The Adirondack Trailways bus from New York City to Montreal costs $84 and takes approximately 9 hours, unless you are unlucky and it is snowing through the mountains, or you have any dark-skinned people on your bus. It is a well-known and never overtly stated fact that over-land customs guards, particularly entering the United States from Canada, do not like you to be brown.
It used to be that I was frequently "randomly selected" for "screening" at airports and US border crossings. Despite my dual citizenship and tidy booklet of passports, my bizarre outfits, spurious companions, and, at the time, inscrutable bags of musical instruments and bellydancing swords meant that I was probably a drug dealer. One customs agent tried to have a heart to heart with me (this was after Burning Man, to be fair, and I was driving across the US-Canada border near Vancouver, with pink hair, pounds of dust on my car, and a bumper sticker that said "It was on fire when I got here") and said, "Do you have any narcotics in the car? You can tell me if you do. It's better if you tell me than if I just find them." Does anyone actually fall for that?
Naturally, after September 11, 2001, a slow steady bias against brown people crossing the border started up; my friend Jake said he once sat at the crossing to Vermont for 2.5 hours, while customs interrogated the dark-skinned Canadian citizen who had been born in Iran. Everyone has to get off the bus and go through screening and get back on, so the entire bus had to wait for this one guy. On my last trip to New York in November, with the Russian Mafia (don't ask), the one dark-skinned girl on the bus spent forty minutes trying to convince them that, yes, she was in a doctoral program to be a museum curator, and yes, that was a real job. They didn't believe her. They put a lookout on her file because they were convinced nobody could make a living being a curator. Probably accurate, but that's more a factor of how North America values art than a cover for a smuggling ring.
So this time, I was hanging around outside the customs stop, breathing the fresh air. The waiting room inside was full of Amish people and smelled like handmade sausages, and I'd been on the bus for about 7 hours. A young man with a tidy goatee came out and lit a cigarette. "Did they ask you a lot of weird questions?" he said.
They hadn't. For some reason, customs is always very VERY interested in my interpersonal relationships. In November, they asked me why I was going to New York. "To visit a friend." You have friends in New York? "Yes." Why are you coming from Montreal when your residential address is in Ontario? "I have friends there too." You have a lot of friends, don't you? "I guess so?" This time, I just got: Why were you in New York? "To visit friends." Do you visit them a lot? "Whenever I can?" It's nice of customs to be so concerned with how often I see my social circle and what I do while I'm there. Maybe they just wanted to be invited the next time we go for dim sum. Or I could have taken them to a museum and shown them what a curator was.
But goatee guy was olive-skinned, and I said, "What kind of questions did they ask you?"
Turns out he was Jordanian, but living in New York to get a degree in Communications at Columbia. He was obviously from a rich family -- his mother bought him the fanciest new Samsung phone for Christmas, and bought his sister a Blackberry and a jacket from Barney's. How do I know all this? He told me EVERYTHING. Chain smoking furiously, he sighed and said, "I'm really glad they didn't search me. I have a prescription bottle full of different kinds of Xanax. I already took 80mg so I could sleep on the bus." He took another puff on his cigarette. "I don't think I should do any coke tonight, after that much Xanax. I just have this crazy high tolerance, you know?"
"Maybe because you take so much of it?" I pointed out gently. He grinned.
We had a lively conversation, so much so that he sat next to me on the bus when it reloaded. He told me about his copious drug use, his heavy drinking, his mother's recent 2-month visit in his one-bedroom Upper East Side apartment (another clue that he's rich). He said he'd woken his roommate up at 5am the previous night crying because he was convinced he was fat and therefore couldn't go to Montreal.
"I would have killed you," I said.
"I knoooooow," he squealed.
On the bus, he told me about his recent HIV test (negative), and the sex education he'd received afterwards, which he was very happy about. "Did you know you shouldn't use two condoms at once?" he said, entranced. "I always do that! Not anymore! Also you're not supposed to use Vaseline for lube! That's the only thing I use!" He had a cheerful tone and pitch to his voice which I wouldn't have minded, if all the Amish people had not gotten onto our bus. Directly in front of us was a young Amish couple. The woman was holding a baby. Guaranteed they could hear our discussion of anal lubricant. I didn't even bother trying to shush my new friend.
"Just get some of that silicone stuff," I advised him. "Use a lot and you'll be fine."
He told me a bit about his love life, how he was tired of being the downlow guy for every straight man who wanted to explore his sexuality. He told me about his blind date from OKCupid, who turned out to be so boring that Jordanian guy put a Xanax in his own drink at the bar, and the date became convinced he was about to be date-raped and left. He Skyped his friend from Montreal on the spotty bus wifi. He was a bundle of energy for someone who'd just taken 80mg of Xanax.
When we got to the Gare de l'Autobus, he unloaded his bags and bags of stuff, wrapped his scarf around his head, tidied his stuff. I gave him a hug. "Good luck," I said. "I hope I don't find you passed out in a dumpster tomorrow morning."
He smiled. "That wouldn't be so bad," he said.
Some people don't like the bus. If you have the time to spare and the proper attitude, you get the best experiences.