Here’s how it went.
They say that when you are deprived of sleep, you temporarily lose some short-term memory, so maybe that’s the reason that that some of my trip to Buffalo is little fuzzy. Here is what I do remember:
I left on Tuesday morning and flew first to Chicago. I knew I was back in an American airport immediately as I entered and heard that horrible Texan woman’s voice you now hear in all US airports (“THENK-YOO for your coöperation”). The longer your layover, the more times you have to hear it. I’m now positive that one or more circles of Hell include her announcements at regular intervals. My connecting flight to Buffalo was delayed several times because of mechanical trouble, and we switched gates no less than 3 times, but we eventually got a new plane and I arrived at the Buffalo airport about an hour late, 11 PM. I checked into the nearby Sleep Inn and got something to eat at a nearby Denny’s and then tried to sleep. I was still on Pacific Time and nervous about what was to come the next day, so that was hard to do.
The next morning, I called a taxi and left for downtown at about 7:45 AM. The scenery along the highway and near the HSBC Center was uniformly grey and depressing, with many empty warehouses, and clusters of neighborhood houses all looking like they were huddling together for warmth. It had snowed the night before, but less than an inch. If this was to be the place where I was to make a good-bye of sorts to the US, I’d be hard pressed to find a bleaker spot.
The cab dropped me off by the 30-story HSBC Center, the tallest building in downtown Buffalo. The Canadian Consulate was on the 30th floor. Even though it was only about 8:10 and the Consulate had not opened yet, there was already a line of about 25 people in the lobby. A short, brisk woman with a strong Upstate New York accent (which I recognized from the days I lived in nearby Rochester, and to my ears is still the aural equivalent of drinking a glass of distilled vinegar) gave us each a sticker and herded us into two groups; my group was sent to a glass corral a few hundred feet away. She then took the first group, lined up by the wall near the elevators, up to the 30th floor and then returned in a few moments for us for the same. When we reached the Consulate, she carefully and precisely directed us to rows of chairs at various places around a windowless waiting room. The room was bare except for these plastic chairs, arranged in rows as if viewing the television high on the wall at the front, which was showing non-stop CNN coverage of the death of President Gerald Ford. As people were called to either the reception window or one of the cashier windows, we shifted our seating, moving over, returning to a different row or leaving. I calculated about 75 people who were dealt with in total. The administrator woman (who’s name I never learned), gave a spiel every time she returned with another set of people until 10 minutes before 11:00 AM, at which point the Consulate would take no more business. We were to put the sticker we’d gotten in the lobby on the back of the card with our number we’d receive from reception, men were obliged to give their seats to women, there was no leaving this room during the day, no use of cell phones, etc.
During the wait, I spoke to neighbors sitting nearby from Mexico, Honduras, England and India. I did not meet another American, although I suspect there were a few. At about 9:30, I provided my completed forms, photos and fee of $980 CAD to the reception window. At 11:30 was called back to receive my completed materials. There, pasted into Pam’s and my passport, was a visa that could be used one time, allowing me to ‘Land’ in Canada as a permanent resident (which I would be doing the next day). After some best wishes and congratulations exchanged with my fellow Immigrants, I called the cab from a pay phone (knowing before about the no cell phone rule, I had left mine at the motel) and returned to the Sleep Inn. I took a chilly walk to another nearby restaurant (an updated Greek Diner), where I had a huge plate of meatloaf and potatoes. My body had no clue what time zone I was in, and I essentially had nothing to do until I was to leave, at 6 AM the next morning. Since a flight at 4 AM required me getting up at 3, that was the equivalent of 1 AM Vancouver time, and I decided to try and get to bed as early as I could stand. After talking to Pam and my brother to share the good news that I had accomplished my tasks, I listened to my iPod and tried to sleep.
The next morning I took the first flight to Washington’s Dulles Airport, made the tight connection to the Vancouver flight. Another delay because of equipment problems, 6 hours, 3 in-flight movies and one snack-box later, I arrived at the sunny (!) Vancouver airport at about 1:30 PM local time.
The waiting and paperwork weren’t over yet. After following the usual long snaking line through customs, I presented my materials at a special room for Immigrant Landings, and learned that my Permanent Residency ID card would be mailed to me in about 6 weeks. The staff was very friendly and welcoming, and I marveled at how one girl managed to speak about 4 or 5 different languages, including Hindi, Cantonese, French and Tagalog. I tried calling Pam several times, but somehow her phone was turned off or not receiving me. Nevertheless, I caught a cab home and collapsed. Kind of an anticlimax, but that’s the way these things go, I suppose.
The next day, Pam took off from work, rented a car and drove to the US border, and after a couple of hours of waiting in the line of cars and the prerequisite U-Turn from the US side, presented her paperwork in much the same way that I had when I landed (small ‘L’). We both should now receive our ID cards somewhere around the beginning to middle of February.
So ends our journey, and we now have the right to permanently call the country of Canada our home. In a few years we will have the opportunity to become full citizens, which we intend to do. I can’t say that I feel any different now (Pam declared when she returned from her trip to the border that she felt ‘Landed’), but we’re both looking toward the New Year of 2007 with anticipation and excitement. The months of waiting and putting off planning are over. It’s official: We’re now here to stay.