travel diary [detroit and windsor july 2007]

we had a good and solid plan for the weekend. friday was to be spent measuring trees, then beginning on saturday was the toronto indian festival, a big parade and then all kinds of festivities on the toronto islands. what could beat free vege food and cycling around exploring the islands?

early friday morning, sometime during breakfast at the rainbow cafe (eggs florentine, as usual), we decided we had to go visit louise in windsor. and not just because spontaneous is fun, it was our last chance to get our asses down there as promised. so we quickly took care of business and went down to the coach station for my first proper grey hound experience. and who knew it was so expensive? my return ticket was somewhere around the $140 mark, barely an incentive not to fly, especially when the coach journey is five and half hours. luckily i'd bought three books and filled myself up with the darkest roast coffee java joe has to offer. sounds like the perfect way to spend a friday.

we arrived in windsor at half eight, were promptly picked up by louise, and headed straight over the huge bridge for the american border. i'd already made a list of the things i didn't want to try take across the border (amongst other things i'm currently reading project censored 2007, and i've heard of people being turned away for less), but i tried not to let my paranoi get the better of me. but these guys are serious straight talkers, it's enough to put the shits up anyone. since we needed visas we had to get out of the car (leaving everything behind but our ID) and wait in the little passport control office, whatever the fuck it's called. we were told to lineup behind the green line, and then told off for sitting down - "i told you to lineup behind the green line, not sit down". i would have felt better, but i just had to go and read their 'mission statements' on the walls. they must love having a job where racism isn't only tolerated, but encouraged. for all their intensity it was a reasonably simple process. as we left a border guard was searching the car behind ours, and i felt violated.

for those that don't know, this is my first time in america and i'm trying to be open minded. i'm trying to forget every american film i've seen, erase the stereotypes they've inflicted upon themselves, remember that the government isn't the fault of the people (can i [sic] myself?)

tonight we're hitting the strip mall and the olive garden, yankin' it up for the true american experience. via italy. it may be a huge corporate chain, but at least it's not a franchise, it also wasn't our choice, but it's as good as any. our waiter was mike, a big friendly guy who we tipped good for dealing well with our awkwardness and complications. he even organised the staff to come sing happy birthday to pedro (whatever it was they sang, we have no idea. i can't understand these people when they speak, nevermind sing), which he insisted wasn't something they do. pfft, i thought all american restaurants did that crazy stuff. pieces of flair, etc. the security dude also tried acting all tough when we suggested we'd take the day-old tiramisu from the lobby, since they'd run out, but he couldn't quite pull it off. i can't remember if it was awkward and embarrassing or quaint and funny. i'm trying to wipe the false memory of him saying "whack". the food quality was mixed, and plentiful. also very salty. the wine was great. the dessert was disgusting.

by the time we'd wrapped up at the restuarant it was gone eleven, so what better to do than head into downtown detroit, go looking for a shoot-out or some shit. i figure i may as well experience america from the bottom up, if you start with the worst cities it can only get better (next stop texas!). if you survive. and apparently detroit is as bad they come. the crime figures aren't as bad as they used to be (apparently better than national, state and metro averages), but it must be hard to shake the reputation. i feel safe to a certain degree, but i can't help feeling uncomfortable, which is no different to me being in any unfamiliar country at odd hours. round here is so different to anything i've witnessed before. round here it's all about the cars.

every car shines, glossy like they're brand new. like they've just rolled out of photo shoot. suped up and pimped. lowriders showing off their suspension, and every car with spinning rims, driving round in gangs. it really is a car city. as if the city belongs to its automobiles, and they have not treated it well. but more on that later. we went for drinks at the beer company, hosting its own in-bar brewery. quite impressive. julie's stout was brilliant, but my IPA was far too sharp. it was decided its flavour had a hint of detergent, and that kind of ruined it. by the time we'd finished it was way gone 1am and i was ready to head back to canada (please), but instead we had a walk around, which felt a bit unnecessary and unwise. why are we going down this alley when we could go down the main road? don't all the people hanging out in their parked up cars disturb you at all? it's like walking through a gangster video or something stupid. every five minute a cop drives by. we walked past one cop shouting at a van of guys and i couldn't tell a word they were saying. pedro suggested we take a different route and we did.

the crossing back into canada is quicker and easier, but no more pleasant. what am i doing in canada? i don't know, what are you doing in canada?

the next thing i remember is driving out to get breakfast, doing the whole diner thing as authentically as possible. windsor has been very americanised, at least compared to toronto. our diner is as american as i needed it to be, the elvis and james dean posters weren't really necessary at all. pancakes, waffles and homemade hash browns. gruesomely awesome. and from here we crossed back over into america for a proper tour of detroit, which never really happened. detroit reminds me of coventry, or at least the specials' take on it. i've never seen so many abandoned buildings in a downtown core before. looking around from our parked car, nearly every building was empty. their windows smashed or boarded up, what has happened to this city? half of the city is derelict. where are all the people?

we took the people mover, an automated guideway transit looping around downtown, but got after a few stops to find the tourist information, which we never did. we bought tea from a nasty cafe instead and sat in a square taking photos.

i'd eaten so many samples of the various pastries i couldn't possibly have bought any food. we decided the best option would be a drastic change of scenery. as fascinating as detroit is there really was nothing there for us, so we headed off to ann arbor, a cute town and home of michigan university.

american campuses are great because they look just like they do in the movies. michigan university was especially refreshing, as it has a history of student activism and being generally left wing. one of the billboards had a huge "class war - just do it" poster spread around its base and was covered in various anti-war and anti-bush posters.

we ate surprisingly good noodles at a nearby fast-food restaurant, and then i insisted on us getting milkshakes. it's what you do when in america right? and luckily we managed to do better than the ben and jerry's cafe, we found a nice cafe where i got the thickest orea milkshake i've ever collapsed a straw on. it was perfect. also whilst in ann arbor we spent a while in the second hand bookstores (including a "david's books"), but i failed to find any mcsweeneys. we still managed to buy over ten books between us. and we shopped at the wholefoods supermarket, eating an unreasonable amount of cheese samples, date samples and guacamole samples. we figured we'd be ok bringing back a few beers each so splashed out on their impressive beer selection. vanilla beer is actually well tasty, and the 8% blueberry is dangerous.

of course it wasn't quite ok. at the boarder we were sent around the side to customs and made to pay $12 import duty. turns out it's only duty free if you stay in america over 48 hours. of course, had we not mentioned the beer there wouldn't have been a problem. the strangest thing though, because of this they didn't even check our passports or ID. julie and louise went into the office to sort it all out and i stayed outside, leaning against the car and trying not to look like a terrorist or smuggler or whatever else, watching two border police remove the entire contents of a car belonging to an indian family, whilst they sat on the curb looking justifiably miserable. their car was full like they were moving. it was all kids toys and sellotaped up boxes. a mattress. the police women smiled whilst they worked, but not like they were enjoying it. when we'd driven in we'd been completely ignored until we'd got out the car and started walking around asking people what we were supposed to do. i still can't believe they didn't check my passport.

back in windsor it was surprisingly late. driving around michigan takes a long time. we sat for a while down by the river, me playing with louise's zoom lens, before heading home and cooking a fat stirfry.

after dinner all there was to do was hit the hottub. hot tub. which is another new experience for me, and highlights exactly why i love house sitting (louise is currently house sitting, we're helping). i can fully abuse having a hottub without having to deal with all the terrible consequences (for instance, did you know they're supposed to be on all the time? this tub is kept at 100f 24 hours a day, how can you justify that?). so we had a good night enjoying the tub, for at least a couple of hours longer than you're supposed to. talking equal amounts of rubbish and seriousness, drinking our american beer, dropping our beer in the water, taking 'american apparel' style photos. all that kind of decadent malarkey. all i needed was a whiskey and a cigar. i guess all julie and lousie needed were bunny ears.

i might get in trouble for that one, nevermind.

come 3am (don't worry, between us we'd figured out how to turn the temperature done to a more sensible 80f, and had stopped using the jets before they started to bruise) it was beyond all our bedtimes and we'd walked water all over the house (i wasn't allowed to toilet in the garden, so be it). getting out of that tub was real hard work, it was too easy to stay there. i wonder how many people drown in these things.

me and julie got up at about 9am and read for a while in the garden. after some deliberation we decided to walk to the nearest corner store to replace the moldy bread and cook up a breakfast, since making/letting louise drive was out of the question (i certainly wouldn't have driven). so how do you find a corner store in an unknown surburbia? we asked a random person and tried to interpret his answer as best as possible. welcome to suburban life, where most roads don't have sidewalks and people have no sense of distance. it all adds up to a very strange experience. when the oil runs out these people will be lost. i wont miss them.

after a good feed we hopped back into the car and zoomed off to point pelee national park, a peninsula that sticks out into lake erie and is the southernmost point of canada. we never made it to the tip though, we took a detour through some thick trees and found ourselves on a deserted beach, where we had to go skinny dipping.

so hurray for my second great lake. the water was surprisingly warm but worryingly unclear, thoroughly enjoyable. on the east side of the peninsula is a huge marsh, that in my memory at least stretches as far as you can see, a walkway snaking its way through the marsh grash. it would have been cool to look through the binoculars, but some stupid kid was insisting on using them, despite only being able to see the sky cos he was so short. for a second i was worried he'd accidentally look into the sun, but then.. i don't know

we got vege burgers and drove quickly back to windsor, slightly concerned we'd miss our bus. we made it, but only just. we didn't have time to get food, meaning i had to succumb to subway, but at least the guy gave me an extra free cookie. and that about ends our journey down south and into america. phew..

were not wasting paper [or grammar]
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