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How to Be Santa and Win Over the Canadian Government

Romantic comedies are always in full swing around the holidays. I’m not usually one to watch the Hallmark Channel, but when you’ve been quarantining for 13 straight days, you start to run out of options… and tissues. So, I did what any reasonable 30-something, well, female might do: make some popcorn and settle in. Time flies, and three identical Hallmark movies later, it dawns on me:

My life is a Hallmark Movie.

Hear me out:

Custom Santa movie poster via canva.com

It’s 2019. As the opening credits begin, I’m sitting in a train station in Hamilton, Ontario. It’s 90 degrees out and I’m sitting next to a man who isn’t wearing any shoes. Music is playing over the loud speaker, because every holiday movie has a great soundtrack. In the corner of my eye I see doors open and it’s her, the woman I’ve been talking to online. Julie’s real and even more beautiful in person. Even though the date lasts 36 hours, they only show clips of the various bars and restaurants we visit… classic montage sequence. We even get caught in the rain – the most Hallmarkian of clichés – and rush to find a quaint, perfectly romantic restaurant to avoid getting wet. We order drinks and a poutine to share. Of course, there was the romantic spark. There’s always a romantic spark.

Fast forward to a month later. We have seen each other every weekend since we met and although we both have busy schedules, we’re making it work. The big catch is that not only do we live in different cities, we also live in different countries: I’m in the U.S., and she lives in Canada. Cut to commercial.

I’m a hopeless romantic; I’ve gone on probably 40 first dates and nothing seems to pan out. After each date I reach out to my classic RomCom Phone-a-Friend who lives hundreds of miles away. She’s my otherwise uninvolved, token voice of reason. I tell her I’m in a serious relationship, but how will it work if I live in America and she lives in Canada? The friend on the phone, who is female of course, encourages me to just to make the best of it and see what happens. “What’s the worst that could happen?” she asks with so much optimism. But we all know that we’re only 15 minutes into the movie, so something is bound to happen.

Fast forward to the holiday season in 2019. I head up to Toronto to spend New Year’s Eve with Julie and her friends. Counting down the seconds to the New Year (even though technically the bar we were at didn’t have any TVs), we kiss at midnight. 2020, a new year and a new me. What’s the worst that could happen? Cut to commercial.

After the break, we pan across Julie and me, spending the weekend at an Airbnb in St. Catherines, Ontario. We’re beginning to get serious and we’re starting to spend time in cities that we may be interested in moving to, together. We want it to be somewhat between Toronto and Buffalo, so that we both can still work our respective jobs. We had a great weekend and I even got to see a hockey game. Everything’s perfect. Until….

I’m back in Buffalo. It’s March 2020.  I turn on the TV and flip through the channels, but everyone is talking about the same thing:  a worldwide pandemic. I call Julie and ask if she’s seeing this. “Are you still going to come to visit this weekend?” I ask. Unsure, she’s scared they may close the borders. As I look back at the TV, “Canadian/US Border Closed” rolls across the bottom of the screen. Fade to commercial as I look directly in the screen holding the phone to my ear.

Facetime blues

Now we reach the Grand Dilemma, where everything we were so certain of becomes a question. I call Julie on FaceTime, but I struggle to look her in the eyes because I’m not sure when I’ll see her again. As we lay facing each other’s phones, I whisper, “we made it this far” as a cover of “How Will I Know” by Sam Smith starts playing. Every Romantic Comedy must have a cover of a classic.

Summer melts into fall, and the fall chill starts to settle in. It’s been months since we’ve seen each other face to face. I’m looking out the window as the leaves slowly descend from the trees. I’m not much of a deep thinker, but there’s always a scene where the main character is in deep thought. The song “The Bones” by Marren Morris starts playing as it shows a compilation of scenes where Julie and I are talking to one another via FaceTime. Her in Toronto walking from work, me in the Elmwood Village sitting on the steps in my friend’s gift shop. Her cat sitting on her lap, me venting to my long-distance Voice of Reason token friend for advice. We are shown as happy, but still not together. Fade to commercial.

Scene starts by showing my clock at 10:00AM. Text notifications begin to go off on my phone. I sit up in bed and notice various messages from friends that include a link. The Canadian government is now allowing Americans who have been in a relationship with a Canadian longer than a year to apply for a special travel visa for compassionate reasons… the Big Opportunity! I immediately call Julie and we celebrate the news. I print out the form and mail it to her with my information; two weeks later she receives the form, gets it notarized, and mails it back to me. I submit the form via email and then we wait. This whole process took about five weeks, but for movie purposes we’ll keep it to 90 seconds.

As the Romantic Lead in this film, I need a charitable, heartwarming role and I fill this role as the resident Elmwood Village Santa. I’m walking around Buffalo, waving at children through windows and giving my best, socially-distant HO HO HO’s when I get an email on my phone from the Canadian government: I’ve been approved to travel to Canada. Santa himself is approved to travel to Canada to see his Mrs. Claus… I can’t make this stuff up.

I decide I’m going to wait till the Monday after Thanksgiving to go, since my Dad is going to spend Thanksgiving with me. I also have prior commitments to be Santa on Elmwood for Small Business Saturday. While wandering through the shops, Dad offers me some sound, if not jovial and slightly awkward, love advice. We don’t often have moments like this, which must mean something. In the distance, I can almost hear thousands of movie viewers cracking open bottles of wine and tearing up with their friends.

Monday comes, and my car is packed. I’m the only car at the border. In RomComs they love people with accents, so they make me stop to film at the border. A woman with a quintessential Canadian accent reads through my documents and starts asking me countless questions, eh. Those viewers chime in again, “just let him go already!”

Once through the border, the opening riff to “Born to Run” starts playing. Because of course.  It’s a 90-minute drive, but “Born to Run” is two minutes till it gets to the sax solo. By the time the solo ends, I arrive on Julie’s street looking out my car window to her house.  Cut to commercial. Oh, the suspense.

We still have 20 minutes to go in the movie, so this can’t be it. You’re right. The Canadian government mandates an isolated 14-day quarantine, so Julie isn’t even there when I arrive. She’s staying with her aunt for two weeks, and I’m staying at her place with Bronx, her cat. I’ve never had a cat, and I’m almost certain he doesn’t like me.

Two weeks of quarantine would lose the viewers interest, so again we get a montage. I start by wrapping Julie’s Christmas gifts, then clips of me reading and watching football fade into one another. Feeding the cat, then cut to the cat curling up on the couch next to me as I sit watching the CBC. I don’t wear robes, but instead of showing me wearing the same sweatpants for two weeks, we’ll show some outfit changes. We’ll even throw in a button-down shirt. We need some product placement, so we’ll show the continuous orders from Skip the Dishes.

And here we are, Day 13 of my lonely Toronto quarantine. I’m only watching the Hallmark Channel because Danica McKellar is in the movie. Who doesn’t love Winnie Cooper? It’s almost midnight. Slowly I fall asleep on the couch. I’m awakened to hearing someone unlocking the apartment door then walking up the steps. Bronx jumps off the couch near my feet. I see a silhouette of a woman, but it’s blurry. I remove the morning dew from my eyes. It’s her. Fade to black, roll credits to Al Green’s “Tired of Being Alone.”

Written by A Ellis Cairns

A Ellis Cairns

A Ellis Cairns has been living in Buffalo since 2006. Hailing from Pittsburgh, A also lived in Maryland and New Jersey. Graduating from Duquesne University with a BA in Communications, he got an internship with Live Nation the summer before his senior year. Upon graduating, A accepted a full-time position with Live Nation at the Darien Lake Amphitheater. Working in the music industry for over 15 years, A has seen and worked with a variety of artists and performers. In his spare time, A is a concert photographer and board member for the Elmwood Village Association.

View All Articles by A Ellis Cairns
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