancouver to pick up and attempt to go South.  There was almost no traffic heading down Highway 99, so I thought we were in the clear.  As I pulled up to the turnoff where you can choose between the Peace Arch and the truck route crossing, we saw 2+ hour delays at each one.  I thought that can't possibly be correct, but decided to opt for the truck crossing anyway.  That was (probably) the first mistake.

Long story short, we were stuck for close to 7 hours at the border!  When I realized that we had moved only 2 blocks in an hour (and hadn't even reached 8th Ave.), I was in deep despair.  I really don't know if those crossing signs ever read anything higher than 2 hours.  If I had known it was 4+ hours, I probably would have bailed on the trip and just eaten the bill for the hotel room.  If I had known for certain it was going to be 7 or close to 7, then I would have turned around.  Even going through the duty free store was a mistake (though we really needed to hit the rest room after 6 some hours in the car!) as they just turned the exit from the duty free into a great big parking lot for another hour.  It was so infuriating.  We ended up having to skip the Seattle Asian Art Museum and wandering around in Volunteer Park (when it would have been such a beautiful day).

About the only good thing was that the drive from the border to Seattle was fairly easy if a little heavy and the views were nice (we still had some sunlight).  Had I know everything, I probably would not have made the trip.  I would have just tried to deal with the weather on some other day.  The next thing I would have done would have been to leave around 7:30, and then made my call to a colleague while parked in my lane or while at the duty-free shop.  And I probably would have just stuck it out at the Peace Arch crossing.  (We actually ran into one of our son's school friends in Seattle.  I couldn't believe I was jealous of them being stuck for 4 hours, but there you go.)  We went through all the CDs I brought for the drive (and I had thought I had brought an absurd number).  I actually got some stuff out of the trunk and read for a bit. The kids actually behaved relatively well, and our daughter didn't get car sick (she occasionally has been known to get sick in taxis and buses).  This may bode well for occasional trips to Buffalo next year.  (I took a very quick look at rail from Toronto to Buffalo, and it takes a bit over 4 hours (the drive time is more like 3 hours).  There is only one train a day, though the departure and return times are a bit more reasonable.  However, the price is much higher than I would have guessed, so quite uneconomical for a family.  The bus is probably more competitive (and indeed it is, roughly 1/4 the cost of the train, and much less than renting a car), so that is what I shall do if going on my own).

I guess we finally got to the hotel around 8 (whereas I was sure we would be at the Asian Art Museum at 1 or 2).  For some unknown reason, they upgraded us to suite, and my wife crashed.  I decided to take the kids for a walk to the Seattle Center.  They of course wanted to go up the Space Needle.  I decided we might as well.  It was dark out but fairly clear, so you could see the buildings lit up in all directions.  It was chilly up there (and I didn't have a jacket) so we didn't stay that long.  I doubt the photos I took turned out very well.

Sat. went more or less to plan, though occasionally it just poured and we had to pick up another umbrella.  We couldn't find shoes for my son (we were at perhaps the worst Payless Shoes I've ever been in).  I put in a pitch to see the Asian Art Museum on the way out, but was outvoted.  We wouldn't have enjoyed the park anyway.  I guess it was just about 4 when we actually got back in the car for the drive north.  There was light rain on the way back but nothing too terrible. 

I was not feeling great, mostly residual tension from the other day, but we did make it to Bellingham for a dinner break.  We got a few groceries at Fred Meyer, but decided to pass on anything frozen or even cheese, just in case there was a one or two hour delay at the border.  I didn't think it was going to be terrible, but it is just so hard to predict.  The skies opened up and just poured for a while, but we ate dinner at a pizza place and it was largely done raining by the time we finished up, so we kind of dodged another bullet.

As it turned out there only was a 20 minute delay at Peace Arch and 10 or so (really more like 5) at the truck crossing.  There was no one coming south.  It was like a ghost town.  It was so unbelievably frustrating that we made another iffy decision (to not get more groceries).  (They didn't even ask if I was bringing any food across...)  But I was super glad to be able to drop everyone off at home, and I got the car back to YVR without incident.

I did like the Miro exhibit, but I am not sure it was worth the pain.  I certainly would have preferred taking the train (the bus probably would have been snarled at least one or two extra hours, though nothing like 6).  For some unknown reason the train between Vancouver and Seattle runs at ridiculous times (only very early and late in the day) and is very inefficient, taking almost 2 hours longer than the bus.  Why they can't straighten this out, and reduce car traffic at the border is completely beyond me.  It will be one more area where our grandchildren will just consider us the most selfish generation imaginable for totally f'ing up the planet.

I, for one, have vowed to never make this crossing again by car.  (I am not promising the same thing for Niagara/Buffalo, though I will certainly look to see if the train is a reasonable option.)  There is a slight chance I will try to go to SAM/SAAM one more time after a new exhibit opens up in late June, but I would only do it by bus and on a non-holiday Thurs.

I'm still recovering from the trip, so I'll go take a nap before trying to tackle some work and the Canadian taxes.

P.S. I am still trying to decide on Trouble at the Borders vs. Border Trouble as the name of this academic tome I would like to someday write.  I guess I am leaning towards Border Trouble (as a slight echo of "Pronoun Trouble" from Daffy's lines in Rabbit Seasoning.  If you want to weigh in, just drop me a line.

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