Monthly Archives: September 2023

O Canada

Every story should have conflict. Every character should want something. And every story should have change: whether it’s the reader’s understanding or the character who evolves.

Day One: I fly across the continent, hop in a car and drive for a few more hours. After dinner I puke spectacularly and particularly all over my pants. I toss them in the tub and make them a problem for tomorrow.

Day Two: I want to wash my jeans. I wasn’t planning on doing any laundry, let alone the second day of my trip. I also want my head to stop hurting and to sleep for more than six hours a night. I am exhausted, I can’t think clearly, my stomach is tetchy, and I want to deal with the soiled pants before they become even more of a problem. Turns out there wasn’t any time to do laundry on Day Two.

Day Three: In the morning I go out on a whale watching boat, in my lightweight capris because my soiled jeans are sitting in a plastic bag. Fortunately it was fairly warm and I had a warm sweater and vest, but the jeans were still dirty.

In addition to being preoccupied with how to do laundry in a small town that doesn’t seem to have an actual grocery store or a laundromat, I choose to pull out my incredibly rusty French to accomplish this task. The night before we go whale watching, I ask a man at the hotel if they take laundry. He tells me no, there’s only an industrial washer which would ruin clothes. I ask if there’s a laundromat. He tells me yes, but gives me the wrong directions. Or maybe they were the right directions but I misunderstood. At least I know there is a public place I can do the wash. One foot in front of the other.

In the afternoon, I look for laundry detergent. I find a “convenience store” which has hand soap and dish soap, but no laundry detergent. I decide to go to the tourist information center, where I get confirmation for the location of the laundry machines. The woman I talk to is surprised I can’t find laundry detergent. She calls the grocery store and confirms they have Tide. I realize I may have missed the grocery store. She asks me for my zip code and her co-worker is surprised I’m from Seattle and speak French.

I cross the street and find the washer and dryer inside a tiny building we’ve passed 20 times. I didn’t know what it was for, but over the course of our stay it becomes apparent that many people know it is public toilets and a place to get potable water. Fortunately for me, there is someone else doing laundry. I confirm how much it will cost to wash and dry. A dollar and a half. Just like the washers in my apartment building. Finally we are getting somewhere. I understand how to operate a coin-op machine. Just keep in mind I am in a foreign country.

Enter the one dollar bill. Canadian. I ask my mom for the cash she brought so I can buy laundry detergent and get change for the washer and dryer. She gives me a ten, a five, and two ones. I walk up the street to the actual grocery store this time. I wander through, delighted with the options, until I find the laundry detergent, and even find unscented Tide pods! I march triumphantly up to the register and the clerk rings up my purchase. The total is just under $12, so I pull out the 10 and two ones. 

Canada - one dollar

The clerk asks me to wait a minute, she has to talk to her manager. The manager comes over and holds the bills up. I am used to this in the US, for large bills, but not ones. I keep asking if they are “trop vielle” – too old. My French is not good enough to understand what is going on, but she tells me I can take the bills to the bank next Wednesday. Finally someone in the line asks what is going on and explains to me that the bills are worth more than $1. I take them back and give the clerk the $5 and the $10. I want to make sure I have enough quarters to use the machines. She gives me my change all in coins and it looks like there are enough quarters for a load of laundry.

I go back to the hotel and tell my mom what happened at the store. Then I get online and do a bit of research. For those of you waiting for the big reveal, Canada stopped printing $1 bills in 1989. OY. Then I look at the change and realize I don’t have enough quarters. I should have twelve, but I don’t. I go to the gift shop and ask the woman to give me four quarters for a $1 coin.

Now I have the laundry detergent and the coins, so we take the dirty wash to the “laundromat.” I am still very out of it and try to make sense of the slots in the machine. There are only 3 slots for coins, but it costs $1.50. I cannot figure out how to fit six quarters into 3 slots. Finally I go outside and ask the woman who was doing the laundry before me. Between my terrible French and her English, the light dawns. I am supposed to use the $1 COIN. Mystery solved! I somehow have two $1 coins even with all my quarter hunting, so I can do the wash.

Canada - coin slot

High on our triumph of getting the washing machine going, we head down the hill to bakery for a treat.

A coda: several days later I want to do another load of laundry in the same town. This time I know the drill. I ask the woman at the hotel desk if I can get two $1 coins for a $2 coin. She says she can do that. I explain to her that in English we call the $1 coin a “loonie” because it has a loon on it, and the $2 coin a “toonie” because it’s two dollars. As I walk away, I hear her whispering: “looney, toonie. Loonie. Toonie.” As far as I know she’s still muttering it to herself.

A few days later we are Montreal and I find a bank. I go in and ask if I can exchange the bills. The bank manager helps me. He takes the bills and inspects them, then says, “They aren’t worth that much.” He asks if I want two $1 coins or a $2 coin. I tell him I’ll take the $2 coin. I ask about getting more than face value for the bills, and he said if I sold them on the private market I probably could, but that sounds much harder than trying to get my soiled jeans washed in a coin-op laundry in a small town in Quebec.

I put the toonie in my pocket and walk out of the bank.

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