Friday, January 16, 2009


Time: ~8:45AM, Jan. 9, 2009
Place: WWL Vehicle Services Canada, Annacis Island, Delta, BC, Canada

Lot employee: Are you the guy with the little mini?
Me: yup. the car here?
Lot employee: Yeah, but there's a problem - it's kaput!(*)
Me (fairly nonchalantly, 'cause, believe me, I've heard this before): oh yeah?
Lot employee: it's completely dead, wouldn't start, we had to tow it over here!
Me: oh that... no problem, can I have the keys please?

* - Kaput it amazingly universal. When a Mongolian mechanic, who knows you don't speak Mongolian wants to say that your, let's just say, suspension is dead, he'll use Kaput... and he'll know you'll understand.

So thus begun the mini era in North America - quite appropriate, I felt. A couple of hours earlier, I was at my hostel, the clock read 6:30 in the morning, and I was getting up, packing up the trusty toolkit, and navigating the Vancouver public transportation network to the WWL lot that was supposedly holding my car. Coming in, there was no sign of my mini, but I was encouraged to see four other mini's in the lot:

Clearly British though - steering wheel is on the wrong side!

In the office, I found trusty Gloria, who was quite busy, as expected, but had everything ready to go for me (the customs broker had earned her money), so after 20 minutes, the car had been brought around, and I was back to wondering just what kaput meant in this case.

I calmly walked out to the car and was rather pleased to discover that she was none the worse off for the month spent on a ship in the Pacific, and a week apparently spent buried in the snow here on Annacis island. The car, however, as promised, would not start. Not even close. I studiously checked the battery, jiggled all the right cables near the ignition coil, and headed back to Gloria's office, comfortable in the serene knowledge that I was now in a civilized North American country, and I could get CAA (AAA's Canadian cousin) to come out and jump start the car... or tow it, if the problem were to be something more drastic. So, Gloria got me the number for CAA, I called them, and I was told there were 31 people in queue ahead of me, and the estimated wait time was about 15 minutes. Clearly, BC drivers were looking for a lot of help with the snow. Five minutes went by... terrible elevator music blaring out of the telephone receiver. More people came by to pick up their cars and presumably drove them off the lot without being subjected to CAA's elevator music. Entering the second five minutes of wait time, I suddenly had an epiphany: in Europe and Asia, when your battery is dead, you simply push-start the car, so why exactly am I waiting for CAA to help me here?

10 minutes later I was on my way out of the WWL lot, the engine sputtering along fairly contently, after managing to recruit a passing truck driver to help give the little car a push. Gloria had signed off on the whole enterprise with a blanket "I didn't hear a thing about anybody planning to push start a car in my lot." She also did her best to explain the new procedures they've put in place for picking up cars at the WWL lot - I assured her that I had absolutely no intention of ever doing this again.

In another five minutes I was at a nearby Shell station, where I figured the car could use a little more gas and oil (yes, it still leaks oil), still sporting my French license plates. The Japanese had bothered to write all kinds of stuff on the windshield too (including my VIN number), so I figured that should probably come off too.

A familiar site - the mini with the hood propped up, but no problems here. Promptly started right back up without any pushing required either.

And all of a sudden, buoyed by a full tank of gas and an extra quart of 10w40 in the engine, I was roaring down highway 99 towards the Blaine border crossing! Quite literally roaring by the way, as after driving my BMW in San Diego and Lott's Acura in Seattle, the amount of noise the mini makes is really quite remarkable.

By 11AM, I was at the Canadian side of the border, where the customs agent had clearly never seen a Carnet before in his life. Of course nobody really stops you as you leave Canada, so if I hadn't gone out of my way to find him and give him the Carnet, he still wouldn't have seen one to this day, I suspect, but I found him, he consulted a few of his colleagues for about 30 minutes, then stamped the Carnet in all the right places and sent me on my way to America:

Well, leaving Canada was pretty easy, but the departure part of the border crossing has usually been easier than the arrival on the other side, so it was time to see what the US of A had in store for me. For the record, when the Moldovan customs determined that the VIN number in my documents didn't match the one on the car itself, I decided I needed to go back to Paris and correct the documents, instead of just driving around to another, less scrupulous Moldovan border crossing. Justification being that if I need to deal with it, might as well do it now, when Paris is still relatively nearby, as I was sure this would come up again - probably coming into Mongolia, and quite certainly trying to bring the car into the US! Suffice to say, I wasn't looking forward to having to deal with the American customs controls...

1 comment:

b mathew said...

Hooray, you did it!