“Here, taste these and tell me if there’s anything wrong with them,” the man said.
He leaned out of his food truck to hand me a pile of fries. A couple had just returned their order complaining of something being off, but they spoke in French so I had no idea what they were saying other than the look on their faces. I ate a few fries, still hot in oil, and shrugged.
“Taste fine to me,” I said.
The man tried a few.
“Maybe a bit of an aftertaste,” he said.
“Yea,” I said. “A little vinegary almost.”
The man frowned.
“The potatoes must be a little off,” he said. “I got a guy bringing me some more in a few hours.”
I shrugged and continued eating the sample fries.
“It’s not that bad,” I said.
“You still want this poutine?” he asked. “I could make you a hot dog or something instead.”
The wind-pushed Ottawa rushed a hundred yards away with three-foot waves. It was everything I feared when I looked at the map for the last month and thought of the current, the prevailing wind, the water pushing against each stroke, bleeding speed, yanking me backwards. After five hours of fighting, I felt exhausted. Then I saw the food truck parked next to a beach.
“If you say no, I will kill you,” Wally said, somewhere deep inside me.
“What about the off potatoes?” I said. “What if they kill me?”
“Do you want to take your chances with the potatoes or with me?” Wally said.
I looked at the man and nodded.
“Yea,” I said. “I’ll take it.”
The man shrugged, closed his window, turned, lifted a giant bag of cheese curds, spooned out a ladle of gravy, slid his window open again, and handed me a large bowl of poutine.
I tried to pay him, but he waved me off.
“On the house,” he said.
I sat down next to the river and watched it rage past, feeling giddy, holding my bowl of poutine and wondering how universal healthcare survives in a country where French fries, cheese curds, and gravy are a national dish.
It disappeared fast. The crisp top fries gave way to their gravy soaked counterparts below and then the inevitable, sad scraping of fork against styrofoam.
I sighed, stared down at the empty bowl, and pushed back into the water, ready to fight the Ottawa again.