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.” Continue reading 07. My Canadian Family
The campaign trail headed north from Boston aboard Amtrak’s Downeaster, bound for Portland Maine. I like train travel, even on Amtrak. An Amtrak cabin attendant once told me that American rail employees refer to train buffs as “foamers”, as in foaming at the mouth. Australians are a bit more subtle about it, inventing, as they do, their own word for train fans, “gunzels”. This is as one might expect: where Australians enthuse, Americans fanaticise.
Would be that there were a few more Americans fanatical about Amtrak. Continue reading 06. A Yankee’s Yankee
Ah, Boston, my home town, amongst others. When William Tudor called it “The Athens of America” in 1819 he did not mean it as a reference to the city’s rich history of corrupt government spending. Nor did he mean to imply that Boston would be a risky candidate for hosting the Olympics. No, he meant it as a compliment, or a boast, really, about Boston’s tremendous cultural and intellectual influence. Given the recent political and financial developments in both Boston and Athens, one could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.
Bostonians aren’t shy about boastful nicknames for their city: The Cradle of Liberty or The City on a Hill, for example. Perhaps most famously, Oliver Wendell Holmes’ offhand jest that “The Boston State-House is the Hub of the Solar System” was modestly twisted over time into “The Hub of the Universe” before the twentieth century slickened it to “The Hub”, Boston’s favourite condescension.
Continue reading 05. Athens of America
Near as I can count, the flight from Sydney was the thirty-eighth time I’ve flown across the Pacific. Depending on the direction and wind, it takes around fourteen hours, give or take. Hours nine to eleven are reliably the worst, when it seems it will never end, when I resort to counting trans-Pacific flights instead of sheep.
If you are smart or lucky, the eastbound flight will leave you in Vancouver, or San Francisco, or even Dallas. But most of the time it will dump you at LAX, which is reliably unpleasant yet entertaining. Stepping off the plane in LA I revelled in my first American greeting being a cheery “Hola!” from the first ground service agent. Continue reading 04. On The Campaign Trail
On Tuesday the eighth of November in 2016 about seventy million Americans will vote for the next President of the United States. With that mandate, 22% of the population, the winner will celebrate long into the night, blathering about unity, promising to govern “for all Americans”. It will be the realization of a lifelong dream. It will go downhill from there.
When he sobers up, the President-elect will get his first security briefing. This entails that poor soul having a meeting with both the Director of National Intelligence and the CIA Director.
It’s a tough meeting for all involved. Continue reading 03. The 22% Solution