What was I thinking?
Several months ago, I paid my $35 and signed up for a trip to St. Sauveur. The purpose of the trip was a little hazy. Discount outlets were mentioned. And cafes. The local stitch and bitchers were putting it on and a neighbour of mine was doing the actual organizing. I imagined fibre outlets, cozy bistros, and quaint architecture. From time to time I had some second thoughts about the whole thing but people assured me that St. Sauveur was a lovely place to visit so I decided to accept my fate and began to look forward to the excursion.
On Monday I took Kenya to spend a couple of days with Tamarak and Carlos, their two dogs, the kids' five cats, and a daughter's palm-sized dog called Kaiah. Kenya loves visiting them; for a gregarious dog who like cats even better than dogs, it's like having a holiday in a zoo.
On Tuesday morning at seven I was on my way to pick up Rowboat Flo. We arrived at the Vorlage parking lot to the clucking and chortling of fifty women already being gregarious. I was hailed by several people from my past life as well as neighbours and acquaintances from Wakefield. Have I mentioned that I am not very gregarious ... that I take a couple of hours of silence and tea to wake up before starting my day in earnest? I huddled into my hermit's corner and took out my water bottle and the peanut butter sandwich and banana I'd brought along.
The bus rumbled out of the parking lot at 7:30, and I watched familiar landscape slide past the rain-misted window, and thought that this would be just fine. One of the organizers announced that we would be stopping at Tim Horton's and then at the factory outlets and then moving on to an unintelligible mumble. We took a side trip to get to a very crowded Tim Horton's parking lot, a detour I didn't appreciate, but then I am not a coffee drinker. Get over it, I told myself. These people need their morning caffeine.
An hour later I began to wonder where we were. We were taking a very different route from the one I had thought we'd take ... you know ... divided highways where you can make good time. By ten the bus was crawling along a winding gravel road, jolting from one pothole to the next and stopping and starting at every set of railway tracks. When I got up to use the washroom I had to lurch from one hand rail to the next. At the doorway to the facility I wondered whether I should wait until the bus found its footing, but decided that might take longer than I wanted to wait. It was an experience.
By now everyone was talking about the fact that this was supposed to be a 2 ½ hour trip and the driver was undoubtedly lost since we had seen signs for different towns coming at us from opposite directions. No explanations were given by anyone in charge so the rumours grew.
At 11, 3 ½ hours after our bus left Vorlage, we finally arrived at the factory outlet shopping centre. It was a 20 minute walk from the village of St. Sauveur. Immediately visible was a McDonald's and several factory outlet stores. Is this it? I wondered. Did we travel 3 ½ hours to get to a McDonald's and the same factory outlet stores that exist at the corner of Baseline and Woodroffe?
"Calm down," the inner voice scolded. "This will be a two hour stop for bargain hunting." Then the organizer's voice drowned out the sweet sane little voice in my head. "Be back here at the bus by 5 when we will be leaving."
"Five?!?" screamed my little inner voice. "That's six hours here!"
Flo said, "I guess we won't be going into second hand shops and Sally Anne's today."
We asked where St. Sauveur was and headed in that direction stopping once for specific instructions. After five minutes, Flo said she was unable to walk any further. She was in pain. (Flo is 80 years old.) So much for our escape from the outlet mall.
"Well we can eat at McDonald's," said Flo hopefully.
Good god, no ... I began to search for an alternative. Bad enough to have to spend six hours wandering around a sterile shopping mall. I wasn't going to compound the misery by eating sawdust under a golden arch.
That was when we discovered the nicest fast food place I've ever encountered. You lined up and ordered pre-made food, but it was good food, and the decor was several steps above the red and yellow clowns of McDonald's. It became one of our two bases over the course of the next six hours. The other was a protected bench near a washroom.
By 3:30 Flo and I had bought some panties, an eco-friendly shopping bag, and a pair of far too expensive jeans. Then, we discovered a discount grocery store where we had our happiest shopping of the entire day. They had Quebec artisanale cheeses, squeaky fresh curds, a mountain of local garlic for $2, an armful of fresh leeks for $4, bulk quantities of flax seed for a song ... We filled a shopping cart and felt as if the day had almost been worth it.
Then we made our way back to the bus, loaded our purchases into the overhead bin, and relaxed. Flo fell asleep and I finished the sock I was working on.
Once I got home I still had to go and pick up Kenya ... I got home at 9, ate some curds with a slice of bread and a tomato, washed the whole thing down with a glass of red wine ... and fell asleep.
Were there any good things about that trip? Probably the nicest (and quite surprising)
thing we encountered was very very nice salespeople. They were genuinely pleasant whether we bought anything or not. It was also nice to talk to old acquaintances from my teaching life and to chat with Pike Lake neighbours when no one was in a hurry.
Would I sign up again? No. I am not a shopper and I really don't like being surrounded by people and traveling that way. The next time I visit the Laurentians I will take my car and my dog and amble my way along stopping at second hand shops and tiny restaurants that look interesting. I will choose a sunny autumn day, and I won't really care if I ever reach the discount mall. But if I did happen upon it again, I'd go straight to the grocery store and load up on garlic, leeks and cheese.
And now today I plan to paint and make vicchyssoise.