Never Say Never - by Ashanti Fraser & Sarah Fleury - February 27th 2012
Not unexpectedly our travels have not gone exactly to plan. We left Gabriola Island on Sunday afternoon following a wonderful weekend workshop with magnificent folks there and crossed the American border without incident. Drove a long day on Monday, slowed somewhat by snow and poor visibility over the Cascade Mountains and spent the first night in Ontario, Oregon perched on the Oregon/Nevada border headed for warmth.
I’ve had a fantasy of staying overnight in Vegas, having passed through several times without ever sleeping over, but Vegas is a long way from Ontario and the timing would be awkward, likely putting us a day behind for our arrival at the spa. To add to the distance we missed a turn somewhere in the desert and ended up on the Extraterrestrial Highway, travelling it in the deepening dark scanning the skies around the tiny crescent moon for signs of life; Ashanti longing for a visitation, me thinking I might then never get to sleep in Vegas. Instead of meeting our other worldly cousins we had a close encounter of a four-legged kind, barely missing a small herd of sky black cows inexplicably grazing in the middle of the highway. The lady at the Little A’Le’Inn had said they moved closer to the road at night. We didn’t think to ask her why.
We reached Alamo, Nevada, the small metropolis at the end of the ET Highway at about 8 pm, thirteen or so hours after starting out the day. The sign at the edge of town advised us to “Watch for low flying aircraft” which we took for a joke but turns out there is a small landing strip there which is being expanded and accounts for the fact that there were no vacancies in either of the two hotels; hadn’t been any for weeks. Which meant the next stop - Vegas. Yahoo!
We stayed in The California for two nights, taking a long drive down the strip on Wednesday to gawk at the fancy casinos of CSI. We kidded about stopping at one of the chapels and legitimize our nearly 20 year relationship. Instead we decided to see Gordie Brown, a very talented impressionist in the evening and partake in a 99 cents margarita each which Ashanti found too sweet but I declare was darn refreshing. Thursday was an easy drive to Tucson and by 7 am Friday morning we were in our beloved Mexico.
You can drive ‘hassle free’ for about 40 kilometers south into Mexico at which point you have to formally import any foreign vehicles. So, there we are 7:30ish standing at the importation window thinking we just have to pay the permit fee for our trusty Volkswagen Golf, when their computer rudely coughs up the fact that Ashanti (the registered owner of our vehicle) already has a 1999 Chebby (the CH pronounced as in Cheese) Maleeboo in the country while said vehicle, according to our records, had been sold in Victoria, Canada in January of this year to a very nice young man named Andre. Apparently we had neglected to un-import our Chebby Maleeboo when we drove it out of the country after a trip in 2009. The cashier, competent as she is can do nothing for us except shrug her dainty shoulders and shake her beautiful head. She directs us to the Office of the Aduana (customs) who can tell us our options. The woman at the Office of the Aduana looks young for an official but thankfully speaks excellent English.
We explain the situation.
“Is this your wife?” she asks Ashanti.
“Kind of,” he replies.
“Ok, this is good. Then, your wife, she can import the car. Just show me your wedding certificate and your wife, she can import the car.”
“Well, we don’t actually have one of those,” he says.
“Could not someone fax it to us; a certified copy, from Canada?” she asks helpfully.
“No, we don’t have a marriage certificate. We are not actually married.”
“Oh,” she shakes her head, “then I am so sorry there is nothing I can do.”
“Could we not cancel the other Mexican registration? Pay a fine?” I ask.
“I am so sorry to say that can only be done in Mexico City,” she says. Mexico City is a long way, well outside the hassle free zone. “And it takes 2 months,” she adds. Two months is well outside our time frame. Our group starts in a week; we are expected home in five.
We return our useless travel papers and head to the Volkswagen Golf to consider our options. We can drive back to Phoenix, store the car for a month and fly into Guadalajara. That won’t be cheap and leaves us without a vehicle for the group. Perhaps we can transfer title of the Golf to me in Nogales, Arizona, cancel the Canadian and Mexican insurance policies we have in Ashanti’s name, purchase the necessary insurance policies in my name and try again. But we are unsure what all that entails, what it will cost and what will happen when we try to get the car back into Canada and reinsure it there. Or. We pause and look at each other. We take a deep breath and laugh. We could get married. Something we have diligently avoided, having both been married before, and finding it other than as advertised.
We decide to pursue the vehicle transfer of title. So, we point the car back toward America, spend about an hour waiting to get through the border we just crossed and seek counsel from the insurance agents at Don Smith, the establishment that sold us our Mexican insurance. We explain the situation. Bob shakes his head.
“You should have surrendered your previous permit,” he says from behind his desk midway down the narrow corridor of the office.
“We know that now,” we say speaking down the long counter, “we didn’t know that then.”
“You signed a document when you took the vehicle into Mexico saying you understood,” he says.
Quite probably true; absolutely unhelpful. “Be that as it may, what do we do now?”
He shakes his head. His young Spanish speaking assistant with her long black curls and sympathetic black eyes shakes her head and purses her lips with concern. I’m sorry I can’t help you she says without words. She says it kindly and I feel comforted even though she can do nothing.
“Well,” we say, “it seems we can either try and get married or transfer title of our vehicle.”
“You won’t be getting married here today,” says Bob. “The court house is closed on Fridays. They have a four day work week; closed on Fridays.”
“OK, what about transferring the title.”
“I wouldn’t know anything about that. I guess you could try,” says Bob. His tone is flat, thin like our chances. “The DMV is up the road.” He points across his chest over his right shoulder. It’s the only move he’s made since we entered his place of business.
The waiting room at the DMV is fully occupied. “Can I help you?” says the young man behind the desk. We explain our situation. He looks decidedly out of his depths. “Can I| see your title?” We show him our ICBC insurance papers with the registration section at the bottom.
“No, this is your insurance.”
“The registration information is in the bottom section,” we say. He looks doubtful. He waves an older colleague over for a consultation. She peers at our paperwork, eyebrows bunched. Eventually she nods. They whisper between themselves.
“Alright,” he says. “Go back through the border and come back through.”
“Are you telling us to take the car back into Mexico?” we say.
He nods. “You will need to have your vehicle inspected. Then they will give you a form. Go back and do that and then come back here and we will see what we can do.”
That’s a lot of to-ing and fro-ing across international borders, none of them our own. We walk back to the car across the heated pavement. It is 11:30. Now I am filled with doubts. There is probably a maximum limit to the number of times a vehicle can pass through an international border in one day without being blocked from re-entry. Like getting locked out after trying a password too many times. I imagine us, bureaucratic refuges in the 40 kilometer hassle free zone in northern Mexico waiting for some indeterminate suspension period to expire. I’m not convinced the young man is thinking beyond the most obvious next step. I imagine complications unforeseen.
We head to the public library to research marriage legislation in Arizona. Specifically, we are wondering, is there a residency requirement or a waiting period, what is the cost, how quickly can the legal document can be issued and whether being refused a temporary importation permit in Mexico or failing to surrender one three years previously is an impediment to the rite.
Thanks to a kindly librarian and a guest pass at the library we find there is no residency requirement or waiting period. The cost is $70.50 for the license. As for the other two matters our research is inconclusive. The closest court house, open on a Friday, is in Green Valley, 45 kilometers north. By 1:30 on Friday, February 24, we are in the court house in Green Valley which just happens to be, in case you ever need to know, on La Canada Drive, in the very capable hands of Diane.
“We want to see if we can get married in Arizona,” we say.
“Do you just want the information, or are you actually going to go ahead with it today?”
“Well, if we can leave here today, with a piece of official paperwork saying we are married then we are going to go ahead with it.”
“Oh, good!” She beams. “This is the best part of my day.”
She examines our passports and gives us a one page form to take away and read. All we now need to get a marriage license is $1.50 in cash (which we have) and a personal cheque drawn on a US bank (which we don't have) or a US dollar money order for $70.50 (which we assume we can get at one of the numerous banks that dot the municipal landscape of American like Starbucks in Vancouver).
"Can I help you, says Shelley, the first available client service representative at the neighbourhood Bank of Arizona.
"We'd like to buy a money order," we say. Shelley starts typing.
"What's the fee?" we ask, wondering if we have enough cash in total.
"That depends," says Shelley, "on what kind of account you have with us."
"Oh,” we say cheerily. “We don't have an account with you."
Shelley stops typing. She looks up at us over her glasses. "Then I can't sell you a money order," she says, "not unless you have an account with us."
When we ask she says it is the same at all banks. I begin to imagine what's involved in opening an American bank account, being an alien transient of no fixed address and all and I wonder if it would be impolite to refuse a free rifle if it were offered or if toasters are still a possibility.
"What are our options?" we ask in our now familiar mantra.
“You could try Safeways or the Post Office,” says Shelley. We opt for Safeway because we have a Safeway Club Card and although we did not bring the actual card with us we can still access our account using our phone number even though the area code raises eyebrows. A money order at Safeway is extremely easy to acquire and costs only 69 cents which I would bet is cheaper than a money order from the Bank of Arizona unless perhaps you hold a premium, platinum, prestige, privilege card issued to longstanding members—as long, of course, as you have not lived together for almost 20 years without the benefit of marriage.
Back at the court house we fill in a very short form, sign in duplicate, hand the money order and $1.50 over to Dianne and meet the justice of the peace, Gail Wight, who has agreed to perform the ceremony after hours. We are to be married at 5:30 immediately following the ceremony of another couple, who had the foresight to make their appointment more than a few hours in advance of the ceremony. The fee is a very reasonable $50 which, thankfully, we are to pay in cash.
“What about the two witnesses?” she asks.
“We know no one in Green Valley,” we say.
“No problem,” she says. “I’ll call the other couple and ask if they or someone from their party can stand up for you.”
We spend the next hour and a half leaving crazy messages for our almost 19 year old daughter, Arizona, via email and Skype and text, letting her know we have to get married, wishing she were with us. We have lunch at the air-conditioned Arizona Family Restaurant and buy Ashanti a wedding shirt at the consignment store in the same mall. The proprietress is delighted with our story. She can’t wait to have dinner with her friends and tell them all about it. She picks out a tan T-shirt with gossamer sleeves.
“Look,” she says, “the sleeves are painted so they make you look like you are covered in tattoos.”
I try it on, but as I suspected, it really isn’t me. It’s a bit small besides.
Back at the courthouse we get cleaned up as best we can and, following a line from a favourite song or ours, a song that declares everything holy, Ashanti cleanses his mother's ring, the one that he has been wearing since her death, in Pepsi, so he can pass it on to me as unencumbered as possible.
We meet the other groom and his son, the best man. Then the sister of the bride and a niece and nephew of the groom arrive. The bride and her daughter are late and so the order of the ceremonies gets reversed. The sister and the nephew, having barely met us, graciously stand up for us and give us away.
The service itself is short and fairly traditional. We translate the standard words in our own minds, according to our personal, imperfect and ever-changing understanding of what marriage is or can be, as no doubt all brides and grooms do. We say the I do’s and I will’s. I cry and smile, Ashanti laughs. We hug and kiss and sign the little bit of paper that started it all.
And that is how we come to be driving down the shoulder-less Mexican highway, well south of the hassle free zone, eating the wedding cookies presented to us by the honorable Gail Wight of Pima County with a freshly minted Marriage Certificate in the glove compartment of our car, listening to the music we love. We sing "It Isn’t Gonna Be That Way" with Steve Forbert’s, croak along with Rod Stewart’s version of "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?" and alongside Blue Rodeo we heartily belt out, "If We Are Lost, Then We Are Lost Together". Of course we play Dan Bern’s "Toledo" with its reference to Pepsi and blessing things. And every now and then, one of us will turn down the volume and remind the other to, “Never say never, Fievel.”