I was back in Canada this summer driving from Toronto to Ottawa with my dog, Rumble. I stopped at one of the ONRoute rest stops/best stops, service centre extravaganzas. (Must pause to admire the double-intendre of ONRoute. Nice job Ontario.gov) You can get all of your travel needs met in one place. I filled up with gas, went through the drive-through for an all-Canadian Tim Horton’s deli sandwich, and ate outside at a picnic table with Rumble. I managed to do everything I needed to do without having to go inside, leave my dog in the car, or take him into the service centre. I just had one problem. I had to pee. I saw the sign on the door with the X through the dog. I went over the to gas station kiosk to see if there was an outdoor entrance to a bathroom. No luck. The guy told me to go into the main service centre. I weighed my options. Leave dog in the hot car. No. Pee on the side of the 401. No. (Works if you have a penis or possibly a female urination funnel, but I had neither.) Tie up dog outside rest stop along highway. Not happening.
OK Rumble, we are going in. I tried to sneak into the bathroom for a quick pee. As soon as I entered, no less than three uniformed ONRoute employees came running towards me, saying that I could not bring my dog in here. One of them was yelling. I tried to explain. I’m by myself, do not have penis, just need to pee, will only take two minutes, too hot to leave dog in car. But they would not be convinced. The rules say no dogs, and Canadians follow rules. It was a dilemma. My friend who is a physician had offered to write me a letter saying that I needed Rumble as a “therapy dog” to make my travels with a dog this summer a bit easier. There were a few moments when I wished I had taken him up on this offer. Those moments were: the moment that I had to fly Rumble cargo, and I saw how terrified he was as they wheeled him away from me at the airport; the time that he barked all night in the hotel room in Calgary when I went out for dinner with friends; and this moment right now, when I needed to pee at a rest stop along the 401. If I had a real or faux Therapy Dog vest, I wouldn’t have to deal with this crap, and I’d be peeing right now, but I couldn’t do it. It wouldn’t be fair to the real service dogs and their real people. Anyway, what kind of a world would it be if we had a bunch of really nice, well-socialized dogs everywhere, and women who felt safe travelling, who could pee when they needed to, and walk to their cars alone without being afraid? Who would want to live in a world like that?
It could be argued that, at this point, I actually do have a medical need to bring my dog into this service station with me because I am at risk for bladder atony or rupture or peeing my pants in public. A small crowd is starting to form around us as I plead my case to the ONRoute Law enforcement agency. I’m careful with the volume and number of words I say to the ONRoute officials. Not because I am scared of confrontation, but because I am afraid that the resulting increase in intraabdominal pressure will disturb the equilibrium that is my tenuous bladder. My frustration and bladder volume are both starting to max out, to the point that I fear I can not contain either of them. The peanut gallery starts chiming in. “Just let her pee!” “She really needs to pee.” “It will only take her a minute.” “Just let her take the dog in with her!” This is ridiculous. The leader of the ONRoute crew tells me sternly that I have to tie my dog up outside. My mind flashes to Rumble panicking, getting free somehow and running into an oncoming semi on the 401 and then to scenario #2, which is someone putting him into their car and driving away. I tell Constable Fast Food that I can’t tie up my dog beside a highway or leave him in the car and I try to throw down my veterinary credentials as proof that I am right about this. Then he grabs for the leash and says he will hold the dog. I consider this briefly but decide that leaving my heeler/shepherd cross with an angry man who just ran towards me yelling is also ill-advised. Someone from my crowd of supporters offers to hold him for me. I am actually not keen on leaving him with anyone, truth be told, but I weigh trusting a kind stranger against pissing in the parking lot of the ONRoute and hand her the leash. I run to the bathroom and pee as fast as possible. The relief is indescribable. It’s beyond words. I run out, grab Rumble and head out of the building.
I am a staunch Canadian. I’m the smug Canuck who lives in the States, but constantly goes on about how much better Canada is than America. (So why don’t I just go back there if I love it so much? It’s complicated.) This is the first time that I have ever felt homesick for Florida. I am homesick because of seven ninety-three. That is the minimum wage in Florida. Seven ninety-three an hour does not procure an employee that will go out of their way to learn, let alone enforce rules. When you pay people seven ninety-three an hour, they do not give a shit about whether or not you take your dog into a rest stop for two minutes to pee. It is doubtful that someone making seven ninety-three would even look up from their smart phone long enough to notice that you had a dog with you. I regularly take Rumble into stores in Florida. Sometimes I will ask before I go in if they are dog-friendly, which generally receives the same shrug that means, don’t know/don’t care. I take this as tacit approval to enter. For seven ninety-three, I walk into movie theatres, openly drinking my Starbucks while making direct eye contact with the person taking my ticket, daring them to tell me I can’t have outside food or drinks in the theatre. They never do. They don’t care. You can not cultivate this level of apathy with a living wage.
In Ontario, minimum wage is $10.25 an hour. The extra $2.32/hour adds some value. Although I am not thrilled with my particular situation at ONRoute, and I think it is a serious injustice to women (with dogs who need to pee when they travel solo in the summer months) these employees are taking their jobs seriously. There is something about a living wage that makes people care. The difference between Canada and the States is palpable. And, despite the noise that is made in America about not being able to afford to increase the minimum wage, I would argue that you can’t afford not to. I sincerely hope that they raise the minimum wage in Florida, but, until then, I will exploit the indifference and enjoy the sunny side of seven ninety-three.