- 01. Minutes of the COCKUP
- 02. A Public Service
- 03. The 22% Solution
- 04. On The Campaign Trail
- 05. Athens of America
- 06. A Yankee’s Yankee
- 07. My Canadian Family
- 08. Edmonton? Why?
- 09. Prairie Singers
- 10. Deconstructing Calgary
- 11. My Kelowna
- 12. Wine Whine
- 13. Fire Mountain
- 14. A Stopover and a Popover
- 15. Inspiring Victoria
- 16. Planet Rosehip
- 17. Carry On Grunge
- 18. Street People
- 19. The Curse of Portland
- 20. Mean-Spirited, Powerful Justice
- 21. Amtrak’s Jewel
- 22. Managing Yosemite
- 23. Yumpin’ Yosemite
- 24. Parched
- 25. Brave New San Fran
- 26. Over The Hill
- 27. Greatest Again
The Canadian customs official was a pleasant but sturdy black woman in her early thirties. She seemed happy to see us, as the remote border crossing between Vermont and Quebec was otherwise quiet. She approached the passenger side of the car, motioning us to roll down the windows. “Passports, please. Purpose of visit?”
My sister-in-law handed over four US Passports. “Niece’s wedding in Kingston.”
“Are you bringing any gifts? Guns?”
Canadian customs pretty much assume every American has a gun and is unaware that Canada has laws about such things.
The customs officer looked sceptical. But we were on the level. Each of us had contributed cash to the newlyweds’ house fund, and I think I was the only one of us to have ever fired a gun, much less travelled with one.
“Beer, wine or liquor?”
She had us there. “Um, yes, half a case of wine, six bottles, in the back.”
She scrunched her brow, comparing each passport photo with the available faces. Then she disappeared into her toll booth sized office. A seemingly endless period of time lapsed during which our conversation turned increasingly paranoid. Did she suspect we weren’t really going to a wedding? Had we misunderstood the wine limit? Had my long-expunged youthful dalliance with marijuana come up again? Did one of us have an outstanding arrest warrant in Canada?
Ten minutes later, she re-appeared, cursing her computer. “They just get worse and worse, slower and slower. Is there any hope?”
My brother cracked “Let me put it this way: I taught computer technology for years – then I quit.”
She handed back our passports and waived us on with the parting words “We’re doomed.”
Welcome to Canada.
Some hours later we arrived in the driveway of my sister’s house in Kingston, Ontario. For someone with five house guests and who would be hosting a reception for sixty in thirty-six hours, sister Hal was remarkably calm. Her major concern was keeping us out of the way in the meantime.
Thus on a perfectly sunny Saturday morning Frank Lee and I struck out on a fifteen kilometre hike on the Rideau Trail. In its entirety, the Rideau Trail wanders 387 kilometres from Kingston to Ottawa. Our goal was to follow a largely urban chunk of it from central Kingston back to Hal’s house by way of Kingston’s beautiful Lake Ontario foreshore then along the Cataraqui Creek.
It did not disappoint. The shoreline was as gorgeous as ever, only this time it revealed a new line of electricity-producing wind turbines swirling on the horizon. These are increasingly controversial structures, the benefits of their “green” energy outweighed, in the opinion of some, by a visual blight upon the landscape. Personally, I’d prefer to gaze upon a thousand windmills before laying eyes on a single coal-fired power plant. In the interest of full disclosure I must confess to owning land on which such a wind turbine sits, and from which I receive royalties. But the thousand-to-one ratio I just cited isn’t far from the reality—it takes a tremendous number of windmills to create the power cranked out by a single coal-fired power plant. Which is to say, the opposition has got a point. The likely resolution to the debate, though, is that both technologies are doomed once improvements to electricity storage (batteries) “solves” the lack of night sunshine. Sez me.
The lakeshore jaunt meandered through the Olympic sailing basin which was abuzz with activity related to sailing, such as the folding of sails, the trailering of boats, and the consumption of large pitchers of beer. Further along we stopped in to use the facilities of the new Tett Centre for Creativity, Learning and Squandering of Tuition. It is a splendid place, grassy slopes with strikingly modern buildings. We plopped ourselves down to consume the picnic lunch in our backpacks.
The trail turned inland, following the Cataraqui Creek north through a conservation area crawling with wildlife: redwing blackbirds, blue jays, black squirrels, chipmunks, and golfers in their native habitat. The latter were in the height of mating season, the males superb in their plumage, tartan knickers and knit wear of colours not otherwise found in nature.
The Rideau Trail is generally well-marked, but at one point we lost the trail altogether. Confronted by a sprawling swamp full of towering reeds, I spied the parking lot of Kingston’s VIA Rail train station in the distance. Nearby sat a parked police vehicle containing one lonely constable. As I approached, he rolled down his window while tossing aside two or three communications devices, barking at them “Hold on a minute, I got a citizen here…”
“Sorry to bother you, but we seem to have lost the Rideau Trail. Do you know where it is?”
“No, sir, I do not, not from here. I would advise you, though, to stay out the triangle bounded by Portsmouth Ave, John Counter Boulevard, and Princess Street.” He made a broad sweeping gesture across the reedy swamp. These struck me as odd instructions. We had no intention of wading through a reedy swamp, so we thanked him, and turned to walk away.
“Really, sir, stay out of that area. We have dogs looking for a subject. You wouldn’t want the dogs to mistake you for our subject.”
Rarely have truer words been spoken. I reminded Frank that in the previous three hours we had walked past two maximum security penitentiaries and a major psychiatric hospital, not to mention the Royal War College, and several banks. Kingston had no shortage of psychopaths.
“Ah!” Frank replied to the cop, eyes now open wide, head nodding eagerly.
Walking out Princess Street we stumbled back upon the Rideau Trail near the Cataraqui Cemetery. I enjoy a good cemetery, and this is a good one. We found the grave of John MacDonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister, “Father of Confederation”. By all accounts, he was a modest man, some even called him dull. His gravesite is a simple family plot amongst many others, his remains marked by a simple stone cross.
MacDonald’s grave provides an interesting contrast to that of George Washington. George, arguably the most fore in a forest of American forefathers, was also a modest man with modest intentions for his burial. His will decreed he be interned at Mount Vernon despite Congress having other ideas, at least twice passing resolutions and funding to see him entombed in the US Capitol. George’s will won out, but that didn’t stop them from erecting an rather elaborate tomb at Mount Vernon after a failed attempt to steal his remains.
While America adulates its heroes, Canada respects theirs. Sometimes it seems elected officials in the respective countries feel the same way about their constituencies. One could spend a lifetime comparing the USA and Canada. Canadians are more aware of the differences, and quicker to embrace them.
Later in the day I had a conversation with my brother-in-law’s niece, an enthusiastically amicable young Canadian woman with a doctorate in sacred music. Having worked with a church in Indiana in recent years, she opined that, after much consideration, the differences were summed up best by the juxtaposition of the individualistic values inherent in “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (from the Declaration of Independence) with the communal values reflected by “peace, order and good government” (from the Canadian Constitution Act 1867). Huh.
The Sunday reception went about as well as one can that involves family. Wedding receptions are especially volatile events involving the creation of a family by high-speed collision, giving a whole new meaning to “nuclear family”. It is a continuing puzzlement to me that politicians invest so much in “working families” when there are so few of them that actually work. Furthermore, family is perhaps the biggest single impediment to gainful employment.
My fifth campaign pledge: The Smiling Kodiak administration will support dysfunctional families, the economic backbone of America.
In this case, everybody played nice. Admittedly, I became a bit more animated than permitted by Canadian etiquette, which is reserved only in comparison to American etiquette. I removed myself to prevent the promulgation of an international scandal. Nevertheless, it was a wonderful event, with both the American and Canadian wings of my family at their best (pardon the family photo album):
Certain fashion statements were worthy of note:
Tuesday morning at 6:30 we said our good-byes, boarding the Megabus from Kingston to Toronto’s Pearson International Airport for a flight to Edmonton, Alberta. The Megabus shuttle was prompt, if tediously slow. At about half-full, the bus itself was reasonably comfortable. On rougher patches of road its faulty suspension would send my ribs painfully into the seat arm, and the window frames would rattle so hard the rain would leak in. The driver mocked and teased each passenger that did not know from which terminal their airline departed. This was intended to be a good-natured ribbing, but I’d had enough ribbing of any sort. I considered that this service would improve significantly if subject to some direct competition.
The gent beside me on the WestJet flight complained to those on either side of him, and then to the flight attendant, about being seated in front of two wailing infants on “such a long flight”. I asked him how long this flight was, to which he answered three-and-a-half hours.
“Three-and-a-half hours? I’m from Australia. Anything under double-digits is a puddle-jump.”
That shut him up. Oddly enough, it shut up the infants, too, who were well-behaved for the duration of the flight. Whew.