Enjoying A Festival
The Peace Bridge crossing into Canada, where much of the
drama of today's column took place.
The plays were great fun
By DAVID ZINMAN
Did you ever have a feeling you wanted to go? And still have the feeling that you wanted to stay?
Those words come from a song Jimmy Durante made popular with his gravelly voice in the 1940s.
They also describe the sinking feeling that came over me recently as my companion, Kay Kramer, and I drove to Canada. It was as if we had started our weekend getaway on a picture-perfect day. Then, without warning, storm clouds darkened the landscape.
Let me give you the picture.
Kay and I were meeting our friends Peter and Helen, who were joining us at Niagara-on-the-Lake, 20 miles north of the falls.
Since 1951, the picturesque Canadian town has been the home of the famous Shaw Festival, the worlds only repertory company specializing in the dramas of George Bernard Shaw.
As the years passed, the Festival added works of other playwrights who lived during Shaws 94-year life span (1856 to 1950) as well as plays by contemporary playwrights whose story lines took place during the Shaw years.
I was looking forward to an exciting experience. As it turned out, I got more than I bargained forbut not in the way I expected.
As we approached the Peace Bridge into Canada. Kay turned to me. There was a startled expression on her face.
I forgot my passport. She was half-smiling as she spoke. But going to Canada without a passport was no laughing matter.
As far back as I can remember, all you needed to cross into Canada was a drivers license. Canada and the U.S. have been good neighbors ever since they got over the War of 1812.
Coincidentally, beginning Monday (June 18) of this week both nations will start observing the bicentennial of that all but forgotten war that historians say was unnecessary and settled very little. But 200 years of peace followed, and the boundary line between the two countries remains the worlds longest undefended border.
Still, the world has changed. And so has Canadas entry rules. Now, you have to show a passportor an equivalent document like a birth certificateto prove you are a U.S. citizen.
We have to go back, Kay said. I know where I left my passport.
We cant do that, I said. That would take three hours. Weve got theatre tickets. And were meeting friends. Lets take a chance and keep going.
At the border, Kay told her sad story. The Canadian guard was unmoved. He directed us to a parking area. There, a policeman told us to go inside a building and see an immigration official.
Kay told her story again. My palms started sweating as I listened. I thought of Kay cooling her heels in the immigration building while I raced back home to find her passport.
Much to my relief, the third Canadian official said Kay wasnt the only forgetful traveler. It happens almost every day, she said, reassuringly. Few turn out to be security risks.
She asked if Kay had any other document to prove her citizenships. Kay fished through her wallet and came up with her Medicare card.
The agent typed in some data into her computer, then handed Kay back her card, and told her she could enter Canada.
A Medicare card was not a substitute for a passport. But the agent said immigration officials consider it an indicator of U.S. citizenship. The truth was, she added in a low voice, Kay just looks like an American.
So off we went. But not before we got a heads-up. The agent warned us that she couldnt vouch for what might happen when we tried to return.
With that unsettling thought, we checked into a bed and breakfast near Niagara-on-the-Lake. Then, we joined our friends from the States.
As soon as we met, I noticed Peters right eye looked red. He passed it off as a minor irritation, and we had dinner at the Niagara Golf Club overlooking beautiful Lake Ontario, one of the five Great Lakes.
That evening, we saw Ragtime (1996), a rousing, musical portrait of the early 20th century with a cast of over 40. Later, we would see two period comedies: Pleasant Laughter (1939) by Noel Coward and Shaws Misalliance (1910). All three plays were done with the skill and aplomb of a world-class repertory company.
Everyone in my group thoroughly enjoyed the productions, especially Ragtime, which has been playing to sold-out audiences,
I had one caveat. I have a slight hearing loss and my inability to follow the dialogue at timeseven after renting hearing headsets at the box officedetracted from my experience.
The next morning, Peters eye seemed to have reddened even more. By nightfall, it was so bloodshot, you could not see the white of his eye.
The question was: where could we find a doctor on Saturday night? We persuaded Peter to go to the nearest hospital. It was in St. Catherines, a town about 10 miles away.
Canadas tax-supported national health insurance covers all its 35 million peoplenot just those age 65 and over like our Medicare program does.
I thought that Peter was lucky to be in a country whose national health care plan covered foreign tourists. I turned out to be wrong.
I also thought our Medicare covered seniors outside the U.S. Wrong again.
I learned all this after Peter signed in at the emergency room. A nurse talked to him about his hospital bill. She said he would have to pay up front for his care. Then, he would have to try to get reimbursed by his own insurance when he got home.
How much would the bill be? Charlie asked.
It would cost $525 (for foreigners) to be seen in the emergency room, she said. Then, there would be the doctors fee and another payment for whatever medical supplies he needed.
Peter opted to leave.
The takeaway message is: Dont take a chance and be without medical coverage when you go outside the U.S. Travelers insurance is not expensive. For a weekend in Canada, I found out, you can get $25,000 medical coverage for only $25.
The next morning, Peter saw a Canadian pharmacist who said a tiny blood vessel had broken in his eye. There was no way to treat it, but he should not be concerned. The pharmacist said it would clear up in a few days. He turned out to be right.
And so on that happy note, we said goodbye and headed back to the States. Now, I worried about what would happen if Kay could not get back without a passport?
I told her to be cool as she drove up to the agent. She gave the guard her drivers license. She also handed over her Medicare card and her membership card from United Services Auto Association, an insurance agency for U.S. servicemen and their families.
The agent did not ask for her passport. But he asked her where she had been in Canada.
The Shaw Festival, Kay said and smiled.
Oh? What did you see?
A logical question. But it could lead to more questions if it wasn't answered correctly. My brain shut down. I realized I had totally forgotten the names of the plays we had just seen.
I hoped Kay was also not having a senior moment. My palms started sweating again. I said under my breath: Please dont come up blank like the dottering idiot next to you.
As I waited, I had another vision of Kay left behind in Canada while I drove home to try to locate her passport.
It didnt happen. She rose to the occasion. She ticked off the three shows without a hitch.
Have a good day, said the agent. And off we rode back home.
Still, when I think of that trip, I look back with a positive note.
Shakespeare had it right, Didnt he name one of his plays Alls Well That Ends Well?
©2012 by David Zinman. The Zinman caricature is ©2001 by Jim Hummel. This column first posted June 18, 2012.
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