We took the shortcut John Steinbeck couldn’t.
And it wasn’t because he didn’t have Mapquest. It was because he had a dog.
Steinbeck, once seeing Niagara Falls, had hoped to scoot west across southern Ontario, re-entering the U.S. at Michigan. But Canadian border officials told him that, while Charley was welcome in Canada, the author might have some problems getting his poodle back into the U.S.
Steinbeck lacked papers documenting that Charley was vaccinated against rabies, and — 1960 being pre-email, pre-fax — getting sent an instant copy wasn’t a possibility. His only choice, other than waiting on the U.S. mail, would have been to drive back into America and get Charley re-vaccinated.
So he opted to turn around. Even that proved problematic. While he never got through the gate to Canada, he got a good grilling once he was back at the entrance to the U.S., and, from the sound of it, got it bit frustrated with the U.S. officials. Steinbeck didn’t like government bureaucracies. “Government can make you feet so small and mean that it takes some doing to build back a sense of self-importance.”
Ace and I on the other hand would have no problem on either end. I had his paperwork, but wasn’t asked for it at any point.
We zipped right through Ontario, traveling less than four hours, and under 200 miles, as opposed to the seven hours and more than 400 miles it would have taken had we stayed in the U.S., veering south and north again.
The scenery, once we got outside of Niagara Falls, wasn’t much different than what Pennsylvania and Ohio would have offered — a lot of the same flat land and fast food franchises. The only real difference was the money and the metric system. I stopped for some 99-cent gas — even though I knew it was that much per liter. And even though it cost about the same to fill my tank, it still felt good to get something — ephemeral as it was — for under a dollar.
I popped inside the gas station to get some cigarettes, and asked when I didn’t see the standard racks of them behind the counter. The employee pulled open a big drawer — law requires them to be kept out of view — revealing numerous brands I’d never heard of in funny boxes. I asked her what was cheap.
She recommended “Next.” I paid in American, got change in Canadian. The pack’s government-required warning — one of several really hard-hitting ones — showed a burned cigarette, with all its ash hanging on, though in a very limp manner, and a written reminder that the cigarettes I intended to smoke could make me impotent.
That not being a big factor in my life right now, I lit one up. They were shorter than American cigarettes, which is how America would want it, but there are more to the pack.
I would have liked to spend a night in Ontario, smoking my Nexts, and the only reason I didn’t was fear of big roaming charges if I got on my phone or my computer.
Leave it to America to come up with roaming charges (I’m assuming we invented them). What’s next? Freedom fees. Wanderlust taxes? Curiosity tolls? America seems to like us to stay put and spend money, and if we go somewhere, have a destination and reach it, thruway style. Do what the GPS lady says. Don’t you dare stray from the path. Stay within the parameters of your network.
I’m sure there are good reasons for roaming fees, I just don’t like the name. The word “fees” should just not be attached to a concept as free and wide open as “roaming.”
I feel a song coming on:
Oh, give me a home, where the buffalo roam (fees may apply)
And the deer and the antelope text.
As a society, partly because of our increasing tendency to take directions from computers, we have grown less likely to be vacilando. It’s a Spanish word, from the verb vacilar. As Steinbeck notes in Travels With Charley: “If one is vacilando, he is going somewhere, but doesn’t greatly care whether or not he gets there.”
Steinbeck said there is no English equivalent for the Spanish word. I would argue “roaming” comes pretty close, though.
Vacilando as we’ve been on our journey, we didn’t wander much in Ontario, and managed to get to Sarnia and the U.S. entry gate just as the sun was going down. There was no search, there were no seizures, just a flash of the passport, a peek at the dog and a few polite questions about whether I’d purchased anything in Canada (“Just these funny little cigarettes,” I replied).
We stopped for the night right there — in Port Huron — and took off the next morning for the other side of Michigan and step two of our shortcut: a ferry ride across Lake Michigan.