To understand what happened on that bus at 8pm outside a cheap hotel in Toronto you first have to understand Wilson. Wilson was the guide on our bilingual English-Chinese 3-day-tour of Niagara Falls and Toronto from New York City.
Wilson wore dark pants and a wool sweater under a camo jacket. He was, I’d guess, late 20s, energetic, friendly, but not very funny. That’s not to say that he didn’t tell jokes; in fact he did, they just fell flat.
On the first day he entertained us on the long journey from New York City up to the Canadian border with somber stories of 9/11 and the meaning of the newly-added “Liberty” to Newark International Liberty Airport. Then he cheered us up by testing us on the Great Lakes and the boroughs and bridges of NYC, leaping from Chinese to English every few sentences. As he was telling us the ground rules for the weekend – don’t bring open drink containers into the bus, etc. – he threatened that anyone who was late back to the bus from any activity would have to sing for everyone. Reading this, one would assume it was a joke, but he said it so deadpan that the bus fell silent, followed by a few nervous chuckles. Later, on the journey back, he threatened the same thing of the people who had been late back but now we knew Wilson, we knew his little jokes. We laughed uproariously.
That brings us back to 8pm, Toronto hotel. We’d known Wilson for two days now, we had a sense of him. We could identify a joke with 85% accuracy.
We had just come from Chinatown where we’d eaten dinner early. It had been a long day, starting in Niagara Falls and doing activities there, then coming to Toronto and visiting the CN Tower and the Toronto Islands, so we were all naturally exhausted. We appreciated the early night. Time to get into jammies and cycle through every cable TV channel.
We pulled into the hotel parking lot and the bus pulled to a stop. As people got up to start retrieving backpacks and jackets, Wilson took up his mic and told everyone to sit down because there was something he needed to tell us. He waited for everyone to settle. “You don’t want to hear this, but I have to tell you,” he started, and we waited for a punchline. “Please set your alarms for 4am.”
All hell broke loose. A few people laughed. Most people gasped, then were quizzical. This was one of his jokes right? This was supposed to be vacation.
“4am,” he repeated. “I’ll make sure you all have a wake up call too. Please don’t be late or we’ll have to leave you behind.” That was the joke, that he’d leave people behind. Was it a joke though? We had no idea anymore. Our worlds were turned upside down. And if leaving people behind was the joke, then the waking up at 4am was serious.
Everyone got off the bus, chatter and complaints filling the air, with a few of the party confronting Wilson, demanding to know why they hadn’t been told about this before the tour began because there’s no way they would ever, EVER, have taken this trip knowing they’d have to wake up so early. A little OTT if you ask me. It was like Wilson had stood up and told people that they’d have to walk back to New York unless they were okay with having three escaped convicts on board.
Also, it’s worth pointing out that Wilson said we were leaving at 5am, but he was going to send us a wake up call at 4am. An hour? It doesn’t take most people an hour to get ready. Some people can do it in 5 minutes, some may take 20, some may spend a while putting on makeup and deciding what to wear and take 30 minutes. But only the people who for some reason find it necessary on vacation to get their daily yoga exercise in should need an hour to make the 20 foot journey from bed to bathroom to bus. The rest of us would be perfectly okay to set our own alarms and wake up as and when we see fit.
Anyway, things were what they were. We woke up cursing Wilson at 4am because we had to cross the room to answer the wake up call, then we got ready by 4:20am, then spent 40 minutes twiddling our thumbs. But by 10am, after we’d all napped more on the bus, we began enjoying his jokes again. And now hopefully you understand him too. Oh Wilson. We’ll miss you.