Clarence is being strip-searched by a gang of armed officials, and we’re powerless to stop them. Each tick of the overhead clock stretches. We must have butchered the first round of questioning, because I’ve watched a steady stream of people come and go, and yet Hannah and I are still here.
‘Clarence’ is a 1997 Ford Aerostar, and ‘here’ is an aggressively impersonal waiting room. There’s nothing like thumbing through A Cultural History of the Penis while a portrait of Trump glowers down and your vehicle is ransacked to emphasize that you’re no longer in rural Canada. Up until this moment, the new president has been a TV personality, like Homer Simpson, and this proof of his flesh-and-blood existence is jarring. Just the other side of the glass lies the land of supersized sodas and Michael Bay movies and Libertarians.
The mutton-chops-sporting guard leans over the counter and barks my name. I don’t know whether he gets off on intimidation, or if it’s in the job description, but it’s working. My pulse races, despite a lack of wrongdoing. We downed our bottle of wine the previous evening in a farewell to legal drinking age, chucked a last damning tomato out the window somewhere around Chilliwack, and double-checked our paperwork. A smirk. “She your girlfriend?”
I glance at my travel companion: seated in the waiting room, nose buried in a copy of A Handmaid’s Tale, absentmindedly fidgeting with a lock of waist-length hair. Hannah exudes a calm that tempers my unwarranted nervousness.
We met in college. We’ve since shared an array of unlikely adventures—from guzzling discount champagne on the roof of the university to sleeping in a trailer-park tomato grow-op overrun by coke-snorting hippies—but our previous exploits pale in comparison to this trip. I still can’t believe she agreed to come.
“We’re just friends,” I say. Hannah, so far as I can tell, is ruler-straight.
“How do I know you’re not trying to leave Canada?” he asks, for the fifth time.
I am tempted to say, “Gosh darn it. You saw right through us. We’re fleeing the draconian backwardness of BC for a place where our love can flourish. I’m thinking maybe a Houston wedding. I’ll hold the pastor at gunpoint. Living near the border should simplify my drug smuggling, and she can do her dark web design stuff anywhere. That’s the beauty of freelance.” Trump’s beady eyes bore into mine with such disconcerting intensity that I falter. Instead, I repeat my story. Again.
We’re going camping. That is, if they ever let us out of this goddamn room.
The issue is that our gracious host can’t believe that anyone in their right mind would embark on a months-long road trip without an itinerary. At the very least he wants to see motel bookings. I doubt he’ll be receptive to a narrative about the romance of the unknown. Neither of us have a phone plan this side of the border to call for testimony.
When ordered (over protests that my knowledge of American geography extends only as far as a glance at the atlas) to procure some sort of destination, I scribble the first name which memory summons. Mutton-Chops cocks a disbelieving eyebrow at my form. “You’re gonna live in Snoqualmie National Forest for three months?”
Our curated tale of a Kerouac-esque journey across America is not a lie. The truth, however, is not so simple. For Hannah, this may be purely a diversion, a last taste of the real world before heading off to art school, but for me it’s a move prompted by white-knuckled desperation. But I’m not about to tell a hostile stranger about the gray flat nothingness and the claustrophobic panic and lying on the cold concrete of a break room floor between customers in a vain attempt to hold down a job. I don’t have a Latin name or an explanation for my nemesis, let alone a synopsis which will fit his attention span.
At long last, a gruff cough announces the return of the men who hold the keys to America.
“Have a good afternoon,” says the fresh-faced guy who took our passports. “We’ve determined that you’re not a threat,” Mutton Chops concedes. Tight-jawed, he slides our confiscated documents across the counter. I think he was looking forward to recounting, over drinks, his valiant arrest of an influx of illegal lesbians.
The relief doesn’t sink in until we’re surrounded by a sea of Washington farmland. So this is the States, I think, feeling mildly betrayed by the rolling fields for their lack of exoticism. I pull over at a serve-yourself fruit stand to wait out the vestiges of interrogation-induced adrenaline. I am shaking.
“Bastards,” I grit out. “Where the hell do they get off, huh?”