Oh Canada!

After my recent weekend trip to Toronto, I’ve been flooded with nostalgia about growing up in Detroit.  Or what I like to refer to as growing up half-Canadian.

In the Detroit of my childhood, Canada – our neighbor to the immediate south (Windsor) on the other side of the Detroit River, was a constant presence.  Canada was our New Jersey: greener and cleaner than Detroit, except, so far as we knew, without black people.  

In that land before cable, when all stations were either VHF (clear) or UHF (fuzzy), CBC Channel 9 came in on the VHF band.  Channel 9 was what you watched when there was nothing, absolutely nothing, else on to watch.  CBC used to rebroadcast a lot of shows from the British Broadcasting Corporation, so Channel 9 gave me my first exposure to Monty Python.  At first I would watch in utter confusion, somehow knowing that it was funny and irritated that I failed to get the joke.  Then one day, with maturity, I suddenly understood Monty Python, and it was as if the scales had fallen from my eyes.

My father was as much a hockey fan as he was a fan of any other sport, so on weekends in the winter, he was likely to be flipping channels between NFL football and a hockey game between two Canadian teams on Channel 9.  By “flipping channels,” I mean calling one of us kids (often by the wrong name) to come into the room from wherever we were to turn the channel-changing dial for him.

“Carolyn-etta! Come here!”

My sister Caroletta and I would fight over who he was calling. “He said Carolyn.  He meant you.”

“He changed it.  He said Etta.  He meant you.”

“Well I went last time!  It’s your turn!”

We knew he didn’t care whether Caroletta or Carolyn showed up, as long as the channel got changed.  When I lost the fight, I would stomp into the living room, snarling annoyance.  My sister would go sweetly, but always asked, innocently:

“Daddy, who is Carolynetta?”

“Y’all knew who I meant!”

No, Daddy, we honestly never did.

In high school, Canada took on different significance.  As the legal drinking age was raised from 18 to 19 to 21, it stayed 18 for a bit in Windsor. Then it went up to 19.  That was ok.  19 meant quite a number of American high schoolers could legally drink in Canada.  

Those who couldn’t drink legally could still drink, because Windsor bars apparently were not very diligent about carding. I used to hear about my classmates going to Windsor by the carload to drink whatever it was they drank in Windsor bars back then.  I was never on those trips.  I didn’t travel in the circles of the cool kids who went on drinking excursions to Canada.  My nerd friends and I figured out our own way to drink illegally without crossing a national border: we would dress up and go to restaurants like T.G.I. Friday’s or Benihana, and get served cocktails with dinner.  We never got carded.

During my undergraduate years, Canada became synonymous with peen.  Windsor was where I had my first official night-at-a-hotel-with-a-boy — my then-boyfriend, J.  During one holiday break, we decided we were grown enough to go to Windsor to gamble (Detroit didn’t have casino gambling back then) and spend the night at the Windsor Hilton. 

Everything was all well and good, until J’s car wouldn’t start the next morning.

“Call Ant,” I said.  Ant (appropriate nickname, for he did in fact resemble one) was J’s best friend.

Not surprisingly, Ant’s car was in the shop, and he couldn’t come get us.  Triple A wanted to charge a fortune to send a tow truck, a fortune we did not have.  J refused to call his father or sisters for help.

“Well, who else is there?” I asked.

“Your father?”  J said.

“I can’t call my father to come get me from a hotel in Windsor!”

But of course, that’s what ended up happening.  It is a testament to my father’s character, and the regard he had for J, that he never said a harsh word to either of us.  My father drove his rickety Ford Fairmont across the Canadian border, hooked up J’s jumper cables to his battery and gave a boost to a guy who, hours earlier, had been defiling his daughter in a Windsor hotel room.  My father spoke not a word of any of it to anyone — not even my mother, who would have gone apeshit.  The humiliation J and I felt was punishment enough.

“Your father is cool,” J said after my father left us, satisfied that J’s car would make it back across the border under its own steam.

I glared at him.  “Trust me.  He’s not that cool.”

But amazingly, he was.  My father and I never spoke of that incident.  I think he was just glad I was okay.

I also attended a lot of bachelorette parties in Windsor.  There were a couple of all-nude male strip clubs in Windsor that catered to women.  We Midwest girls found male exotic dancers exciting, in a Madame Tussaud’s waxed-to-perfection sort of way.  The idea of seeing a hot guy take it all off in a safe, date rape-free environment appealed to a lot of us Detroit women.  So we piled in cars to cross the border for peen-themed bachelorette parties.

And were disappointed.  The male strip club dancers would gyrate their hips in earnest, but there was always a collective “ohhhh” (at least among our groups of black bachelorettes) when the final garment came off.

“Girl, is that it?”

“Hmpf.  He oughta be shamed of himself dancing nude if that’s all he got to work with.”

We black women would sit there smug, making jokes about the tiny white dicks dancing in front of us. 

“They oughta recruit some better endowed brothas from across the border!” we’d say, dapping each other up, pretending to believe that myth.  Like we’d never experienced even worse disappointment when a prospective lover of our own race finally dropped his boxers or briefs to the floor.

Him: *beaming*

Us: Hmpf.  Is that it?  He oughta be shamed of himself, sweating me so hard if that’s all he got to work with.

As a high school senior, I went to Toronto with my then-VBFITWEWFAEA (Very Best Friend In The Whole Entire World Forever And Ever Amen).  We couldn’t afford the senior class trip to Florida, so our mothers let us take the train to Toronto for the weekend. 

It was kind of amazing my mother let me go.  My sister Caroletta had gone to Montreal with a friend and apparently hooked up with some Barbadian dude, who was swiftly and forevermore rechristened “Barbadian Booty.”  Maybe my mother assumed I was more innocent.  Maybe she thought there was less Barbadian booty to be found in Toronto.

My girlfriend and I did not go to Toronto looking for booty, Barbadian or otherwise.  Being together, without adults, in a big city, was enough.  We had a very limited amount of money to spend, and we had budgeted it out to the penny.  Of course, being teenage girls, we spend most of our money shopping.  We weren’t old enough to do much of anything else.  Roots Sidewinders shoes were all the rage in Detroit back then (told you we were half-Canadian).  We were excited about taking advantage of the (then) favorable exchange rate and essentially getting them at substantial discount. 

We had paid very careful attention to the cost of the taxi from the train station to our hotel.  But being Detroit girls who rode in cars and not taxis, we didn’t really understand how taxis worked.  We assumed the taxi back to the train station would cost the exact same amount as the taxi from the train station to our hotel.  We spent every dime we had, save for that exact amount.

Traffic was heavier on the return trip, and we watched in horror as the meter clicked steadily towards and then past the amount we had left, since we were still far away from the train station.  The thought never occurred to us to explain our plight to the taxi driver.  It did occur to us to panic and flee, so that’s what we did.

“We better get out!” one of us whispered to the other.

We could see the train station.  It looked to be within walking distance, though we were poor judges of distance and it turned out to be several blocks away.

“We’ll get out here,” we said.

“Really? Here?”

“Yeah.” 

We jumped out of the cab when it stopped, and my friend flung our last remaining Canadian money at the cabbie.  We laughed like criminals who had just successfully robbed a bank.  In fact, we had just successfully stiffed a cab driver, a hard working man who didn’t deserve that. 

It was funny until we boarded our train, and then, as we thought of our own hard-working blue-and-pink collar parents, it wasn’t funny anymore.

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2 Responses to “Oh Canada!”

  1. Tweets that mention Oh Canada! « Carolyn A. Edgar -- Topsy.com Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Carolyn Edgar, Carolyn Edgar. Carolyn Edgar said: Oh Canada!: http://wp.me/psOZx-ej […]

  2. MizJJ Says:

    Great stories. I have the reverse stories. I lived near an America city Seattle/Tacoma and would go down frequently. Ahhh…border towns.

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