While Sage spent most of her childhood growing up in California, I spent most of my formative years in Vermont. At the time we met, though, she was living in Springfield, Missouri and I was living just over the Vermont/New Hampshire Border in West Lebanon, NH. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet (I know, even in 1991!) we managed to meet and within two months went from meeting online to our first in-person meeting to living together for 25 years. And then people made an animation of the story this month.
We lived together in the shared house I lived in for about a month before moving to our own place just outside of Boston. One weekend I asked if Sage wanted to go to Montreal and off we went on the 3 hour or so ride. Up until then, Montreal had only been “that place you drive to where the drinking age is 18 and you go to university a little over an hour away). By this point neither of us drank so we got to see a different side of the city. We didn’t spend a lot of time there, mind you, as we left on a Saturday and I had to be at work on a Monday. We had dinner and did a bit of walking. However, we both woke up in the middle of the night with a terrible headache and needed to go find a pharmacy to get some Tylenol. And so, off we went at about 3:00 AM to walk to the store. While I had, on many occasions, been out in Montreal at that hour, Sage hadn’t. Compared to the average American downtown at 3:00 AM this felt incredibly safe. There were tons of people, a few stores were open and several restaurants were still doing business. The next morning we left relatively early to get home at a reasonable hour.
It was 1992, and the Republican National Convention was happening in preparation for the election in the fall. Pat Buchanan’s speech that year was horrifyingly regressive and we both said, mostly joking at the time, “If the Republicans get any worse, we’re moving to Canada.” This would be a running joke for us over the next decade or so. Until 2003.
In September of 2003, the Iraq war had just started. We were living in corporate housing for a temporary project in Albuquerque, New Mexico. (Our “real” house was still in Missouri) Albuquerque was a beautiful place to live, geographically, with huge mountains, forests, deserts, and so much dramatic scenery. It was also home to an odd mix of personalities. On the one hand, the southwest has a good number of hippies – drawn to the countryside and some drawn to a spiritual vibe some claim to feel. On the other hand, there’s a huge military presence there with huge air force bases. We were out at dinner with a couple of friends of ours and told us a horrible story. They were riding down the highway and someone in a pickup truck forced them off the road. They then proceeded to come over to the car and yell at them for their “No War!” bumper sticker. That seemed positively insane. Things seemed to be changing, culturally, and not in a good way. And then out came our running joke “We always said that if the Republicans get any worse, we’d move to Canada.” But our friends didn’t laugh. They just said one thing:
“What’s stopping you?”
We stopped in our tracks. What had been a joking conversation had just become very serious. We thought a bit and then answered. We’re not particularly close to any family here, we didn’t feel drawn to any one place we’d lived. Nope. Nothing is stopping us.
That night we went home and I polished my resume and started looking for work. Not long after that, Sage and Daegan headed back to Missouri. We’d been in temporary housing for over a year on what was to be a six month project and they missed our home. A few weeks later, in October, I flew home for visit and took a couple extra days off to relax. On one of those days my cell phone rang with a call from Montreal. A company was interested in interviewing me. A few days later I had a phone interview that went extremely well. They were pretty much ready to hire me save for one issue: They’d sent a lot of people to work in the US but had never had anyone go the other way. So they asked me to fly to Montreal with a letter from their immigration lawyer and try to get a work permit. Then I’d fly to Toronto to meet the team in person to be sure it was a good fit. And so I got on a plane and flew to Montreal. I gave the immigration officer my letter and $150, he sang me El Paso by Marty Robbins and handed me a work permit. (As I said before, customs experiences in Canada are very different from crossing in to the US). I then flew to Toronto, had what we all know now was a successful interview and had an offer. Four months after “What’s stopping us” we would moving to our first apartment in Toronto – one that, coincidentally, I can see from where I’m sitting right now. (It’s right next door!)
But first we had to get there. As I had mentioned, Sage was in Missouri and I was finishing up work in New Mexico. As part of my contract, I had a rental car provided so Sage had taken our old used Mercedes (It looked great but only cost $4,000 – a bargain!) back to Missouri. Three days before we were to drive to Toronto, I got a call from Sage: “Something is wrong with the power steering – it’s really hard to steer.” She took it to our small town Ozarks mechanic and he looked at it. “It looks like it is the power steering pump but I don’t know where I’ll get a new one and I’ve never worked on a Mercedes before. I’m not sure I can do it.” I called my Albuquerque mechanic and he was able not only to find one but ship it next day to the mechanic who managed to get it fixed one day before we’d leave. I drove home from New Mexico, turned in the rental car and we finished our packing. There wasn’t much left because the company that was hiring me paid for packing and shipping and had already taken nearly everything we owned.
The next morning we said good by to all of our friends and Sage’s mom. We got in the car, filled the tank for about $30 and then headed north. As we left the tiny Ozarks town, a song came on the radio that made Sage and I simultaneously laugh and tear up:
The trip was mostly uneventful though it got colder and colder as we went north. We stayed one night in Chicago – the two of us and four cats in a hotel room. The next morning we were off, and by late afternoon we found ourselves at the border.
We went inside to talk to the border agents. There was a bit of confusion about our car and it looked like we might be allowed in but our car could be turned back at the border but thanks to my having done research beforehand, I found that it was in the list under a different name. That cleared up, they gave a cursory look at our cats’ paperwork, wrote up two visitor permits for Sage and Daegan and we were in.
We still had several hours to drive to Toronto and before long it was time to gas up again. I watched the cost go up and up and we’d barely filled the tank. Eventually, when it got to $65 I stopped. This was enough money spent on gas. That was 3/4 of a tank. Gas cost about double.
We finally got to our apartment building. We settled in to the guest suite for the first night and the next morning we got our new apartment. There was one challenge. We didn’t have any of our things. We only had our laptop, a few blankets and the clothes we brought with us. We would be sleeping on the floor until our things got here.
Five days later I got a call at work. Our things had arrived. And so I took a cab home and then Sage and I made the trek to the warehouse in the suburbs to sign for it. It included an itemized list of everything so if we returned back to the states it would be clear if we’d sold anything that we should have to pay duty or taxes on. A few hours later the movers arrived at our apartment with all of our things. We would be sleeping on beds tonight!
There was a lot of adjustment and paperwork to do for the first little bit. One of the first things I needed to do was to get a social insurance number – like a social security number and used for the same things: identification, taxes, old age pensions, etc. This involved a trip to a government office, showing them proof of immigration status and employment. For that I would be issued a temporary number that would expire when my one year work permit expired. This would be something I would have to renew every year for several years.
The next stop was the provincial government offices (ServiceOntario) to get a health card. We brought over all of our ID and immigration paperwork and filled out some forms. Sage and I had photos taken and Daegan just got a card. This would be the ID we would use if we ever needed to go see the doctor. (People who don’t have those cards, (OHIP Cards), have to pay for their care) We would also have to renew this every year as well.
After a few years, I got a call from immigration.
“You have a temporary work permit. The point of it is that you can work temporarily. If you intend to stay you need to apply for permanent resident status.”
I went back to my company and told them this and they started the legal wheels turning to have our family gain permanent resident status. In 2009 we were granted that. Actually doing the paperwork had one silly aspect to it. We went to Niagara Falls – the nearest border crossing to us and went to Canadian immigration. They told us they couldn’t process our application until we left and came back. And so we walked across the bridge to the US, told the border guard what we were doing and the second we were cleared by him we turned around and walked back across the border. After about 30 minutes of waiting during which time we saw so many fathers waiting with an officer while the officer called their children’s mom confirming “Is it OK that your husband brought your child to Canada?” Finally, after a couple of questions confirming information on the application we were granted permanent resident status. This allows us to stay here indefinitely provided we don’t commit any terrible crimes and spend at least half our time living here. We can’t, however, vote or serve on a jury. That comes with the next step.
In August I submitted our citizenship applications. A few weeks ago we were notified that our tests are coming up. And so Sage and Daegan will be heading over to the office on Halloween to take the test. As I’ll be out of the country at the time, I’m still waiting to be rescheduled. After successfully completing that there will be a wait of up to about six months at which point we will go to a citizenship ceremony, take the oath of citizenship and then we will be Canadian citizens as well as American citizens.
Some folks have asked if we have to give up our US citizenship to become Canadian citizens. Unlike many countries, Americans can hold multiple citizenships as long as they’re not with hostile nations. So, for example, I don’t think you could be a dual citizen with North Korea at the moment. Other folks have asked if we were going to give up our US citizenship. I’ve thought of it, and many Americans have done so – after all, as long as you’re a citizen you still have to file taxes (though I never have had to pay – I have managed to get refunds, though. How silly is that?) I honestly don’t feel a lot of connection with the country of my birth and in fact feel more like Canada is what I had thought the US was going to be like when I was this age. On the other hand, my company still expects me to work in the states every now and again (like this coming Wednesday, for example) and getting a work visa after giving up one’s citizenship is likely a difficult if not impossible task. (And hey, as long as I keep my citizenship, I can keep sending my votes to Missouri elections!)
So in the end, is it what we expected? For the most part, yes. We’ve loved the people we’ve met. We’re really happy with how the government handles things for the most part. I really like that at the moment we don’t seem to be a terribly divided nation. We seem to be able to have disagreements without getting out of hand. I like the number of folks who seem to have a sane view of immigration, acceptance of refugees, rational gun laws, and same sex marriage and the fact that the government seems to be in line with that as well. There is, no doubt, lots of room for improvement, but all in all our move has been successful. The Republicans got worse, and we found somewhere better.