We are speeding along pulling the caravan behind us on US 94 or 69 or whatever it becomes at the moment we are passing through Port Huron and heading to Sarnia, Ontario. I am yammering on about the idealism of The Port Huron Statement or the importance of The Sixties or my uneasiness with radicalism, when all of a sudden we are heading east and a huge bridge rises ahead of us and up we go and curve a little to the right. To the north, I see just barely out the corner of my eye—because I am scared silly by the traffic and the heights and force myself to look straight ahead—the most beautiful blue water that is Lake Huron. It shines a wonderful pale blue like movies had led me to believe the Caribbean shines. At first, Knightsmama, in the passenger seat, is calling “Look, Look,” to the boys in the backseat, “Look over to your right,” at the St. Clair River extending south. And I say, “No, look to the left.” Then just as suddenly we are descending. Traffic begins slowing and the border stretches before us looking like a toll road pay station. Knightsmama says, “Wow.”
Next, Knightsmama returns from her reverie to open the glove compartment and begins digging for our passports. I let go of the steering wheel with one hand and reach under the seat for my wallet and driver’s license—heck, I haven’t been out of the country since 9/11 so I don’t know what we are going to be asked. Knightsmama tells me to follow another RV toward the toll booth designated for the big and tall. We remind the boys the seriousness of dealing with authorities and how nobody has a sense of irony. Captain Crunch reminds me to keep shut about the air-soft guns they had smuggled aboard the Caravan. And I tell him that I would like nothing more that for the nation of Canada to confiscate his and his brother’s fake firearms. Well, so much for the no-irony rule.
At the toll booth, we meet a nice guy in a uniform who kind of sometimes smiles but kind of mostly doesn’t. He’s hard to read. I mean I think he wants to be friendly, wants to represent Canada well, but doesn’t really want to be a great nation’s welcome mat either. First, he has to play some mind games with me to see how I will react. He stares at me without expression, as if he were a fifty year-old ex-starlet on The View just shot up with Botox.
“How many are you.”
“Will you roll down the back windows, please,” he orders so he can peer into Dr. J.’s eyes. He looks back at me. “Passports.”
I hand him our passports. He asks, “What is your purpose in traveling to Canada.”
“Where are you going?”
All of a sudden I can’t remember shit. “Uh, uh,” I look over at Knightsmama and she mouths slowly, “Ni-a-ga-ra-falls.” Thank goodness, with her prompting the itinerary comes back to me.
“Uh, uh, Niagara Falls and then we might continue up to Toronto, Montreal.”
“How long do you plan to visit Canada?”
“Uh, uh, seven to ten days.”
Then he looks at me real serious like, “What are you carrying with you?”
I kind of stare at him blankly. Hell, where do I begin? Bike shorts? The sea salt? Computers and Kindles?
He senses my panic. “Do you have pets and pet food?”
‘No.” Maybe I should have known Canada forbids us from bringing over pet food made from beef or lamb. Mad cow?
“No. No wait. I have two bottles of Great Lakes porters and a half pint of rum.” He seemed unimpressed with my drinking.
“Any fire arms, automatic weapons, mace, pepper spray?”
I jumped at this as my moment of clarity and international brotherhood. “Well, kind of. The boys have a couple of air soft pistols in the trailer.” I didn’t say, “Please, please, take them,” but I did give him my best puppy-dog-down-trodden-parent-can’t-you-take-them look.
From the back seat I hear a mumble. Then Knightsmama translates. “And we have some pepper spray. Dr, J. has some pepper spray he won at a mountain bike race.”
At this moment things turn serious. The Toll Guard turns and stares at Dr. J., asks him some questions, and then turns back to me, “Sir, do you see those two officers standing by the main building over there? Please drive there and park. They will need to conduct a search of your vehicle. Thank you, sir.” He concluded with a forceful and inarguable “We appreciate your cooperation,” which I interpreted as meaning, “Behave, you pepper spray toting Texans. We would just as soon shoot you as welcome your kind into our peace-loving nation.”
I do as I am told. I have learned from years of being an administrator that the only way to deal with people who have a little power is to recognize that power, cower, admit to nothing, apologize for everything, and beg for mercy. I park the caravan. We all disembark and tell two officers what we had told the toll attendant. I select a bench facing the sun and relax. Knightsmama and the boys find a bench in the shade. Occasionally we are asked a few questions, and after thirty or so minutes, the two officers give Dr. J. a kind but stern lecture on how the great nation of Canada does not allow pepper spray to cross its sovereign borders. They instruct us to carry the five pieces of firewood we were carrying in the bed of the truck to the dumpster for disposal. We do as instructed without asking why. Then the two officers wish us well and welcome us to Canada.
As quickly as we can, we load ourselves back into the pick-up truck and ease the caravan back on to the highway and set the GPS for Niagara, and roll.
Except we didn’t make it to Niagara that day. I am driving along, enjoying the mental exercise of converting miles into kilometers and mph into kmph. It’s rather liberating having the government tell me I can drive 100. “Wow, look at us, Dr. J. I am driving 100.” I brag to speed loving son pretending to be Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear. He is not impressed.
But then I notice that Knightsmama is tapping the key board on the GPS, and flipping pages of the atlas. She looks over at me silently but plaintively, then places both hands politely in her lap and stares straight ahead. Then she taps a little more and flips pages again, and sits politely and stares straight ahead and signs.
“What?’ I ask.
“Well, up ahead we could turn north and go to a Pinery Provincial Park on Lake Huron. I don’t know, I think I want to go there.”
At this point, I start with the thousand questions. What’s there? Why go there? We were all set for a park on Lake Erie. How much does it cost? How far is it? Are their spots available? On and on. I don’t want to go, and I think I can at least filibuster this until we pass by the turn off.
However, as usual within ten minutes, Knightsmama has me worn down, and I am turning north away from our plans to visit Niagara, Toronto and Montreal. “Lake Huron was so beautiful, so blue.” I imagine the Canadian drones tracking Waller Grant—those pepper spray wielding, air soft toting, fire wood smuggling Yanks—and noticing we are off course. They are noting we have lied to all the authorities. We aren’t the harmless, hapless Americans we are pretending to be. No, we are renegade Texans looking to teach our wimpy neighbors to the north what freedom really looks like.
Soundtrack. Bruce Cockburn, "If I Had a Rocket Launcher."
Soundtrack. Bruce Cockburn, "If I Had a Rocket Launcher."