Thursday, May 20, 2010

Photo Essay 1: Oh Canada!

I thought it would be interesting to create a photo essay of my commute through Canada. Of course, the moment I decided to do this, I was already on the Blue Water Bridge and the day was overcast which means that it looks pretty grim.
The rules I established were pretty simple: The pictures had to be taken from inside the car, and I couldn't endanger anyone (myself included) to get the shot.

Traveling into and out of Canada means going through customs. It also requires going over bridges. Lake Huron is to the west, the Blue Water Bridge crosses at Port Huron over into Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. On the east end is the Niagra River with crossings at Queenston-Lewiston, Rainbow Bridge at Niagra Falls, and the Peace Bridge, which I've never been on.

There can be tremendously long lines on the bridges; the time spent waiting varies wildly with no discernible pattern. Since each of the 3 lanes is dedicated to a specific kind of traffic, I never know what I'm going to be stuck behind. I was behind this RV for about 45 minutes. The worst part being that there's no change of scenery, and when the scenery is a square white box, well, it gets tedious very quickly.

Nearer the actual border, the lane breaks into a series of shorter lines, all with folks waiting to get into (or out of) the country. Choosing a lane is a com
plete crapshoot. It may be the shortest, but that doesn't make it the fastest.

When I get lucky, I can cross the bridge, flash my passport and be gone in less than five minutes. When I'm not so lucky, it's taken up to 2 hours to get through the border. I still haven't figured out when the best and worst times are--it has been random and arbitrary. One advantage I have is that I'm an uninteresting middle-aged woman traveling solo in definite "mom car." Once I'm at the booth it rarely takes more than 45 seconds. (Random car searches not included.)

The challenge, once I get into Canada, is staying awake. The 402 from Sarnia to London is the longest Canadian segment of the drive, and there is little to break up the monotony other than the occasional OPP patrol. Granted, it's only about an hour on the 402, then a quick and entertaining drive along the 401 before settling back into farm country monotony for a while.

A healthy lunch always helps.

It turns out that I don't actually like Smarties. Nestle has taken a perfectly good M & M knockoff and added essence of weird flowers or something equally bizarre and unexpected. Of course, Canadian zesty taco (taco piquant) chips are already a misnomer. Why I would expect more of Smarties is beyond me.

Eventually, civilization happens. Lake something-or-other is on the left (a quick googling tells me it is Lake Ontario). This is Hamilton, Ontario--also known as the land of traffic cones and bad merges along the QEW.

I wanted a picture of the ongoing construction, but couldn't get one without violating my safety rules--cars dart in and out of lanes with only occasional signal use. Mostly, I grind my teeth and cling to the wheel, refusing to give up my lane.

Eventually, after surviving Hamilton and exiting onto 420, I'm rewarded with a view of Niagra Falls.

A colleague I shared an office with back in Michigan told me once to always take the Rainbow Bridge. It is designated for tourist use, and trucks are not allowed on it. Most trips, this is how I return to New York. The border on the day I was taking these was completely empty, meaning that I pulled right up to the booth and cleared customs within seconds.

Immediately after leaving the customs area is downtown Niagra Falls, New York. Tourist season hadn't yet opened when I snapped this, but when it gets warm, human throngs take over, making it extremely difficult to get through town.

What I particularly like about returning this way isn't that I get to see the falls from my car, but rather the Niagra river. At this point, I'm about 90 minutes from my exit.

I'm in New York, it feels like home, and only one exit remains.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


I bought a bottle of wine at the grocery store today. A serviceable Australian Shiraz; nothing very interesting. As it rode down the conveyor belt toward the cashier, I automatically pulled out my driver's license and held it up for her. I am obviously over 40, so she snickered quietly to herself while looking at me as though I was maybe just a little off. There was an obvious internal debate as to whether she should humor me and look at it or pretend it, and I were invisible.

In New York, they ID everyone.

After 9 months of living mostly there, I'm no longer befuddled by the sea of New York license plates though I'll confess to continued bemusement over grape pie.

None of this is what I set out to write about, though. What I wanted to write about was how this living two different lives in two different places leads to half-memories. In particular, I am often confused about who I know, and where I know them (given that I've moved a lot in the course of my life, this shouldn't be a surprise, really).

Spring semester has just ended, and I'm back in Michigan for a few days before I need to attend a conference, then spend some time cleaning up the aftermath of the semester. I'm working on regaining my momitude, which isn't as easy as it sounds. One of the chores that falls into this is grocery shopping. For what it's worth, I don't love grocery shopping. It's a chore, whether I'm doing it in Michigan or New York.

Nevertheless, I'm in the store, staring at the root vegetables. Plotting. A woman with a slight, shuffling step walks by and I think "oh, This is Michigan." She is, in fact, a total stranger with Laura's walk. I keep staring at the turnips, parsnips and leeks. For just a moment, I am lost in place.