Strangers In A Strange Land

With all due apologies to Robert Heinlein.

While none of us actively seek to do so, each member of our family often manages to be the odd man out.  The last place the son worked, he said he was the weirdest guy in the room.  He’s actually happy at the new plant, where, he says, he’s just the opening act.  There’s nothing that will hold a mirror up to your normalcy, or lack of it, like a road-trip, to see how others do it.  Jeff Foxworthy says it’s like goin’ to the local fair.  “Why, we’s dang near royalty!”  With that in mind, the son and I spent a weekend in the Detroit area.

He hasn’t been able to make the trip for almost ten years.  He had seen the photos of the big wind-turbines we passed last October, but nothing gives the scale like driving right under them.  I’ll include pictures, and maybe a video, in a later post.  He was impressed by their size, and proximity to the highway.  He was less impressed by the two fields of solar panels, which we didn’t get a picture of.  They just looked like someone had pulled a black shroud over a couple of acres of dead farmland, which, in effect, they had.

I think we passed the home of the lady who objected when the turbines were going up.  She complained that they already had enough wind in the area.  They didn’t need these big fans making more.  She could have been Liz’s sister.  D’oh!!

We crossed the Ambassador Bridge and stopped at a Security booth manned by a 30-ish male.  As I’ve said, we never mention knife shows.  As I do when the wife and I go down, I told him we were going to do some shopping.  I should have told him that the wife had sent along a list of stuff we can’t get in Canada.  We got Searched!  He looked in the car and saw two males claiming to be going shopping, and said, “Pop the trunk.  I want to take a look.”

I wasn’t worried.  He saw a shopping basket with five bottles of Pepsi, a large orange juice bottle, filled with iced tea, a smaller bottle with two days worth of orange juice, two newspapers and two crossword puzzles.  I’m surprised he wasn’t so bored he dozed off and fell into the trunk, but, back he came.  “Thanks guys.  Have a nice time.”  Them boys is too bland to be smugglers or terrorists.

We were supposed to have phoned the wife, our designated worrier, when we crossed the border in each direction, but we got distracted by all the big-city lights, and forgot till we were on the wrong side of the river.  The son tried to place a billed-to-the-room call when we got to the motel, but the phone system malfunctioned.  Finally on Saturday he placed a collect call.  She said that no police officer had showed up by 11 PM to report an accident, so she assumed we were safe.

After we booked in, we both lay down for a nap.  Mine was only an hour and a half.  Since the son had been up since 7 PM the previous day, I let him sleep four hours.  While he was still out, I took a walk, circling the Big Boy restaurant in front of the motel.  In the James Bond movie, Diamonds Are Forever, Bond apologizes to a rat for having a gay assassin’s cheap cologne spilled on him.  He says, “One of us smells like a tart’s handkerchief.  Sorry old man, I think it’s me.”  Around on the unused side of the restaurant, two guys were doing something near two vehicles.  I assume they were the gay assassins, because, from 10 feet away, I could hardly breathe from the tart’s handkerchief smell.  I left quickly, lest I be invited to join the party.

We went out to check a couple of possible places to get good fish and chips.  I passed a place I had found on-line, on the way to another spot.  We decided to go back to it, because it looked more reputable than the one recommended by the on-call ambulance team I had met.  We walked in just ahead of two young men, just before 7 PM.  A sign out front threatened “Live Entertainment”, and they were it.

The fish was good.  The chips were the milk-powder coated variety for crispness, the kind the lactose-intolerant wife can’t eat.  Without the spoilsport chaperone wife along, I had a cup of decent bean soup, a bowl of crisp, well-dressed coleslaw, and  a 20 ounce glass of well-chilled, Australian-type, 8.5 percent, craft-brewed ale from Wisconsin.

The two musicians (?) played a keyboard and a guitar, and one of them sang – I think, although the noun caterwauling came to mind.  Without any help from the studio audience, I managed to identify every song they played, even if they couldn’t.  Is it cynical to note that those few of the audience who clapped, did so when these guys stopped playing?

We stopped at my favorite Meijer store on the way back to the motel, and got everything on the wife’s list except flavored coffee creamers.  Oh, the excitement, it was like electricity in the air.  We were asleep again by midnight.  Tomorrow we attend the knife show.  Stop in to the site, I hope to post pictures.

The Best Laid Plans

So. the WordPress scheduled posting didn’t work as I expected.  In fact it didn’t work at all!  Back to the drawing board.  I hoped that the wife would post the following, manually for me, if the timer failed.  She assumed it worked correctly, and didn’t check.  She had four cats and a dog to feed and water and clean up after, and me gone.  I asked the daughter to check the post early Saturday morning, and remind the wife if there was a problem.  She was busy using her power wheelchair as a pack mule to get half her usual load to Barterworks, because I wasn’t available to drive her.

So, I’ve blamed WordPress, check!

I’ve blamed the wife, check!

I’ve blamed the daughter, check!

OK, I’m in the clear.  All I have to do now is publish the following post, that should have been up three days ago.  So, without further ado, and only a modicum of adon’t, Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you;

We’re Off To See The Wizard

Don’t worry about being quiet while you read this blog; I’m not at home anyway.  Either through learning Brain Rants’ trick of timer-induced-publishing, or just by begging the wife to post it manually, by the time you read this post, I will be in a foreign country, rolling out of bed to go look at some weapons.

The son and I have fled the Great White North for the comfort and security of (Metro) Detroit.  As usual, the excuse is the Spring Knife Show, but the reality is that it’s just nice to get away from the usual, if even only for a couple of days.  I’m taking along about $3.75 of American change I’ve accumulated since last October, including 10 quarters.  I still need five “State” quarters to complete the set.

Whether or not it’s because I set a good example, the son has established a good work ethic.  His shop, like so many others, has a problem with absenteeism.  In an attempt to improve attendance, they offer one day off with pay, for every six months without a late or absence.  Last year he got two free days.  Their six month periods start April 1, and October 1.  If he misses a day, it’s because he called in dead.  The day I fell off my motorcycle and broke my shoulder, I showed up at 10 AM in a sling.  The supervisor said that when I didn’t show up on time, he knew something serious had happened.

Last November son got a bad cold and missed one day, so no day off.  Because the company relies on temp workers, they eddy in and out, bringing their infections, because they can’t afford to live solidly, or get medical services.  A couple of weeks ago, he brought home another bad cold/flu, and generously shared it with the wife and me.  Last week, he was so sick that he lost four consecutive days.  Since he didn’t get a free one, he booked Friday off.

We’ll have driven past that forest of wind-turbines and solar farms, and saluted RogueBlogger’s home town.  I found the file of photos we took in October, and plan to put up a post including them.  Two guys in a big city without female supervision, for a whole weekend, what could possibly go wrong?

Saturday, we’re driving up to Novi, MI. to attend the knife show.  It’s in the back of a gun show, mostly hunting rifles and shotguns, not much to interest either the kid or I.  After we get back, it’s shopping time.  The wife is sending a shopping list of stuff to get at the Meijer store, or at Wal-Mart.  Sunday we’ll be spending across the street, at the Gibraltar Trade Center, a giant indoor flea market.  In a fenced-off section, they are also holding a gun and knife show.  The knives will be mostly factory crap, but there will be more hand-guns to drool on and pick up.

It was bad enough before 9/11, but now you just don’t tell the border guards that you’re going to a gun/knife show.  I made that mistake the first time we came down.  I admitted to a black, female guard, just small enough for her and her .40 caliber Glock to fit into the booth, that we were going to a knife show.  “How many knives you bringing in?  How many knives you gonna take back?  You got an import/export licence??”  Now it’s just, “Tourism officer, just getting away from the grind for a weekend.  Gonna do some shopping.”  They like it if you plan to spend money, but they wanna know if you’ve got a motel room booked, and where.

Not only does the Gibraltar Trade Center have the biggest collection of STUFF under an acre of roof, they’ve also got the biggest collection of foodthat’sbadforyou, in two food-service areas.  Wet burritos, (I’ll raise one to BrainRants.) chilli-cheese nachos, Chinese food, pizza, pretzels and cheese-dip, fries and gravy, (They’ve even learned how to make poutine.) fried chicken, chilli dogs….the list goes on and on.  I plan to start early, and have one of everything.  Candied almonds, dill pickle on a stick….I hope the bridge holds on the way back.

I’ll try not to look like a rube by staring up at all them big tall, 3 and 4 storey buildings, but the first time I say please, and thank-you, they’ll spot me for a Canuck.  We’ll blow the budget on some half-decent restaurants, Denny’s, Outback, maybe some fish and chips.  Have I mentioned that I like food??!

The kid works Thursday night, and gets home early Friday.  He figures with the adrenalin, he’ll have a shower, change his clothes, and we’ll be on the road well before noon.  On re-reading this post, it seems about as exciting as a grocery list, but I hope to bring back some interesting memories that I can share with you.  Thanx for stopping in to read.  Come back Tuesday  Wednesday for a new post.  It won’t be about this trip yet, ‘cause I’m a slow typist, but I’ll pull something out of the recycle bin.  Stronger than a locomotive, faster than a speeding bullet, look, up there on the highway, it’s Tourist Geek!

9/11 Redux

I read BrainRants’ once-a-week, daily post two days ago, and realized that 9/11 had sneaked by me, not because it wasn’t important, but because time seems to slip past me so quickly now.  When I was a kid, the summer vacation seemed to last a whole year.  Now that I’m retired, a whole year seems to slip past in a week.

When I worked, I could measure the passage of time by the disappearance of cans of Pepsi.  I took one to the plant every day I worked.  A case of 24 got me through just over a month, and I had the feeling of accomplishing something.  Nowadays I mark time by the disappearance of anti-histamine pills from a blister pack, and helping the wife and I stay healthy is about as productive as it gets.

My memory is poor, but who could forget 9/11?  We got the news on the line at work from supervisors and QC managers.  I went straight home after work and was watching TV when the towers collapsed.  Suddenly, the embassy bombing, the attack on the Cole, and the previous internal attempt to blow the Trade Center all meshed.  I knew that everything was about to change.

It changed for us about a month and a half later.  We had planned to drive a second time to Charleston, SC, for a week’s vacation.  The previous year we had crossed the border at Detroit.   A couple of perfunctory questions, and we were waved through.  This time, we crossed over at Buffalo.  There were twice the number of border guards, some of them wearing pistols, some of them leading dogs, some of them with articulated poles with mirrors on the ends.

The questions were hard and tight.  Who were we?  Where were we from?  Why did we want to get into the US?  Where were we going?  How long would we be there?  All the while, the guy with the dog circled the car in one direction, and the guy with the mirror inspected my exhaust and oil pan from the other.

I was driving a station-wagon at that time, and I knew that they would want a look inside, so I pushed the hatch unlock button.  Unlike vans, the hatch did not rise on its own; it had to be raised by hand.  The wife told me to stay with the car, and she would open it when they asked.  Soon the command came, and it was a command, not a request, to open the back.  Two things happened almost simultaneously.  We almost had two guns pointed at us.  When the hatch didn’t immediately pop open, the officer on my side of the car must have thought I was ignoring him, and shouted the command again, adding the word, now!

On the wife’s side of the car, she was getting out to raise the lid, and the guard on her side suddenly jumped back and grabbed for his side-arm.  I explained to my guy that someone had to raise the hatch, and, since he wasn’t doing it, my wife would.  Things calmed down, a little.  They started pawing through our stuff, which had been clearly visible through the windows.  We had taken our Koolatron portable refrigerator, but were using it just as a box to hold various items.  The power rectifier/cord was in a small wicker basket with some other things, so that it wouldn’t get lost.  When they came upon that, all Hell broke loose!

What was this infernal electric/electronic device?  Was it a controller for a bomb?  Could we bring down airplanes with it?  Even after we explained its use, they still wanted to know why it wasn’t with/in the Koolatron.  That’s full!  You just looked in it!

The entire feel of the country was different from previous trips.  When we got to Charleston, we found that there had been rules enacted to prevent anyone from fishing within twenty yards of any bridge abutment, despite the fact that, some of the best fishing is in the shadow of the bridges.

America had lost her virginity.  Not that the 3000+ lives lost in the twin-towers holocaust weren’t important, but three thousand out of three hundred million is a mere pinprick.  It was the pinprick, however, which let the air out of the USA’s carefree isolation.  The Japanese were stopped at Pearl Harbor.  These rats had got right into the pantry.

People questioned our going down to the States, “Where they’re having all that trouble.” But the day before we left, there had been a bomb report phoned in at the company the wife worked for.  There ultimately was no bomb, but the prank caller got his money’s worth.  He emptied out the head-office building, and three local branch office buildings.  A couple of weeks previously, I noticed a church deacon wandering around the balcony where we were seated, during the sermon.  The service was cut short and we were asked to vacate the building because someone had called in a bomb threat….to a church!  A week after we got back, an aerosol recycling plant almost no-one knew existed, had an explosion, significant enough to close a section of the city.  We just think we’re safe.

Eleven years later, things are still changing.  Some restrictions are relaxing; others are still tightening up.  In just over a week, we will be taking a weekend trip to metro Detroit.  This will be our first border crossing in three years, and the first time we will need to provide passports.  You’re not allowed to smile for passport photos.  Dealing with bureaucracy is not conducive to smiling anyway.

I once read a book called The Wasp, where an agent created havoc in an enemy country through minor actions.  Forty years later, the wasps have arrived, and ruined our innocence.  I remember and mourn those who needlessly died that unforgettable day, and I salute and respect those like BrainRants, who strive to give back what freedom and peace of mind we can hold.