GQ, I think, had recommended Metropolitan as the THE spot for happy hour in Ottawa, the first city on my road trip through Central Canada. Supposedly it’s the restaurant where Canada’s politicos get buzzed and discuss current events. I guess I got there too early. Outside of a Colombian couple seated nearby, who pitied me when I said I was from Ohio, the spot was mostly empty. But beer, oysters, shrimp, and a Caesar salad (with bacon!) for less than $30 made it worth the visit.
I met my e-friend Gybson after happy hour. Crazy story, but he’s from Burundi and added me on Facebook after searching for people with similar names, hoping to meet friends while seeking asylum in the West due to ethnic conflict in Central Africa. Inspired by great legal minds like Judge Greg Mathis, I helped as I much as I could and he ended up finding refuge in Ottawa. We talked about an attempt to flee his country, only to be caught in the forest by security forces. He described it as casually as I’d explain, say, transferring high schools. He was now thriving in Canada. Working and soon to become a nurse, and only 2 to 3 years away from citizenship.
My night continued with sightseeing downtown. The area is full of castles that double as government offices and overlook the river. Then there’s a long stretch of bars and restaurants. All were packed despite it being a weekday.
I got lost walking back to my apartment. Ottawa looked grimy once outside of downtown. It reminded me of Cleveland, or any of The Land’s twin cities: St. Louis, Oakland, or Baltimore, though with far less poverty and neglect. It’s Canada, ya know. I found my way and thought I’d check out a brewery after making dinner. I placed a duck leg, a piece of rainbow trout, some spinach, and a tomato in a covered pot with a little water and butter. I let it cook until the fire alarm went off. I stuffed myself and fell asleep for the night while watching the Democratic debate.
The next day I went to Morrison’s Quarry, a swimhole outside of Ottawa with Caribbean-looking water and a zipline. I walked around the park and tried to have a car nap before driving to Quebec City. My phone addiction didn’t allow much rest, so to the highway I went. Once I hit the province of Quebec everything went from French and English to just French. At first I got flustered, but my Duolingo paid off, at least well enough to read street signs and order food.
I stopped at McDonald’s on the way, which is a thing I do when abroad. I like to see the different menus and taste the difference in the beef. It’s been my experience that the United States has the shittiest meat. I spoke French when ordering a Big Mac meal: “Je voudrais un Big Mac sans fromage…uh, the whole meal.” The cashier giggled and spoke back to me in English. I felt her checking out my lil’ skinny ass as I walked away.
I crashed in Trois-Rivières, a smaller city 90 minutes from Quebec City. Trois-Rivières is not very diverse–there are more rivers than black people–but the harbor area is great for wandering. There was a sex toy shop and a strip club on the main strip. Both within view of a towering chapel. I walked through alleys and snapped pictures of street art. I looked at the classic cars parked near the water. Then a storm hit.
My hotel was in nearby Bécancour. Along the way I spotted some farm houses just as the sun was going down. I thought my wife would like pictures of it. She was supposed to come on the first leg of the trip, but life happened and childcare fell through. She insisted I still go, and I felt bad leaving her to battle the kids alone, but you don’t have to tell me “go ‘head” twice. I drove on somebody’s property for the “perfect” picture that didn’t come out as envisioned, but not too bad nonetheless.
Montmorency Falls was my first stop after arriving in Quebec. I’ve been on the lookout for waterfalls since seeing a little slice of Hawaii in Southeast Ohio, and other than getting drenched in the tourist trap that is Niagara Falls, Montmorency has been my favorite. You can take a cable car down and back up to see the falls, or you can save $14 by walking 487 steep steps each way. I skip leg day–actually I’ve never had a leg day–so within hours my calves felt shredded. Also, if you go to Montmorency, go early. I was there around noon on a Thursday and it was already getting packed. Hundreds of slow walkers killing my manic stride!
After the falls I cruised over to Old Town Quebec City while listening to 96.9, a French and English rap station. There’s no censorship, so plenty of N-bombs were dropped. I don’t know the ramifications of this, if any, but it’s wild to think of some of the things we export. Somebody might need to put some tariffs on “nigga.”
Old Town was an ol’ tourist trap. I mean…it’s worth a look, but any area with multiple souvenir stores is not a place I want to be for too long. What I did find interesting was the Maison de la Littérature, a public library housed in an old church. I read and spied on other readers for an hour.
I stayed at the Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations. It’s on Wendake land, an urban reservation 20 minutes outside of central Quebec City. The rooms featured animal hides and indigenous decor. The hotel had a spa and pool, Native museum, and restaurant. Don’t think I’m extra-extra cultured. It’s the hotel that came up when I searched for a four star for less than $100 a night. But yeah, I lucked up.
My short stay in Quebec City ended at a French restaurant near my hotel. Unfortunately I don’t have an Instagram-worthy dinner picture because I only ate a salad. I can only handle mild cheeses and damn near everything on the menu included something that sounded smelly. But shout-out to the waitress for bearing with me and correcting my French when I used the literal translation for “take out,” as opposed to the more common phrase, which I’ve since forgotten. Dammit.
I left the following morning to meet my frat brother Mike in Montreal, the final stop on my road trip through Central Canada. I was supposed to pick him up at the airport, but sleep paralysis the night before ruined my rest. I told him “I’m on my way,” which really meant that I fresh out the shower and still had 2.5 hours to drive.
But I got there soon enough and we started our tour of Montreal at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. It reminded me of what I think Kanye West’s house would look like. Wide open minimalist spaces with an art collection that perhaps made too much of an effort to be deep, or maybe I’m simple and just didn’t get it.
From there we went to Crescent Street, which is Montreal’s main district for shopping and eating. I wanted to buy marijuana (note to my employer: it’s completely legal in Canada), but the line to get in the SQDC store was too long. So I settled for a t-shirt from a nearby Urban Outfitters.
We walked around some more and ran into Lil Rel, the actor from Get Out and the recently canceled series Rel. He was shopping at Zara and minding his own damn business. I didn’t want to bother him, but we happened to be at the same clothes rack. I said, “Man, I thought that was you. But I ain’t even going to bother you…” He laughed and that was that.
Mike and I then hiked past McGill University and up Mount Royal Park, which offers stunning views of Montreal and runners’ butt cleavage. After pre-gaming at our Airbnb, which these days means taking a nap, we checked out the bar scene on Boulevard Saint Laurent.
We started off at Big In Japan, a speakeasy that announced us as we entered and served us some pretty damn good cocktails. We tried to bar hop, but Montreal’s drinking age is 18 and all the spots were dominated by kids. I ate a smoked meat (corned beef) sandwich and then walked back over near Crescent Street to see if anything else was going on. There was not.
The next morning we went to another SQDC (marijuana) shop in the ‘burbs. Seamless process: You show ID, browse the menu, and place an order with the budtender. Well, they’re not called budtenders, but that’s what they say in Colorado, which I thought was cool. Anyway, I paid $8 for a joint pre-rolled with a sativa strain called Riff.
After a quick stop through Montreal’s Japanese Festival, and of course, more naps, we took the city’s highly efficient and clean metro system to Parc Jean-Drapeau for Osheaga Music and Arts Festival, featuring (on the night we went) Janelle Monae, the Chemical Brothers, Logic, and a few young rappers that were popular to many others besides me.
Jeanelle Monae’s performance was a great combination of political activism and simulated girl-on-girl action. That’s one way to lead The Resistance. Logic was OK. He reminds me of his idol Eminem, though less skilled. So pretty much Eminem without the special du-rag powers.
But the cannabis made each performance a little better. It also gave me a ravenous appetite. Within a three-hour period I ate jerk chicken, poke, shawarma, and another smoked meat sandwich.
I conked out by midnight and hit the road at 7 a.m. I drove 12 hours to home, stopping only once. Never underestimate a father’s energy when he hasn’t had any play for a week and also misses his family.