It is late at night on the border between the United States and Canada. Three of us are packed into my dusty Honda Pilot. We’ve been on the road for almost three hours from Tacoma and our destination, Vancouver, BC, is still a 40 minute drive away. It’s been a hot day, shattering old records, but the night is cooled by a breeze off the ocean.
“What’s the purpose of your visit to Canada?” the customs agent asks.
“We’re going to the Women’s World Cup Quarterfinals tomorrow,” I respond. So far, so good. No matter how many times I cross an international border, I still get unnerved talking to border security.
“Do you already have tickets?” he asks.
“Yes, we do,” I answer confidently. I’m tired from the drive and hoping he’s exhausted this line of questioning.
“Did USA win its game today?” he asks. I falter and look around at my passengers — my fiancée and her sister. In our hurry to get up to the border, we completely forgot to check the score of our home country’s most important game to date. We have no idea if we’re even still in the tournament we’ve come to watch. Amazingly, we’re allowed to cross into Canada and I’m left to convert kilometers into miles.
We stay with one of Stephanie’s friends from her time in Germany in an apartment just south of downtown. The morning of the match, we finally get a good look around Vancouver. An economic powerhouse, Vancouver truly is a global city.
From the Porsches parked outside luxury clothing boutiques along Granville Street to the snippets of Chinese overheard in a factory-turned-coffee shop in the gentrified Yaletown district, from the glittering skyscrapers to the bicyclists along the Seawall, Vancouver is too vast to see in a single day, even with the help of it’s comprehensive transportation system. Our car is unnecessary in town (and parking is prohibitively expensive) with the SkyTrain and the bus able to get you just about anywhere within half an hour.
There is nothing quite like being in a stadium with 54,000 fans watching a soccer game. The energy is infectious. We climb to the highest bowl to take our seats and bumble our way through “O Canada.” When traveling abroad, it’s generally best to attempt to blend in, especially when soccer fans are involved.
It is a tense game, with Canada fighting for dear life to stay in the tournament. In the end, a few mistakes seal the fate of the team sporting red jerseys. England will advance to the semi-finals at Canada’s expense. It is a quiet exit from the stadium, except for the rare whooping of the brave England fans sprinkled throughout the crowd. The bus ride back to Oak Street is packed with silent fans holding back their tears.
Back at our friend’s apartment, it’s getting to be dinner time. A bag of overpriced popcorn at the stadium isn’t cutting it. Our friend suggests an idea that’s almost American in its simplicity and laziness — we’re ordering out from a great pasta restaurant that delivers. We place our order and wait…and wait…and wait.
Forty-five minutes go by. An hour. There’s no sign of our dinner. The restaurant, about to close, assures us that the driver is on his way. Our new friend, Amanda, captures our desperation and close brush with cannibalism in a wonderful review later on.
A few months before, at a brunch place in Tacoma called Shakabrah, Stephanie, and her sister and I had a similar experience. Our order got lost between the server and the kitchen. We waited over an hour before someone noticed us guzzling packets of raspberry jam. A week later, at a Thai restaurant, the same thing. And now the pasta place. There’s no denying it. We’re cursed. The Shakabrah Brunch Curse is real.
The food finally arrives. The driver doesn’t even have a good excuse. We dig in anyway. Smoked salmon fettuccine never tasted so sweet.
Return to American Soil
The next day, we head south to the country of our birth — a place in the midst of historical events where the Supreme Court had just ruled that gay marriage is legal and a hate crime was fueling a conversation about the symbolism of the Confederate Battle Flag.
Our crossing into the United States takes five times as long as the crossing into Canada. Cars line up alongside the Peace Arch, waiting for their turn to go. We watch as Homeland Security walks up and down the rows of cars checking for drugs hidden in in the nooks and crannies of each passing automobile.
I am reminded that ours is a nation of paranoia. A nation of “never again.” And I wonder how we are seen from the outside; how the world observes an America that is so terrified of external threats. But I also remember that we are a country that can change. We are a people who debate and advocate for change. Someday, this crossing will look much different; this country will move on to new issues.
We leave the Great North behind and make a beeline for the nearest rest stop. I can’t help but look at the U.S. differently. That’s what travel does to you. Even a short journey outside the bubble of our everyday experience shifts our point of view just a bit. And maybe we return with renewed vigor for facing the challenges ahead.
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Jonny Eberle is a writer and traveler based in Tacoma, WA. You can follow him on Twitter.