Montreal, Part Un: A rocky start

083107 Montreal (3) Chris found the place on Craig's List. We're savvy travelers, not lodging rubes. It sounded lovely: an apartment in a trendy neighborhood of Montreal, owned and decorated by an interior designer, filled with antiques, cozy, close to shops, and with a clawfoot tub. And, of course, wireless internet. Chris, as you may know, cannot work without reliable internet access. (He may not, in fact, be able to breathe without it, although it's a theory we've never tested.) There were photos; nice pictures. It all sounded so much better than an impersonal Price-Line'd hotel.

You know where this tale is going. You know that when we arrived, the neighborhood didn't seem particularly lively and was considerably further from shopping than we'd anticipated. The place didn't exactly ooze charm from the outside but, still, we'd been up since six, we were thrilled to have arrived in Montreal. And then we went inside.

You know how there are times when you should just trust your first instinct...but then you get worried that maybe you're being too fussy, too judgmental. An ingrate. An...American. We looked around. The antiques mentioned turned out to be a mish mosh of mid-century furniture in passable condition. The kitchen was...fine. The towels were a mismatched pile. The living room was dingy, with a couch that couldn't remember when it saw better days.

The area as being perfect for doing business was an old desk with a ripped leather desk chair. However, the wireless internet signal was weak, so the owner suggested we sit on the bed in the front bedroom with the laptop by the window in order to use our computers.

I can't explain it. We were trying to be optimistic. Trying to be grateful. Trying to make the best... The owner was odd and hovering, so we felt his expectations and didn't have a chance to discuss it. So we handed over the balance of the money we owed -- in cash -- and decided to stay.

For about five minutes.

Then we changed our minds. It was all just too odd, too weird. Neither of us could get a decent internet connection. I had hoped for somewhere simple but maybe bright and sunny where I could read and write while Chris was dashing around investigating...whatever he investigates. I couldn't even sit on the couch here without worrying about its previous occupants. There were orphaned hairs in the bathtub.

So we went upstairs and told the owner that we weren't going to stay. It wasn't what we expected, it wasn't what was advertised. He was welcome to keep the deposit -- that seemed fair -- but we wanted the bulk of our money back. No dice. He wasn't having it. We were putting him in a position, leaving him hanging. He seemed not to agree with my argument that this was the cost of doing business for him, the risk he takes on -- no different than my risk as a freelancer when a client decides not to use the work I've done.

It got ugly. Not fisticuffs ugly, but verrrrry uncomfortable ugly. He'd give us our money IF he could find someone to stay there instead of us.

Uh, no. We were the consumers. We were unhappy and we wanted our money back.

He couldn't give it to us. It wasn't fair. Besides, he'd have to talk to his wife first.

Fine, we'd wait while he called her.

He couldn't call her at work. She wasn't reachable by phone. We were being unreasonable and refusing to work with him -- he had a wireless range booster he could offer us.

The lack of reliable internet access was only one problem. He could have the deposit, but we had the right to our money back.

Why should we get our money back? That wasn't fair to him. He would lose money on our booking.

It's our right. As consumers. (Perhaps we were making it up at this point, but it SOUNDED reasonable to us.) Unless he had a cancellation policy that stated otherwise, he was welcome only to our deposit. But he had absolutely nothing in writing; a cash-only operation with no paperwork.

Could we show him paperwork that stated we DID have the right to our money back?

And then I said it. I thought about it first and decided if I was going to say it, I'd better mean it. I'd better be willing to follow through. I was. I said: "If you don't give us our money back immediately, my next call will be to the police and we'll let them settle the matter."

He disappeared for a moment behind the open door. I heard him mumbling quietly to someone. His dog? His wife? He was gone for a few long minutes. I worried that he was loading his gun and would return to shoot us and THEN would it have been worth it, Miss Smarty Pants? Then I remembered we were in Canada. There are no guns. He was probably just off getting some socialized medicine or thinking in French.

He returned. We got our money back. We went off in search of a wi-fi cafe and a Priceline hotel. Montreal, you are kicking my ass so far. I hope we get along better tomorrow.