August 21 1998, Friday
oday Kim wanted to meet up with her aunt Bettie, the one who in 1975 appeared on the cover of Custom Chopper magazine. Bettie has mellowed out a lot since her motorcycle days, and now she's married to an older, wealthy self-made man named Jerry. Bettie suggested that Kim visit her at her cottage on Lake St. Clair over in Ontario. I've been wanting to take advantage of my proximity to Canada, so I was eager to go.
On the way out of town, Kim and I stopped for coffee and bagels at the Merchant of Vino, a natural food supermarket recently purchased by the Whole Foods natural foods conglomerate (about whose fascist employee policies I have ranted before). Merchant of Vino is Kim's supermarket of choice; she apparently considers the food they sell more edible than the perfectly good (and relatively inexpensive) groceries available at Kroger. But, what with these musings and all, she's self-conscious about such preferences and was disturbed to see me bringing my digital camera with me. She doesn't like me making her out to be some sort of extravagant yuppy.
In downtown Detroit, after a little necessary offensive driving, we took a right at the foot of the mirrored towers of the Renaissance Center ("Rencen") and made tracks for Canada.
e crossed over to Windsor, Canada through a tunnel under the Detroit River and emerged at a toll-booth style custom station where customs officials are paid to act like jerks in hopes of scaring indications of criminal activity out of potential world citizens. Where were we coming from? Where were we going to? How long would we be staying? Were we smuggling drugs, alcohol or guns? It took the cold young blond female questioner all of 15 seconds to ask these questions, then she ended with a bitchy remark, "Next time you need to stop at the stop sign." Then we were loose on the streets of Windsor.
Windsor isn't much like Detroit, but it's a lot like mid-western America. Young mothers walk hand in hand with their children down the clean streets unfraid. The stores and brands of products are all the same as in the United States, but the prices are completely alien, since the Canadian dollar is worth about 60% of an American dollar and all the units of measurement are metric. Gas stations are selling alien units of gas for 54.3 alien units of money.
We headed east on route 401 through the southernmost wisp of Canadian territory. The terrain is absolutely flat, intensively agricultural, and looks much like northern Ohio. Following nearly unreadable instructions Kim had jotted down in pencil, we overshot our exit some miles and ended up at a Canadian rest stop, where drinks from a vending machine cost $2 each. That's expensive, even when working with anemic Canadian currency. New since I was last in Canada (1989) is the gold-centered $2 Canadian coin.
Off 401 and through big fields of mud (a sod farm, it turns out), we came upon a community of marinas, all hooked together by narrow canals that seemed to be at almost the level of the road we were driving upon. Eventually we came to the shoreline of a big lake and tracked down the brick cottage belonging to Aunt Bettie and Uncle Jerry. At the time, neither of us knew we were actually near the southeast corner of Lake St. Clair. I asked Kim what lake she thought it might be and she took a wild stab, "Lake Ontario?" Well, we were in Ontario, but that couldn't possibly be right, since Lake Ontario was as far away as Toronto.
We looked around the house hoping to find the hidden key, which we were assured would be there. It wasn't, so, for the time being, gave up. We headed back towards the marinas and eventually found a rambling old style bar/restaurant on the edge of a canal. We went in and ordered a couple beers.
As is her usual habit, Kim got to talking to the waitress, a middle-aged blond woman. She told us the name of the lake and the fact that Bettie and Jerry often come to this restaurant for breakfast, but they never drink at the bar. She also suggested we relocate out in back by the canal with the dog, Sophie, so as to get her out of the greenhousifying car.
In Canada, as Kim pointed out, the beers are strong and waitresses express no puritanical hesitation about fetching new ones the moment the old ones are empty. I think we were drinking Labatts, but I'm not sure. Two beers each, and we definitely were feeling the effects. For food, I ordered some sort of mushroom-bacon burger and Kim ordered fish and chips. We had far more french fries than we could possibly eat, so I alternated between tossing them to Sophie the Dog and a raucous assemblage of mallard ducks in the canal. Not surprisingly, ducks are very fond of french fries, even Canadian ducks.
After the restaurant experience, Kim and I drove around trying to find a place to buy beer. I went into a "variety store", looked around, saw nothing containing alcohol, and gave up. I don't know where it's legal to sell beer in Canada, but "variety stores" are not the place.
eturning to Bettie and Jerry's place, we tried once again to find the hidden key or one of the neighbors (who also has a key), but we had no luck at all. So we decided to go wading in Lake St. Clair.
We tried leaving Sophie the Miniature Schnauzer on the shore while we waded out, but she wouldn't stand for being abandoned, barking monotonously & relentlessly. So Kim had to go back and get her.
Lake St. Clair looks impressive, since it streches out all the way to the horizon like some sort of unfathomably vast ocean. But it's extremely shallow. The land around it is incredibly flat, and the lake itself is just a 20-foot-deep, 20-mile-wide, depression in that flatness. As much as a mile from shore, the water is still shallow enough to wade in and has a pleasant sandy bottom. We waded out at least a half mile, carrying Sophie most of the way, though periodically we'd let her swim back and forth between us. Being such a little dog, she tired out quickly. She was panting and shivering towards the end, though the water wasn't especially cold.
Back at Bettie & Jerry's, the neighbors were back, and the woman neighbor gladly handed the keys over to Kim. "Canadians are nice!" Kim exclaimed with something close to surprise.
Indoors, the cottage was decorated almost exclusively with fish designs. There were wooden fish on the wall, fish-patterned carpets on the floors, and (I suppose) fish magnets on the refrigerator. I was mostly interested in the big fish-filled map of Lake St. Clair.
We hurriedly took showers, hoping to complete them before Jerry got back. He's an older Irish Catholic type, complete with Irish Catholic morality. A boy and a girl taking showers together in his bathroom wouldn't make him happy.
Kim fixed me a whiskey drink and I went out on the back patio to sip it and watch the boats floating against the sky. Kim was in an increasingly bitchy mood, getting angry when I told her to stop changing stations on the radio. She said that if I wanted to listen to the radio I should be D.J. instead of her. But all I wanted, as I pointed out, was for her to not change stations, that is, not work so hard. Kim is kind of like my brother in the way she deals with the radio. Only rarely is she content to sit through a bad song or a string of commercials. Often she'll even change stations in the middle of a song when it comes to a part she doesn't like. I don't like the chaotic jarring this sort of radio behaviour has on my emotions (music strongly affects my emotions). I also believe in having a certain amount of trust in and even loyalty to a station or a D.J.
Eventually Bettie and Jerry showed up, along with Jerry's son. Jerry is tall 60-something gentleman with a shiny, wrinkled red Irish face and a full head of grey hair. He never lived in Ireland, though there is a hint of a brogue in his voice. He's warm, funny and settled in his idea of what it means to pursue happiness.
Jerry's son, who today turned 19 (Ontario's legal drinking age), has shortish-long blond hair that hangs stylishly in his face. He's friendly in an almost California kind of way, though he seems to have developed a bit of a Canadian accent. He's rather fond of Kim, to the exlusion of almost all interaction with me. After awhile he headed off with friends to drink the first legal alcoholic beverage of his life.
I should say at this point that one of the interesting features of life in southeast Michigan is the proximity of Ontario. It isn't that Ontario culture is radically different from Michigan culture, but there are some differences that profoundly affect youth culture. Since Ontario is governed by a different, weaker, national government, it has never felt the anti-drunk-driving hysteria that swept the states and forced them to all raise their drinking ages to 21. This lower level of concern about youth drinking is also reflected in the fact that alcohol vendors in Ontario are relatively lax about asking for identification. So in Ontario, the Michigan youth finds he can buy booze years before he can legally buy it in his homeland. It is thus possible for teenagers in southeast Michigan to secure their own alcohol without the assistance of older people. Ontario assures them a certain amount of freedom from the self-serving tut-tuttery reflected in United States law. Considering this issue, I realized that people living near political frontiers will always have more freedom than people who do not; the presence of a choice of laws under which to operate circumvents the legal monopoly inherent in the interior of a political geographic entity.
Kim and I helped Bettie chop up vegetables in preparation for a barbecue tonight. We didn't know when to start cooking, since we were sort of waiting for the return of Jerry's son. So we drank a vast variety of alcohol and waited and waited and set the corn-on-the-cob water on low.
Eventually we just started cooking. There was trouble with the grill, teaching us all the valuable lesson: never use economy charcoal briquettes. But everything worked out and those who wanted to be were well-fed.
fter dinner, Kim and I headed back home. This time I was driving. I was actually fairly drunk, truth be known, so perhaps my judgement wasn't quite what it should have been. Kim was terrified at the speed with which I took a couple turns in the highway through the sod fields. "This is how I drive through the hills in Virginia!" I announced, though in truth I think I was a little confused by the yellow cautionary signs advising speeds in kilometers per hour instead of miles per hour. I was indeed going too fast. I decided to mellow out and concentrate on the difficult task of driving like a little old man. Kim continued to be a rather vocal passenger the whole ride home, constantly telling me whenever I was driving in some way she didn't like. I could feel myself growing increasingly irritated with her annoying little comments, and at a certain point she obviously sensed this irritation and a process of emotional feedback began. By the time we made it home we wanted to strangle each other.
Getting back into the United States was easy; all we had to do was say we were American citizens.
Somehow we made peace in bed, enough to get it on and feel happy about it afterwards.
one year ago
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