O Canada.

So I’m back home, snug as a bug in a rug. I arrived to the smiling face of Earl around 7:15 p.m. last night, confirming my suspicions that Québec is about eight hours from our home, not including the 1.5 hours I spent waiting at the border to cross back into the United States. Sitting at the border was an absolutely fascinating opportunity to people watch. I was in the left most lane of about eight lanes waiting to cross. All lanes were backed up for about one mile. Three lanes over there was a man with a toddler sitting on his lap, allowing the child to steer the minivan full of people. I wish that I could have worked it out so that I could watch him try to get through customs without the child in a car seat. When I was a kid, we were often entertained by being allowed to sleep in the back window or sit in the steering wheel. Today kids are strapped in and forced to watch a DVD. Hmmm, we survived just fine.

The man at the border crossing was surprisingly very amicable. I think it’s because I willingly gave him both my passport and my driver’s license. “Are you bringing anything back into the United States?” “I have less than $100 in souvenirs, you can take a look if you want.”, was my reply. I think he liked that. He thanked me for my passport because he just had to scan instead of typing the information into the computer. He also had a blond version of my mustache. I like to think that we bonded in some way. He has my number if he wants to call.

Earl and I haven’t traveled in Canada very much since 9/11, mostly because I find the treatment of people coming into the United States rather disconcerting and I don’t want to deal with the hassle. But since this latest excursion, I can say that I plan on visiting our neighbors to the north a lot more. Plus, looking at a map I found a very small border crossing in northern New York that we’re going to start using so we don’t have to wait in the long lines on the interstate.

Here’s some of the observations I made:

1. Talk radio in Canada, both in English and French, discusses a wide range of topics with varying points of view. They talk about the environment, they talk about the upcoming gay pride parade in Halifax, they talk about nuclear power, they talk about crime rates and they talk about their health care system. As soon as I crossed into the states, talk radio was all about terror, terror, terror and more terror, the war, some more terror, the war, terror, the damn liberals, terror and a general “the sky is falling” attitude. I spun the dial several times trying to find something a little less bleak but all I found was more terror, terror and terror.

2. The number of SUVs on the road in Canada is only about a tenth of what we have here in the states. There are some cute little two seat cars, which look like half of a Cooper Mini. I don’t know what they’re called but they look to be quite fuel efficient. I also saw several electric cars, especially around Montréal. While I’m talking about driving, Canadians still use sensible lane discipline for the most part, meaning they still heed “Keep Right Except To Pass”. Here this little law is all but ignored, especially in New England and Upstate New York.

3. I was able to walk through Zellers (think K-mart) without seeing a person on one of the motorized carts that I think should be banned from stores (at least in all but a few extreme circumstances). I also noticed that waistlines are generally somewhat smaller on Canadian citizens. There’s still a lot of husky, but there’s not a lot of grossly overweight going on.

4. Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick seem to be very environmentally conscious in that there are no “trash cans”, there are recycling stations with “garbage”, “recyclable” and “compost”. Everywhere. McDonalds, Tim Hortons, the mall, the street; everyone is intent on recycling. This is good.

5. I confirmed that Americans as a whole are surly and depressed. Canadians seem much more chipper. Every clerk or cashier was friendly, smiled and accomodating. I never left a store without hearing “Merci beaucoup, au revoir!” (Thank you very much, good-bye). And they sounded like they meant it.

Our friends Sean and Jeffrey are going through the necessary red tape to move to Canada and become Canadian citizens. I must say that I applaud their efforts and I completely understand their reasoning. Given the opportunity, I would love to live in Canada full-time. Ten years ago or so, Earl and I discussed retiring to Southern Québec and last night I confirmed that game plan with him.

I love our neighbors to our North. I look forward to visiting them again soon.