Crossing the border into Michigan isn't a shock for an Ontario girl, in terms of geography. Everything looks about the same as in my part of Canada.
But don't think for a second that Canada and the USA are the same.
We are similar -- obviously close relatives -- but we are different from each other. We can relate to a lot of cultural things, and sometimes the landscape, but the tiny differences are there, right up at the surface.
Road signs are in green, like at home, but there are little blue and red Interstate symbols. I like American road signs. They make sense. I don't like American billboards. I don't want to visit a gentleman's club or that fancy new hospital. I'm really not sure if I want to buy super cheap discount fireworks. Please don't give my son any ideas... It's very handy that I'm being informed as to what restaurants are coming up at the next exit, but if I'm on a road trip, chances are I'm going to look for a grocery store and fill my cooler in the trunk instead, so... thanks but no thanks.
In Ontario, you might - might, if you're lucky - get a small logo on a blue sign with a few other fast food logos. There will be a Tim Horton's and a Wendy's. There will be a Tim's at every stop. It's almost like a Canadian law. I really hope you like coffee and donuts if you're travelling in Canada. Better eat now cuz the next rest stop is in... a long time from now. Good luck. Always get the tank filled in Sarnia because you'll be on the 402 for a couple hours running on empty. So yeah. Good luck.
American highways, are, in a word, gorgeous. If you can call a road gorgeous, that's what they are. Smooth, wide, with well-marked signs and well-lit lanes. Those little "cat eye" reflectors in the pavement? Genius. Driving the Interstates is so efficient. America, you are the undisputed KING OF HIGHWAYS. (Okay, technically Germany probably is, with the Autobahn and all that, but seriously, you gotta have the stones to drive like a race car driver there from what I hear, so yeah, gotta hand it to ya, USA.)
I wonder though, my American friends, do Ontarian drivers piss you off? We must. We go flying past like speed limits are just a guideline. But I'll let you in on a little secret, okay? Those of us from north of the border cannot figure out why y'all have signal lights. Because few of you use them. Maybe it's just an Illinois thing. Wow. Guys? Please let us know when you're fixing to change lanes in front of us. Please. We are simple-minded Canadians. We can't read your minds. Apparently we just don't get it. Also I'm personally teaching a 17 year old girl how to drive and have developed a reaction like "eiidjjjuffffisisis guh guh guh" every time a vehicle in front of us does anything. I'm sorry. It's just how it is with us.
You know what else America excels at? FRIENDLINESS. At the Veegee's in Flint (I think that's what it was called and where it was... I wasn't totally recovered from the border crossing yet even though it was hassle-free) the sweet woman who sold us sliced meat and cheese had the warmest brown eyes and incredible dimples. I darn near invited her to come to Lollapalooza with us. Okay that's not quite true but for a split second I could have believed she'd known us for years.
By contrast, people behind the counters in Canadian stores are definitely polite... but not friendly. There is a difference. Up here, you'll always be greeted with a "how are you today?" but nobody really cares or expects an answer. The transaction is made, receipt handed over, and off you go. Very polite, kind of arm's length. In the States, you walk out feeling like that person I just paid for a tank of fuel really honestly wants me to have a good day!
However. Don't piss off other drivers in Chicago. Holy crap. In our confusion - and keep in mind, Jethro is one of the best, if not THE best driver I know - we ended up in the middle of an intersection in a yellow light. We got the crap honked out of us. HONK!!!! Like, angry, multiple horns, mob honking. Then a van passed us with the driver hanging his arm out the window like he was symbolically slapping us upside the head. Like, three times. Slap. WTF is wrong with you? Slap. Go back to Canada you %$^%$! Slap. Why I outta kick you in your stupid &&^% pansy Volkswagen *&^ and stick my foot up your *^&%& &*^*^ while I'm at it. And there's me in the passenger seat, cowering, yes cowering because some of these people have guns! At least that's what I hear, up where I live.
People of Chicago, when you are in your cars you kind of aren't very nice. Out of your cars, you're pretty cool. In your cars, you're actually kind of scary. Like, I worry that you will have some kind of stress related heart attack or something. Maybe some of you should walk more?
I don't know if it was just the rock festival vibe in Grant Park last weekend, but I often felt like we were welcomed with open arms. Getting chatting with somebody was easy, lining up for something to eat, or buying some merch (Been there, got the T shirt) and inevitably it would come up that I'M FROM CANADA. I got a few big smiles, and "Hey, welcome to Chicago!) I loved that.
A guy started calling, "John Deere! Hey, John Deere!" So I turned to look. With a big excited grin, he pointed to my hat. "You actually drive one?"
"Do you have one?"
"I'm inheriting one!" I replied.
He had that broad mid-west accent. Maybe it was just that mine was the only John Deere logo at an alternative rock festival, but hey buddy! You got tractor, I got tractor, we are friends!!!
Packed in with a bunch of other Muse fans, I struck up a conversation with a girl from Chicago about the similarities between that city and Toronto. Both up against a lake. Airport on the far side of town. Sprawling suburbs. Boiling hot humid summers. Brutal winters. Oh wait - it's only Chicago that has the tough winters... Toronto thinks winters are haaaaard but Toronto in general is pretty wimpy. (Don't whine at me, Toronto people, if any of you are reading this, which I doubt, but you know it's true! Talk to somebody from Manitoba and get back to me on it!)
Also, the two cities play each other in movies.
Thing is, I am just not a city person.
Most of the Canadian cities I've been to (thank you Canadian TV network for moving the Juno awards around the country each year) are kind of small and clean and new compared to the American cities I've been to (usually on the Interstate and as quickly as possible. Not a city person.)
American cities have Bad Neighbourhoods. And also, beautiful, exciting, interesting Downtown Cores with so much to look at, it's overwhelming.
America has a vibe and an energy that amazes and confuses me. Incredibly friendly people who may or may not have weapons in their homes in case the enemy attacks. I'm sorry, it's what us Canadians think, I don't know, maybe it's Michael Moore's fault. America is huge. America is home to some of the best ideas and bizarre weirdness. America is a breeding ground for stardom. America has so much natural beauty and every now and then, a big pocket of industrial ugliness. But mostly beauty.
America is defiantly proud. Canada is self-deprecatingly proud.
America parodies their politicians on TV comedy shows. Canada invites their politicians to play themselves on TV comedy shows. Kind of the same, but different.
America has a gorgeous flag. It is awesome, in the true sense of the word, and it's everywhere. Canada has a cute flag and pastes little red leaves everywhere possible.
I don't think Canada totally understands America, but it's okay, because I don't think America understands Canada either. We're kind of the same, but we're very different.
America, you are BEAUTIFUL.
And also, America, you are weird.
And being Canadian, I know a lot about weird and beautiful.
I hope, sincerely, that we can always be friends.
Love, Heidi the Hick