Little Snowflake

About 25 years ago, the wife and I went to our first knife show.  It was in Detroit.  I had found out about it from a knifemakers’ magazine I had subscribed to.  Raising the kids, we had not been on many trips, for many years.  We had driven seven hours to vacation at a lake where the brother-in-law liked to fish.  We took a one-year-old and a four-year-old to Niagara Falls, as my parents had taken my brother and me, and we drove a hundred miles each way, every month to visit my parents.

We had not been away by ourselves, and had not been out of the country for over twenty years.  I reminded MasterCard of that fact, the month we got a charge for a J.C.Penny store in Buffalo.  We could afford a weekend away, and needed it.

There might have been online map sites, but back that far, we hadn’t even bought a dial-up connection.  High-speed internet was still only a gleam in my computer’s eye.  I relied on tour-books and maps from CAA.  That’s AAA, with a Maple Leaf on it.  I found a cheap motel a quarter-mile from the expensive hotel where the knife show was being held, right across I-94 from the airport.  While I assured the wife that there were 5 or 6 hotels/motels within a stone’s throw, she insisted that I phone in a reservation.  I told the clerk we’d arrive around 8 or 9 PM.

The show back then was held near the end of February.  I got off work Friday at 3 PM, loaded the wife and luggage into the car and headed for the bank, to get American cash.  We exited the bank on a clear, and still sunny day.  Just as I got into the car, one little snowflake hit my nose.

Soon we were zipping along Highway 401, Ontario’s answer to Interstates.  It started to cloud over and a bit more snow fell.  Thirty miles along there was a clot of cars by the center median.  I buzzed past at 110 Km/h (70 MPH) and realized there were two stuck in the snow, one of them upside-down.  Perhaps I should slow down a bit, first to 100, then to 90, as the snow got more serious.

We were listening to local radio stations for weather reports as we moved.  I had just passed London, ON when the radio report said that the Ontario Provincial Police had closed the 401 “at London.”  90 Km/h became 80, and then 70!  The snow thickened, and the traffic thinned out.  Soon I could see no other vehicles in either direction, speed down to 60, then 50.  See other vehicles?  I could barely see the edge of the road.

As we crept along, debating what to do, finally I saw a big-rig slowly overtaking me.  He’s got more lights and a better angle on the road, so I slowed down and let him pass me.  It was a Verspeeten Transport truck, from back where the car was upside-down.  With his headlights, and him breaking trail for me, we’re back to moving at 65/70.  I followed him for miles and miles.  We’ve had a soft spot for Verspeeten ever since, and always look for them.

Near an overpass, a car was way down in a deep ditch.  We both stopped and checked it out, but the driver must have climbed the hill to the crossroad.  The trucker told me he had to turn off at Chatham, and I would be on my own, but time and distance had broken the storm.  The snow was abating.

When he finally pulled off, I continued.  Just as we passed the Chatham interchange, the new radio station announced that the O.P.P. had closed the highway, “at Chatham.”  Dead-of-night dark, no other traffic and over a foot of snow on the road, we ventured onward.  More than another hour of driving till we reached the outskirts of Windsor, at the border.

Just as we pulled off the highway, onto city streets, the radio told us that the plows were going out to clear the road, and the highway had been closed at Windsor, till they were finished.  It was the fastest we ever crossed the border.  Two drivers from Windsor and I wanted to cross the Ambassador Bridge, and the border guards were happy for the business.

When we got to the Detroit side, the snow had stopped, and the Americans had cleared most of it away – except on the traffic signs.  This had been a wet, clingy snow, and every sign was coated.  I managed to get onto I-94, and headed towards the airport.  My little CAA map gave me no idea of scale.

I had no idea how big metro-Detroit was.  I drove and drove and had no idea where I was.  I finally pulled off I-94 on an exit that seemed to go only into a Ford plant.  I booted a street-sign to knock the snow off it, and checked my map.  I was still only ¾ of the way to the motel.  Back on the road, I soon found where I was supposed to be.

The huge snowstorm had closed the airport.  There were hundreds of stranded passengers.  I pulled into the motel, and went in to register.  I wound up at the end of a row of 9 or 10 people.  Each one in turn would approach the counter and ask if they could get a room for the night.  The clerk would tell each one in turn that they were full up, and there were no rooms available.  And yet the next in line would step up, and ask the same dumb question, and get the same resigned answer.

Finally, it was my turn.  I stepped forward and noted the look on the clerk’s face.  Oh no, not another one!  I pulled a piece of paper from my pocket and placed it in front of her.  “My name is “John Smith”.  I have a reservation.  This is my confirmation number.”  And the face lit up, finally someone she could help, who wouldn’t bitch.  The wife couldn’t resist an, “I told you so.” about phoning in the reservation.

I checked the registration form later.  I officially checked in at 12:07 AM.  The estimated 8 or 9 PM arrival time was considerably delayed.  Our hoped-for 3 to 4 hour drive had taken over eight hours.  One little snowflake on my nose before we started was fun.  It was when he brought a couple of trillion of his friends, and ganged up on me that things got a little hairy.

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Motor City Madness – Pt. 1

Getting There

The Canadian government has recently changed regulations about the dollar value of merchandise that Canadians may bring back from trips to the USA.  The amount for a *day-trip* has increased slightly, but the amount for a two-day stay has increased substantially.  I’m not sure how stringent Customs officials are about the 48 hour interval.  It used to be that you could cross into the States at 4:00 PM, and leave at 2 o’clock, two days later, and no-one said much.  Now, it may make a difference.

Neither the wife or I is much for early morning starts, but I gently pushed, and got her ready to leave about 11:00 AM.  The grandson wanted to attend his first period instruction in welding, and would be back to his house and ready to go by then.  It all worked out.  There we were, newly minted passports in hand and dumb grins on our faces.  And off we went.

Highway 401 in Ontario stretches 900 kilometers across the bottom of Southern Ontario, much like the Interstate highways in the US.  Between London and Chatham, there is a rest area which is about the half-way point of our drive, so it was time to stop in for a quick lunch.  There used to be just a McDonalds here, but it has been rebuilt, bigger, nicer, almost.  It now boasts a deli/burger outlet called The Market.  There is a combination KFC/Taco Bell, the ubiquitous Tim Hortons and an A&W.

It’s a given that prices at these places will be higher than usual.  It’s a captive market.  Take it or leave it, although with four choices, it shouldn’t be too bad.  The wife was in the mood for some greasy KFC chicken, and wandered over to peruse the menu.  The choices were restricted, and the prices were about three times those of a normal outlet.  We all settled for A&W.

I dropped my sunglasses in the washroom and saw something skate across the floor.  I thought it was just a lens that I could pop back in, but found I’d broken half the left arm off.  I had to drive with them hanging off my nose until Sunday, when I could buy a new pair.

From Chatham to Windsor, there were thirty miles of wind farms, giant three-bladed windmills.  Some so close to the road it seemed as if we were driving right under them, but just far enough back that, if one fell over, it would not quite reach the road.  Hundreds of others were scattered back, on both sides of the road, as far as the eye could see.

I also noticed a couple of farms where crops had been replaced on several fields with solar panels.  Farmers used to make money growing wheat, corn or soybeans.  Now they support their families by growing electricity.

As we got off the end of Highway 401 on the east side of Windsor, the road used to lead through a residential area with lots of traffic and stoplights.  It’s still under construction, but there is now a bypass road which takes you to the golden mile section, close to the Ambassador Bridge.  Oh so quick and easy!

I did some study on the bridge after we got home.  The exits on the Detroit side were restricted and confusing.  One time I got on the wrong road, and wound up right in downtown Detroit.  Ours were the only white faces, and the well tanned ones didn’t look all that friendly.

I would have thought that the bridge was owned by various levels of government.  I was amazed to find that it is owned by a single man.  He’s married, but he’s still only one guy.  He’s a billionaire, SURPRISE! He’s a Palestinian immigrant who started and grew a trucking business into a huge success.

When he purchased the bridge from the government, he signed an agreement to improve the access lanes to the various highways by a certain date.  To get onto I-75 took a mile on surface streets, through four stop signs and four traffic lights.  Despite pressure, he waffled and wavered, literally for years.  He was served with requests for completion dates, but sent lawyers to court with all kinds of excuses and delays.

Finally somebody’s patience ran out and he was served with a writ to appear in court personally.  He still had no answer but wasn’t worried.  What are they going to do to a billionaire?  Throw him in jail??!  He met a hard-assed judge who did exactly that.  He went to the slammer for contempt of court for failure to obey writs.  He only served one day before his lawyers got him out with a promise to begin construction ASAP, but he got the message.

Like the Windsor side, construction is still proceeding, but the lanes to the various highways are easy to access, and signage is clear.  There has been a new ramp to I-75 constructed.  You just come off the bridge and instantly you’re heading south.  See above, oh so quick and easy, finally.

Our motel was about twenty miles down I-75.  There was construction on the highway which necessitated getting off on a detour, and then back on.  Fortunately, it was at the off-ramp one past our exit.  Just as traffic started to back up, we got off.  I hope I haven’t bored you too much with the tale of a drive.  We had a wonderful weekend.  I’ll post some of the details later.

P.S.

The fabulous author, H E Ellis has greatly honored me be publishing my short, fractured fairy tale about the Hare and the Tortoise, over on her site www.heellisgoa.com  I would be thrilled if you would pop over there to read it.  Push the *like* button a few times, and leave some glowing comments to salve my ego.