It’s been covered enough so you’ve probably heard it. The first time I heard it was after I’d had my encounter with a policeman for sleeping on a subway. (I was sleeping, not him.)
Way back in that galaxy long ago, far away and called 1967, two of us hitchhiked to Montreal for Expo 67. Pulled from our ride at the border, we managed to talk our way through the immigration station at Rouses Point/Lacolle, even though the officer was somewhat dubious of our story. After inspecting us and our gear, he found that we had a total of nineteen dollars and change (US) between us. “And how long will you be staying in Quebec?” he asked, in heavily accented English. Clueless, we told him, “a week, maybe two.” He looked at the line of backed-up cars and trucks and told us to walk on through to Canada.
Without a word of French between us, we made it to the Lacolle side of the border and put out our thumbs. An hour or so later we got picked up by a madman who occasionally dropped his speed below 80 mph and really didn’t care about which way the directional arrows pointed once we got into downtown Montreal. We escaped at a stop light and started playing tourist. Since it was late in the day we decided to hit Expo the next morning. After spending the better part of the past few weeks couch surfing and camping, it hadn’t occurred to us that we might need to pay for housing.
Then we discovered the brand new metro. Less than a year old and built to support the Expo, it was rubber-tire quiet and, most importantly for us, heated and comfortable. Until a police officer started drumming a tattoo on the soles of my shoes at 2 in the morning. That’s when it closed and when we walked out into a chilly Montreal night.
Our next stop was a pile of leaves under some bushes we managed to get to after scrambling over a security fence. Not as comfortable as the metro, but probably more secure. Until the next morning, when we heard footsteps.
The footsteps disappeared in the distance.
We began reassembling ourselves and our gear, freezing when the steps returned. And stopped. A young monk, prayer book in hand, stared at us through the leaves. We stared back. He asked us something. We looked dumbly at each other, more dumbly at him. With a stern look, he used his finger to direct us to follow him.
Hours later, after a breakfast and hot shower, we found our way to Expo. It was good, but not great. Our ride back south had a single empty seat, but he squeezed us in anyway. The driver stopped a mile from the border and squeezed my friend into the VW’s trunk, so he wouldn’t be stopped by US immigration for his expired Quebec license. He told me to feign sleep in the back seat, under a duffle, intertwined with his sheepdog. We made it back into the US without incident.
Oh, and Petula Clark, thanks for your song. I hear it every now and then and think of my first visit to Montreal.