February 19th, 2009
05:14 PM ET

I left my heart and my leather pants in Montreal

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/americas/01/15/canada.obama.tunes/art.canada.flag.gi.jpg]

Jack Gray
AC360° Associate Producer

President Obama is in Canada – a key and often overlooked U.S. ally and economic partner - today for the first foreign trip of his presidency.  I find myself waxing nostalgic for the trips my friends and I made some years ago to Montreal.  It was a time when Canada was still known as the land of hockey and Celine Dion, long before it became the Sarah Palin Buffer Zone.

Our first trip up there, by car from New England, was when I was 17.  The allure was that the drinking age in Montreal was 18.  I know what you’re thinking.  But it turns out the word “Montreal” is French for “eh, close enough.”

Getting there was not always easy.  We had trouble at the border more than once.  Though I still don’t see what was so suspicious about two teenagers in a souped-up Dodge Stealth filled with fireworks and rolling papers.

Or that other time – five college kids, each from a different state, quietly pushing a Mercedes that didn’t belong to any of us through a seldom-used border crossing in the dark of night.  That guard had some nerve to suggest we were lying when we said we were merely re-creating the final scene from The Sound of Music.

Anyway, upon arrival that first time, we were awestruck. Montreal is a stylish city full of energy.  A city that knows what it wants.  A city that understands bars become decidedly more intriguing when you add “de Sexe” to the end of the name.

It was, obviously, my first opportunity to “legally” order a drink.  At the time I thought I was pretty smooth, though in retrospect perhaps I should not have asked for a bendy straw with my martini.

Nevertheless, despite our inexperience, we embraced the cosmopolitan atmosphere:  speaking French, smoking Cuban cigars, dining on exotic meals of chicken fingers and Budweiser at the Hard Rock Café.

We felt like glamorous high rollers when we went to the Casino de Montreal.  It was my first time gambling but you would have never known.  As far as my fellow gamblers were concerned, I was a veteran of the casino floor – asking for help with the slot machines and telling the guy running the roulette wheel that I wanted to buy a vowel.

Our trips were always great fun and, aside from that one time when I technically was Prime Minister for three hours, there weren’t any international incidents.

Sadly, our Canadian voyages have long since come to an end.  That’s life, I suppose.  Friends eventually go their separate ways.  But Canada, especially the city of Montreal, will always have a warm place in my heart.

As for Celine Dion…well, no one ever said Canada was perfect.


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Filed under: 360° Radar • Canada • Jack Gray
soundoff (58 Responses)
  1. Jacqueline, NY

    Ahhhh, Montreal! Tre magnifique! Clean with big wide open spaces. One of my favorite places, especially during the Jazz Festival. I could definitely live there.

    Hey, why don't plan a trip? 🙂

    February 19, 2009 at 8:51 pm |
  2. Tim from Winnipeg

    Thanks by the way, for taking Celine off our hands. We really owe you for that one.

    February 19, 2009 at 8:47 pm |
  3. Jennifer - Michigan

    @BettyAnn & Pati Mc – you guys are so funny with your "I love you guys" talk. It reminds me of what I start saying when I'm out with my girlfriends for moms night out after a couple beers........
    Hey, I'm also wishing you a quick recovery after tomorrow's surgery, we'll be thinking about you BettyAnn – All your cyberspace friends.

    February 19, 2009 at 8:37 pm |
  4. Vanessa, TX

    @carol B. I've always secretly LOVED Canada..everytime our teachers would make us do some sort of report on a country I would always choose Canada...I don't know why..maybe in my past life I was a canadian..lol
    Don't laugh Jack!

    February 19, 2009 at 8:17 pm |
  5. EJ (USA)

    Kiefer Sutherland is from Canada too right? I can hear the Canadian every time he tells us what happened previously on 24.

    February 19, 2009 at 8:08 pm |
  6. Don, WA

    Canada's Cool. I like Calgary a lot. And man can those guys drive in the snow. They laugh at "Pass Closed" signs. I remember once at the base of a snowed in hill here in washington, the 4-wheel drive's lining the banks of either side about half way up the hill. And then out of the snow fog came a chevy chevette down the road and then up the hill, with the delicate driving mix of clutch and engine and gear – it was like music. Allthough it was probably the cranked Celion Dion coming from the open window of the canadian liscense plate chevette, with the girl driving wearing a tank-top and knit snow hat, resting her left arm out the window and jamming and driving like a snow virtuoso, a little control slide to the left and the right, in perfect synch with the snow, and Celine, all the way up the impossible hill. All we could say was..."who are those guys?" (or gals I should say). "Oh Canada."

    P.S. BettyAnn, I'm sure you'll be back dancing to the sound of music in no time.

    February 19, 2009 at 8:04 pm |
  7. Pati Mc

    @ Betty Ann – I wanted to tell you that I will be thinking of you with your surgery and all. So sorry to hear that you have to go that route.

    Know that your family here will be thinking good thoughts for a successful surgery and speedy recovery. (Lord, I hope you can still blog, otherwise we will miss you terribly.)

    To all of you sweet, dear people, thanks for the well wishes for me also. I am almost completley back! No more bird flu!

    Agree with Betty Ann – you guys are the absolute best. Love ya all.

    February 19, 2009 at 7:46 pm |
  8. Kathy

    Hi Jack:
    Loved your story! We here in Ontario who live near the U.S. border (Niagara Falls) used to go the States – over the ditch (NIagara River) to drink. New York state's drinking age was 18 when I was in high school.
    Come on over any time!

    February 19, 2009 at 7:43 pm |
  9. EJ (USA)

    No idea how you come up with all of this silly stuff, but I have a feeling alcohol is invloved (gee…ya think?).

    Ha – Probably not. He's just naturally weird.

    I wish you good luck with your surgery as well Betty Ann.

    I like Celine although I haven't heard one of her songs in a long time. I do like that "Where does my heart beat" song and the theme from the Titanic. I think I like her on the level that if I hear one of her songs I'll probably listen to it but I'm not going to go searching for it.

    February 19, 2009 at 7:41 pm |
  10. Megan Dresslar - Shoreline, WA

    Helloo Jack!!!
    That is so funny man!!!!!!! You are my favorite comedian person I read!!! I love Celine Dion, she is my favorite singer, she is best her voice I hear, she is so amazing singer!!!! Thanks Jack, you give me great day!!!! I also I enjoy your comment. It is so great blog tonight! I will not be there on Live Blog tonight, I will be back tomorrow night, I had to leave out of town. Have a great night!

    Hi Helen in UK!

    Take care your leg after surgery, when you come back on Live blog anytime!!! Hugs!!!! OX's AC 360 bloggers, Anderson, and I will miss you on blog!

    February 19, 2009 at 7:23 pm |
  11. Helen, Reading, UK

    Aah, Monsieur Jacques, bonsoir ma petit filou! Two blogs in two days, you are really spoiling your faithful followers.. I'm still trying to calm down after reading the headline about the leather pants, although at my age it could just be a hot flush. So you used to sneak over the border for an illicit drinky poo then? Surely it can't have been all that long ago, huh? Two or three years ago maybe? Over here it's the law that as soon as you hit the big one-eight you have to dash to the nearest pub and drink yourself into a stupor. Hey, binge drinking is our national sport! I was a late developer, I didn't start until I was 30. After a year or so I got tired of trying to catch the bed as it spun round, so I gave up. I've just thought Jack, Sammy isn't old enough to drink in human years, so does her ID quote her age in dog years instead? Is she all set for Sunday? I hope you've got plenty of smokes and margarita mix in for her, along with a family sized bag of popcorn for the Coop. Obviously I'll be rooting for the Winslet, she's from my home town. Plus it'll be worth it to hear her slag off the Octo-Mum lookalike again, ha, ha! Oh well, enough incoherent rambling from me, I'm off for a large Baileys and a cold shower. Hi to Presley Pati Mc, Megan, and to Betty Ann, I'll be thinking of you, hope the op goes ok. Beaucoup d'amour à tout le monde, au revoir x x

    February 19, 2009 at 6:07 pm |
  12. Tammy, Berwick, LA

    I was writing and have no clue what happened. So if the last post made it to you, disregard please. Part of a really screwy week apparently.

    I am not touching the leather pants comment at all. Too much info already.

    Canada can have Celine Dion. However, Michael J. Fox, Jason Priestley, and Mark Steyn are definite keepers for me.

    I guess we all have our places that will always take our hearts. Mine are Orvieto, Italy, and New York City. And no pants were lost in the process.

    February 19, 2009 at 6:06 pm |
  13. Dulcie - Denver


    A few years ago, I lost my job and agreed to meet a friend in Toronto to go camping. Camping. In Toronto. In October. Driving from Denver.

    4 states, 3 days, 2 countries, 1 Nissan pickup truck, 0 passport or birth certificate. Yes, they let me in anyway, but the questions from the border guard were hysterical.

    Camping out near the QE Expressway... I remember it well 🙂

    February 19, 2009 at 5:44 pm |
  14. Isabel Abreu, Brazil

    Hi, Jack!

    How are you?

    I was jealous of you and I'm cool, so if anything goes wrong more than usual, forgive me! I have to be good until Sunday! (Laughing. ..)

    These trips are so cool ... We will never forget! In my memory have New York and Orlando (Orlando ... you can laugh!)

    Celine Dion ... And I have to agree with you! (laughing. ..)


    February 19, 2009 at 5:18 pm |
  15. Paula Vergara, Boston, MA

    Jack – you were Canada's Prime Minister for 3 hours? That sounds like a story in itself. It's funny, when Americans go to Canada, we stand out like a moose in a crowd of ducks, but when Canadians come to America, they just sort of blend in. Maybe you should have left the leather pants back home, eh? I never did the high school trip to Canada...decided to wait until college to drink alcohol from a bendy straw. Maybe I missed out...

    February 19, 2009 at 4:56 pm |
  16. Bonnie

    You're lucky Jack–you had exciting Montreal–at 18 we had Kansas City, KS–Shakey's Pizza and 3.2% beer!! Woo Hoo!!

    February 19, 2009 at 4:56 pm |
  17. BettyAnn, Nacogdoches,TX

    @Lori~ You are all the cyberspace family I choose! I love you guys!

    February 19, 2009 at 4:52 pm |
  18. Lori from IL

    Jack -

    Thanks for the laughs - the days of young and foolish combined
    with road trips always make for great memories!!

    Still trying to figure out the Twitter thing - think I may be too old. Do we need that for the Oscar Blog?

    And BettyAnn - good luck with your surgery - I will definitely miss you on the 360 blog - I always enjoy your posts! Hope you recovery quickly and are back blogging with us soon.

    February 19, 2009 at 4:32 pm |
  19. Carol B.

    @Vanessa- Nice idea about the old movies, however, it's better if you actually go. Canada is a great place so hope you get there sometime. It's probably even better than watching tumbleweed roll down the road.

    February 19, 2009 at 4:10 pm |
  20. BettyAnn, Nacogdoches,TX

    @Carilo~The right leg is the wrong leg but the left leg is the right (correct) leg and I tell my surgeon to break my leg or his? Yikes I am so confused now!
    Thanks for the well wishes anyway!

    February 19, 2009 at 4:03 pm |
  21. Rikki, Fargo, ND

    Ahh yes Jack...to quote Grey's Anatomy...'We're adults, when did that happen? And how do we make it stop?' I live relatively close to the Canadian border here, only our destination was always Winnipeg. But alas we have to grow up and do things like work and pay bills and so the antics must come to an end! 🙂 Have a great day!

    Can't wait to live blog during the Oscars! Its gonna be awesome!

    February 19, 2009 at 3:24 pm |
  22. vanessa, TX

    hey jack, another funny post 🙂 not like we expected less from you...
    Ive never been to Canada...but I'm happy we got to re-live your experience..but one of these days, I'll save enough money and buy a car that has a TV and i'll play old movies from actors that are from Canada and it will be as if I was there!! lol 😉

    and as my french teacher use to say
    "Au revoir, and please don't take my pens from my desk"
    lots of luv Jack

    February 19, 2009 at 3:10 pm |
  23. Pati Mc

    Hey Jack,

    Oh man, that comment about reenacting the last scene from The Sound of Music??. Brilliant. Positively brilliant. Then you progress to bendy straws in martinis' (which I personally see no problem with) then on to buying vowels at the roulette table. Funny stuff. No idea how you come up with all of this silly stuff, but I have a feeling alcohol is invloved (gee...ya think?).

    At any rate, you rule, we all know it and that is all I can say.

    Feeling stronger every day....thanks for caring...someone really should write a song like that...hmm...

    Have a good one bud. Love and all that jazz.

    February 19, 2009 at 2:54 pm |
  24. Pamina

    Hi Jack,
    Ahhhh, Canada! Many a fun trip to be had "over the border". Montreal is a wonderful city, Toronto is fun as well. You would think, Niagara Falls, a large gushing body of water, would be easy to find. I would argue, not so much. My friends and I drove around for about an hour, seeing the mist, hearing the roar, and yet, could not quite get there!
    Have a good few days, we're gearing up for your blog on Sunday!

    February 19, 2009 at 2:46 pm |
  25. GH

    Hey, lay off Celine; I've liked her ever since "Where Does My Heart Beat Now". As for Canada, I've never been there but I've been a fan ever since they did the right thing for human rights and let us gays marry legally.

    Jack, you're always a laugh riot. But your article doesn't even mention the leather pants, much less how you lost them - or how you even came to be wearing them.

    February 19, 2009 at 2:14 pm |
  26. L. Carilo, H.R., CO

    To BettyAnn, Tx

    Make sure they get the right (correct) ankle and tell your surgeon to "break a leg." Oh, that sounded wrong, instead give them the "thumbs up." Wishing you a speedy recovery. ~ L.C.

    February 19, 2009 at 1:51 pm |
  27. jaelle

    Jack, your writing is inspiring:) I'd like to welcome Obama to Canada. Wish I lived in Ottawa, just for that! I'm a west coaster but I've been to Montreal twice, and have to agree that it's a very vibrant, unique, and cosmopolitan city. I love it! I beg you though, please don't judge us all for Celine Dion! We like to think she's yours now, lol:)

    February 19, 2009 at 1:18 pm |
  28. meenas17

    Canada is a beautiful country .with rich culture . French language is the sweetet of all languages ,so is Montreal.

    February 19, 2009 at 12:54 pm |
  29. Ashley - Hamlin, NY

    Oh Jack, that was just the upper I needed before heading to class. Actually, this spring break I am heading up to Canada for my first time to "legally order a drink." I think when you live close to the border it's just a right of passage. I don't think I'll be as smooth as you though when it comes to gambling...

    Glad to see the bird flu went through your system. We missed you!

    February 19, 2009 at 12:34 pm |
  30. Maria

    Grand Bonjour de Jack,

    Happy to see your spirit up…I can see the PM qualifications in you… I trust your qualification, forget about the inexperience stuff, I never been in Montreal, but when I asked my colleague about her impression of first visit to Montreal, she said “the traffic signals was in French “????.

    Hey I know French people take showers of wine instead of water and that is why they invented cologne….I love French culture, but I almost failed my first French class, I don’t know if it was my Asian origin instructor fault, or just me, where I was completely lost sheep.

    Jack, wherever you travel, there will be a memory, I think you had a lovely one, but I advise you to travel, whenever you got chance, crossing new places, cultures, and people is amazing experience.

    Have a lovely day,


    February 19, 2009 at 12:21 pm |
  31. mishan

    why are you so funny?

    February 19, 2009 at 12:20 pm |
  32. Renee

    @Purna Maharjan: I walked to the kitchen to get some water and by the time I got back to the set in my library I thought WW 3 was coming. Wow! I am going to have to just "mute" Roland for 3 days like in-home viewing detention. No Fox for me!

    February 19, 2009 at 12:19 pm |
  33. Carol B.

    Hi Jack, another good blog – tres bien. Let's hope the Prez has a good visit with one of our allies. Canada and the province of Quebec are full of great inns/Auberge, hiking- Mont Morrency and culture. If you listen to *Daniel B's Rever Mieux CD* you'll be asking "Celine who?" Just kidding. They're both national treasures but one is more international and commercial. Hopefully, we'll hear more about the visit tonight. TTFN.

    February 19, 2009 at 12:15 pm |
  34. BettyAnn, Nacogdoches,TX

    U Did It Again Jack!
    U made me spew! This time it was coffee with kaluha. yum! So being from New York, you escaped to Canada. That sounds like a blast! I really liked the part about asking the roulette man for a vowel!
    Being from Texas, some of my first adventures were in our great neighbor country Mexico. Not the border towns but down under.
    Cancun is a great place to meet all kinds of beautiful and fun loving young people, that is If you like your women with pieces of barf in their hair.
    Cabo was better with the whales but there were always the guy who comes up and says," pssst, you want to snort?" I was quick and informed him I already had nasal spray.
    Then there was central Mexico and the sierra madre. Tip of the day: don't drink tequilla at 11,000 ft. The outcome is not pretty.The hills are alive but not with the sound of music!
    The mountain with the migrating monarchs has a town at the base. All the streets have Beatles names John Lennon was the street we took. Ok maybe street is a stretch, it was more like a goat trail named John Lennon.
    All in all it was great fun! Our spanish speaking field trips we used to call them. "Dos cerveza por favor!" Very educational.
    You are so damn funny Jack! Thanks for the belt before I go "down under" the knife!
    I love you and Sammy!
    XO's, peace, and tail wags

    February 19, 2009 at 12:14 pm |
  35. Rob M, Nova Scotia , Canada

    Hey Jack Now if you really want to expereince a party come to Nova Scotia, lobsters, beer, and I am sure some homemade Hooch

    February 19, 2009 at 12:11 pm |
  36. L. Carilo, H.R., CO

    I love that scene from the Sound of Music; soooo sneaky. And the hills were still alive with the sound... ~ L.C.

    February 19, 2009 at 12:11 pm |
  37. Sam M., Ewa Beach, HI

    Ah lucky. I grew up in Hawaii, the closest I got to crossing the border was the Pacific Ocean...

    February 19, 2009 at 11:48 am |
  38. Canadian in Sd

    Celine Dion...jeez it even hurts to write her name...

    I thought we were finally free when we heard she set up house in Vegas. We had a couple of months long national parties...umm...hope the noise didn't keep you up.

    Can't belive Vegas of all places kicked her back. Back to the drawing board then...

    Cheers Jack!

    February 19, 2009 at 11:47 am |
  39. Carolyn

    Bonjour, Jacques!

    My Canadian experiences consist of watching a casino burn to the ground in Windsor, Ontario across the river from the 54th floor of the Marriott hotel in the Renaissance Center in Detroit (it would have taken far too long to get in the car (which I didn't have access to), go through the tunnel, hopefully make it through customs and then rush to try and play the slots before rescuing some senior citizen gambler on a bus trip from New Jersey), and fulfilling my lifelong desire to say I had been to Niagara Falls (the Canadian side, which, for some reason, is an important distinction to make). I'm still trying to understand the whole Honeymoon Capital of the World distinction, but, if getting drenched in the Behind the Falls tour is your idea of a way to spend your first night in marital bliss, who am I to judge?

    Au revoir, which, I think means, I just fell into the Seine, en Francais.


    February 19, 2009 at 11:03 am |
  40. Cindy

    I visited Canada on several occasions myself and I have to say that it is a very beautiful place!! Once I went to Alberta..Banff, Lake Louise. It was awesome there! Had a GREAT time. UMM..didn't get wasted though like you and yours because well, I don't drink! LOL But I stayed at a beautiful chateau there cause that's how I roll! LOL I did a little skiing...OK...tried it but decided that's not my thing. Well seeing that I hate the cold and OK..falling down hurts way too much on that snow! LOL I mean you'd think it'd be a soft landing but not so much! LOL So I left that to the pros and shopped and lounged A LOT!! What I am really good at! LOL

    I must say that I didn't run into Celine and was very glad of it! I just don't see the appeal there! But I'd love to have run into one of the hockey players though. Even though I'm from the south I do enjoy some knock down, drag out fights every once in a while! LOL HMM..maybe you and Coop can help me out with that and give us a little action to get into! What ya say Jack!? LOL


    February 19, 2009 at 10:51 am |
  41. Heather,ca

    Morning Jack

    You just had to say leather pants and bendy straw. I went the TJ mexico route myself. Never would have thought of Canada as a place to go but eh.

    February 19, 2009 at 10:47 am |
  42. Presley

    How very Oo La La and Tres Elegant you are Monsieur Jacque.
    A Dodge Stealth filled fire works and Rolling papers....
    C'est brilliante voyage.

    I have only been as far as Toronto, we road tripped to see DuranDuran and David Bowie, I met Bowie for a brief minute, it was awesomeness. That's my Canadia story.

    Vive La Jacque!
    I will now talk with my french accentery all day! J'taime fake accents!

    XXO ♥

    February 19, 2009 at 10:44 am |
  43. Mav

    Oh Jack, thanks for the laugh and a little walk down memory lane. I had a friend from Canada who lived with my family during highschool. I have to admit we found ways to get in a little trouble. From the "botanical garden" we decided to grow in my closet to a little trip to Montreal at age 17. In Montreal we thought we were so cool and I am sure they took me for a native as my friend had taken the time to teach me a total of two French phrases: ouvrez la porte and fermez la porte. More useful than you might first think until you take a drunken trip to le toilette! I

    February 19, 2009 at 10:25 am |
  44. KBear

    To Mary – how funny would it be if he looked 17 years old, with the same hair as today?

    February 19, 2009 at 10:01 am |
  45. KBear

    I adore you!!! You're wit & opinions are spot on! I love that you're interests are off the beaten path for the majority of the spolighted TV news journalists. Mostly, I love that you went to Canada in a suped up car with papers and a bunch of boomers in the back of your car! Just your average kid – eh?

    February 19, 2009 at 10:00 am |
  46. Meredith Shamburger

    Ahhh Sound of Music... I teared up when they lifted that car all the way up to that old lady's lawn and Sophia ended up with that hernia. Oh wait–that was on The Golden Girls.

    February 19, 2009 at 9:57 am |
  47. Mary

    Jack, can you post a picture of yourself at the tender age of 17? We know what you look like now and what you looked like as a tad of 7 years.

    February 19, 2009 at 9:54 am |
  48. spaceyg

    Lemme paste over my Tweet here: Hey Jack Gray. STOP the ghost Twittering for Anderson. I don't believe you ever wore leather. But AC might have! Once.

    February 19, 2009 at 9:54 am |
  49. Jennifer - Michigan

    Good morning Jack,
    I've never been to Montreal – love to check it out one day though.
    Both my parents met in Montreal before immigrating to the US. They both came from Paris, France. Funny, that they met up with their friend "Jack" (also from France) there. A bunch of crazy French people ...................... it's a long story.
    Anyway, I have a couple photo albums filled with pictures from Montreal in the early 60's when they were there. It was big and beautiful then too! It must be incredibly cool there now of course.
    Sounds like you had a lot of fun as a teenager hanging out and getting in trouble. That's so funny. Didn't we all go to Canada because of the drinking age? Memories......
    Have a great day today! Great post.

    February 19, 2009 at 9:34 am |
  50. Michelle D . Fonthill. Ont

    Hey Jack quite the advenenture you had going across the border eh?
    I woundn't have bought that excuse the renactment frommt he sound of music p;lease more like bill and ted excellent adventures !
    The Canadian ambiance has left you starry eyed wanting to by a vowel that's funny! please come back to Canada some time Jack the memories from your journey will go on and on ! –

    Michelle D.
    (#1 Celine Dion fan!

    February 19, 2009 at 9:23 am |
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