Ben, Minnie, and Ben’s Guardian Angel

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Thousand Islands Bridge

Gananoque, Ontario (2015)—It was my last day in Canada before returning to the United States. Driving south on the Queen Elizabeth Way, past the flat farmlands along the Saint Lawrence Seaway, I was approaching Gananoque, a small and vibrant tourist community just south of the Thousand Islands Bridge, which leads to the States. I was anxious to get to my destination, the Colonial Inn on King Street, check in, have some dinner and relax for the evening.

The Inn is on a spacious tract of land with several wings of rooms and sitting areas, a gazebo and walking trails. I parked my car by the office and went inside. There, a couple was asking the desk clerk for information about the nearest hospital. It turned out, Gananoque had no hospital and the nearest facility was in Kingston, about 20 miles away. The couple was on a bus tour and would need to take a cab there and back. They seemed concerned about the cost. Having nothing planned, I offered to take them there. It was no big deal and I knew the road there.

Off we went. We introduced ourselves and it turned out we were all from New Jersey and had lived in neighboring areas, East Orange and South Orange. What a small world! I had a chance to tell them what I was doing in Canada and about my involvement in the LGBT community. I was in Gananaque, selling advertising, as part of our Toronto, Thousand Islands and Southern Ontario FunMap. FunMaps was a business I had created and owned, which published maps and guides with LGBTQ-specific information serving our community across the US and Canada

They were fascinated by what I did and, by the time we got to Kingston, we were already fast friends. Conversation came easy for all of us and it ranged across many subjects.

Ben was the one who needed help. While playing cards, he had been stung by a bee. His hand was swollen and hurting. I accompanied them into the hospital and, since we were in Canada, Ben’s Medicare card wasn’t accepted. It was going to cost about $800 for him to be treated. The attendant suggested we go to a hospital in the U.S. I mentioned one I knew in Watertown about 50 miles away and I offered to take them. Off we went again.

While still in Canada, about 10 minutes from the US Border, I called the Hospital in Watertown to get information and directions. I was advised that there was actually a hospital in Alexandria Bay, just minutes across the St. Lawrence River, close to the border.

The border crossing was humorous. The Customs Agent asked how we knew each other and why and where we were going. A simple explanation ensued: Ben had an emergency; I offered to help, the Canadian Hospital in Kingston wouldn’t take Medicare; so we came to the hospital in Alexandria Bay. It all made sense, so caused U.S. Customs agent returned our passports promptly and sent us on our way with “Welcome to the United States and Good Luck.”

Off we went to Alexandria Bay and the Hospital. What a beautiful facility, located right along the St. Lawrence River! Ben gave me money for gas and he and Minnie went into the Emergency Room. When I returned from filling the gas tank, Ben and Minnie were all smiles. Ben had been treated, Medicare had been accepted, and he was already feeling better.

We approached the Canadian Border. When the same questions were asked by the Canadian Customs Officer, I offered simple and similar explanations of who, what, where, and why, and we were “Welcomed back to Canada.”

Ben slipped five twenty-dollar bills into my hand and insisted I take them. With some reluctance on my part, countered by his steadfast insistence, I said “thanks.” We got back to the Colonial Inn safely and bid each other good night.

The next morning, I woke up and went to the hotel office center and breakfast rooms. Ben greeted me at the office and asked me to follow him into the private dining area, reserved for the tour group. Upon entering the dining room, Ben immediately asked, in a loud voice, for the group to be quiet. They began to spontaneously applaud. Obviously, Ben’s story had gotten out. I noticed several Toronto FunMaps® on the breakfast tables. Obviously, Ben and Minnie felt comfortable giving them out.

Ben then introduced me to the group, calling me his “guardian angel.” He thanked me over and over again and said he would never forget me.

As the years have passed, we’ve kept in touch and we’re all alive and well. I’m glad that, with a modest effort, I was able to make the world a slightly better place and know that I have strong allies if I ever need their assistance.