Bobby works in a ski and bike shop. For a good many years, he has been running a ski trip to Quebec City in February. His old college buddy Charlie runs a community center in a town in another part of the state, and he also runs a ski trip to Quebec City. I guess they went at the same time a few times, but for some years now, they've been going on consecutive weeks, and I've driven the bus for both of them. I've been telling them for a while now that when I retired, I was going to ride the bus up with one of them, stay the week, and ride back with the other. This is the year...except that, for various reasons, Charlie isn't going. So I'm driving up in my car, a few days ahead of Bobby. I've booked an Airbnb in Limoilou, a formerly working-class neighborhood that I wouldn't call trendy just yet, but is coming up. I've invited Ron to join me--he's scheduled to fly in from Seattle on Thursday.
Friday 21 February 2020--First stop Montréal. I spend the evening in Hurley's Irish Pub, where my old friend Pat is playing.
Saturday 22 February 2020--Drive to Quebec City and meet Marc--I'm staying at his place tonight. We have dinner at the brewpub Emporium, then find the taproom of Brasseurs Sur Demande, in a small industrial building in Maizerets, the neighborhood east of Limoilou.
Sunday 23 February 2020--Check into my Airbnb; get dinner at La Souche, a brewpub a block and a half away; and have a few pints at Brasseurs Sur Demande, which is just a few blocks beyond that.
Monday 24 February 2020--Lazy day--I don't stray far from my apartment. There's a grocery store two blocks south on 4e Ave, and a dépanneur (convenience store) five blocks north that has dedicated itself to Québec craft beer. They claim to have more than 600 choices [2000 in 2024!]. 3e Ave is the main drag, with restaurants and shops, including a brûlerie where I pick up some ground coffee.
Tuesday 25 February 2020--I go for a long meandering walk, ending up in the Saint-Sauveur neighborhood (commonly called St-So). From there, I commence a lengthy pub crawl: Griendel, Taverne Joseph-Dion, Noctem, La Barberie, and La Souche.
Wednesday 26 February 2020--Another relaxed day. In the evening, I go up to Vieux-Québec to catch a jazz trio at Bar Ste-Angèle.
Thursday 27 February 2020--Snow! And lots of it. Ron is supposed to arrive today from Seattle, but he's stranded in Newark. I stay close to home for most of the day, but late in the evening head up to Vieux-Québec to meet Bobby's bus, which arrives after midnight. Gilberto, my replacement at the wheel, is happy to see me. I show him where to park and help him get a taxi back to the hotel.
Friday 28 February 2020--I drive out to Mont Sainte-Anne midday to have lunch with Bobby and Gilberto. On the way back, I stop for a pint at Microbrasserie des Beaux Prés, which I've driven by many times in the bus. In the afternoon, I meet the group at the hotel, returning from the mountain, and show Gilberto where to get the bus serviced and washed. Then it's up to the Ste-Angèle for the happy hour Robert, the owner, is kind enough to host for Bobby's crew. Marc started that when he was managing the bar, years ago.
Québec bars call happy hour le 5 à 7 (cinq à sept), I think because l'heure heureux sounds like someone clearing his throat.
Ron arrives on the train from Montréal at 9:00, 33 hours late. Despite his tribulations, he is, typically, in good cheer. We have a pint at La Barberie, which is close to the train station, and a nightcap at Brasseurs Sur Demande.
Saturday 29 February 2020--Ron and I hang out in Limoilou today while the skiers go off to Le Massif. In the evening, he and Bobby and Marc and I have dinner at La Souche.
Sunday 1 March 2020--Bobby used to take his group skiing for a third day on Sunday. One year, the Sunday was warm and rainy, and he canceled skiing, opting instead for a few pints of Guinness at the Pub St-Patrick. It only took him a couple years after that to realize that that was a pretty good plan generally. Ron and I meet him and some of his crew at St Pat's for an early pint.
The bus departs shortly after noon, and Ron and I bop around town. We have dinner at Le Projet, a beer bar outside Vieux-Québec on Rue St-Jean, before returning to Limoilou for the evening.
Monday 2 March 2020--I drop Ron at the airport this morning and head for home. I don't know if the 60 hours or so he had here was worth the 50 hours of travel it took to get him here and back...I didn't ask. We all have different ideas about such things. I know he was impressed enough with Quebec City that he's mulling over various ideas for returning. Probably not in winter.
Covid-19 was already making the world nervous as I enjoyed my week in Limoilou. I attended a concert a few days after I got back, and a couple days after that, everything shut down. It would be a year and three quarters before I went anywhere farther from home than the grocery store. Not the retirement I had envisioned...it felt like lousy luck that I couldn't travel, just when I was free to do what I wanted. But honestly, I know how fortunate I am that I was retired when it all went down. I never suffered the hardship that so many of my fellow bus drivers must have. And I didn't die. Above all, I am grateful that me dear old mum didn't spend her last days in a nursing home during lockdown. If there had to be a pandemic, I can't really complain about the timing. To better days ahead.
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