By G.D. Maxwell
Travel broadens the soul... or is that the mind? Guess it depends on the form of travel. Not to mention the destination. Cruise ship travel, Ive noticed, tends to broaden mostly the girth. I lack first hand knowledge of that particular nugget of travel wisdom, having not reached the minimum age to book passage on a cruise ship, but I have heard people complain about expanding girth being a side effect of such travel. In fact, the Universal Table of Conversions suggests using a pound a day nothing so convenient in Metric as a rule of thumb, rendering a seven-day cruise of the Inner Passage to Alaska a seven-pound cruise.
Im not in Alaska.
But I did see a cruise ship in Seattle. Im not there either but I passed by on my way to the southwest.
Yes, throwing caution to the wind, I entered the USofA. Testing the tolerance of Patriot Act I, Patriot Act II, various and sundry volumes of anti-terrorist legislation and the memory of the overworked border cops, I slipped in under the radar. Having packed Mello Yello, the aging and now near-antique status Westfailya, carefully stripped of all armament, vacuumed down to bare metal, adorned with U.S. flags, festooned with magnetic ribbons bearing such sentiments as "Support our Troops", "USA all the Way", "Nuke Public Radio" and "Nothing in Particular; Just Didnt Want to be Left Out" I gingerly pulled up to the border check.
"Papers! (pause) Destination?"
"Purpose of your visit?"
"Visit my aging and very patriotic parents, one of whom is a World War II veteran... Sir."
"A small quantity of killer chocolate chip cookies... Sir."
"No thanks; too early in the morning."
"Any magnetic stickers?"
"Four. Two patriotic, one conservative and one non-judgmental; Ill be passing through some blue states after all."
I looked in the back seat. Zippy the Dog was sitting there making goofy faces at the border cop, twisting his muzzle up in that weird grin/snarl suggestive of both obsequiousness and hope someone will throw him a treat.
"Uh, yeah. Were packin dog food."
One eyebrow raised slightly; the corner of one side of his mouth curled into a gotcha grin and then he reached for his pen. NO!!!!!!!!! Not the dreaded Orange Ticket. Not that! Not again!
"Pull over and take this inside. See the Agriculture Control Officer."
"And have a nice day."
A latex-gloved, uniformed, armed and very determined-looking person of the female persuasion motioned me into a parking spot, told me to step away from the vehicle, asked if it was booby trapped and then told all of us, Zippy included, to go inside. Im pretty certain Zippy would have put up a fight if hed have know his dog food was at risk but we all entered the building, tail between our legs, and went up to the latex-gloved, uniformed, armed and somewhat goofy-looking Agriculture Inspection Officer.
"Citrus?" he asked.
"Nope, dog food," I responded.
"Is it in its original bag?"
"Nope. Its in a plastic tub with a Lab-proof lid."
"Nice looking dog. I used to have a lab. You hunt him?"
"You bet. Nothing Zippy likes better than the smell of gunpowder in the morning and the taste of bleeding duck in his mouth, eh boy?" Zippy, who has never tasted anything bloodier than a rare piece of steak, agreed enthusiastically with this lie.
"Fraid not. Hes Canadian."
"I mean the dog food. Is the dog food American?"
Think... think.... "Dont know. The brands Nutro."
"Thats American. You got much of it?"
"Yeah, a whole bag practically."
"Boy, thats a nice-lookin dog. Okay, you can keep the dog food but from now on, if you cross the border, keep it in its bag."
"You bet. And if you ever get up to the Cariboo, look us up; weve got some real good upland pheasant huntin round those parts."
I thought we were off the hook and on our way when yet a third latex-gloved, uniformed, armed and rather stern-looking officer walked up to the desk with two very ripe avocados in his hand. "You lose the avocados," he said matter of factly.
"I didnt even know we had the avocados," I replied. "Looks like theyre past due to be made into guacamole anyway."
"I usually make a cold avocado-cilantro soup out of em when they get to this stage," he said, chattily. "Ive never been able to make really good guacamole."
Before I knew it, in what can only be thought of as a very, very strange conversation with an armed man, the two of us were exchanging recipes and agreeing the cold soup sounded like either a good starter on a hot day or a great vomit prop if we ever decided to remake The Exorcist . I was beginning to wonder how weird it would be to be Arabic and in this situation.
Avocadoless, we finally entered a surreal world of AM talk radio right-wing, left-wing, sports, self-help and evangelical christianinanity very large, very fast vehicles, and hard-scrabble entrepreneurism. There are many things Canadians shouldnt learn from Americans. Neoconservatism, evangelical christianinanity and unilateral aggression top the list. But there are definitely things Canadians should learn from Americans. That hard-scrabble entrepreneurial spirit tops the list.
Driving to the Cariboo recently, along the newly signed Coast Cariboo Circle, a hoped-for tourist route of exploration into the heartland of British Columbia, I was struck by the utter lack of things touristic. In fact, the only thing to suggest tourism along virtually the entire route was the signs. No attractions, very few roadside businesses, nuttin but road.
Along the coast of Oregon and California, and even across the wasteland stretches of Nevada, the roadside was littered with reasons to stop and spend a couple of bucks. Restaurants, of course, crab shacks along the coast, kitschy Mystery Forests, fruit and vegetable stands, junk collections, the worlds biggest pinwheel, come-ons to see Big Trees Yes, foresters, you can charge tourists to SEE big trees, of which B.C. is littered and in Nevada, where there aint nothin, every outpost of humanity had roadside tables selling, wait for it, rocks. Yes, rocks. In a desert landscape consisting of nothing but dirt and rocks, no crabs, no big trees, just dirt and rocks, people sell rocks. I was shocked no one seemed to be selling bags of dirt.
In B.C., we seem to wait for the government to set the table for tourism, wrangle an Olympics™ or in some way or another tell us what to do. The circle tours are good starts; they may prime the pump. But without enough hard-scrabble entrepreneurialism to see an opportunity in trees and rocks and whatever else our world is full of, itll remain a circle of signs.