Troop 116 was an hour late, but in 116 terms that’s about four hours before I expected them. No worries, though, as it took me a full 90 minutes making my way through the Vancouver airport, given the grilling I got from immigration and, later, customs when–for the first time in my life (and I travel an obscene amount)–I got pulled out of line and ushered to the Canadian Customs Interrogation and Cavity Search Division. I seemed to have found my first Cauncks who put a strain on the theory that Canadians are unfailingly polite.

It’s tough to travel for more than 25 hours (including a long layover in L.A.) and still be on the same day–proving yet once again that the sun never sets on the British Empire, at least not when traveling from Australia to Canada.

You’d figure the Customs Service interrogators would understand about long Transpacific flights and cut some slack to the bleary, cranky traveler whose brain is fogged from lack of sleep and prolonged exposure to extreme boredom. But no, they only become even more dubious of you when you hesitate or have to think for a second about your answers to their inane questions, each of which is repeated several times, in slight variations, over the course of the hour-long standing interrogation.

See, they’re trying to catch you in a lie or changing your story–they’re pathologically suspicious of single males with an incoming flight but no outgoing one, and they didn’t seem to buy my tale that an American Boy Scout troop was picking me up and I’d be driving across the Canadian Rockies before turning south into Montana.

I must admit, I got a little nervous when–after x-raying and rifling through my bags twice–one of the two humorless Canuck Customs agents assigned to harass me pulled on a fresh pair of latex gloves as he asked “So, you’re not carrying anything else on your person, sir?”

The Shaving of Andy Karis
The majority of the Greater Vancouver population was at the beach on this hot and sunny Saturday afternoon–and Vancouver has a lot of beaches. The boys ogled the sea of bikinis as we skirted miles of shoreline around West Vancouver.

We talked our way into a $25 “Family” ticket at UBC’s famous Anthropology Museum, well-stocked with towering totem poles and piles of beaded masks and carved objects, most of them form Native cultures across North America. After about ten minutes inside, Stew suddenly did a Columbo pocket pat-down and announced he had locked the keys in the van. He borrowed a coat hanger from the ticket desk, and ten minutes of grunting and prying and fishing later, we got into the van and headed downtown.

Stanley Park is a peninsular blob jutting out from the tip of downtown and covered in the only urban rainforest in North America. We drove its circuit road and stopped to watch some Pakistanis play a cricket match for a little while and totally failed to understand what was going on or even fathom the basic rules of the game. Still, it looked idyllic, what with the lowering sun casting a golden glow to the grass and outlining the players’ white uniforms in halos.

On our way back into town, Karis said he wondered what he’d look like with a Mohawk, so we kept stopping at hair salons, only to be turned away each time as it was around 6pm, closing time. Finally, we found a Korean barber who, when I stuck my head in and said “Good afternoon! Are you closed yet, or do you have time to shave my friend’s head?” looked up at the clock and said, “OK, why not.”

About halfway through, the barber’s wife and small daughter arrived to find out why he hadn’t come home yet and just stood in the doorway, confused, watching as a half-dozen Americans snapping photos circled their half-shorn friend in the barber’s chair.

In Which We Try to Kill Ezra
After a long search for a pretty sad little suspension bridge (I had been told it was nearly as cool as the one at Capilano–which costs something ridiculous like $20 to cross), we drove back into town to a street by the park that boasted four bike rental shops and a store called “You and What Army?”

It also had a Mongolian BBQ with a sign in the window promising all you could eat for $9.95, so we went in for a cheap, filling meal and to make yet another attempt to kill our Senior Patrol Leader. A young Mongolian stood in the window, using the world’s largest pair of chopsticks to toss and turn a pile of meat and veg around a giant flat skillet.

We shuffled down the sneeze-guarded buffet, filling our bowls with four meats, 20 vegetables, and a mix of 16 sauces to hand over to the chef and his giant chopsticks. Unfortunately, one of the sauces was black bean, and someone in line in front of Ezra must have picked it because, by the time we got back in the Van, our resident allergist was snuffling and wheezing and requesting wintergreen snacks, which he claims helps.

We nervously joked that if he got worse we would get to use his EpiPen on him. Ezra got animated and serious. “Nuh-uh! If anyone is going to use the EpiPen it’s going to be me. I’ve been waiting 13 years for the chance to use that thing.” Luckily, Ezra was going to have to postpone that date with the EpiPen a bit longer. We stoked him with wintergreen, Benadryl, decongestant, and tissue and kept waking him up during the long ride to Kamloops to be sure he was still breathing.

The first motel we stopped at wanted too much money. The second one advertised “free adult movies” as the first of its tantalizing amenities on the sign. So we ended up at the Rodeway Inn, with beetles in the bed, pubic hairs under the pillows, and a hole punched in the bathroom door. I didn’t care. By that point I had been up for 50 hours straight, more than 24 of them aboard the various planes that got me from Australia to Canada. It was a bed, it was flat, and I fell into a blessed six hours of deep sleep.