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it came out of the wordwork

South by Northwest ... or Coming Home, a long short story gets longer
Getting to Montreal is easy enough from here: after filling the car at the Pilot in Fairfield, Maine, one drives north and west, or northwest if the road happens to actually go that direction (that's NW to the car's compass, after all), threads the mountain views through Coburn Gore and talks with the man at the welcome booth, and dutifully following the signs (all roads lead to Montreal!) or the route numbers, after about 5 or 6 hours of travel from the starting point one crosses a bridge, ducks into a tunnel with a quick right, takes a second right, and arrives on a city street close to the hotel.

In betwixt, one listens to music, refills the vehicle in order to have more than a half-tank of gas for the planned early morning exit in a few days, stops at a Tim Horton's for a bowl of soup, and generally has a relaxing time driving. In keeping with the locale one uses the small numbers on the speedometer... and glances periodically at the instrument to insure that one's vehicle is, in fact, running at peak. It isn't at all unusual to find the compass readout as N (north), or NW (northwest), and if you're like me, you find that reassuring.

Understand me. If I'm not on a strict deadline I tend to travel seat of the pants, the destination more on my mind than the route, with my compass as my compass. So if I know that I need go through Sherbrooke to get to route 10 and see a sign promising Sherbrooke, well heck, I may take that route rather than wait for some other route number. I'd done that, on the way in, seen a town not on my route list, and some pretty lakes, and found route 10.

Coolness. Went to Montreal and had a good con, but woke v.early Monday morning infected with "Let's go home and scritch the cats!" so I was dealing with getting from Montreal rather than to.

I was also equipped with directions (unwritten, but from reliable sources about the best way to get out of town before the crush of morning rush hour) and a hotel supplied map. Mostly I knew I wanted to go ... South or East (Sud or Est), after going a couple blocks due West, a couple north, and then a couple Est to pick up the road leading to 720.

Hah. It's Dark o'clock in the morning, and after passing a bus sitting in front of Tim Horton's I glance over at the compass and it looks like I must have missed my turn... but city roads are like that. Being a city-wise driver I know that if I got here and I can get back to where I want to be by driving a block or two and taking a left and another ... but yeah, not all city roads are straight and after a few moments I realize I've now wound my way into a sort of parklike road...

Montreal at 6 am: traffic is starting to pick up. I'm now in sight of a building I knew is near my starting point. The problem is, that building is *way the heck over there* ... and I'm going NW and ought be going Sud. Hmmm...

I go around what ought to be a block and I am now safely going ... N. I'm looking first for E ... but I need to cross a bridge to start. Ah -- there 'a bridge approach overhead, but surely that's not Pont Champlain. I pull into a Petro-Canada, and ask for assistance getting to Sherbrooke; the clerk is too busy selling coffee and Petro
but a nice lady who uses English sparingly expresses to me "Listen to me: go down and go right at light number 2. On this street there, (pointing) two lights, and that road is the bridge road!"

And so it was... 25 minutes after I pulled out of the Days I am on Pont Jacques-Carter... and so is half the wide-awake world. Except they *know* where they are going and I'm merely on the other side of the river. Aha... this road must be ...
compass says N. So, E will do: I can get home from Quebec City, after all. I take a road veering to the right and ... am on a suddenly really big road, and there are some turns in it, and signs tell me Nord. The compass is telling me N and sometimes NW, but hey, roads are like that.

Everyone is trying to move right, to get to that road ahead -- which apparently is the one going to Montreal, but I been there done that, and got the t-shirt for Antiicpation, too. Speed is down to 10 MPH. Cars are squeezing in front of me, waving me over (but OK, I don't need that road). Yet as the traffic thins extremely and my relief at getting out of the jam by going what I assume is Est... the
compass tells me I'm going N. Worse, the wide road joins a slim road and the signs say: Nord.

I drive for awhile, since stopping mid-road is contra-indicated. I consider my options, and find a smaller road, managing to get off and grab sight of a route number, knowing that if I continue to go Nord I will be somewhere that will take me longer to get home from.

In Eastern Canada, all roads do lead to Tim's. And I have an idea..., deep in my gut. That is several ideas. Multiple ideas. One is I've been on the road for near an hour and need coffee, two is I need coffee and I've even hungry. Three is, that I'm really lost and I rarely get this lost and i need coffee. And four is that... something is not right. I am suffering from cognitive dissonance. That should be Est -- or Sud. The clouds are breaking there and it looks like the sun should rise over there.

So, I pull into the Tim's parking lot, going N. I turn to the right and I'm going NW.
Well, that's an oops, I think.... I turn a little more, in the same direction, sweeping into a wide arc to go into the parking lot next over ..and I'm going N. OK. Slower. From a standing start in an empty parking lot, I drive a great big honking circle, the best circle I know how to drive on a coffeeless low-caffeine, suddenly too-tense morning.

NW. N. NW. N. NW. N.

Well... I could see how that might happen, driving in circles, the random glance up, as I've been doing while driving, simply arriving at the N. But I have been driving in one circle, slowly. I then understood. I then comprehended, and I reacted suitably.

Yes, I burst out laughing. I tap the compass display. Nothing but N. I turn 180 degrees from N and I am driving ... N. I do it again and I'm driving NW.

With great relief, I go into the Tim's with map in hand, get coffee and a breakfast tintin(?) with something on it .. by now I don't care. I'm hungry, but I have the route numbers and a map, and *now* I can drive south and east to Sherbrooke.

So then, arriving circa Sherbrooke I dive heedlessly through the city, find route 112 leading to 212, hit Cookshire where I filled the tank, and head for the border at a spanking pace, sometimes in rain and mist, sometimes under clouds with sun. A beautiful day, through scenery of high interest.

Approaching the border: no car in front of me, and no truck, and behind me the cars peel to left and right until I arrive at the border station going Sud, alone.

The border guard has me roll down my window and he says, ominously, from within his official fort:

"Phwat is yer nam?" ....

well, no, he didn't. But he could have, I felt, and I offer to all of you the opportunity to read The Poor Mouth: A Bad Story About the Hard Life by Flann O'Brien, and you can even google for < "Phwat is yer nam" and come up with the passage I refer to.

Instead, he said, quite sternly:

"What is the significance of your license plate?"

Well now, that's a pop quiz, ain't it?

My license plate says, well: I Dare is what it says.

So here I am, a semi-long-haired greybeard at the border, with a car full of travel stuff including a large green military looking bag in plain view in the back. I also have a box filled with a rocket-shaped award in the back. Hmmm ...

" I Dare is the name of the book that paid for the car," I tell him. "I'm a science fiction writer."

He seems to relax, says "Oh, good for you," and then he asks me the litany "Where are you going, where are you coming from, why were you there, where do you live, where were you born?", and then asks to see my ID. At that point he bestirred himself from his fort, strode to the back of the car, popped the tailgate, and without a word unzipped the military looking L.L. Bean bag, ignoring the LL Bean box next to it (the one with the rickety rockety-shaped Nubella Award in it)...

Truth: when I've been on the road for a few days, traveling with a a single bag, and am on my way home... I just dump all the dirty clothes into the bag, unfolded and unsweet.

I hope he wasn't surprised; certainly by the look of the car -- with my map, my Tim's coffee cup, my Pepsi in one cup holder and water in the other, my bag full of snacks and -- he should not have been expecting neatness. After peering at the jumble a few moments he just as wordlessly zipped it shut, glanced at the rest of the back of the car -- yes, I do have hunting safe orange jacket and hat, dammit, just laying there, I'm from Maine! -- and slammed the door closed, getting mud on his fingers because up the road a few miles it had been raining.

He went back to the fort, studied my passport, ran it through some kind of a checkerator, handed it through the window, and let me go on.

My mood was not good; I wonder how many people get through the checkpoint and do (or feel like doing) what I did: I charged the road, which is a smooth but twisty, moose-warned, switched-backed, falling rocked, ledge-sided, SLOW ahead kind of a road. Speed limit said 35... hah! What a glorious driving road that is if you trust you car, and your instincts, and have had three cups of Tim's best and are working on a Pepsi and are offended by questions like "Phwat is yer name the significance of your license plate?"

That burst of running out of the way I enjoyed the rest of the trip: saw two deer, saw many misty-topped mountains and one with a crown of snow, was enfolded in fall-color yellows and oranges and reds, and the closer to home, the calmer and the more willing to just get in and scritch cat-belly.

Oh yeah, when I arrived home there were 2500 new books waiting to be dealt with. Darn, no midnight book-packers in East Winslow. As time permits, LUC#2 will get on the road.