Let me start by stating that I don’t like strip clubs. I think it’s a waste of money and — judging by the crowd that goes — kinda gross. Yet in the week before my trip to Montreal, so many people told me how great the strip clubs were in Montreal and that I had to go. Secretly, I had no intention of going.
Now… to the story:
It was my first Friday evening in Montreal and, at that point, I was there for less than 24 hours and already heard more French than in all my years of studying it in high school. For my stay, I rented a room from a young French couple — Amber and Chris — who were actually leaving that night for Boston and Cape Cod for the holiday weekend… a holiday that doesn’t exist anywhere else but Quebec.
So I had their place all to myself.
When I walked back to the apartment around 6pm, Amber was doing her last bit of packing. She spoke with a sweet, thick French accent:
“So, we’re leaving now. Er uhm, help yourself to whatever’s in the fridge. There’s isn’t much, haha.”
“Sounds good. Thanks!”
“What are you going to do tonight?”
“I have no idea, haha.”
“If you want, you can go to the FrancoFolies festival. I think it’s the last night.”
“Well, to be honest, I’m pretty tired… so I might just take it easy.”
“Okay. Well, enjoy your weekend!”
I sat on their living room couch, surrounded by all the open windows letting in the cool evening breeze, and played on Google maps until I finally made a plan: load my backpack, walk over to Parc La-Fontaine, enjoy the gorgeous afternoon, then walk west to a well-rated coffee shop to work on a top-secret project and finish reading a book I bought in the West Village called How to Lose Friends and Alienate People. (I bought the book specifically for its clever title.)
After a heavy Portuguese dinner, I walked north on Rue Rachel to Parc La-Fontaine, passed a friendly looking girl, and waited to cross the street. Montreal, however, has a different system than the US — some roads have designated bike lanes that are actually protected with a concrete divider. To make things worse, after spending a week in New York, I picked up an awful habit of waiting for the light by standing on the street instead of the sidewalk.
Suddenly, a bike sped by and almost clipped me.
“Whoa!” I said. “I… didn’t know that was a bike lane.”
“Yeah, bikers here do not care, ha,” the friendly looking girl said.
“Man, I am not used to that.”
“Are you from here?”
“No. I’m from Los Angeles.”
We crossed the street together and walked around the park while having a very lighthearted and funny conversation. Her name was Jane and it turned out she just finished her first year at law school and was celebrating that night with a lot of friends. She asked if I wanted to join.
“Will your friends mind that you’re bringing a random guy to your law school party?” I asked.
“Hmm, I don’t think so! They know I do this kind of thing.”
“You mean, bring random-ass people to parties?”
“Nice. I’m the same. I always talk to random strangers.”
I thought about it.
“Sure,” I said. “Why not.”
We walked into a bar called L’écurie and met her law school friends at some VIP-looking section with a long couch and a few tables. Jane’s friends were friendly, but I couldn’t escape the feeling — accurate or not — that they thought of me as some creeper who was invading their party. (At least, I really really hoped I wouldn’t come across that way.) I also felt lost because the conversation was also pretty heavy in French.
About a half-an-hour later, more of their friends came. That’s when the fun began. One of whom, Josh, started chatting with me: “Sorry, I usually speak French,” he said at first, apologizing for his English. But I’ll be damned — his English was damn near perfect.
He was excited that I traveled all the way to Montreal and he told me some epic drinking stories that had me in stitches. Like the one about the doormat. Or the one about the Mustang. Or the one about the hospital.
The night started getting lively as we talked and laughed our asses off. Josh’s friend, Steve, and I started talking about hockey and girls. (Of course I like the Habs — Brian Gionta, their former captain, and Max Pacioretty are Americans. U-S-A!) I even asked Steve and another guy a question I’ve had on mind for a while:
“So… does the head coach of the Habs have to speak French?”
The two Montrealers looked at each other.
“Argh, yes. It’s stupid, but they have to speak French.” He said it in a way that showed he agreed with the reasoning.
“Yeah, he has to,” echoed Steve. “I mean, we’ve had American captains before and most of the coaching staff is English. But the coach has to speak French.”
Then I understood. Suddenly, it made perfect sense to me. Their pride of being Québécois and their dedication to maintaining their heritage — it all made sense. The Canadiens are Montréal and the true way to represent that is to have a Francophone head coach. Hell, the next time the Canadiens make a coaching change, I’ll want their new head coach to speak French too.
That night, because they had so many friends in their party, I got to chat with all kinds of people. One was a friendly girl with a unique name who helped introduce me to some of her cute law school friends. Then, I introduced her to Josh and they greeted each other in English.
“Hey, you guys are both from here,” I said with a smile. “You can speak in French.”
“Haha, you’re here!” Josh said with a laugh. “We’re speaking it for you, man.”
“Oh man, you guys are awesome.”
Then we walked to the crowded dance floor. Mind you, I was still wearing my backpack because I had my freakin’ laptop and book in there and I wasn’t going to leave that shit anywhere. Mintues later, some girl walked over to me while I was dancing and asked me something in French. In my best accent, I replied, “Je suis desloee. Je ne parle pas Francais.” Then, she walked off with a look of disgust. Sorry, dear.
I later found out that she was asking me why I was dancing with my backpack on.
The scene was kind of lame, so Josh, Steve, and I decided to leave and try a different, dancing-specific club called “Pinq Taco” (seriously). As we were leaving, I walked past and African guy who was hitting his dougie. “Yeah!” I yelled and gave him a high-five and a bro-hug.
Then I joined him.
The music picked up and I hit my Doug E. Fresh with this new friend and we were straight killing it. A small circle developed around us. Once we finally stepped outside, Josh told me to go back:
“Did you get a stamp?”
“A stamp,” he said pointing to his forearm, “so you can get back in.”
“Ohh.” We walked back to the crowded entrance.
“My friend was inside and needs a stamp,” said Josh to the bouncer.
“Oh yeah,” the bouncer said. “You’re the guy who was dancing with the backpack.”
After that, the three of us walked toward Pinq Taco, talking loudly about sports, girls, and whatever the hell else there was. While the two of them queued up for the club, I ran back to my pad, dropped off the damn backpack, and ran back. They were chilling in a poutine place next door when I arrived.
“We can’t get in without reservations,” Steve said.
“Damn. What now?”
“Man, I don’t know. Haha, I don’t want to pay twenty bucks.”
“You guys have to pay twenty bucks?” Josh said in amazement.
“Well, yeah,” I said. “For cover.”
“Dude, cover here is five dollars.”
“And it’s $15 for a lap dance.”
“$15?! Ours is $20.”
“Can you touch?”
“You can’t touch?! Okay,” they said emphatically, “we’re taking you to a strip club.”
One more of their friends joined who actually studied abroad in Eastern Europe. He was a friendly dude and we talked most of the way there.
The strip club was whatever. It was pretty crowded that night and a lot of guys were trying their luck by passing off five-dollar bills as twenties. A few strippers didn’t notice, but some did to our entertainment.
It was almost closing time and none of us got a lapdance.
“It’s now or never,” someone said to me.
“Yeah, I guess.”
Just then, a 5’11″ stripper with glasses walked up to me. (Yes, I asked her for her height.) “I like your earrings,” she said in English. “I have earrings, too. Do you want a dance?”
“Uhh…” I said looking over to my new friends. They were waving me to give it a shot.
“Ehh, why the hell not,” I said.
And that was that.
That’s the thing I love about traveling: you’ll never know where you’ll end up and it’s often nothing close to what you’ve imagined. If I never met Jane, I would’ve just ended up at the park and the coffee shop. I never would’ve met real Montrealers, drank, did my dougie, and, uh, get a lapdance. Embrace the adventure when you travel, my friend. That’s all you have.
I did end up going to that park, though. Just not that night.
* All names have been changed to protect the innocent and not-so-innocent alike.