My Unforgettable Jaunt to ‘Eh-land’ Or How I Learned How to Stop Worrying and Love Canada

Ontario turned out to be a very friendly place to sell and sign books although getting there was an ordeal comparable to Rick’s first night on Malta in the novel.It all began innocently enough. While I was waiting for my book to come out, I found a list of Maltese clubs on the Internet and sent letters to all them. Two clubs replied: The Maltese-Canadian Club of London (Ontario) and the Maltese-Canadian Professional and Business Association (MCPBA) of Toronto. The president of the London group invited me to speak briefly before his organization’s annual Christmas Party and promised a turnout of at least 100 people. The MCPBA wanted me to be the guest speaker. My Toronto contact also said he would arrange interviews with the local Maltese television show and the Consulate General of Canada while I was in town.I wasted no time in accepting. Making contacts with the Maltese-American community was essential to the success of the book. Just as important, I wanted to meet the gentleman in Canadian media who I had miraculously contacted while trying to arrange interviews with Mississauga radio stations. Mississauga is the western Toronto suburb where most Maltese live. According to the gentleman, the afternoon I called was the first time he had been in his office in more than three weeks and he was very interested to learn about The Cellini Masterpiece. I sent him a copy on-line and after he read a few of the chapters he e-mailed to suggest that we meet. It took a few more e-mails, but I had firm dates. I would speak in London on the 20th of November and in Toronto on the 23rd and would have lunch with gentleman on the 21st. Now all I had to do was to figure out the best way to get there.My wife found a discounted airfare, but I didn’t know how I would be able to carry the books with me. Driving won by default. Unfortunately the family car is a GMC van and it gets about 8 miles to the gallon and it was more than two thousand miles round trip. Rather than bankrupting myself spending 2.00 a gallon, my son, who is a used car dealer in a small town in southern Minnesota offered to loan me an Olds Achieva, which got 25-35 miles to the gallon. That brought a smile to my face, but it didn’t last long. I would have to pick up the auto at his lot, which meant a drive of 120 miles round trip. When we got there, I found an auto part sitting in the backseat of the Olds. “It’s a part for the brake,” my son’s friend said. “Clint didn’t get around to fixing it. The car will drive fine without it. Oh, and just make sure you don’t roll the driver’s window down. The motor isn’t working right and it won’t go back up. You won’t need to open the window, will you?” I couldn’t believe my ears. “I’ll be driving on the Illinois tollway. I’ll have to pay six or seven tolls.” “Then I guess you’ll have to open the door.” For a moment I considered driving the van.On the way home I found out that the brakes bumped but the car stopped when I put my foot on the pedal and I didn’t have to open the window.The next day I started on my trip. As Clint had promised, the mileage was excellent. When I got to the first stop on the Illinois tollway I forgot that the window didn’t work right and opened it. When I pushed the button to roll it back up, it didn’t move. When I tried it again, it inched up a little ways and stopped. By the second toll it had made it to the top. I decided to push my luck and go through the exact-change lane. Of course the window wouldn’t open. Cars behind me began to honk, so I pulled ahead and opened the door to toss the coins into the receptacle. One of the coins didn’t make it. I was shaking when I got out of the car and threw another dime in.My aim improved as I went, but at the last gate the exit arm wouldn’t open. It still stayed down when I threw in some more coins. I finally emptied my pockets and threw everything I had into the basket. I could almost imagine the extortionist machine smiling as the arm raised and the ‘Thank You’ light came on.Things went fine until I reached the Canadian border. I didn’t have my passport but I did have my driver’s license and military ID, two credit cards and my insurance card. (Unlike Rick I had forgotten my sperm donor’s card.) The agent in the box said, “We’re doing a random inspection. Please pull over to the buildings on the right.”I couldn’t have imagined what would happen next.The customs inspectors told me to unlock all the doors and get out of the car. The young man who looked in the trunk called me over. “You’ve got four boxes of books here. Why didn’t you declare them?””I didn’t know I was supposed to.””Where’s your passport?”I was starting to sweat even though snow was falling. “I didn’t bring it.””You should have. Do you have your ownership card for the car?””No. This is my son’s car.””Come with me.”At least he didn’t have me handcuffed, I thought, as I followed him into the building.”Did you know I can confiscate all these books?” he asked.”No. But I sure hope you don’t. This is my whole inventory. It’s my first novel and I’ve been invited to talk about it to social clubs in London and Toronto.””What kind of book is it?””A mystery-thriller.””Like The DaVinci Code?””Sorta, except it’s set in Malta”Half an hour later I was on my way. I wasn’t turned back at the border and I still had the car. (If the agent had been in a bad mood he could have impounded it.) Best of all, I still had my books, even though my purse was two hundred dollars lighter.What happened at my meetings? I was treated like royalty. Everyone seemed amazed that I was interested enough in Malta to write a book set there. I was regaled with pastizzi, Maltese pies like turnovers filled with spinach, cheese or meat, and was constantly surrounded by people who were anxious to talk to me. I even noticed a few tears when I mentioned landmarks from their hometowns. As I expected, the sales were barely sufficient to cover the expense of the trip, but the friends and contacts I made were of far greater value to me. I was treated cordially by the club members, had very friendly chats with the Consulate General and the interviewer on the Maltese TV station, and was treated as a visiting dignitary wherever I went. My meeting with the media mogul went well and I expect to hear from some of his contacts in the future. Best of all, the car and I made it back to Minneapolis in one piece.Just barely. The unused brake part from the back seat finally was put to use. By the time I was in Missassauga, I had to have a brake job. Well, a temporary one. The wheels were grinding on metal all the way home, and the axle was ready to break when I pulled into my driveway.It was a great trip, but please don’t ever say ‘getting there is half the fun’ around me. Being forced to eat lutefisk without butter can be dangerous to your health.SAHHA u hbibierija

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