Railroading North America

04/ Montreal

New York City to Montreal
The city on an Island in the middle of the St. Lawrence River

The Adirondack north from New York to Montreal was almost empty but passengers made a wreck of the restrooms anyway. They finally even flooded the end of one of passenger cars blocking entrance to the food car. The crew, pleasant enough, was not crisp like the teams on the Kissimmee to Washington and Washington to New York City runs, but they did take everything in stride making me wonder if this toilet stuff happens every day.

The train arrived an hour early. As slow as Canadian customs were, there were so few of us, it took very little time to process us.
The Canadian customs official who eyed me tried, but couldn’t come up with much.

“You’re coming to Canada twenty-one days at this time of year?”
I told her about my 30-day rail pass. She asked me if I had guns. No. She wondered if I planned to leave anything in Canada. No. She asked me again if I had any guns. No.

I expected my lack of planning to be big trouble in Montreal. I was arriving after 7. I had no Canadian money. I didn’t really know where my hotel was. But sorting it all out started well: a guy at the information counter knew my hotel and knew how to get there on the metro. He seemed credible so I decided (correctly) to follow his directions.

But I still needed Canadian money for the Metro (subway) and had none. So I found an ATM machine. The machine did not like my debit card. Then it spit out my credit card after I gave it a wrong pin number. Then the machine pouted. It put up a sign that read “Next Customer Please” in English and French, and went dark.

I eyed at a guy at the ATM next to me who was pocketing money. He eyed me back a little uneasily.

“I’ll give you 20 American bucks for 20 Canadian,” I said.
“No way.”
“Why not?”
“I’d be screwing you.” True: I was offering him $24US for $20CAN.
“Take the money,” I said. “It’s late. Screw me.”

Moments later I was on the metro and minutes later I was checked it at the hotel.

The following morning I settled on some rules:

Rule 1: This will be a train trip — 30 days is not enough time to stop and sightsee along the way.

Rule 2: Underwear will be a cost of this trip. Hotels want $5 to wash one t-shirt; I can buy new stuff for half that. Find a Wal-Mart when you want clean clothes.

Rule 3. I will pick the rail routes I most want to do and sacrifice everything else. Canada is killing passenger rail routes left and right.

Montreal, the City:

Montreal charmed me beyond belief: Very French and very refined. The metro has the same designer as BART in San Francisco (same colors, same 1960s time period). They smoke a lot. They don’t give a shit about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) so there are no ramps to roll luggage up and down. Not much graffiti.

And this reaffirmation of what I already knew: It’s not that the French do not like Americans; the French don’t like anybody much. And therefore: I may be French.

Montreal People:

1 / The Immaculately Dressed Man in the Hotel Elevator:
An immaculately dressed man joined me in the elevator my second morning in Montreal and struck up a conversation. He asked if I was satisfied with the hotel. I was complimentary.

“You have no idea how rarely we receive compliments,” the man said.
“Actually, I do” I replied, and after a beat, we both laughed as comrades who, although in different businesses, have both strived mightily to please a difficult public.
As we parting in the lobby, I asked him if he is the manager.
“I am, indeed, the manager, at your service, sir,” he said formally with a slight bow, and, then straightening added, “and I am also the owner of this hotel.”

2/ The VIA Rail Canada Information man:
I asked for a timetable and map of the VIA Canada rail system at the train station, Gare Centrale. The man produced a timetable then placed a small case on the counter beside the timetable. “I give you a timetable, and I offer you helpers,” he said. He opened the case revealing reading glasses. “You see! Helpers!” I’ve decided to dye my hair again.

Distance traveled today: 0.

(Photograph, two phone booths outside the Montreal train station, Gare Centrale)



  1. This is fantastic Uncle Peter! We’re traveling with you next. You have dad’s resourcefulness, but more technology behind you….and less camping!

    Comment by liz turner — November 24, 2008 @ 1:29 am

  2. The tears won’t stop and my sides hurt.

    Comment by Edward Betz — April 5, 2010 @ 5:12 pm

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