November 16, 2001

"We're Clueless"

Today's entry was going to be about taking another baby step toward independence.
I did something I never did before: left the city, province, and indeed the country, by myself.
I needed to go to Plattsburgh NY to tie up some loose ends in regard to my father's estate.

Having bank accounts there was standard practice in the English-speaking community in Quebec beginning in the 1960s, because of the political turmoil having to do with the Separation movement and the then-perceived uncertainty of our currency.

Plattsburgh is about a ninety-minute drive from my home, taking into account city traffic and the border stop. I've never taken that big a trip by myself.
I just never had to.
Considering I asked my husband for a separation two months ago (and the fact that I'm serious about it is just beginning to penetrate his brain around now, but that's another entry) I wasn't going to ask him for a lift.

Besides, I needed to prove to myself that I can cope.

I realize how weird that must sound to people who live in places like L.A., where a trip to the corner store (aka le depanneur) involves at least an hour's driving, but Montreal is organized more like New York - everything is (or is supposed to be) a long walk or a short drive away.

It's also weird in a global context. I see Christiane Amanpour reporting from recently vacated terrorist hideouts in Kabul (complete with notes on the construction of nuclear weapons and a storeroom full of chemicals) and I'm afraid to go to Plattsburgh?
Nope. This will not do.

But as I said, that's not the main focus of the entry anymore. I coped with the highways just fine. The rest of the experience, though, was somewhat odd.

This was the first time I'd travelled to the U.S. since 9/11 (the date that needs no further explanation).
I noticed some changes at the border stop, particularly on the way into the U.S.

First of all there were the signs on the highway, beginning about ten miles north of the border, warning of "possible congestion".
The frequency of the signs reminded me of the "South of the Border" billboards, seen on I-95 for hundreds of miles approaching that attraction.
If there is traffic, I don't need a sign to tell me about it. If there isn't (and there wasn't, today) what's the point?
My tax dollars at work...

I also noticed that the inspectors at the border were having all the drivers open the trunks of their cars. That is also new.
The inspector asked me my name (new) where I was from, where I was going and why (not new).
Then he asked me to open my trunk, which was fine.. I had cleaned out most of the junk anyway.

He looked, came back and asked:

"What's the shovel for?"

Me: (grinning sheepishly, since it was a clear, unseasonably warm day) "Snow?"
Border Guy: "It's a round-pointed shovel."
Me: (still grinning) I don't know, it's always been in my car. (True)
Border Guy: (rolling eyes) Ok, go...

I went.

(I later asked The Housemate (previously known as Hubby) why I had a round-pointed shovel in my car. He replied that was because I had always insisted on having it there, which is the case but nobody told me it wasn't a snow shovel!)

On to the border McDonald's, where I picked up a coffee which was HOT:
I know this because it said so on the cap.

And on to the banks:

Quick stop at Bank #1, where the contact person wasn't in for the day yet; then across the street to Bank #2.
After a tolerable wait, I was greeted by a Young But Fairly Alert Woman who said she had never done an estate account before.

The first thing she told me was that I needed to fill out a form for a tax number.
(I have a knee-jerk cringe response to the words "form" and "tax number" especially when they pertain to a country in which I do not live.)
This did not compute anyway, since I had phoned ahead several times to make sure I had the documentation I needed. Turns out, it had to do with both my father and I being "non-resident aliens".
(I love that term!)

I asked (more accurately, whined at) YBFAW whether we absolutely had to do that and she began calling around to find out.
Her manager didn't know.
"Tony" didn't know, nor did the people "Tony" transferred her to.
At one point YBFAW put down the phone, looked at me and said, "We're clueless."

She made a few more calls and at one point muttered into the phone, "I don't know how she's going to get her father's money out of this bank!"
I asked her then if nobody ever dies in Plattsburgh; if so I was moving right in.
Well apparently, the Canadians who die all have "beneficiaries" or joint account holders, neither of which I am.

So we agreed that she would track down the appropriate procedure while I did other things for an hour.

Back to Bank #1, expecting the worst.
The teller (Young, Overly-Made-Up, Slightly Less Alert Woman) looked at my papers and said, 'Do you want cash or a cheque?" or maybe she said "check", being American.

This is where RCFB* woman kicked in.

RCFB* Woman (thinking): grab the money and run! They might come to their senses and stop a cheque!
Me: (aloud) "If you can give me cash, sure."

They gave me cash.

69 hundred dollar bills.
4 twenties
1 ten
1 five
3 ones
and some change.

I stuffed it all into my pants pocket.
Got out of there, went back to Bank #2, where YBFAW told me that I absolutely positively had to fill out the IRS (tax number) form.
I told her I just got my money out of the other bank with no problem.
Her jaw dropped.
I said maybe their rules are different from yours.
She said, it's federal law.
I shrugged, thanked her, took the form and left.

Then I realized I had $7000 US in my pocket (more than $11,000 Canadian equivalent at the current exchange) and I still had to cross the border again to get home.

They were going to think I was a drug dealer for sure.

Never one to worry about carrying large sums of money around (I figure I don't LOOK rich) I still had a quick lunch and completed my other errands before starting out for home.

The Canadian border guard was a pleasant-looking older man with a round face and a mustache.
He asked me how long I'd been away and what I was doing.
Me: "Hadtofilloutsomepapersatthebank and went to Wal Mart."
CBG: "What did you buy?"
Me: "Medication from the pharmacy that I can't get at home, like Alleve for my period." (Alleve - Naproxen - is a prescription drug in Canada and thus vastly more expensive here.)
CBG: "Ohhhh Alleve, that works, eh?"
Me: "Yeah!"
CBG: "I gave some to my father and the leg that hurt him for four months, stopped hurting. I don't know why we can't buy it in Canada. So how much did you spend?"
Me: "$23. It's in the trunk."
CBG: "That's ok, go ahead."

I'm still exhaling.

Home, straight off the highway to the bank, where I had to explain the $7000 US cash but they know me there.
Again, more rolling eyes but they gave me coffee and told me to go home and relax.

Maybe I shouldn't be allowed out of the house by myself, like my kids have said all along.

*RCFB = Rat Crap For Brains, an apparently contagious condition where one's common sense temporarily disappears and in its absence one's mind is taken over by one's inner idiot.

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