Near the Fence: My trip to Canada

I recently went to Canada with my dog Smokey to explore a different country near my homeland of Chicago. It was a last minute decision after a move out of a place I had spent four years of my life. I wanted to reset myself. I also was practicing my skills on the road for an indefinite road trip coming up. My interest in Canada was that I had never been there.   I wanted to observe the differences between the two countries.  I ended up getting a cabin outside of Washago, Ontario.   I pulled up to a good looking man with brown hair cut in a  crew style, kind eyes and handed him my passport.

“How are you?” He asked in a thick Canadian accent.

“Fine.”

“Where are you going?

“Outside of Washago, in a cabin”

“Washago? You mean Washago?”

I had pronounced it wrong.

“Sure, I have never been there before.”

“How long are you staying”

“A few days.”

“Why Washago?”

“I wanted to see some stars.”

“Oh, well I don’t know if you’ll see any stars in Washago but if you would have went an hour from here in xxxx I think you would have had a pretty good chance.”

“Oh”

“You by yourself?”

“Yep, just my dog and I.”

“What do you do?”

“I work in research.”

“What kind of research?”

“Chronic Pain research”

“Where?”

“At Northwestern University’

“Ok, well enjoy your time in Canada”

I drove away feeling good, giving myself a mental pat on the back. I was a little paranoid in general as I had about two joints and two grams of weed on me. But I hadn’t felt paranoid at all talking to the kind Canadian border patrol gentlemen. I drove another three hours to my destination in Washago in thick fog. The fog was so thick I was driving at 45 kilometers an hour.

I turned onto a long winding icy road in the middle of a field. I drove deeper from civilization entering a forest. I pulled up to the house and stumbled down an icy hill to find my host, a burly Finnish man wearing a red flannel shirt.

The cabin was cozy.  One bedroom nestled next to the Black River.  While he was giving me the tour of cabin he showed me the sauna proudly stating  “I’m Finnish so I have to have a sauna.”

I settled in and went to bed excited to see the property without fog in the daylight. I awoke and decided to go get breakfast in town.

I chose a place called Flippin eggs.

The diner located in Washago, a small community located in the Township of Severn, Ontario. I sat down in a booth in back near a window facing the parking lot. The waitress approached me with a menu and asked what I wanted to drink. I ordered some coffee and a water. As I was deciding what to eat I perused the restaurant to get the local vibe. Most folks in the diner looked like your typical salt of the earth small town folks. There were eight people in the whole place. The majority  of them were bowing their heads to their plates. Fork to hand, shoveling enormous sized portions of greasy hash browns and eggs.

I heard a deep throaty guttural voice over the faint sound of The Weeknd coming out of the speakers.  The voice sounded like it had equated to about three packs of Benson and Hedges a day for their entire life. I noted that it was a woman, she was sitting with three other people in a booth. Her white wispy strands of hair  pulled back into a banana clip. I could see smoke rings drift out of her mouth every time she exhaled. The excess Benson and Hedges had created a human version of  the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland.  She grumbled about her job at a local nursing home.

“These old crooks, they just wait around for folks to die so they can steal every last penny.”

When the waitress asked if she wanted more coffee, she said to what appeared to be her husband, “I”m having more just to piss you off.” Dark twisted clouds of smoke wound out of her mouth reaching across the table to verbally slap her spouse.

Another woman who was sitting to the woman started to tell a story.

“My  nephew started to talk about Trump”

Benson and Hedges lady said with resentment, “That’s all I hear about these days”

“He had food in his mouth, and just as he was trying to make a point about Trump he started to choke. He was huffing and puffing and ran to the bathroom. Someone asked him if he would be ok, and I said yeah, this happens a lot.”

I was surprised at my first experience in Canada. The over-sized portions, greasy food, low prices, horrible pop music playing in the background.  People talking who should not be talking, I was confused. Did I ever leave the United States?

I drove around the town for a while noting a large amount of nursing homes. Seems that Washago may be a place where people go to die. I drove back to my cabin to attempt doing a hike and take pictures. I decided that later that day I would check out the local casino. I wanted to see if casinos in Canada were any less depressing than casinos in the United States.

Casino Rama’s claim to fame is the “Great Indoors”. On the website if you click on “visit” it says “a place pretty much exactly like nowhere else.” I walked into the casino to a lobby encompassed about seven large fake trees. Each tree had an animal and explanation of the animal’s clan on it. One of the clans had to do with boosting the economy.

This casino is owned by the Rama Tribe. Officially they are the Chippewas of Rama First Nation, also known as Chippewas of Mnjikaning. Mnjilaning means in/at/on or near the fence.

Casinos go against the very grain of Native American culture, or what it used to be.

It’s a good thing there is no smoking in casinos. Now everybody can enjoy.   The whole family, 19 and above can appreciate what the Great Indoors has to offer.

In the United States 19 year olds can enjoy sugar, driving, voting, consensual sex, but not drinking. In American culture it seems that every time something is taken away from people they crave it even more. Which explains why casinos exist, people crave money. It also explains why college kids go crazy with drinking. Sugar is woven into our culture to the point where most people don’t seem to question it.

I listen to the sounds of chimes, bells, alarms all in unison. Red neon Arial font craps and roulette signs are blinking.  An Asian woman walks directly below one of the signs. She wears red sequins looking like she dressed to match her surroundings.  The lady walks up to the bar and sits.  She taps her long red fingernails on the Formica counter twirling a finger in her faux blonde hair.

Yellow and orange neon lights brighten and fade into a jackpot inferno as I order another vodka soda. A larger white woman walks by me with a black knit crew neck sweater with a silver sequin wolf on it. The guy sitting next to me at the bar was watching a professional poker tournament on the television. He cheered once in awhile.

A man with a handlebar mustache past his chin orders a bud light.

A voice comes over the loudspeaker.  “Last call, all Asian tourists return to the bus in the parking lot.”

The weird thing about casinos is that most people look like they belong there. Whether it’s the sequins or leopard print the finest attire of casino folk fit the environment. People would still play slot machines if they were in black in white, so why bother with color? Aesthetics? Patron well being? The color makes everything seem ok.

I wonder as I sip on my vodka soda, why aren’t there more women poker players? Then I have an aha moment. The interesting thing about casinos is the demographics of people that go there. People in their late 50s and 60s are the usual suspects frequenting a casino. It isn’t often, especially in rural areas that you see folks 45 and younger. Are baby boomers bored?  I stir my drink, one small red stir stick. That’s it, patience. These people have it. To sit still amidst an ocean of fake noises, sounds, and colors to be robbed of soul and money.

On my way out of Canada my border patrol experience was much different.

A bald man with mean eyes sternly started a dialogue with me.

“Where were you?”

“Washago, I think I might be saying it incorrectly”

“Where do you live?”

“Chicago”

“Why did you come here?”

“I’ve never been to Canada before, wanted to relax for a few days.”

“Why are you alone?”

I stumble for an answer.

“Um, do you want the short or long answer to that? I’m with my dog.”

“What do you do?’

“I work in research.”

“What kind of research?”

“Pain.”

“Did you buy anything in Canada?”

“Some gummy worms and snacks.”

“Why were you in Africa?”

“School trip”

“Can I see the back of your car?”

At this point I was losing it. I had stumbled on my words as I was paranoid about the little bit of weed in my car. He was suspicious of me. He checked the back of the car and not my backpack which had the weed in it. As I left he said to me,

“Be a little smarter.”

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