We begin July 9th in Big Springs, Nebraska. There, I stayed at a Motel 6 that was attached to this enormous truck stop. This was not your average gas station/motel/convenience store kind of place! There was a movie theater, two restaurants, a casino I think, an arcade, and a store that was almost supermarket-sized. As far as I could tell, there was not much else in Big Springs besides this truck stop (presumably there are also some big springs somewhere in the area), so I hit the road, off on I-headed east.
Once I got to North Platte, I hopped on US-to go north. US- is a pretty isolated road, going through lots of sleepy little towns and some gorgeous scenery. One of the things that has surprised me on this trip is that many highways go right through Indian reservations, which I sort of expected to look really different from regular towns. They really don’t, and a lot of times the only way I knew I was on a reservation was that I passed a casino. I realized that in general I know very little about Native American/Indian culture or life or history. I’ve interacted with lots of different kinds of people in my life, but I don’t think I had ever seen or met more than a few Native Americans. It’s embarrassing to admit I know very little beyond stereotypes and what I’ve seen in movies, but in this case, that’s true.
I drove north to South Dakota, and then into North Dakota (state #46: check!) on a road that was actually a lot hillier and curvier than I would have expected. I got to Minot, ND just in time to hit a campground for the night. Then I set off early the morning of the 10th to Canada. My Canadian excursion began with a trip to the International Peace Garden. After that, I had to cross the border at customs to get into Manitoba. This took a lot longer than I thought it would, because I think I was like the 3rd person the guys working there had seen all day. They had a hundred questions about where I was going, what I was going to do, how much money was in my bank account, what was in my car, what I did for work, and so on. It probably didn’t help that I had no clear plan or itinerary of where I was going to go or stay. My feeling, honestly, was “Calm down, it’s just Canada!” I chose not to share this sentiment with them, however.
Eventually, they decided I was not a serious threat to Canadian national security and sent me on my way. They even gave me a map and guidebook of Manitoba. It looks a lot like North Dakota, in case you were wondering: lots of grasslands and cornfields. The people’s accent doesn’t change much either; by then, I was getting kind of tired of people answering questions with “o ya.” Regional accents normally don’t bother me at all, but I find that upper-midwestern hollow “o” sound to be very grating.
There’s not much I can say about Manitoba that would be positive or particularly interesting. I was genuinely surprised how unpleasant Manitoba was, since I’ve rarely met a Canadian who wasn’t kind and friendly. I was in a LOT of gas station restrooms on this trip, and the ones in Canada were by far the worst and grossest I saw. Once I got to Winnipeg, it only got worse: these were some of the rudest and most aggressive drivers I have ever encountered! And I’m from Boston! I had dinner at a weird organic French burger place where the waiter kept calling me “young lady.” After that, I was ready to get the hell out of Manitoba and go back to the US of A. It took me over an hour to fight my way out of Winnipeg; by the time I got to the border crossing (a different one from where I entered) it was probably 8pm.
There was a long line for customs, and when I finally got to the front, the guard asked me a couple of questions, took my passport and stuck a yellow flyer on my windshield. He told me to drive to the “vehicle inspection” line and wait until an officer came to search my car. Well, lovely. I sat there, car switched off, in front of a closed garage door, wondering if they’d forgotten about me for probablyminutes before the mysterious garage door opened and I was waved into a huge garage type building. They had me get out of the car, empty my pockets and hand over my cell phone; then I had to go sit in a room labeled “waiting room,” which was essentially a jail cell–a couple of benches, a window and cinder block walls. It smelled like really bad BO.
There were three guys already in there, one of whom asked when I walked in, “What are you in for?” I replied honestly that I had no idea. Another guy said, “Yeah, you don’t look like a drug dealer.” Then his friend (both of them were Hispanic and about my age) said “Totally, I mean we get this all the time because we have the drug dealer look goin’ on.” The old man in the corner–who was holding an envelope full of what looked like several thousand dollars in cash–piped in “Well you know, studies show 99% of drug dealers have two legs.” We sat in silence for what seemed like a really long time; they let the old man leave, and the two Hispanic guys started arguing about whether they would be driving to Chicago (ahour drive) that night or not. Then they got to leave and I sat there by myself for ten minutes or so before they decided I probably was not a terrorist, drug dealer, or spy; then they let me go too, finally! I got my passport and cell phone back and drove away, resolving never to go to Manitoba again.