State by State

Apparently there is an entire country between Boston and San Francisco.


by Damian

What’s in Toronto?, the Canadian custom officer is either really curious or just wants to catch us off guard: preferably lost in an elaborate lie involving some mischief towards Her Majesty Queen of Canada Elisabeth II. I am tempted to say that I don’t know and that’s why we are going there. But the Canadian border cerberus clearly learned obnoxiousness from his American counterpart and I am not sure my sense of humor is appreciated here. For better or worse Canadians try to compete with their southern neighbors in everything. So I try to explain that nothing in particular and that we just want to do some sightseeing. Our hotel is there, I add to make sure he knows we are going to spent some of hard earned American dollars north of 45 parallel. You have a hotel in Toronto?, he seems to be honestly surprised. Reserved, I rush to explain. We have reserved a hotel room.

Once again we regret not sticking to a strategy of answering simply yes or no instead of trying to be honest and explain everything. But explain we do. Which involves admitting that the detour we took from Vermont to Toronto included much more then just Niagara Falls. He wants to know if we’ve been on a farm. What’s up with all that cattle hatred on a supposedly peaceful border? By the way: if Canadians and Americans want to know how a border between two friendly nations looks like they should go to Poland or Germany. And then drive from one country to another. Or better yet go to a beach and walk across. The really peaceful border is no border at all. Anything else is a sham, posturing and wishful thinking.

Finally, the guy relents and we are through. This is not another state but he has pissed us off sufficiently that we decide to include Ontario in our state by state blog. If Canadians don’t want to be confused with the lower 49 they should behave differently. Using metric system and throwing in some French word now and then just won’t do.

By the time we reach Toronto through the usual commuter congestion we relax a bit. Natalia looks on the horizon for the sight of CN Tower which our hopelessly outdated guide calls the highest freestanding structure on Earth. It is debatable if it ever was, and it’s definitely not that now. We find our funky hotel in Liberty District following Verizon powered Droid. I am afraid to touch anything on my phone because it claims that it lost data connection. I actually called Verizon in the morning and ordered a global roaming plan before we left the American side, but my phone somehow did not get the message. I am not about to mess with it before we are safely in the hotel.

The Gladstone Hotel is unusual. While not ridiculously expensive, its every room is different, designed by a different artist. Ours is minimalistic and white: just the way we like it. Nice change after a string of cheap motels. We venture outside and after a while I know what’s in Toronto. There is a city in Toronto. There are people on the street in Toronto. There are restaurants, cafes, clubs and theaters in Toronto. The town is not renovated, or restored, or rejuvenated - it just is. Real. This is what you get when your gas is more expensive. Everybody lives a bit closer.

I fix my phone (it needed to be told that it’s OK to connect to Canadian internet - I’ll let you know if Verizon really charges only 2 dollars a day for this service) and we find Nunu: an Ethiopian food in a very modern setting. I see Ubuntu wine on the menu and obviously I try to order it but they are out. Mark Shuttleworth would be seriously upset. We eat our food drinking another South African shiraz. There is a guy playing guitar in the background and quite frankly with wine and live music the food probably would not have to be that good to please us. Still, it’s excellent. Spicy, exotic and served on a sour bread that you use instead of silverware. We don’t really want to leave after paying the bill and the owner comes over to offer us traditional coffee. She’s happy to make it for us from scratch which involves roasting beans right there and then. We really cannot refuse. Coffee smell fills the entire restaurant and makes other patrons clearly envious.

Feeling unnaturally awakened we brave the Canadian night and walk over 5 miles - I am sorry - 8 kilometers along Queen and King streets. CN tower is closed for the night but everything else is open. This is the beginning of a long Halloween weekend and people are dressed up. We are dressed up as Americans, which miraculously lets us blend in.

A stupid border. A stupid rivalry. An amazing city.


There was no war here. Nor a natural disaster. The lake did not flood the town as it did in New Orleans. The German army did not march in methodically burning houses like in Warsaw. No bombs were dropped. But you’d be excused to think something terrible must have happened. The place looks like the infamous lower 9th ward in the aftermath of Katrina. Houses are left deserted, boarded or burned. Furniture is rotting on a sidewalk. Roads are beyond repair. Abandoned cars are parked on driveways leading to nowhere. It’s not quite a ghost town: manicured lawns neighbor weed-overgrown ruins. A few residents appear out of nowhere and one starts waving in our direction. In all other places in US we would approach him and start conversation. Here we turn and speed away. If America has a failed city this is it. No wonder journalists flock here to shoot photos of ruin porn much to the annoyance of locals.


It’s far from the truth but from our point of view at least 90% of American middle class lives in suburbs. This is where all our friends who opened their houses to us on this trip dwell.They all seem quite content with their houses even though locations require driving everywhere: work, store, theater, restaurant. Some enjoy having yard and even grow their own fruits and vegetables, but most decry lawn mowing inconvenience.