Sarnia’s Bayfest 2003


What had started out as the potential for a somewhat dreaded long ride in Tony’s Saturn (Saturn didn’t waste any engineering or materials on the passenger seat in the SL; it’s like sitting on a milk crate after the first 20 miles) turned into a frantic, Keystone Kops race through Montgomery County to get the Rav4 E-checked (it passed) and licensed so we could take it on the road trip. Fortunately, it was a Thursday morning – Friday and Saturday mornings at the license bureau are a circus, I’ve done that drag before.

Oh, yes -- and did I mention, we also put new tires on it before hauling it up the highway?  Yup.  Tony took the Rav4 for new tires while I broke down the dog's crate and finished packing.

When you have a twenty pound, attachment-oriented dog traveling with you, the idea of having a station-wagon type vehicle, instead of a poorly ergonomically designed four-door sedan, pushes you to do crazy things. We did, and we were glad for it.

Max, unable to sit on a human, rests on the sofa -- with a vengeance.

It was overcast and dumpy-looking much of the way up I-75, although it didn’t actually rain until we were north of Toledo. To make up for it, it rained constantly all the way from Toledo to the Bluewater Bridge between Port Huron, MI and Sarnia, ON (an hour and some change north of Detroit). I don’t mind saying I dreaded the thought of taking the dog and a cooler, in a station wagon, through the border checkpoint. The border guard on the Canadian side seemed a little nonplussed when we had to fumble for the registration to give her the plate number – and was frankly shocked to hear we’d only had the vehicle for a week. I haven’t had time to discover any handy memory devices for the plate number yet (Tony’s plate, on the Saturn, is ‘CR84WE,’ which I remember as ‘crate for we’). We didn’t go into the whole story. She didn’t have gray hair yet, and we didn’t feel compelled to do her that favor on a rainy Thursday evening in mid-July. I guess she was reassured by the fact we could lay hands on the registration immediately to give her the number, though – guess that told her we hadn’t stolen the car – she passed us on through without any additional comment.

It was still raining when we got to Sarnia, so we nixed the vague plan we’d sort of had, of going to the Blink-182/Sum 41 show, right off. I might have entertained the notion of trying to get in for the Sum 41 show, but really. I’m 38 years old. I’m older than the singer’s mother, I bet.

Apparently, parking is usually at a premium at the Drawbridge Inn, Sarnia; with it being the hotel closest to the grounds where the concerts are, and right there at the border, it was even worse with a multi-day music festival going on. Some mook in a gigantic SUV (Endeavor? Envoy? Putsch? Some wholly inappropriate noun for a vehicle that logs gallons to the mile) had parked it cockeyed in one of the spaces in the garage. We passed on the space beside it the first time, and parked on the street in a two-hour zone, figuring we’d go back out for it later; when Tony went down to get something out of the Rav4 half an hour later, he decided to go ahead and jam it into the space next to the suburban assault vehicle, between two cement pillars. He backed it in, so the passenger door on the Rav was about six inches off the passenger door of the Gigantor, reasoning that their monster was four-door too, so if they couldn’t park any better than they had, they deserved to have to climb over the console from the passenger side.

After we’d unloaded the car and gotten settled into the room, we walked up to Harvey’s (a Canadian fast-food chain that’s actually pretty decent) and encountered a painfully familiar, Daytonesque level of good-natured incompetence. Oddly, the food tasted better than what we’d grabbed at Wendy’s on the way out of Kettering, although it was substantially the same. The kids working at the Harvey’s were forced to soldier on through a positively Baltic evening with a dead air conditioning compressor (it still wasn’t fixed on Saturday night when we stopped in again). It must have been at least eighty degrees in the building. It wasn’t so bad if you were sitting still and eating, but to work over a flame griddle and a deep fryer – they deserved hazard pay, to say the least.

The view from our window at the Drawbridge Inn, Sarnia.

Back in the room, TNN (which Jon Stewart maintains is being renamed ‘Cock,’ in spite of the fact TNN swears it’s renaming it ‘Spike’ to try to draw the overgrown frat-boy crowd) was showing something produced by (and, apparently, starring) Ralph Bakshi; John Kricfalusi (of Ren and Stimpy fame) also worked on it. It consisted largely of very bad sketches starring Bakshi and old Ren and Stimpy cartoons that John K. still had the rights to – the ones Nickelodeon didn’t control, I guess. While we watched, Max gnawed on a dental ‘treat’ – he doesn’t know they’re good for him, he likes them. Unlike a child, there’s no way of screwing such things up for a dog by talking about how good they are for him in front of him.

Max watches an amorphous human on television.

Interestingly, Tony tells me Spike Lee has a restraining order on TNN regarding the name change. He doesn’t want anybody to think he has anything to do with it. I told Tony maybe Elvis Costello (who had an album out called ‘Spike’) and Spike Jonze probably could join him in a class action suit if they wanted to. Maybe they will have to call it ‘Cock’ after all. Wonder if they’ll pay Jon Stewart anything for the idea?



Well, how else would you start a Friday?

Nothing like the combination of a dog with a full bladder in a strange place and in-room coffee to drag your ass out of bed at a reasonable hour. We were up and around before nine, which is practically unheard of for us, on weekends. We drank our coffee and watched a show (now defunct, at least judging by the nonexistent website address they gave out at the end) called ‘The Comedy Kitchen,’ on one of the Canadian cable stations – I have to say, Canadian hotels and motels (non-chain ones, at least) are always great for providing excellent cable selections. We’d gone to Indianapolis for a couple of nights the previous month. All that was on the cable at the Best Western in downtown Indy (for which we’d paid at least as much per night as the one in Sarnia) was the former Turner channels (TNT, TBS, CNN, Headline News), local broadcast, ESPN, MTV and Fox. The selection on the Canadian cable in our room was nearly as broad as what we pay extra to get at home.

Max contemplates Bluewater Bay.  Or something near it.

We walked to a mall (downtown-style, not suburban-style; it was called a mall, but it was more correctly an arcade) near the hotel and wandered around there for a while. Ran into a guy who was, apparently, a local – but who traded in American Indian goods from both Canada and the U.S. He was familiar with our part of Ohio, because there’s a big native art and artifact trader’s convention in Xenia, Ohio that he tries to attend every year (that’s only about ten miles from us); and had also spent time in Albuquerque and Santa Fe on buying and trading trips. Bought a numbered litho, from a local artist, of the Bluewater Bridge (the main US-Canada connector between Sarnia and Port Huron). I’ve decided those are nice things to have, I'm going to start looking for them everywhere we go regularly – we bought a litho of the Arch in St. Louis done by a local artist there named John Pils that we liked, too – they aren’t either hideously expensive or hard to transport.

Tony bought a Hawaiian shirt from the guy, too – well, it was Hawaiian in design. It actually was assembled in London, Ontario, about sixty miles east of Sarnia. He was bemused to discover, on putting it on later, that it didn’t have a breast pocket.

Ah, well.  It’s the little things that get you.  It is a very attractive shirt.

A tower block apartment on the corner on the
opposite side of the street from the Drawbridge.

The bill for the evening’s shows was a band called Barlow (apparently the band of a guy named Tom Barlow, from Toronto, that’s about all I can determine) and Barenaked Ladies. We intended to see both shows, we really did – but after walking all over town early in the day, and then walking to the venue, my legs and feet were killing me. After two hours’ standing around waiting for the even opening band to start playing, I was in pain. I tried, I really did, but we left before the BNL show even started.

I’ll be perfectly honest – I don’t even remember much about Barlow. Seems like the singer (whom, I later discovered, is the namesake of the band) had a good voice that was buried too much in the mix at the expense of the guitars, and they just didn’t send me. He’s well thought of in Toronto music circles, I also discovered, but I’d never heard of him and there’s no Allmusic entry for him.

I'm fairly certain the fact I wasn’t impressed by Barlow added to my inability to continue to stand around in a crowded, grassy field and watch 20,000 people get drunk.

I’m not even all that fond of BNL anymore, to be honest. I liked them up to ‘Stunt,’ but after that ... eh. We saw them play at the outdoor venue in Cincinnati a couple of years back, and they wasted about fifteen minutes of their encore playing with some high-school girl’s cell phone, talking to her father and trying to get the cheesy little cell phone speaker to broadcast through a vocal mike so we could all share the warmth. I rather badly wanted to bludgeon them, by the time it was over. People had started leaving already, by the time they went on with the song.

Nothing succeeds like success, man.

So, we went back to the room and drank a little wine and watched bad movies on TV. The first one seemed almost pornographic (i.e., ‘that which has no redeeming social value’ – there were only a few topless scenes, actually, and a little gratuitous dope-smoking), in the sense that most C-grade drive-in fodder from its era was. It was called ‘Van Nuys Blvd.’ (Literally, 'Blvd,' on the posters I found online when researching the title after we got home.)  It was your classic late-70s drive-in opener about some hick kid (okay, he was supposed to be a kid – he actually had a receding hairline) from Anaheim, or someplace that was a near analogue of Anaheim, who decides he wants to take his race-van to Van Nuys Blvd and ... well, he ends up licking ketchup off an anorectic curb-service waitress's thorax, and dancing with the Kansas City minor league baseball (or was it ice hockey?  Lacrosse?  Mah Jongg?) team’s cheerleaders in a disco that somehow mystically appeared in the middle of an amusement park ... or else the continuity guy was really rolling on Dilaudid.

But, then, I don’t think plot was intended to be the strong suit of any movie that would have been showing as a drive-in first feature, while everybody was trying to cop a feel or a joint, anyway. Anorectic girls’ boobs and disco dancing seemed to be the strong point of the movie, since there was no plot and the only decent song was the theme song – par for the course for any drive-in opening feature I remember from the early eighties, as a matter of fact. Kinda’ sad, really, when the movie was called ‘Van Nuys Blvd’ and was, apparently, supposed to be about the cruising scene in Van Nuys, but about all you got was a gruel-thin, shitty plot line and the endless diversion of topless grade-B actresses who looked like they were eleven. Feh. The things you’ll sit and put your eyes through, when you’re tired and don’t feel like going back out.

If that wasn’t enough soul-sapping cultural detritus for one night, the next movie that came on was Mae West’s ‘Sextette.’ If you’re really into horror movies, rent it – otherwise, beware. The movie was made in 1980. It was supposed to have been a ‘sex romp’ – but West was already eighty-five years old, which would make for a pretty train-wrecky sex romp, even if the plot had been appropriate for an eighty-five-year-old former sex kitten (and I’m not convinced it couldn’t have been done, if it had been done with consideration of her legacy in mind rather than money, thanks Hollywood). It was actually based on a movie she’d written for herself when she was in her fifties, when she could have been convincing and very entertaining in the role – Mae West held her age for a good long time, and was still very attractive and convincing as a vamp in her fifties, and even into her sixties. God knows why they dusted it off thirty years later – I guess because things had been so repressed when she’d written it, she couldn’t get it made as written. Well, actually, I’m not sure God would have let this abomination go on, if He’d known about it, but clearly God has nothing to do with Hollywood or about eighty percent of the Bruce Willis movies on the shelf at Blockbuster never would have been made.

West was supposed to have been an aging American heiress marrying a younger British noble, played by a then-thirty-four-year-old Timothy Dalton (a British actor I’d first seen in ‘I Claudius,’ who took a comically unsuccessful turn as James Bond about seven years later, in the early post-AIDS era and before the Bond franchise was handed off to a pretty hack like Pierce Brosnan; the standard for which Roger Moore had set the bar for pretty hacks who should play James Bond).

It’s fairly universally considered to be a sixteen-ton rotting turkey of a movie, if critical reaction is any indication. An eighty-five-year-old, apparently none too sprightly Mae West totters around in elaborately-buttressed gowns, with her cleavage pushed up; enough Vaseline and/or gauze on the camera lens you wouldn’t recognize her if she didn’t speak. Most of the time, she just stands unsteadily in one spot and delivers her lines. You can see her fire-engine red lips moving through the gauze on the lens, but just barely. Imagine her querulous, octogenarian voice delivering the old ‘come on up and see me, sometime’ – which, by the time of ‘Sextette,’ had a definite flavor of ‘hurry up, before I shuffle off this mortal coil.’

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’ve seen some ‘May December romance’ movies in my time, going both directions with the genders, and at least one movie where the characters were gay and dating across a generation or so. It wasn’t even the idea of an eighty-five-year old person with a thirty-four-year old person that squicked me out, per se. It was the fact that somebody must have really slathered the bullshit on poor old Mae (not to mention the Pancake) to convince her she could play that role with any conviction. The movie essentially made asses of everybody in it, and everybody involved in it, because nobody seemed willing to cop to the truth – that it was pathetic to look at her dressed up like she used to dress in her thirties, and deliver lines that would have sounded a little odd coming from her twenty years before the movie was made. I don’t often have movies make me sick to my stomach – I survived both the ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ and ‘It’s Alive’ with my dinner intact – but this one did.

The fact that they made this movie at all was much more farcical than the movie itself – and that’s saying a lot. It made me so sad we walked the dog and went to bed about twenty minutes into it. Nobody asked Cary Grant to play a romantic lead role when he was eighty years old, and I suspect he would have laughed his ass off if they had – what the hell were any of them, including her, thinking?

She wasn’t an actress, by then – she was an elaborately decorated sarcophagus. As cruel as it is, Tony said the thought of Timothy Dalton having sex with her made him think of a cheese sandwich.



It defies all our previous luck on excursions out of town, that the weather was stone gorgeous the whole time, from Friday morning through Saturday night. We took it easy on Saturday morning, since we really intended to see all the shows that day – in other words, I was determined to stay for all the damned bands no matter how miserable I was from standing around. I simply can’t do it, anymore. It was never easy – even when I was younger, I had to move around or sit down – but now, it’s gotten to the point it actually becomes painful after a while.

Tony and Max at the fountain in front of City Hall, two doors down from our hotel.


Here's a view of Bluewater Bay.  It was too big to embed in the document – it's a panoramic shot I did from the provincial park right on the water – but I thought it was worth the effort to link to it.

So we took the dog for a long, leisurely walk in the park on Bluewater Bay (it’s actually a bay off Lake Huron and, as advertised, very blue) and then sat around the room until it was time for the afternoon show. We didn’t even leave the room until the time the gates were supposed to open – but they had a delay in doing the soundcheck for the first band of nearly an hour – so we got there just as they were opening them, and stood in line for a while.

The organizers of Bayfest seem to have it down to a science. There are two audience areas in the open field where they set up – one for those who are too young to drink, one for those who aren’t. It’s ideal, really. Adults who don’t want to have to deal with kids can stay on the adult side, and the people with kids don’t have to deal with reeling drunk jerks. A win-win situation.

The 'freak parade™' – which is, of course, common (if not almost necessary) to any music festival – was not the least subdued, especially since the weather was so clement. I wish I had a dollar for everybody Tony and I pointed out to each other who ‘really shouldn’t be wearing that’ – am I just getting old, or is there a severe shortage of full-length mirrors in the world? It wasn’t limited to age, size or gender, either. Bad taste apparently knows neither borders nor bounds. Well, except I’m sure the sloppy-looking woman in the American flag string bikini was from the other side of the Bluewater Bridge, of course.  It didn't matter that it was a 'stars and stripes' of course – I wouldn't have cared whose flag she was wearing on her string bikini, she couldn't possibly have looked good in it.

Our favorite the whole weekend, I think, was the thirtyish guy in faded denim cargo shorts who sort of assembled out of the crowd before our eyes, about halfway through the Pete Yorn show, wearing motorcycle boots and a black leather jacket in the eighty-degree late-afternoon sun. Not only did he look goofy, he was begging for heatstroke. But, then, so were all the gothy kids in their black bell-bottoms, Doc Marten clones and long-sleeved black velvet and velour ‘I’m a bat and I live in a cave’ regalia.

The first band to play on Saturday was Matthew Good. I’d heard a couple of the songs he played on our local modern rock station – he’s almost not quite emo, but the band was very accomplished and his voice was interesting enough it wasn’t as off-putting as most of the emo that’s been out the past several years. His lead guitarist was especially good – although some of the solos he was playing on the stuff weren’t quite appropriate for the material. I suspect he was either a jazz-fusion player before he joined a pop band, or else he’d just had lots of lessons and hadn’t played in pop bands that much. It’s not always a bad thing – certainly not in this case. Sometimes, that works and fortunately for them, it does on their stuff.

Matthew Good is Canadian, he’s from Vancouver. I point this out mostly because the weekend split the bills, unlike last year. Sum 41 are from Ontario; Blink 182 are not. Barlow are from Toronto; BNL are a Toronto band that started out busking on the streets. Saturday’s list of four bands included only one Canadian band – Matthew Good. Last year, at Bayfest, though we only attended one show (we were turned away at the gate because we had a backpack, although all that was in it was my wallet and our ground blanket; they’d let us into the Sloan show with it), the preponderance of headline bands were Canadian, and all the openers were locals, either from the Sarnia area or Toronto, London or Windsor. This year, only half the bands were Canadian. Either Bayfest has a stink on it for Canadian bands, or their organizers were trying to pander to the Michigan crowd.

We went back to the room after that show because they cleared the venue so the evening bands could set up. We opted to grab something to tide us over at the afternoon/evening show and stop somewhere -- probably Harvey's -- on the way home. Another walk for the dog, change our clothes then right back down to the park.

The biggest surprise of the whole thing, for me, was Pete Yorn. I’ve heard his stuff on the radio – don’t get me wrong, I sorta’ like it; I’m usually fairly fond of singer-songwriter stuff, as long as it doesn’t get too bathetic – but he put on a much better live show than the material would have led me to believe. His band was good, his voice was good – I was really impressed.

They didn’t fool around too long between that show and the Foo Fighters. It was the last night on the Foos’ tour, they were going back home after the weekend, so clearly Dave Grohl didn’t care if he came off stage spitting blood. Ninety minutes, and they didn’t slow down to even announce a song the whole time except for a couple of comments toward the end about it being the last show on the tour. I’d pay to see them as a headliner, on their own.

After watching Yorn and the Foo Fighters, I felt sorry, quite frankly, for Cheap Trick. They looked tired, especially compared to Yorn and Grohl. I mean, okay – who isn’t more tired than they were twenty-five years ago? Grohl was ten years old, at that point; I’m not even sure Pete Yorn had been born yet; I don’t know how old he is (or isn’t). But, still. This is a band that’s been on the road for almost thirty years together, you’d think they could manage to pull the set together sooner than three songs in. In part, it was the fault of the sound guy – the main vocal mic sounded like shit for a while, and never sounded completely right the rest of the night, though it did get some better. Everything else sounded okay (of course, for CT, having the lead vocal mic sound like shit is a definite drawback), and they did manage to pull it together after the third song, but ... I’ve seen these guys do better, even in the past couple of years. It wasn’t a bad show, I guess, especially if you’d never seen them before – but I was sad. I’m so used to seeing them come off the blocks at a dead sprint, the train wreck that made up the first few tunes was really depressing.

I wasn’t so sure, by the time it all was over, Tony wasn’t going to have to put wheels on me and drag me back to the room. We stopped at the Harvey’s on the way to grab a bite to eat (we’d eaten very little and very early, at lunch, and only had a slice of pizza in the middle of the afternoon) only to find out they still hadn’t got the air conditioner fixed. Several of the same kids were still on the counter. I think even I’d have been tempted to call in sick after the first night of it.

We didn’t sit up too late watching TV, with checkout at noon and the drive the next day, but I did see one thing that sort of creeped me out in a way I’m still trying to parse: an ad for a dating service for people in marriages or long-term relationships. There was a sort of ‘we all know after decades of looking at each other’s faces every day, people get tired of each other ...’ vibe to it. Like ‘we can screen other committed people for you who are just as tired of their mates as you are, but don’t want to leave their relationships either, saving you the hassles that guy had to put up with in ‘Fatal Attraction,’ you dig?’ I mean, okay – I suppose it’s probably better than chatting with teenaged girls on the Internet or sleeping with the pool boy, but ... something just bugs me about the idea that you’d jump ship like that without actually (more honestly?) jumping ship. I’m a serial monogamist at heart, I guess – I still perceive sleeping with someone other than the person to whom you’re committed to be cheating, even if neither of you thinks it’s wrong enough to end the relationship. Maybe it just seemed especially tasteless to me to see ads for it on late night television where, at home, I’m used to seeing sleazy phone-sex and ‘wink-wink, nudge-nudge’ matchmaker ads. As I said, I’m still trying to figure out all the reasons it bugged me.



On our way to the elevator to load the car – with a heavily laden luggage cart and a twenty pound dog tugging frantically at his leash, because he knew the loaded cart meant he’d soon get to get into the car again – another couple started from their room, behind us, as we headed for the small elevator. Just as we were getting there, the door was open and two women were standing inside, talking to each other. Tony called ‘hey, hold that!’ Our luggage wouldn’t have fit, but the couple behind us (who, granted, the women inside the elevator couldn’t see) could have gotten on without much trouble, however. This is a heads-up for anybody who thinks Canadians are so polite, or ‘too nice’ – the guy pulled up short just at the elevator doors and said, in a firm voice that doubtless dwindled as the car descended but was perfectly audible, ‘yeah, well, thanks for being so considerate and holding the car for us and all, eh? We appreciate it!’

I love the people I run into in Canada. They’re every bit as funny, in situations like that, as they intend to be. People look at me like I’m from Venus when I do that here in Dayton. I think it’s because when Canucks are nice to you, it’s genuine – and when you fuck them over, they’re genuinely pissed off. Here in southern Ohio, so many service industry people wear false smiles and parrot phrases they’re taught to use in certain situations, when inside they're gritting their teeth wishing they could deck half the people they deal with. The reason they don't appear perturbed or disturbed by your dissatisfaction with their answers or attitude is that they don’t give a shit if you’re happy, they only care if they’re doing their job by the book and if they’ll get their paycheck.

Canadians, on the other hand, actually seem to care if they’re doing their jobs well, not just right or by the book. If you get in their way, they’ll let you know about that, too. Just ask the cleaning staff at the Drawbridge Inn, Sarnia, who insisted on cleaning our room when we went to walk the dog on Friday, whether we wanted them to do it yet or not. Apparently, our chosen hour of emergence – not all that late, in fact – was inconvenient for them. Understandable, especially on a Friday, but I’m so used to people in Dayton – who will say, ‘oh, well, I guess it doesn’t matter if I don’t get the job done, then,’ and just walk away from something, it caused me a few minutes’ cognitive dissonance.

Thing is, I doubt seriously that any one of the service people we dealt with over the weekend we spent in Sarnia – from the cleaning, bar and kitchen staff at the hotel to the kids who worked all weekend at the Harvey’s with no A/C – will ever ‘go ballistic’ on anybody because they’re sick to death of taking crap out of people across a counter for minimum wage. Canadians are allowed to blow off a little steam, even on a customer – as long as it isn't mean-spirited, and can be taken as funny.  But it wouldn’t surprise me to hear that the clerk at the Speedway up the street from me, here in Kettering, went off and punched the shit out of a couple of teenagers who mouthed off to him.  He, unlike the Canadian minimum-wage service workers, is being an asshole if he expresses the slightest dissatisfaction with the behavior of his customers, even if he does make a gentle joke of it – and he's likely to get reprimanded, if not fired, for doing it.  Here in the Midwest, at least, commerce means more than his mental health, no matter how crappy his job is or what a load or shit his 'customers' pile on him.

This would be the same guy who would smile at you when you came to the counter and, as long as you didn’t put him out too much, would say ‘have a good/great/nice day/night/afternoon!’ after he’d given you your change, because it was part of the script. Not, if I need to say it, because he really gives a good goddamn what kind of day/night/afternoon you have, in fact.

Of course, Canadian service industry workers don’t have to worry about where they’ll go for medical treatment if their backs hurt after moving a box into the attic at home, or how they’ll pay for it if it turns out they really did hurt themselves – they have their health care paid for, unlike many of their Stateside counterparts. I don’t know if dental care is part of the single-payer health system in Canada, but judging from how few people I hear complain about their teeth up there, I’d have to guess it is.

I’ve had several jobs that paid anywhere from a little more than minimum wage to twice minimum – and only one of the jobs I had, in over twelve years of working, provided me with full medical benefits and partial dental coverage. The rest either didn't offer anything substantial, or else did offer decent health insurance, but required me to pay a fairly hefty co-payment for the privilege of sharing in their group. Granted, the job I have now would provide part of my health and dental, if I wished – but the job, which doesn’t pay badly, is part-time. It’s safe enough to offer when they know most people who take that job are likely married and covered on their spouse’s policy.

While I waited in the Rav4, with Max, for Tony to settle the bill and turn in the room keys, I watched what I initially thought were five Asian girls ranging from toddler to teenager, waiting outside the Presbyterian church next door to the hotel, apparently for a bus. All but the smallest two were wearing dresses, so I assumed they’d been to church and were heading home. What I didn’t realize, until the tallest picked up the smallest and reached up to push her hair back over her shoulder, was that it was a mother, perhaps in her mid or late twenties, and her four daughters. The oldest girl was nearly as tall as she was, and all wore their hair at least shoulder-length – the mother had the longest hair of the group.  Only the gesture -- brushing her hair back over her shoulder -- gave her away; otherwise, at the distance, I could easily have assumed she was no more than twenty.


Port Huron Michigan on a gloomy Sunday in July.


The clouds had already blown back in, by then. Kind of a dismal view, really – but, at the same time, fitting. We were going from a place that endlessly reminds me (not always to my great pleasure) that the U.S. once was like Canada is now; optimistic, world-thinking and curious rather than resigned, xenophobic and ideological. Canada feels, to me, like the U.S. did up to about the second year of Ronald Reagan’s first term in office – when everybody realized, along with me, that there was a cultural mud-wrestling match a-brewing, and it wasn’t going to let up until somebody had an ass full of gravel. If Canada’s any indication, the open, unafraid side’s won up there, at least for now – but that side has lost down here, south of the 54-40.  In other words, people like me are the ones with gravel in our asses.

Ah, well – at least I’m close enough to Canada to run away there for a weekend now and then, and pretend the world still may progress. And maybe we’ll regain our sanity enough, down here, to learn to leave some things be. I’ll always doubt it, but it’s always a possibility.