The thought-provoking story of one woman's search for happiness and fulfilment in modern-day America.
After moving to the United States from Canada in 1998, a free-spirited young woman rejects the status quo and embarks on a journey to discover what it means to be truly happy and fulfilled in the Land of Opportunity.
Her 13-year search spans half a dozen states, a bunch of fearless adventures, and ever-increasing crises, divisions, turmoil, and discontent. Through it all, she holds on to her fearless pursuit of happiness and fulfilment against ever-decreasing odds.
13 Years in America is a moving personal journey and a sharp, hard look at the American Dream.
I’m trying hard to enjoy myself as we drive down the Trans-Canada Highway in George’s green and white 1978 VW van. I really am. Over the past two and a half days I’ve told myself a hundred times to focus on the music and the conversation and the incredible changing landscape around me, from ocean, to forests, to mountains, and then to great, vast wheat fields.
But it’s hard to leave Salt Spring Island behind. It’s easier for George and Sophie because they’re just going to a friend’s wedding in Toronto, and they’ll be back in a week. But I'm getting dropped off to spend the whole summer working in Fort Frances, and even when I get back to the West Coast, it won’t be the same. Then, I’ll just be visiting Salt Spring instead of living there. Those days, for now, are over.
I remind myself again to focus on the road ahead instead of the one behind me. We drive through small prairie towns, around Winnipeg, and finally into Ontario. We’re only a couple hours away now.
George turns on to the highway south and glances at Sophie. “What are we going to tell Customs?”
“That we’re just driving through.”
“I hate the border,” George complains, turning down the music. “You know we don’t have any rights there. No right to remain silent or anything. They’ll grill us with questions, and make it into this big deal just to drive through their country.”
“Stop worrying about it,” Sophie says. “You’re making it worse.”
I don’t blame him for being nervous. I know what it’s like to cross the border, with the line-ups and the huge American flag soaring overhead. It’s intimidating. Last year I went down to Seattle with some friends and we got held up, brought inside, and questioned while our car was searched. We weren’t doing anything wrong so they let us go, but we were all shaking for a good hour afterward.
“How ‘bout we just drop Mel off in Fort Frances and then go through Thunder Bay and around to Toronto?” George suggests.
“That’s a good idea,” I yell from the backseat. “Your van’s a hippie-mobile, and with your long hair and Sophie’s nose ring, I bet you’ll get hassled at the border.”
Sophie sighs. “The wedding’s tomorrow,” she reminds us, “and going through the States will save us like six or seven hours.”
“Fine,” George says. “We’ll do it.”
Sophie turns the music up and George tolerates it until we turn left toward Fort Frances. I can see his knuckles turning white from gripping the steering wheel. Signs say to keep right for the International Bridge.
“Turn here,” I yell. My dad’s place is a mile up on the left. I’ve been here before, but only once, two years ago when I was hitchhiking across the country. I recognize it, but barely.
George stops in front of the garage and turns the van off. My dad and his wife Pat come out to greet us, and George and Sophie say a quick hello while they unload my stuff from the back. Two suitcases, a couple boxes, and a tote bag. My other stuff is stored in boxes at my mom’s in Victoria for when I get back. This is just what I need to get through the summer.
“Call me when you’re across the border, okay?” I say, giving Sophie a hug. I add, in a whisper, “and let me know when you’re coming back through just in case I can’t handle it here.”
“I will,” she promises, and they jump back in the van.
I watch them pull out, and for a moment I’m overcome with an urge to run after them. I could flag them down and fling the side door open and jump in. Then I wouldn’t have to go inside or start my summer job at the toll booth on Monday. But before I can act on it, they turn on to the road, honk twice, and they’re gone.