Kenora, Ontario is situated against Lake Of The Woods and the drive out along the lake is a nice morning drive. Continue West on Highway 17 and you will pass into Manitoba where Highway 17 changes into Canada 1, a freeway of sorts, it has fancier exits and signage. It was when I passed from the 2-lane highways of Ontario to the freeways of Manitoba I realized what an incredible asset the interstate system is to the U.S.. Well, for moving goods and things from point A to point B, for meandering around it is not so great. The interstate systems allows us to transport materials by any number of routes to a destination. Similar to how packets of data bounce across the internet, but not quite so quickley. In Ontario, there are really only two highways and only two rail lines that cross it. Any goods that Cross Ontario have to go by one of these four routes. It is a blessing in a way, it keeps the greater part of Ontario beautiful, frontier-like and unspoiled.
I had originally thought I would mosey into Winnipeg and maybe a bit further West before heading back into the States, but the previous evening I had taken some time, done some math and realized I was paying about $4.60 per gallon for gas up there! Yikes. I also spend some time in google maps. Google maps implied that there were roads, little roads, that crossed the border with no border guard! No way! This I had to investigate. A few miles into Manitoba I headed South on highway 308. Ten miles in, the pavement turned to dirt for about 50 miles until I reached Moose Lake. Google implied that if I kept going straight when 308 ended at Sprague, Manitoba, the little tiny road would cross right over the border. I found this hard to believe, so I had to check it out.
I drove it. It became tinierand tinier until it was just two tire tracks between some fields. Then it "dead ended" at a wood. At the road end, tacked to a telephone pole, was a cheap plastic sign that read "Illegal Border Crossing; Entry Prohibited; Activities may be monitored; Violators will be arrested."It was a cheap, corrugated plastic sign. Like one of those you will see in poorer neighborhoods advertising credit relief. What is this, a 9-11 afterthought? What happened to a real metal sign mounted on a pole of it's own that implies "We put this here. We intend this to be here. We are aware of this spot!" This little sign said "Oh yeah, we bought some cheap signs because our budget is strapped. We paid some guy to stick this here if there were a telephone pole handy. We haven't given it much thought since but we may be watching, so think twice. " Sheesh. We don't need to build a fence up there but at least have a sign that looks serious. Maybe some solar powered monitoring cameras... how tough can that be?
Anyhow, with a sigh of relief, my non-attempt at an illegal border crossing was stopped and I went to the closest crossing. It was much easier to get back into the country, then again I am a citizen. I still had to identify myself and answer some questions and actually look like some guy traveling taking pictures and writing. The border guard even asked to see my camera equipment. I think this guy deserves a raise, he correctly pegged me as a non-threat, non-criminal, type of person. How often does that happen?
I had driven about 2 miles beyond the border when I saw the flashing lights. Oh, Geepers! Red and blue on the road behind me about a half-mile back. Oh no, I don't need this, I wasn't speeding, I never speed when I am traveling, it's not worth the hassle, most of the time if the speed limit is 60 or more and the roads are empty, I'll toodle along at 55. Ding dang, dippity doo dah! Just my luck, the border guy must have had second thoughts. What, do I need to cut my hair? I sighed, pulled over and waited for the cop to pull up behind me. It seemed like hours as I sat and waited sullenly, but patient. The ambulance zoomed past where I was pulled over. I had never felt so glad that someone needed an ambulance before.
Canada. Just like the U.S., right? Well, a little different. They don't get into as many wars as we do, everybody in the country has health care, they say "eh" more often.. . little differences, right? Well, it's subtle, perhaps. Nevertheless, it distinctly felt different being back in the states. Maybe it was just the price of gas. Speaking of gas, I was running low, I would have to stop at the first town and fill up. The first town was Roseau, Minnesota. I did a little tour of the town. The layout of the town felt different than the Canadian towns I had been in recently. Instantly familiar somehow. Can the style of government of a country make a difference in the layout of a town? Naah, it was probably that I had been in mountainous regions the past week or so and now I was in a plains town. I drove down the five-block Main Street that was pretty much the whole town. They were piping Al Jarreau through some horrid sound system with tiny, tinny speakers. I think it was intended to be pleasant for the "shoppers," a town that small would never have enough youth to be much of a problem.
Suddenly it struck me. I knew what it was about the U.S. that makes us different. Our country is mad. Not angry... crazy. There is a streak of open madness that runs through our culture. It causes tiny Midwestern towns to pipe jazz into a down town where everybody within 50 miles listens to country music. It is a blessing and a curse giving us Henry Fords, Thomas Edisons, great innovators.... World class businessmen, artists, and statesmen. Geniuses and absolute loons. Sometimes it is difficult to tell the two apart, often being separated by a mere matter of popular taste and opinion. Politically we are mad. Spiritually we are mad. It is the madness, and the acceptance of our madness as the ordinary, (....and the frustration that the madness of others might not completely jibe with our own) that makes the culture of our country so interesting and diverse--if you look beyond how it is represented on TV and the movies--even then, those representations are based on madness as well.
Ours is yet a young and vigorous spirit that batters and swings wildly over the decades. We were settled by people mad enough to leave the comfort of their home countries and sail across the ocean in tiny wooden boats. These settlers bred and their mad spawn revolted and created a Republic born of the madness of a few dozen free-thinkers. The Statue of Liberty might as well read: "Send us your mad. Those that are unsatisfied with the status quo. Those unable to exist under the constraints and confines of their homeland. Those mad enough to want more than what is handed them. Mad enough to build something of their own in a strange land. Let them make this their home. A land that welcomes their madness as a mother welcomes her children. Mad children, welcome home."
I thought of some of the people I have met. The man in Missouri, who has a hundred cement sculptures in his front acreage and has moved since into carving stone. The guy who hangs the coyotes and crows that he shoots from the fences that line his fields. The woman who built a house by cementing anything she could find into the walls that made the structure. My own grandmother who, not wanting to waste anything, decorated her flower gardens by lining them with Prince Albert tobacco tins.
Ours is a wonderful, kind and kaleidoscopic madness that brings us Jazz, Skyscrapers, Public Libraries, Jackson Pollack, the Salvation Army, the Internet and so much more.
It was good to be home.