2003 Mercedes-Benz G500

George Saitas

Eventually, a French-accented voice in the doorway called, "It's seven o'clock. Hot chocolat at the bar." I poked my head out into the cold. Wan daylight penetrated the chamber, and I beheld the gigantic carving in the wall to my right: a relief representation of Lucifer himself, pellucid as all get-out and grinning sickeningly, his wingspan measuring a full fifteen feet. This image, I was told, was reproduced from the label of another of the microbrewer's products. If they kept this up, they were sure to remain micro.

But even if it is to flee the archfiend, getting out of bed in the freezing cold is like jumping off an eight-foot ledge. You know it won't hurt you, but some thought is necessary. And some more thought. I lay there for twenty minutes before shooting out and dressing in my down-filled and Thinsulate-lined outerwear, putting on my glasses, which had remained dust-free, and searching for the heated toilet trailer adjoining a passageway.

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After this, the rest of the day galloped by. A plus for the Station cotouristique Duchesnay is that concessions and guides are on the premises. Finishing our interviews and photos, the bunch of us had an exhilarating tour on what the French Canadians formally call motoneiges, or snowmobiles. I also had arranged to go dogsledding and did so just after night settled and the waxing crescent moon assumed command of the sky.

As thrilling as all this activity was, so that one more upcoming night in the Ice Hotel meant nothing, the G500 remained in mind, like a secret life. Here was this amazing privilege, this handcrafted object. Around it, inside it, people came unhinged. Passing us on Qubec's bobble-head highways, they waved and slobbered, while the rigid axles underneath the vehicle worked to tamp down the high spots, and we went thrumming along. The old-world precision was always evident. Pulling an inside door latch was like deploying a cadre of tin soldiers who executed our orders between the panels; enemy tin soldiers probably were being bayoneted in there. Often, when operating some control requiring unusual firmness, I thought of the workers in Graz, Austria, who manufactured this beast. I could imagine going home with them to dinner. That tactility spoke so strongly, but other features were unobtrusive. For instance, when the transmission changed gears, this seemed to have been accomplished through a successful resolution at the United Nations.

This is not to call the G500 perfect. Braking response was exceptionally deliberate, and I sometimes hoped the computer would intervene and force down the pedal. When I wanted to adjust the automatic climate controls, I had to wear my reading glasses to see the buttons. As for the instrument panel, it looked like something handed out to immigrants by the ship's purser just before arriving in port. And speaking of glaring deficiencies, the flat side windows so vividly reflected passing nighttime traffic that the eighteen-wheeler to the right appeared as a doppelgnger to the left.

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At Pub Jacques Cartier, not far from the Ice Hotel, our captivatingly dcollet waitress had brought out complimentary shots of Goldschlger. After downing his, Brennan said, "It's like having a sweater inside." It struck me as the apt simile for the entire experience.

Pulling up at the border between Windsor and Detroit, we were asked to explain our activities in Canada. If only I had thought to respond truthfully. I should have told the customs agent that in every aspect, Qubec and the G500 had pushed us out to the precipice of reality.

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