Monday, December 13, 2004

That'll Do


And so the five months is up. Tomorrow I get the plane across the Atlantic completing my trip east around the globe. Essentially all I've done is go a bunch of places, meet people and drink beer, but the sum of it all comes to a lot more than that. Everyone I've come across has been very friendly, and I've not been held up, attacked or robbed. I've even managed to not overspend my budget. And even though some of the places in it are better than others, having now seen a whole load of it I can say the world really is a lot better than people give it credit for.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

All The Fun Of The Fair


I'm sleeping more and more these days, catching up after all those weeks in close proximity to snoring Germans. But I can't spend every day lounging around Jon's apartment in my boxers and listening to his secret stash of Abba records, so yesterday he showed me round his work. He's had a key role in organising a big family Christmas fair down on the lakefront that's running right through until New Year. There's lots of cool festive stuff like an ice rink, fireworks, llamas and so forth. It even put me in the Christmas spirit, and that's quite an achievement.

I've been to Canada a couple of times before but I'm struck again at how different it is from America. Even Toronto, which looks like those big American cities, doesn't bear much relation to them once you spend a few days here. It's not just that the Queen's head is on the money either, people seem to be more laid back here. It's often said that Canada is like America only without the Americans, which is a bit harsh on Americans, but it's as good a way of describing it as any.

Friday, December 10, 2004

You Lost Me At Banjo


Searching for something to do yesterday afternoon James suggested checking out a photography exhibition at a gallery. He'd seen the after-hours event advertised in the paper and it apparently featured the work of a well known local war snapper. When we turned up, admittedly a little early, there were only about three people there, milling about and sipping champagne. No photos were visible, however. As I lurked behind a pretentious looking book, James asked a woman what actually was going to happen. "Well," she said, "it's going to be an hour and a half long. He likes using the photos as a slide show and to have a couple of people singing. He's also brought his banjo..."

It was at this exact point we both decided we'd heard enough and quickly legged it to meet Jon for some beers. It was a narrow escape.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Keep On Truckin'


I'd like to say I've seen a lot of Toronto over the last couple of days but the truth is all we've done is drink and come up with in jokes. Jon's current transport is a ridiculous blue Ford pickup truck which makes me feel very North American. He even has some wood in the back which he claims is "for work" although I think he just has it there for effect.

Jon was otherwise engaged last night so me and James went to see some bands at a famous local venue, the Horseshoe. As the first act ran through their set I couldn't help noticing the huge 'Horseshoe' sign behind them looked more like 'Horses hoe.' Thankfully the show didn't feature anything equine or sexual, which came as a relief to both of us.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Party Time


It didn't quite take me four days to hitchhike from Saginaw, but for a while it looked as if I might have to. The morning after the party I was going to take a cab to the bus station, but the driver rang the wrong buzzer in the block of flats I was staying in so I had to suffer looking out of the window to see him drive off. Foolishly I tried to run after him, foolish because I had no chance of flagging him down and once I was outside I had no way of getting back in to the apartment. Feeling pretty bleary and with time ticking away I ran down the road to a 7-11 only to find the phone outside wasn't working. I went inside and begged the woman to let me use the shop's phone, and I managed to get through to the one taxi company that bothers to answer the phone in Saginaw on a Sunday morning. The guy on the other end said it'd be 45 minutes before he could get another taxi out to me, by which time my bus would be halfway to Detroit. With no dignity left I decided to beg him to help me out too, and then I went outside to freeze and hope a taxi would turn up in time. I've never been happier to see a fat man in a yellow car as when it came into view, and I made it to the station just before the bus pulled out. It's the kind of thing you don't need when you're hungover.

The party itself was quite an event, in a huge mansion in a gated community on the edge of town. The handful of brand new houses have a golf course running through them, that's how posh it all was. Borrowing a shirt I managed to look vaguely presentable and was able to charm my way round the place, nibbling on the fancy food I spent the afternoon helping to put together and knocking into the mulled wine. I'm not used to that level of wealthy company, but when you've got an accent over here it's just too easy.

And so I've made it here to the last stop on the line, safe in the knowledge I'm never going to have to ride on a Greyhound bus ever again. Jon met me at the station and James joined us later on for a few drinks. It was good to get back to some quality Canadian lager and tell five-year-old in jokes all night. We all look a bit older but in every other respect not much has changed.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Quite A Production


The bus journey over from Boston turned out to be pretty eventful. The driver for the first leg of the trip seemed quite young to me and managed to get lost within an hour of setting out. He stopped and asked for directions before doing a 3-point turn on a dual carriageway across three lanes of traffic and we ended up getting to Albany in upstate New York a good half an hour late. I don't understand how you can get lost going from one major city to another on a straight main road, but the poor guy looked like he was on work experience so everyone was happy enough to let him off.

The delay turned into an hour when the bus cut out at Albany station and wouldn't restart so we had to get on a different one. All attempts to make up the time failed thanks to the terrible weather and at dawn in Buffalo I got my first look of the trip at snow which was liberally carpeting the place. Then things went smoothly enough until we reached the metropolis of Sandusky, Ohio, where some idiot not paying attention put his foot on the accelerator instead of the brake at a junction and ended up ploughing straight into the side of the bus. He lost the front end of his car but nobody was hurt. The real pain came from having to wait around at the side of the road for nearly two hours while the police completed the formalities. State law requires all passengers to fill out various forms and by the time it got round to me I was in no mood to mess about and made a report blaming the car driver for the crash, the delay and for being the man behind the grassy knoll.

Having missed the connection I had to wait around in Toledo for a couple of hours and finally made it to Detroit four hours late. My friend Tony who I met in St Petersburg was there to meet me though and we went out for a very welcome night on the town. After too much to drink and not enough sleep I find myself up here in Saginaw where Tony's doing the food for a plush housewarming/Christmas party tonight, so I'm off to spend my afternoon preparing hors d'oeuvres and sipping mulled wine. There are worse ways to spend my last day in America.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Witches Brew


I took the train 20 miles up the coast today to the town of Salem, famous for being the "second oldest city in America" and as the setting for the witch trials of 1692. There was an interesting presentation on this at the local history museum. It seems 20 people ended up being executed after a bunch of young girls started speaking in tongues and named them. The whole episode lacked the style of European witch hunting in that nobody got burnt at the stake or thrown in the sea to see if they'd float. Nobody even got covered in tar and feathers, although one poor sod was crushed to death with big stones. Recently the authorities in Massachusetts officially pardoned the last of the dead people, which I'm sure came as a great comfort to them seeing as they've been dead for 300 years. At least they can take comfort in the knowledge they gave their lives for tourism.