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Saturday, 1 December 2012

a border crossing

The night before I was humming:
       Tonight my bag is packed/ Tomorrow I'll walk these tracks
       That will lead me 'cross the border...
Earlier in the day, I had left Toronto in the mid-morning - at the start of a new week. I had just come off the two busiest highways in Canada (Highways 401 and 402), where driving westward I zoomed past Cambridge and then London. I was scratching my head wondering if I was in the right country. Then I remembered seeing signs to Milton and Brisbane and then another sign said Melbourne - I had to check if I was even in the northern hemisphere. I travelled on towards the Canada-US border in Sarnia hoping or thinking it should not be as busy as the Niagara Falls border crossing.
I even stopped at the duty free shop to spend the last of what Canadian currency I had.



The Canadian Highway 402 terminated at the Blue Water Bridge which linked to the U.S. Interstate Highways I-69 and I-94. At the time I did not know that this was one of the busiest and most congested border crossings between the U.S. and Canada.
          There’s a place so I’ve been told
          Where every street is paved with gold
          And it’s just across the borderline
          But when it’s time to take your turn
          There’s a lesson you must learn...
At the border I spent a pleasant hour-and-a-half (or more) chatting with the border guards (as you do). First they prodded and probed every nook and cavity of my luggage and car. Then they wanted to know my life story and future plans. I obliged them albeit reluctantly. It’s not everyday that you meet strangers with holstered guns who are interested in every detail of what you are doing.
Two of my new pals were very interested in me.
‘Where you headin’ today sir?’ One asked.
‘I was hoping to get to Ann Arbor’. They were studying some pieces of paper from my car.
‘You’re driving a rental vehicle.’ I’m not sure if that was a question or a statement but I said ‘Yes. I am dropping it off in Chicago.’
My friends stood up straighter. ‘You just said you’re going to Ann Arbor.’ And before I could say another word, ‘What are you going to Chicago for?’
‘I am going to Chicago to catch an Amtrak train to California.’
My story must be getting better because they decided to sit down with me and find out more about my future adventures. So we settled down into some chairs that were comfortable enough. I was still feeling tired after running the previous day, and I would not have minded a little nap right there and then, but I was hoping to get a move on towards near Chicago.
‘Let’s start again’ my friends prompted. ‘You said you were going to Ann Arbor, then you said you’re going to drop your car off to Chicago, and now you’re actually going to California?’
I don’t know if this was somehow inconceivable to them so I did not add that I was on the way back to Australia. It might take all day, and for a traveller, sometimes every minute counts. So I came to the point and told my new buddies all my secrets: ‘I’m going to California to visit my cousin near L.A. and maybe take part in a trail run there. I am hoping to stop overnight in Ann Arbor and then tomorrow get to Chicago to catch my train to San Francisco. I will be flying from there to L.A.’
They chewed on that, and then must have digested the information i just served them. Somehow they seemed doubtful about my story. ‘Have you got your tickets...’ I was quick on the draw and showed my Amtrak booking. Buddy one nodded to Buddy two who nodded to Buddy one too – I could sense a tag team at work here, ‘what brand shoes have you got in your bag?’ I don’t know if they would cuff me or chain my legs if did not answer right. One of them went to check my smelly ‘ai asis’ shoes.
We went back and forth for a while, like old friends who haven’t seen each other for years – playing ping-pong, but they did all the serving or asking: places where I’m going to, places where I’ve been - you could almost write a brand new song off that one.
My first new pal was looking at my passport ‘You been to the US before?’ I wondered if this was another trick question.
I was thinking ‘Friend, if I get there before daylight, I might get some sleep tonight’; but instead I said: ‘No, but I left Vermont a few days ago.’ I even mentioned about me and Sandy being in New York last week. They may or may not know of Sandy, they did not ask and I thought not to elaborate - need to know. I did put an observation to my new friends. ‘A bit quiet on the border today, eh?’ They seemed to have gone deaf. They studied my papers for a bit more. Then one of them stood up and went back to the computers. Maybe he wanted to join me on the California Zephyr, or run with me at the Griffith trail half-marathon.
After some minutes which really I could have spent sleeping, or eating – I was feeling starved after telling stories, they said I could go across the border.
They did not thank me for my time or offer lunch, but I wished them good day. I was allowed to re-enter the land of Lincoln.

Michigan
From the border I followed the interstate through to Belleville heading southwards and then negotiated the slow traffic of Detroit. Detroit is home to GM which owns Holden in Australia. Detroit is experiencing firsthand the problems besetting the automotive industry. Unemployment here is high and the population is slowly dwindling as people look for opportunities elsewhere.
In Australia, Holden will be retrenching thousands of workers in the next few years, and some towns in Victoria like Ballarat will end up the same as Detroit. A report has predicted that if Holden, Ford and Toyota are to close down in Australia, up to 200,000 jobs will be affected and the economy will suffer by about $30 billion. For now the radio stations drone on: ‘...there’s been an accident in I94...’ – no wonder traffic is so slow. I fuelled up at a BP station and kept going although I was feeling stuffed. Some local news came on and then music played - not soft, but there was nothing to turn off.

Indiana
I ended up staying in Michigan City in Indiana that Monday night.
Early the next morning I went for a jog on the freezing shores of Lake Michigan. On the way I went past a library and Washington park before I got to the beach. The beach was deserted on that cold frigid morning and I could see why. I only went about 2km before turning back. I trotted along the beach and the sand dunes parallel to Lake Shore Drive and checked out a few of the beach stops. A cold breeze blew in from the lake somewhere from the northwest, and except for some seagulls hunting for breakfast, there was only a solitary figure on two legs up and about. Jogging past the beach spot stops I saw various signs in English and Spanish, about the dangers of shelf ice and rip currents, and of beach regulations and beachwalks.
Later on I met a dog walking a man, but no other warm-blooded creatures. I jogged around the beach and sand dunes, concrete jetties and paths, bollards and lamp posts, danger signs and rock seawalls and marinas with their charter boats, before I surrendered to the chill and sought for some warm refuge at the bath house.
But unlike in Mainit where during the cold mornings the bathing pools would be full, the bath house here was frozen shut.

I went to see the boss to open up, but he was nowhere to be found. His car was out there but Bruce was probably sleeping in.
Well he musta done one four-hour-and-ten show in Michigan county that night...
I made my way back to my motel while the town started to stir. The Michigan city transit bus was about, but I was well on the interstate before the town woke up. I had hit the road after breakfast-
lucky the road did not hit back.

I saw the light from the sunrise in the east and headed west. I saw the sights and I saw the signs - Burns Harbor, Indiana dunes national lakeshore, steel mills and big electrical pylons, Port of Indiana, tollways then Gary.

Illinois
It did not take long before finally I arrived in Chicago - the land of Lincoln - and also the residence of the current president and resident of the white house in Washington. It only took about an hour and a half driving to Chicago loop from Michigan.
Before looking for Union Station, I had planned a bit of sightseeing. I intended to visit the Sears (Willis) Tower before boarding the Amtrak train for California in the afternoon.
Well that was the plan...