As a few of you know now, I took a vacation the last few days to Niagara Falls. Yes, I went to Canada on the Fourth of July. It was a really good decision, because people were elsewhere celebrating while I traveled.
First off, Canada is quite similar to America but there are subtleties. One, it’s much cleaner. I get so tired of the amount of litter and garbage I find in the States. It’s so slovenly! It’s so disrespectful! I past a chewed up couch on I-90 in Cleveland. A couch. There was a little bit of litter here and there in the Great White North, but something seems to tell me it’s not all from careless Canadians. One point awarded to Canada.
The more important difference is personality. There is an identifiable general persona of Canadians. Many of them aren’t as expressive as Americans, if only because that’s not how they were raised. In America, there are places where people just don’t care about warmth or social grace. The Philadelphia area is a prime example. Many, many times I was met with blunt people with very coarse behavior. Philadelphia left me a little cool, and I’m not the warmest sun in the galaxy. That’s their prerogative, but it takes some real work to get black marks for being uncouth.
Niagara Falls was a great destination. The Maid of the Mist boat tour is a must! Make sure your poncho is on tight though. The Clifton Hill area is geared toward families, and it reminds me of Cedar Point in some respects. The Canadians know what drives their economy there, and it does become a little bit of a tourist trap. I’m not that type of person, but others enjoy wax museums, carnival games, houses of horror, IMAX shows, and flashy dining.
I found more comfort on the quiet sidewalks of Queen St. There I found the Paris Crepes Cafe. I haven’t had a crepe in years. My goat cheese, honey, and walnut dish was masterful. After my time spent in the cafe, I popped off to a bar for a pint of Alexander Keith’s red and some honest Canadian hockey food: poutine! For those that are unfamiliar with the dish, it’s french fries with cheese curds and beef gravy. So heavy, yet awesome in a totally unhealthy way. It’s not all that odd. We have mashed potatoes and gravy, right?
One of the other non-tourist activities I enjoy doing is driving around. With the support of the GPS I went all of Hell’s half acre and had myself a grand old time. Canadian driving is like slow-speed mayhem. I took it at the posted km/h, but people were driving all over the place, that included under a meter from my bumper. I was often in the wrong sections of town. I was in the low-rent districts, the middle-class neighborhoods, and the suburbia as a tourist. Not all Canadians are happy with the idea of Americans. I even got cursed in French by some teens riding bikes, thinking my lack of French skills would somehow make me feel stupid. Well, here’s a little tip Canadians: if I don’t care what you have to say, you can say it in any language you want. One point awarded to American brass.
The highlight of the trip had nothing to do with the falls, though. I was at the resort Friday evening, and a man came out of the hotel room area looking for a seat. I offered the open seat next to me. He was meeting someone and also pulled up another chair. While he waited, we struck up a conversation. By his accent, I could tell he was German. As it turned out, Mike was and a journalist from Berlin. He and a long-time friend took their families to vacation in Niagara. They wanted to chat before they headed in different directions in the morning. Now looking back on it, I think I might have stunted that meeting. Hopefully, that transgression was forgiven.
We talked about America, Germany, Canada and more interestingly Berlin before the Wall. I had no idea it was an artist’s enclave at that time. The reason being was its inexpensive living. It was walled off from the rest of the world and no industry could get in. There was one highway between West Berlin and West Germany. West Germans were not allowed to take any exits nor were they able to take their time. If they arrived at the border later than expected, they were pulled out of the car and interrogated. This was only thirty years ago. That’s within my life time! This is what America needs to avoid becoming, metaphorically and physically.
At the end of the discussion, Mike said, “this is what I love about Americans. You are all so open. If this was Europe, we would not be having this conversation. It wouldn’t be meant as rude. It would just be you sitting there and me sitting there… and that is it.” It was such an informative and entertaining talk, I got a little choked up after Mike and I parted ways. I’ve wanted a discussion that was political, civil, and intellectual for so long that it brought me to tears. A meaningful, intellectual conversation without hostility or ego. Sometimes, it’s the small things that are worth a mint.