Since the world shut down in early 2020, my wife and I have undertaken some road trips of various duration and distance. Sometimes they were made with specific destinations; but all were with the intent to just to get out of the house and experience a journey. How American: we answered the call of the open road. Happens more when cabin fever starts setting in.
There are more than a few good quotes about the journey and the destination. One comes from Harry Chapin: “It’s got to be the going, not the getting there that’s good. That’s a thought for keeping, if I could.” (From song: “Greyhound”).
Our last big trip actually did have a worthwhile destination: our son and daughter-in-law who live near Toronto. Great to spend time with them, get a few projects done (or at least started), and help them settle into their “new” home; well, at least new to them.
I’m going to muse here a bit about both the journey and the destination.
We took nearly identical routes both ways to/from Ontario. Yes, it was a shorter than alternate routes (for a drive). I think people are so interested in getting back-and-forth quickly that they easily – too easily – fall into the simple notion that all those fly-over states are boring and just full of nothing.
Simply not true.
Well, we are definitely going back to Omaha. That’s were the Union Pacific started laying track in 1863, going westward, and finally meeting the Central Pacific at Promontory Point, UT in May, 1869. East and West were linked by rail! The Transcontinental part was truly complete when the UP bridge across the Missouri River was complete and opened in 1873.
Omaha has an extensive river front, and we were hoping to spend some time enjoying it. But it was all closed up, as they endeavor to complete a $300 million re-vitalization of the area. That’s a lot of money and it is mostly private funds. It’s due to be complete and re-opened in 2022. The Heartland of America water-themed park will re-open in 2025.
Across the flowing water is Omaha’s river partner city: Council Bluffs, Iowa. We stopped there for an hour on the way back. Cute downtown area (it’s several times smaller than Omaha) with a great park. Bayliss Park has a wonderful Veterans memorial, beautiful fountain, plenty of trees, benches and tables. Speaking of which, the Union Pacific Railroad Museum is there in CB; so that’s on another future stop. [We passed through on a Monday, when it was closed].
The downtown areas of both cities are set well back from the river. One presumes the historical reason is to avoid flooding of the big Missouri, which surely occurs from time-to-time. There is a pedestrian bridge across the river, connecting the two cities and states: The Bob Kerry Pedestrian Bridge. Good for views and stretching your legs.
Rock Island, IL was another pull-over place, and I’d like to spend more time there in the future. It’s historic for sure: that’s where the first bridge across the Mississippi was completed, in 1855, leading directly to greater westward expansion, and Chicago’s leaping to the fore as the great economic and commercial capital of America’s heartland.
Returning, we stopped for a “leg stretch” in Kearney, Nebraska. That’s the former site of Fort Kearney, built in 1848 as a base of protection, provisions and refuge for western emigrants traversing over the Oregon Trail, Mormon Trail, California Trail (think: gold rush), and Overland Trail… all of which passed through Kearney along the Great Platte River Road. The short-lived but never forgotten Pony Express also passed through Kearney. There is a wonderful little museum built in an archway that spans across Interstate-80. Takes about an hour to tour the whole thing; great way to get a “walk about” and learn a lot about America in the mid-19th century. Even has a bit about the Donner Party.
While in Canada, I learned a few more things about differences between “their” culture and “American” culture, at least so far as what we experienced in Ontario.
When at restaurants and bars, they have no “Rest Rooms.” They have “Wash Rooms.” Same thing, different name. I like it: “Wash” seems more appropriate than “Rest.” Does anyone actually take a nap in there? I’d like to think that, at a minimum, people actually wash themselves while in there.
They have little quibble when US citizens refer to themselves as “Americans”, or their home country as “America”, even though Canada is certainly part of America (as is Mexico, etc.). One thing that bugs me about “Americans” is our propensity to refer to any room or facility that has a toilet as a “bathroom.” Really? Does anyone really bathe in there? I do rather prefer the simplicity of the Brits and Aussies, who call it “Loo”, “Public Toilet” or “W.C.” for water closet. (Toilette and WC work in Germany, too).
They seem to have little use for the pesky Phillips head screws. And they are annoying. There’s a strong preference for the square tipped screws and driver tips, which are far less likely to engage poorly, and – worse – strip. They prefer to call these “Robertson” screws and tips. Very useful. I’d certainly seen square tips before, but never heard of Robertson. And, it seems they were invented by a Canadian, named, of course, Robertson.
Southern Ontario is fairly low lying, rather flat, and has waterways that are often quite close together. Such locales are dotted with little land links that separate the waterways, some of which have come to be called “portages.” The word “portage,” which comes to us through French, shows up quite a bit in US history and geography as well. One way to tell a Canadian from an “American” is how the word is pronounced. In Canada the -age is pronounced as in “Massage”. In the US it rhymes with “Porridge.”
I think I’ve mentioned other pronunciation differences before (e.g. the words: about, produce, product), but portage was new to me.
Canadians, at least Ontarians, are quite relaxed about units of measurement for many things. They are fine with ounces (as fluid ounces or even pints) in place of liters – say for getting a beer – but petrol (gasoline) is always in liters. Er, ah, litres. Same with pounds and kilograms, say if one is purchasing produce (“Prah-duce”) or meat. That’s unofficial. Officially, purchases in brick-and-mortar stores are made in kilos.
But mention Fahrenheit to anyone born after, oh, about 1975, and you’ll get a blank look.
You: “It was hot today, eh. At least 90 degrees, eh. “ [Add the “-eh” to a statement when trying to fit in.]
Canadian: “ ——–”
You: “That’s 90 Fahrenheit”
To me, and in my unhumble opinion, Fahrenheit is a far better unit than Celsius, at least as relates to humans and weather. I really don’t care what temperature water boils at (nominally 100C, which varies based on elevation/air pressure anyhow). Or where it freezes (0C). What could be simpler than 0 (zero) is really cold, and 100 is really hot?? Tip of the hat to Fahrenheit. [However, 20 is really a quite comfy temperature as good reference point].
Final thoughts. This might well be biased by my long-term residency in Colorado, typically one of the very leanest and fittest states in the US, on average. Canadians are every bit as fat – even obese – as we Americans are. Plenty of waddlers and dunlap syndrome going on. Guess it’s a common first world problem.
Oh by the way, try to buy your gas (and booze and cigarettes, if either of those are your poisons of choice) in the US before crossing the border. Taxes on those things are pretty eye-popping “north of the border, in the great white north.” We were scoffed at and chided a bit by the Border Officer when we claimed only half a case of beer. “We need to train you better, eh. <smirk>”. I would have taken a picture of him and the border crossing, but that is definitely frowned upon. 
Be well, and may your travels be safe and interesting.
Bonus section: Sitting is the new smoking.
I’ve long known that sitting for long periods of time is bad for one’s health in so many ways. And I’ve long thought that I knew everything that could go wrong with knees. Well, put them together and I have a new super painful knee condition to share. Those many, many hours of sitting on my butt took a toll. Yes, I knew it was bad for the hamstrings and glutes. So, I got out of the car every chance to walk, do jumping jacks (50-100 is the norm), even run 100 yds ,or do step-ups on benches. But sitting all the way to Ontario, then doing hours of landscape work for several days really did a number on my ITB (Iliotibial band). That thing tightened up just awful and left me crippled and crying for a while. Moral: never, ever stop moving. ITBS (syndrome), is real, is painful, and not to be taken lightly.
Joe Girard © 2021
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 Each adult can bring the following across the border into Canada: up to one case of beer (24 standard 12 oz cans or bottles), 1.5 liters of wine (2 standard size bottles) and 40 fluid ounces of hard liquor. In most of Canada, one is considered adult and of drinking age at 19 years old, except where it is 18, such as Alberta and Quebec. I think you can bring more, but either (1) don’t mention it, i.e. lie, or (2) be prepared to pay some tax on it. I think they wink and nod at the first, and really don’t want the hassle of the second.