Visit a Foreign Country

Posted by jdg | 9:33 AM |

The Detroit-Windsor tunnel is "the only vehicular international subaqueous border crossing in the world." I think that translates to the only place on earth where you get to sit in your own car while breathing petroleum fumes in standstill traffic while millions of gallons of water pass over your head and after about an hour you emerge somewhere that you need to visit a bureau de change in order to buy a coffee. While stuck in the tunnel my daughter said, "When are we going to get to Canada, eh?" She claimed I'd once told her Canadians talked like that and suddenly I felt guilty for raising an incipient Anti-Canadite. "Sweetie, Canadians are a tolerant, multi-cultural people that promote progressive social welfare and ethnic, cultural, and linguistic diversity; not all of them listen to the Tragically Hip while riding Zambonis on pilgrimages to see the igloo where Sidney Crosby was born."

"What are you talking aboot, you hoser?" she shot back.

"Every time you make fun of the Canadian accent, Caillou's T-cell count goes down," I warned her.

All of this scintillating fake conversation aside, getting into Canada was a pretty boring, drawn-out affair. Even after we emerged from under the river, we were then herded into separate lines that moved so slow we were fairly certain every car in front of us contained someone trying to sneak nuclear secrets to Iran or smuggle a trunk full of bootleg Nickelback CDs up to Winnipeg:

This pretty much sums up how the kids felt waiting in the 92-degree heat:

Still, it was great to finally get out onto the streets of Windsor to start soaking up some of the cultural differences. For example, Windsor has a lot of bars downtown that cater specifically to 19-20 year old Americans who love getting wasted but can't legally drink in suburban Detroit bars (meaning they have Jägermeister on tap and serve alcoholic slurpies in 3-foot plastic cups). I think it's great that Canada respects young people enough to make their own decisions about alcohol consumption, but in my opinion some of these Windsor establishments take the whole concept a bit too far:

I'd like to imagine it's a mashup of Cheers and those talking baby E-Trade commercials inside.

After driving across the west side of town, we quickly found the nature preserve we'd crossed an international border to visit (the Ojibway Nature Preserve). I've been hearing my whole life about the great Canadian wilderness, and here we were:

We didn't see any Caribou, but right after we started hiking, my wife was attacked in the face by this giant Canadian monster bug:

Here she is still clutching her heart at the shock of it:

It was a great place to take the kids for a hike.

I'm really enjoying hiking with the kids more often now that they're older and independently mobile. Gram, in particular, seems to really love it:

After we were done hiking, we headed back into town and drove right past the massive Windsor Assembly Plant, where Chryslers have been built since 1928 and minivans have been assembled since 1983. I knew I was going to write about our car trip to Canada for one of these posts sponsored by Dodge Caravan, but it never occurred to me that we'd be traveling past where the vehicles are actually built. The factory is Windsor's largest employer (4,450 employees make nearly 1500 vans a day). Seeing it was an important reminder of how connected my community is to this one across the river, where cars have been built for decades by skilled union laborers and how that still means something.

[photo by flickr user chrycopaul1066]

We headed towards Erie Street (Windsor's Little Italy) and when we got there we couldn't have received a better reception. A parade began just as we started walking around looking for a place to eat. I think it had to do with some saint or the church's history, and there were ten times as many people in the parade as there were people watching it. It was like stumbling onto a set for an ill-fated Francis Ford Coppola film with not enough extras and too much sunlight:

And a goat cart:

And an ox cart:

And some Canadian royalty:

"Technically the Queen of Canada lives in Buckingham Palace," I told the kids, "But I'll bet those girls are the Duchesses of Canadian Windsor or something. Or maybe Canadian beauty contest winners wear fake ermine capes rather than sashes?" They were escorted by gallant Colombian Knights in full regalia and really great mustaches:

After the parade, we ate a nice Italian meal, and most importantly, gave the kids their first taste of reasonably-authentic gelato:

She chose nutella flavor. My wife and I split a cup of lemon and for a moment we were reminded of our Italian honeymoon, back before we became saddled with all this responsibility to two sticky, grubby-faced urchins.  Before we headed back to Detroit, we stopped at the playground we'd seen so many times across the river where I'd intended to take the kid three years earlier before we were turned away at the border.

A day in Windsor, Ontario may not seem like your idea of a fun getaway, but for us it was a pretty great adventure. It's one of the cool parts of Detroit, having a foreign country so close. "Windsor's nice," I said to the wife as we headed back into the gaping maw of the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel.

"The roads are so smooth," she said in agreement. "Imagine how nice Toronto must be: a Canadian city without the gravitational pull of Detroit dragging it down."

"I can't even imagine Edmonton," I admitted. "Let's come back here all the time." Just then brake lights flashed ahead, bringing us to a standstill well before we were halfway across the tunnel. Unfortunately my wife was driving, so my arm muscles were the ones that cramped holding up the phone to pacify both kids with an episode of Caillou I'd downloaded just in case we encountered such an emergency.

I've been documenting some of our daily adventures for the Something Fun Every Day section of Sweet Juniper, and the good folks behind the new Dodge Caravan recently contacted us about sponsoring some of these posts by buying the ads you see around them (they did not compensate us for any costs involved). It sure would have been useful to have some of the entertainment options these vehicles have while we were stuck in traffic; if we ever got one of those I'm pretty sure my media-deprived kids would insist we move out of our house and into the van.