OH, THE PLACES WE’LL GO: Border-crossing complications

  • Opinion   Thu, Jun 16th, 2022   Paul Knowles
The flag flies everywhere – and often in gargantuan proportions – in the U.S.

The flag flies everywhere – and often in gargantuan proportions – in the U.S.

For a travel writer who hasn’t been able to travel much for over two years, it was a pretty exciting moment. Actually, for all three travel writers, and the very cooperative friend with an SUV who had agreed to serve as chauffeur for the enterprise.
That moment came as we crossed the Blue Water Bridge between Sarnia and Port Huron. We were actually embarking on international travel again! Smiles abounded! “On the road again!”
It became obvious that not everyone was venturing out, just yet, when we reached the U.S. Customs booth, and there was no wait – we just pulled right up. We handed over our passports. The officer asked where we were going.
“Gaylord, Michigan,” we announced. “We’re playing golf at Treetops.” (More, much more, about the fantastic Treetops resort to come in a subsequent column.)
He looked at the driver. “Take off your sunglasses, please,” he said. “I need to look into your soul.”
Apparently, our souls were pure, or else he was not a good reader of souls, because, with a friendly smile, he handed back our passports, and wished us a terrific time at Treetops.
As I write this, I have been home from Michigan for just one day. And today, I received an email from Patrick Kaler, who is President and CEO of “Visit Buffalo Niagara.” His message was in sharp contrast with our jovial interaction with the Port Huron official.
I want to quote Kaler’s email in its entirety. The headline was “Stop Hate. End Racism. Choose Love.”
Kaler was reflecting on the mass shooting in Buffalo on May 14, when ten Black people were killed and three others injured, and also on three other similar U.S. tragedies.
The tourism CEO wrote, “Please excuse our recent silence; we have been grieving alongside our community, and now our country.

“The past two weeks have changed our office and Buffalo as a community, as we witnessed the senseless loss of citizens that were vital to the fabric of our unique destination. Through this unspeakable tragedy that attempted to divide us, we’ve seen the spirit of our city rise. Stories of resilience that show us the true heart of Buffalo.
“As we reflect on the tragedies here, in California, Texas, and now Oklahoma – we know one thing. Hate will not win, and it has no place in our city.
“We look forward to sharing stories about our great city very soon, but today we’re continuing to heal with our entire community.”
A very sobering message. A very sobering reality.
It leaves me feeling sad, and torn. I suspect Canadians feel, by and large, that the differences between us and Americans have grown to a significant amount, over the past few years. American politics, and views on social issues ranging from vaccination to LGBTQ2+ rights have underscored those differences.
And yet, these are our neighbours, our friends, often our relatives.
And while we four were at Treetops, this week, we talked, ate, drank, and played golf with a wonderful collection of Americans, from the Treetops CEO with the wry sense of humour to the golf pro who kindly did not criticize our games while nonetheless demonstrating how it really should be done.
As we drove north through Michigan, it was clear we were in a foreign country. While the landscape is virtually identical to the parts of Ontario on the other side of Lake Huron, the billboards are different, the size and quantity of flags are very different, and the accents are clearly not those of Ontario.
And thus, the dilemma we all face, as Canadians eager to travel again, perhaps for a golf outing, perhaps for a visit to Vegas or New York, maybe to spend several months, somewhere warm. We cross that border with a mixed sense of excitement, anticipation and anxiety.
What awaits us, we hope, is the kind of amazing experience I will be writing about, from our time at Treetops.
But then there is the message from Patrick Kaler, and his grieving city – a city I visited not all that long ago, where I was both surprised and impressed with its progress and vitality.
I guess the bottom line is – visit the U.S. for all the great attractions found there, but visit knowing that the drivers beside you on the road
probably have a handgun in the glove compartment, that Canadian political comments may not be welcome, that “patriotism” often means something far more toxic south – or in our case, this week, west – of the border.
Travelling certainly seems more complicated these days – and I am not just referring to the need to have the ArriveCAN app on your smartphone. But even as we relaxed just a bit as we drove back into Canada, I was delighted to know that I can start travelling internationally, again – including visiting that complicated neighbour of ours.
Paul Knowles is an author and travel writer. To contact Paul about travel, his books, or speaking engagements, email pknowles@golden.net.