TL;DR: Donna receives mixed news as she and Michael cross the border, and Bones is anointed (with engine grease) and crowned a Canadian citizen. Mike and Taylor make it across in Maple trouble free. Devon and the Targa are begrudgingly allowed back into Canada. We pull into Kitchener just in time to connect with our fellow four-wheeled parade floats, and the convoy drives to City Hall. Exhausted and happy (dazed and confused) we bid each other goodbye (for now).
I couldn’t have checked my email at a worse time. It wasn’t intentional. My thumb is well trained and has a mind of its own. I didn’t even realize I’d refreshed my inbox until I saw a new message jump to the top with a beginning subject line that read: SOCIAL GIRL: Upmarket Psychological Thriller… In that instant, I lost focus on the task at hand which was, up until this point, The Critical Moment of the entire trip: taking Bones across the border.
And now I’ve been caught withholding information and need to explain the REAL reason I’d been doubting myself, not forgiving myself for mistakes, and generally caught in a creeping spiral of insanity during the weeks leading up to our departure.
If I was disappointed to receive the letter rejection for Where the Sun Sets, than I was devastated by the silent rejection I received for Social Girl just one week before we left on this trip. See, I’d done something a little wacky and decided to write a book for a specific agent (aha…). I call this act wacky because a) the agent had no idea I was doing it, and b) we were virtual strangers.
I’ll spare you my methods and reasoning and leave you with just this: by the time I finished writing Social Girl and then read the "finished" product, I was appalled. With every mounting word I came to realize that I'd created a lurching, ill-defined creature; one that was barely knit together using bits of people's lives as sinewy thread. The whole thing formed a sort of franken-story (brought to life with months of obsessive focus), but I had no choice but to see my experiment through. I had to query the agent for whom I'd created this... thing.
So I did, and then counted every single day of the next eight weeks with painstaking regularity (agency policy in this case is that no answer after eight weeks means no interest). And when my calendar alert titled, "DEAD DATE FOR SUCCESS" (I’m a masochist, what can I say) went off on the Saturday before we left for San Francisco, I blamed my phone. I turned it on airplane mode and rejected it for the rest of the day.
There is a silver lining. About halfway through that eight week period I realized I’d been looking at my franken-story the wrong way. I flipped my understanding of it on its head, rewrote the pitch, pitched it the new way to a bunch of friends and made them read it to collect and incorporate their feedback, and then began the search for my new Perfect Agent whose interests were better aligned with my re-brand. Luckily, it didn’t take long to find who I was looking for. Perhaps unluckily, that’s because I couldn't find very many folks in the literary world who I wanted to work with on this project (which I was now describing as a "Sizzling and satirical psychological thriller that presents modern and fresh perspectives on new and old tropes alike, while retaining raw commercial appeal.”).
With my queries released into the vast ocean of uncertainty, the internet, I pushed the whole thing from my mind because I didn't expect to hear back from anyone for another two months. But if this trip has taught me anything, it’s that a plan is like a road map. It provides enough information to get you where you need to go, but it will never prepare you for all the detours, road blocks, or act of god disasters that you’ll encounter along the way. And so it follows that I began to hear back from agents within days of sending out my query. And to make my already unstable foundation a little more shaky, amongst the agents that agreed to consider my invitation to prom were my Top Two.
The highs and lows were getting to be a bit much. I could tell because I wasn’t celebrating the small successes whenever they happened. Whenever something, anything, it didn't matter what, happened, I would carte blanche blame myself for not getting it more right.
Michael, reasonably so, was becoming concerned for my wellbeing.
When the first of my Top Two finished reading my manuscript in a matter of days, I didn’t know what to think. It seemed too good to be true. And then when she got back to me with reams of positive, super-relatable feedback (pages and pages and pages) using words like Us (!), and Our (!!), and We (!!!!!!!), I immediately became suspicious. What if I emailed my entire story to the wrong email address? I wondered. What if this stranger publishes it on Amazon?! It wouldn't bother me to see someone else's name plastered across the front, but it sure as hell would bother me if I didn't know it was happening!
Additional research and Michael both assured me that the agent who I was now in “regular” communication with is in fact a real person, and wasn’t about to pull one over on me.
But then she stopped responding to my emails. Communications fell quiet, and for the past three weeks all I’ve gotten from her is complete radio silence. Radio silence, I now understand, should be a verb the same way Empathy should be a verb. It’s much more than complete quiet, or extreme silence. It's not quite the utter stillness you experience in outer space, either. By definition "radio silence" is the lack of communication following a period of regular communication, but the feeling that radio silence induces is why I now think of it in more active terms.
Radio silence is the sensation of doubts clouding your mind. It’s the feeling of having everything you thought you knew, go completely sideways. It’s the understanding that overtakes you when your stomach drops and you realize that the outcome you were relying on is no longer reliable and may never have been in the first place. Radio silence is pregnant, and weathering the feelings it breeds can be the ultimate test of mettle. It's certainly been that for me.
It was in that literal radio silence (we’d just turned off our walkie talkies in preparation to cross the border) that The Email I’m referring to landed with a resounding thunk. But it wasn’t the email I'd been waiting for. It was a note from my other top agent who had also been incommunicado for weeks but in her case, that was to be expected.
I needed to open that email. But I couldn’t open that email. Because once I'd opened it I’d be ripped from the present and thrown into the future, and now, more than ever, I needed to be present. Michael and I were on the cusp of exporting Bones from the US and importing her into Canada. And to put it lightly: we were nervous as shit about doing it.
So I pretended that my thumb had never gone wandering, and I didn't let on to Michael that there was a bomb sitting next to him in the passenger seat.
With walkie talkies off and hidden somewhere in our respective vehicles (What if the border officials thought we were conducting a heist?!), we waved to Mike, Taylor, and Devon as they peeled away from the highway corridor that led to the Blue Water Bridge (Mike needed to expel one last nervous stream of urine, and we'd all be crossing the border separately because Michael and I were the only ones importing a vehicle).
“Ugh,” Michael groaned, releasing some of his pent up anxiety. "I can smell Canada we're so close.” And then to me, "This is it dear… We’re on our own. I can't believe it. It feels so weird to be alone.”
“Tell me about it,” I replied.
To loosen ourselves up we opened our throats and warbled our national anthem in imperfect harmony as we crossed over the Blue Water Bridge. After a few minutes of charged troubleshooting and angry muttering (“Is this where we're supposed to go?"; "Take out your phone to take notes while I call!"; "This can’t be the right building…”), we figured out where we were supposed to be and hustled over there.
When Michael hopped out of Bones to go speak with border patrol and make sure we’d come to the right place, I whipped out my phone and checked my email (so much for remaining focused, right?).
Right away I saw that her note was an awkward length which meant that it could mean anything. I didn’t bother reading all the words because, like my thumb, my eyes are well trained and have a mind of their own. I skimmed through the note looking for only the important bits, and then jumped to the end. My stomach turned over. It wasn’t the email I’d been hoping for; it was evidence of having made another mistake.
Feeling sick to my stomach I put my phone away and shut my brain off just as Michael’s glowing face appeared at my window. He motioned for me to come out and join him.
When I said before that Michael has the most vivid imagination of anyone I know, I wasn’t exaggerating. He needs to be imaginative as CEO of Vidyard, just as Devon needs to be critically minded and a natural born devil's advocate as his co-founder and CTO. The two of them together provide the perfect complement to be able to hash through every possible outcome of every situation; of course, paying special attention to all the negative outcomes and how devastating for all stakeholders those outcomes could be. Without these building blocks woven into their friendship's DNA they would never be prepared enough to execute in the interstellar direction they need their rocket ship to go.
Of all the people on this trip, Michael inspires me most. In all seriousness he's my muse. He's also the reason I’ve been able to pull myself with trembling and spent limbs along the roughened ground, belly torn from all the sharp bits in my path, when I'm at my lowest. Because no matter how hard it is for me to put myself out there -expose my inner workings for judgement and rejection by those I love and those I don’t know, alike- I know that he’s doing the same thing. The difference between us is that he doesn’t have the luxury of putting his toe in the water and swishing it around before diving in headfirst. Which means he's in a constant state of being over-stretched, his reserves are always paper thin, because he has to be that way to perform at his best and most agile.
I should have known better than to let myself get swept up in his hyperactive generation of worse-possible-case scenarios. He’s been mentally preparing for this moment for months. Of course everything will go smoothly, I should have told myself. Because it did.
The export procedure took ten minutes; the import procedure took twenty. The minutes in between were suspenseful and filled with tense conversations with authority figures, but in the end no one gave us a hard time. We were in secondary, paperwork filled, taxes paid and back on the road in thirty minutes. We didn’t even need to get the border guards to push start Bones; she approved of becoming a Canadian citizen so much that she managed it all on her own.
If Michael wasn’t so relieved (he’d been hooting excitedly and bouncing next to me from the moment we pulled away from the crossing) and I wasn’t so twisted in knots, the whole thing would have been anticlimactic.
As we arranged to meet the other three so that we could celebrate our mutual success at not getting detained and thrown into a holding cell without food or water for weeks, I told Michael about the email I received. By then, I’d had enough time to think about it and knew how I was going to position it so that he knew I wasn’t giving up (even if secretly, it would feel so satisfyingly melodramatic to do!).
“So,” I began, and then stopped. He was instantly on alert. (Fact: all awkward, tough conversations begin with So.) “I got an email from Harry,"(not her real name),"and she doesn’t want to represent me.”
There, I thought. Bomb dropped.
“Well," I continued, now that I'd torn the bandaid off. "She said that it’s not quite right in its current form, but that I should make a bunch of revisions and resubmit it to her.”
He looked at me, trying to gauge my emotional state before answering.
“That’s really good, right?”
“No. Umm... Yes? I think?” I didn’t know because like Bones, my internal wiring had shorted.
“It’s good, baby. You’ve got clear next steps!”
“Yes, well, it’s not all bad. There were four ways it could have gone and this is one of the middle two. At least she didn’t reject it entirely.”
I knew I should see the email as a success because to be frank, it was. An agent who reps New York Times best selling authors just sent me a list of changes that, if I interpreted correctly, which I was confident I could do, would make Social Girl into something she’d seriously consider repping. But I was doing it again. I wasn’t letting myself embrace it as a success.
Realizing that, hearing Michael's words, triggered something.
When we first decided to share this road trip with our family and friends we knew that it was because we were about to do something special to each of us. What the trip meant to each was different; but we knew that amongst us all there was a common love for the beauty of life’s random symmetry that can only be fully appreciated when you put yourself in circumstances of complete freedom. And let's face it, our technology-driven and career-obsessed lives don’t leave much room for freedom. Every day that passes seems to bring fewer and fewer opportunities to go with the flow, to drink in the present, and to commit to building new friendships through shared new experiences.
Sitting on the patio at The Boathouse only a few short weeks ago, we talked about how the more our society bonds with technology, the more the traditional ways of finding freedom that we've all come to romanticize and love as being "iconic" and "rites of passage" for decades will fade away.
I have no doubt the future will present new and exciting ways for people to spread their wings. With equal confidence I can say that some of the old ways will cease to exist, and as a die-hard sentimentalist, that makes me near inconsolable.
What EndangeredExperiences has become is a platform for us to prove to the world that by putting yourself out there, by being bold enough to trust in yourself to pursue your dreams, you’ll become someone the world needs you to become. By embracing your unique self you create the opportunity to give back pieces of your unique self; and in doing so you enrich the lives of those around you in unique, necessary ways.
And as Michael likes to say to me, "Diversity is the spice of life, baby! Next only to Sriracha, which is the only thing better than ketchup."
So, after thinking through all that, I pulled my shit together. For real, this time.
“Fuck it. You’re right,” I said, even though he hadn’t said anything in quite some time (we've spent enough bone-rattling hours together not talking to give each other credit for silence). “This is just a part of the experience. It is good. And you know what? I’m looking forward to it. I can’t wait to go home and figure my 'ish out!”
“What about Hermoine?” (again, not her real name) he asked, getting right to the heart of it. (Hermoine is the agent I’ve been losing sleep over.) “Which direction are you going to take the story in?”
I didn’t need to take long to think it over. Gotta put yourself out there.
“The one that feels most honest.”
Michael leaned in for a kiss. “I’m proud of you, baby. Just don’t forget that it’s your story, ok?”
Feeling like a different person than the one I was when we left Canada last Saturday, we met up with the others to hear what happened at the border. Miraculously, the crossing went smoothly for all of us. Except for Devon that is, who got pulled into secondary and grilled excessively. But unsurprisingly Devon, arguably the most capable of all eight of us (and definitely someone I want on my team when the body-harvesting extraterrestrials invade our planet), kept it together. It didn't take long for him to be free and clear, too.
With elated smiles on our faces and Tim Horton's coffees in hand (Oh Canada!), we drove to Kitchener.
The entire way Michael sang praise about how much he loved the Canadian flag ("Doesn't it look so good when it's up high and moves in the wind like that?"), and Ontario expansion joints ("These expansion joints are like water!), and our tastes in asphalt (“Ramps are like race tracks here!”).
Channel 911 on our walkie talkies crackled nonstop as we crossed into Kitchener. The sun was shining, the air was clean, and the convoy (more than a dozen cars would be riding behind our police escort that would lead us to Kitchener City Hall) waited.
When we pulled into the Moose Wanooski’s parking lot to meet everybody who would be joining us in the parade, Google said it best. “You have arrived.” Home. Against the odds, we’d finally made it home.
The next few hours were a total reality check and completely overwhelming. I’d become so used to our small group that seeing dozens of familiar faces made my tongue stop working. Overcome by appreciation for the support people were demonstrating, communicating their own desire to share in the experience we’d broadcasted throughout, I found myself speechless and unable to comprehend pretty much anything.
But then my older brother rolled in, my own personal hero (and the reason I’d relocated to Kitchener, became a startup monkey, and complained loudly in the ear of who would become the love of my life in the first place (another story for another day)) with his own little family, and I found my voice again. I became acclimatized to being around other people once more. I stood with my brother and drank in the experience of having these two worlds, the infinite open road and comfortable regulated existence, come together in mutual appreciation and celebration of what the other has to offer.
Somehow, everything got more surreal as we met up with Kitchener’s Chief of Police, Bryan Larkin, who would be leading our parade through the city to City Hall on a motorbike, where we’d be meeting the mayor, Barry Vrbanovic, and our welcoming party.
Unbelievably, people pulled over on King St. to allow our convoy to pass by.
Even more unbelievably, there was a crowd gathered outside of City Hall when we pulled up. Our family, friends, and fans (many one and the same) who supported us throughout were waiting to greet us with open arms.
Barry V even push started Bones.
We finished the evening on Roland St., a private lane backing onto Victoria Park where we planned on saying our goodbyes over pizza and a campfire.
Accustomed to looOOong days, the EndangeredExperiences crew lingered long past when everyone else had left. With a few small tweaks to the group, that is. Brittany had driven up from Newmarket to surprise Devon with her unexpected arrival; and much to our collective disappointment, the Italian Stallion contingent wasn’t able to make it for the arrival parade (but Greg and Miles were with us in spirit). Richard and Pepe, our mostly furry, four-legged friends were with us, and so was Stephen, Michael's brother and inspiration behind the Vanborghini; and Lindsey, Taylor’s beloved better half.
As we gathered around the campfire, we shot the shit. We talked about our favourite, least favourite, and scariest moments. We laughed and carried on longer than I think any of us imagined we would, but none of us wanted it to be over.
Michael and I didn’t get home or start talking about the next day until midnight. But even then we weren’t yet ready to admit our road trip was done. With beers in hand we poured over the photos we took and posted to Facebook, and then poured over those that were too private or personal (or just not good enough) to share. And then we finally succumbed to the end of the second-most surreal experience of our lives, and fell asleep on the hard floor. (Hopefully by now it goes without saying that Michael and I are married to each other (the most surreal experience) and the excitement a life of unplanned adventure brings, not comfort.)