Baseball, Poutine and Tom Hardy: Road Trip to Canada

As alluded to previously, even after rushing up the West coast in time to get to see Josh Ritter, I was still in a hurry. You see, I was planning to meet some friends of mine near Niagara Falls, Canada. I was here: Spokane, WA Niagara Falls is here: Niagara FallsNow each time I brought this up, the conversation would go like this:

“Washington to Niagara in ten days? Yeah I guess you can do that.”

“I also want to see the sites, like Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore and I absolutely must see the House on the Rock.”

“Okay, you might be able to make it, but you’ll have to motor.”

“Oh yeah and I’m picking my friend up in North Carolina.”

“… You are an idiot.”

Every time. So: we left me in the best place ever, The House on the Rock, which is in southern Wisconsin. I head over to Chicago for the evening and stay there for the Easter weekend. On Easter Sunday I get dinner in a nice Chinese place, as Christ intended. Tuesday morning I hop in the car and motor down to North Carolina with all my finest podcasts and tunes to keep me going. Oh I should point out this wasn’t just whimsy, lack of geographical knowledge, or my GPS being loopy. The friends I was meeting in Canada are also friends with the friend I had visited North Carolina. Picking her up and driving her to Canada was, I felt, the only logical option. I’ve mentioned before that the world at large is probably grateful to me for being alone in my car when I’m performing amazing sax solos, but I did feel that I had missed out on a quintessential part of the American road trip: sharing it with someone. So I get to Raleigh, North Carolina, shove my North Carolinian friend in the trunk (… only half-joking), stock up on snacks, make the Best Playlist Ever (rocking in at a brisk 21 hours) and hit the road at 4am. My friend acts like a normal person during the first couple of hours and sleeps, missing out on some great Swedish pop (I’d never seen the video of that until now… not… sure what to think), some classic American road trip rock’n’roll and, of course, a range of Canadian education. When she wakes up she thanks me for such musical delight with one of her people’s own contributions to culture: Waffle House Then it’s back on the road. We get through Richmond, just about missing the rush hour but, unsurprisingly, I have a note in my journal saying that “Richmond drivers are mental(er)”. Soon though, we’ve torn through Virginia, skirted Maryland and Washington D.C. and made it into Pennsylvania. We’ve crossed the Mason-Dixon Line and my friend is astonished by what a different world it is up north. Well, mainly that the roads look like they’ve just been carpet-bombed. Cracked, pothole-ridden and dangerous. When President Obama, in the State of the Union, called for more funding to fix bridges and potholes and infrastructure generally, some quarters derided him: it was a joint session of Congress in which Kennedy purposed America to get to the Moon, now we’re having a bake sale to fill in a pot hole. But, damn, that’s a sorely needed bake sale. Enough griping though. We’re in Pennsylvania, a state famous for it’s… for… something, I can’t quite remember—

Iron Thanks, Pennsylvania

Ah it’s great having a co-photographer again. So much of America is lying at the side of the road. The oddities that line its highways and byways are so plentiful, so fleeting and small that no single one really seems worth stopping to take a picture of, but sadly, you then end up with so few in your collection. PA Hills We haven’t truly come into spring at this time. Most of the trees are bare, giving the area a stark, bleak appearance. Soon we’re crossing into upstate New York: Empire State My friend is again taken aback by how poor the roads are, North Carolina taking considerable pride in maintaining its network. This isn’t really connected, but in Bradford, PA, we pass the Zippo Manufacturing Company, the company that manufactures Zippo lighters (if you were wondering). Ah! If only we weren’t in a rush, that’s definitely the place I’d look for a fascinating and pointless spam-esque museum. There’s no time to worry about that, however, as we’re quickly approaching… a road sign, but on that road sign is that magical word:

Canada Exit I mean “Canada”, I realise that was ambiguous.

As we draw closer, our excitement is palpable. And not least because the American side of Niagara Falls looks massively like the wrong side of town to be lost in. It feels like around every corner, Canada could be waiting. Indeed, we see its cheeky little flag peaking over hills, waiting for us: Canadian Peak-a-boo We rumble over Rainbow Bridge, meet a Canadian border man who was not quite as cheerful as that other Canadian border man I met, then we’re on the Other Side. My GPS immediately says “screw this” and goes AWOL. As we wangle our way through Canadian roads, I wonder if my GPS wasn’t right. I had forgotten what had happened the other time I came to Canada. I had repressed all the memories of that time. The hanged baby dolls. The used fishnets. The accents. I’m not sure if I can survive another trip, but I’ve got my friend with me. No matter how bad things get, I know: I can sacrifice her and run. Rainbow Bridge We make our way to our friend’s place. Without GPS, we’re like some wild savages, relying mainly on celestial navigation, which was tough since it was still daytime, but still we made it. What happens next is hard to put into words. Or at least, writing it down in context makes it sound like it’s out of context, so, in brief: A cheerful reunion. A quick drink. Some dinner? Crystal meth. (Don’t worry, just some of Bertie’s stash from Albuquerque). Walk in the woods. Wrangling an escaped German dog, in German. Late-night German chat. A quick libation. Tom Hardy. Lincoln. Also Margaret Thatcher died, but we probably weren’t involved. When the dust was settled, there was only one thing left to do: go to Toronto and watch baseball. When it comes to supporting teams, I have an unwavering loyalty, but that loyalty is only secured by a team worthy of it. And by worthy of it, I mean, “the first one I see”. Hence, why I will always go for those runaway successes, the Cleveland Browns. So too, the Wolfpack. That’s American Football and Basketball covered, but there’s one part of the quintessential American sports trifecta left. That most noble of sports, baseball. Now granted, in order to satisfy this most American of pastimes, I did have to go to a different country, but stick with me. It’s because of this that I have ended up an undying (but also not that living) love for the Toronto Blue Jays. Toronto Blue Jays We get to baseball field and security is going through people’s bags. The security guy opens up the small bag that I take everywhere to keep my camera, but my camera at the moment is around my neck. He opens up the bag. He takes out Bertie. He checks the rest of the bag. He puts Bertie back inside. He makes eye-contact with me and says simply, ‘Nice.’ Bertie and the Blue Jays It is of course Bertie’s first baseball game and he’s terribly excited. I am, too: baseball is treated with such respect by Americans (and such hatred by other Americans) that it must be worth seeing. Plus, countless bits of indecipherable baseball talk crop up in The West Wing (and anything else Sorkin writes), which means that I am definitely interested in seeing what captures the imagination so. Baseball The game starts of excitingly. At least, I think it does. I’m not entirely sure if we got there for the start of it, or if we did and it just started in such a way as not to distract the crowd, who were very busy trying to by over-priced alcohol. One of our friends is a huge baseball fan and she’s filling me in on details I might have missed (for instance: the game is played by hitting a ball with a bat, thus you might expect it to be called “batball”, but, in fact, there are four significant spots, or “bases”, which play an important part in the proceedings. Fancy.) Initially I’m worried that we might miss something high-octane and fast-paced while I distract her with questions. These fears are quickly allayed, which is the only thing that happens quickly. Around the second hour mark I realise why baseball creeps into so much of Sorkin’s work: a baseball game gives you plenty of time to write an episode of TV. I don’t mean to poke fun. Baseball gives you the time to come to important realisations about your life. Like, did you know your camera has a sepia tone setting? Look, it’s old timey:

Old Timey Baseball Or it was taken at the state of this game in the late 1880s.

At one point, someone bursts onto the field and sprints across the diamond. He almost makes it over the barrier at the far end before being tackled by security. It’s somewhat telling of the mood of the crowd that everyone cheers for him. A second, less successful, chap tries and is quickly subdued: Baseball Breaker A paper airplane charts an elegant, meandering path from the stands and successfully lands on the diamond (again, to cheers). What follows next is a paper airplane Blitz as anyone still awake in the crowd tries to regain some measure of joy by joining in an origami Battle of Britain. (Whether or not Bertie joined in I am not at liberty to say). The game ends at some point, and one of the teams won, or maybe the other one did, who knows? (Before travel writing I considered going into sports journalism.) CN Tower We escape into Toronto, take a look up at the CN Tower, and go in hunt of a truly great Canadian invention: poutine. This magnificent dish is chips (French fries) covered in gravy and topped with cheese curds. Depending on where in the UK you’re from, you might be half-nodding: chips’n’cheese dominates some areas of the UK, chips’n’gravy others (and some lone freak is having chips’n’mayonnaise and should be shunned). But no-one combines the ideas quite like the Canadians. It’s Goddamn heavenly. The cheese curds add a texture not found in the standard-cheese UK varieties, the gravy is rich and thick, the chips themselves are delish—Sweet monkey Jesus, I just Google Image searched “poutine”. I miss it so much that if I dipped my hand in gravy and cheese curds I’d definitely give it a nibble. … Well… that sounded weird. Quickly moving on before I begin auto-cannibalism. There’s one main attraction to see before the weekend is over and we head back to North Carolina. We’ve come to Niagara Falls and it’s time to take a good look at the view: Niagara View I… er… Hm. Wait, turn around: Niagara Falls There we go. I knew it was a tourist attraction, but since all the pictures I’ve ever seen of it carefully exclude that fact, the most surprising part of the Falls was that they are surrounded by a mass of hotels and tourist shops and such. It’s with that realisation, and a quick drenching from the waves of water mist kicked off by the Falls, and we’re heading back across the border. You might recall that the previous time I went from Canada to the US, my crossing was a bit more, how do you say [REDACTED]? Ah yes, redacted. Not at all pleasant. This time was still inconvenient, but the border guy was much more amiable and having a charming Carolinian with me did me no harm at all. The road up was about 13 hours, the road down is a little more, about 15 hours, because of hitting bits of traffic and an accident near Washington. In the end, from leaving Josh Ritter’s concert in Spokane, to getting back to North Carolina (the second time), took about two weeks (with four/five days spent not travelling in Chicago/Raleigh/Niagara-on-the-Lake). I drove roughly 4,200 miles, travelled through 16 states and one province and, most importantly, managed to see nothing soul-scarringly creepy. The trip, mapped out, looks roughly like: Canadian Road Trip


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