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This is Your Brain in America/Canada
by Mark Simple

[We now join our author already in progress, ruminating on possible destinations for his upcoming, unnecessary road trip]

Earlier on TV Nation, Michael Moore announced that Crackers, the Corporate Crime Chicken, would be appearing in Philadelphia the following day. A worthy road trip, but I was unable to locate a driving partner in time. That week's show could have been the one.

There was the Baloney Festival in Prince, Michigan. Alerted to this pageant by a co-worker, I suddenly had a desire to eat liverwurst. I'm not kidding; it was a disgusting staple of my youth (along with a large amount of mayo; I'm talking metric tons [Humor tip: never just "tons" - go for the linguistic gusto with "metric" tons!]). This is what happens when your school lunch is made by your grandma.

"Try some of this large curd cottage cheese, Mark."
"Mmmmm, hot damn, grammie! Slap some mayo on that and pack it in some Tupperware(R)! I'm off to further my edumacation!"
So I had to ask.
"Any liverwurst at the Baloney Festival, or just baloney?"
"Just baloney. There's the crowning of the Baloney King and Queen, and a baloney parade that lasts for about an hour."
"Hrmmmm. This sounds important. What the hell is liverwurst, anyway?"
"The worst part of liver?"
There was the Silver Lake, Michigan thing. My mom was supposed to be camping out there. We used to go there a lot during my formative youth, and I wouldn't mind checking the place out again. Of course, the five million old-tyme pinball machines they had out there are now all rotting in some landfill, but hey, that's progress. As it turns out, she never went, so it's a good thing I passed on this one.

There was the VINYL rave in Boston. Boston seemed more intriguing and solid, having been invited out there by Messr. Jon Ferguson, our Web Page Guru Guy. I packed for Boston, but was ready to change plans SHOULD Crackers be within striking distance.

The fastest way to Boston from Detroit involves a shortcut through another fine country, Canada.

IMPORTANT PIECE OF TRIVIA: To get to Windsor from Detroit, you go SOUTH. Never forget who told you. I expect 10% from all bar bets. Or send me some liverwurst.
The Ambassador Bridge is just one of the many ways to accomplish this. It's too short, though. You're on it, trying to get a good look at the scenery without pulling a Flyin' Yugo, and then it's over.

There are some things in life you just can't do. Fuck with Customs, for example. Like my Intro To Political Science professor (who may or may not still appear on "Stump the Professor" or some such show on [local reference] WDET) said, "police have varying levels of authority, from mall security, to federal police, to the U.S. Customs, who have the legal right to kill you." A certain person on this mailing list has what has to be the most entertaining detained-by-Customs story ever; it involves drugs, weaponry, beer, underwear, and a Bible; I'm publicly encouraging him, via this forum, to create a written account of this tragedy to be made available ... via this forum, of course. If anyone else has a Customs story that's ready for public scrutiny and/or ridicule, come on, send it in!

"Are you bringing anything into Canada?"
"Just this jambox."
A word about the jambox [now playing: Deee-lite - Dewdrops in the Garden]. I borrowed it from a friend. My car has no stereo. This may help you get through portions of the New York road trip story missive thing, since I neglected to mention this, as various people have pointed out. What I also neglected to mention to the Customs Agent that this certain jambox, when actenuated with the proper sequence of push-button button pushing, turns into a highly sophisticated device rarin' to record THE SECRETS OF CANADA.
"Any guns, tobacco, liquor?"
"Sure, I'll take all you got."
[My actual answer is below.]
"How about drugs? You didn't ask about drugs!"
[My actual actual answer is below.]
"Thank you."
I stopped into the Tourist Information Center to exchange some money. It feels very weird to be in Canada. Like, foreign or something. I haven't been here for a long time, and I really don't know the way to Boston, although I've been told it's "obvious". The exchange rate is 31.9%, thus barely qualifying Canadian currency for Funny Money status. [Tricky - Maxinquaye] But what's this? Some kind of coin? A dollar coin? With the Queen on the front, and a duck on the back. Hrmmm. This is new. Or not; my coin is dated 1989. Has it been that long since my last visit? Puzzled, I used the restroom.
SECRETS OF CANADA #1: Faucet handles...red and blue! Hot and cold!
Forgetting to look at a map at the visitor's bureau, I turned back onto the 401 (The QED! No! The OEM! No!), and had to stop for a light.
SECRETS OF CANADA #2: The "New" traffic signal sign! Canadian signs/lights that have recently been changed or installed have a large circular sign accompanying them that reads "NEW!" It looks like a pinball bumper, or an advertisement. "NEW! Left turn with RETSIN!" "NEW! Long Red Lights in crush-proof box!"
It starts to rain. One would not be far-fetched to assume that it rained the whole way. Actually, I broke out of one storm system in New York, only to catch up with the next one an hour later. But I'm getting ahead of myself. I haven't even mentioned that the trip took 15 hours. Wait, don't read that. [The The - Infected]

I stopped off at an official Canadian rest area. Inside the men's bathroom was a faux designer fragrance dispenser that had some directions on it. One step caught my fancy:

2. Place loonie in coin slot and turn.
Loonie? Loonie? What the hell is that? I tried to put this "Loonie" thing out of my mind. Outside, I found a vending machine that only dispensed M&M's. This thing was as big as your American-type pop vending machines, but it was all about M&Ms! Yum.

Just before you come up on the South side of London, there is a crucial highway/freeway option. Route 3 cuts a shorter path to Niagara Falls (the East end of my Canadian journey), but it's a rinky-dink little highway. 401 continues North-East. Route 3 looks faster, if you've already passed it up by 10km and it's raining (see? I told you) and you're sick of driving on the freeway. [Letters to Cleo - Aurora Gory Alice] So I cut down a cute little two-lane road to get to Route 3, which surely had to be bigger, lane wise; I mean, the road I was on was this thin little black line, and look at Route 3, it's double-thick red! My mistake. Route 3 is one of those cut-through-the-farmland-stop- at-every-town-two-lane-highway roads. [YMO - Hi-tech/No Crime] One of the first things I see: a modest ranch house with a lanky cowboy silhouette tacked on the side of it. I've seen these around; in rural Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio. I have no idea what they mean. Cowboys. Better than those painted wooden pictures of people bending over. Don't ask if you don't know what I'm talking about - it's not worth the effort.

Delhi is just another small town alongside Route 3, about an hour's drive East from London. It's a big tobacco town, with tobacco farms, the Tobacco Museum and Heritage Center, the Golden Leaf restaurant. There are smokehouses on the tobacco farms that are very picturesque; rows of them painted flat colors, very surreal. Everyone in that town was smoking. I didn't stop, I drove through, saw about 20 people, some teenagers, they're all puffing down on Official Delhi Product. That's hometown pride! [Bill Pritchard - Three Months, Three Weeks, and Two Days] Do people have a tough time keeping cigarettes lit in the rain? That's something I'd never really thought about until then. I was concerned. I could envision a "Smoker's Pal" clip-on mini umbrella. I saw ancillary products. I saw a tie-in with Joe the Camel. I kept driving.

SECRETS OF CANADA #3: Headlights always on! It's true, 90% of the cars driving along the Canadian highways/roads had their headlights a-blazin', rain or shine. The other 10% were probably from the U.S. Not me, I gladly turned my lights on, it made me feel like an honorary Canadian. "Ohhhhh, Canada...blah blah blah!"
I got gas at Simcoe, a small town with a store called "The Meat Box". Esso gas was 52.9 Canadian cents per liter, and damned if you're going to pump it yourself, Mr. Foreigner! No self-serve. [Portishead - Dummy] The farther you get from civilization, the less chance you're going to have of doing things yourself. This means that by the time you get to a desert, someone will be serving you mai-tais. I like this idea.
SECRETS OF CANADA #4: The "?" highway sign! It's just a white "?" on a brown background. If I had more time, I would have investigated, even though it scares me. I mean, WHAT IS IT? THAT'S THE POINT! "Who knows -- this way!"
I'm poppin' down the km like candy. I stopped off in one lil' town to buy some fine Naya bottled water (no Evian in Canada - me smell French-Canadian Conspiracy), and I saw a package of King Dons. Or Ding Dongs. Dammit to hell, I was going to write down which they were in the car, but I got there, knocked down the Naya, and went on my way. [Orbital - Snivilsation] I hope you'll forgive this lapse in journalistic junk culture fervor. I'll attempt to patch things up by providing yet another SECRET OF CANADA.
SECRETS OF CANADA #5: Canadians have a different numbering system! Until I realized this, I had been taking Canadian speeds at par! For instance, 80km becomes 80mph. It made things so much easier.
It's the end of Route 3! Finally! [Colourbox - Colourbox] Fort Erie! Surprisingly, there's a Tim Hortons right there. I give the counter person the last bit of Canadian money, the coin of the realm, the dollar thing, the one with the duck on the back, hmmmm, could be a loon...the....LOONIE! Damn, I'm good. Got me a Boston Creme donut. Kreme. Cream. Kream. Whatever. They also have donut holes, which they call "Timbits." You know, bits of Tim.

Just before I got to the US/Canada border, I passed a big ole' flea market with oodles of those damned silhouette cowboys tacked to it, and cowgirls, and there's a silhouette wolf howling, and golfers, fisherman, dogs, hunters, and oh my, it's the king himself. Fifty million immortalizations can't be wrong! The hunter shilouette has his shilouette gun pointed right at the Elvis shilouette's temple, so there's that, at least. In big type on the side of the barn:

We sell silhouette patterns
Ah! Paint-by-numbers for adults! Another nagging mystery solved. The next stop was on the New York Thruway. This one had public fax machines! And "Crazy Love" playing on the radio!
it happens all the time
this crazy love of mine
wraps around my heart
refusing to unwind
oooooh, crazy love
ahhhhhh ahhhhhhh
Why do I remember shit like this? Useless information like this seems to be taking up more and more of my precious gray matter. Soon, my entire working-set memory will be reduced to the names of the Pep Boys.
"Mark! Let's go get something to eat!"
"Manny! Moe! Jack!"

"Sir...are you aware that you were travelling 90km/h in a 70km/h zone?"

"I'm pregnant, Mark. What are we going to do?"

This might not be such a bad thing. In the parking lot of rest stop were many hot rods. The drivers of these fine vehicles invariably looked like (local reference) Arthur Penthollow or a (not dead) Wolfman Jack. While I'm travelling with a pack of them in the rain, I really, really thought it was 1957 until I saw a penny on the dash with a "1995" date on it, and I started screaming "NOOOOO!!!!". What I want to know about Somewhere In Time is if Jane Seymour gave Christopher Reeves the pocketwatch "in the present", and Christopher Reeve gave Jane Seymour the watch "in the past", who in the hell made the pocketwatch? DIGRESSION!

I finally ended up in Waltham at Jon and Jenny's [Stereolab - Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements] with car-style hair and a mean need for sleep, a good ten hours' worth. Later that afternoon, I browsed Jon's latest New Music Express.

"I don't really have any memories...I guess I don't have much use for 'em. Maybe I wasn't born yet." -- Will Oldham
The rave itself was held at the New Expo Center in Boston proper. Jon drives over one of those square-shaped firewater bottles and immediately gets a flat tire. After changing it, we waited in the pack of people outside.
"You see anyone our age?"
"Nope. Wait...maybe that guy."
"I'm getting too old for this. I used to say that as a joke...but now..."
It was twenty clams to get in, which is about your average club night price in NYC, you know, like the Sound Factory. Which actually is about the only club I've been to at NYC. Why, I remember it like it was yesterday...we were in line, and...
"You know, normally, they don't let in breeders."
"So why are they letting us in?"
"Breeders night?"
Anyway, I almost slipped by security with my Evian bottle...waited for Jon and Jenny and entered the RaveSpace proper, with earplugs and my walker. The thing I enjoy most about raves is the commitment to youth fashion these kids show. By that I mean my youth. Adidas stripes all over the place, and I'm suffering flashbacks to seventh grade. A Charlie's Angels ringer t-shirt (Ringer: a fashion term denoting a white t-shirt with a colored collar. It's true.), throws me into conniption fits. "Uhh, Sabrina...uhhhh, Jill..." I snap out it by mind-imaging Shelley Hack in uniforme de la Adidas.

Various circles of people form off the dance floor. One area features a "dance off" where young lads enter individually to show off their latest dance moves. I was this close to jumping in the center of the ring, splaying my body and start barking like a dog, but I figured I'd wait until they started breakdancing.

I need a lot of room to dance. For this reason, I tend to dance on the fringes of the dance floor, away from the throng of people who A) want to watch the DJ B) are on drugs and are using other people to prop them up C) don't really dance as such, just do that little rave-shuffle thing to conserve energy and look like twits. I mean, I don't mean to be harsh, it's just that if you've got someone laying down a serious groove, and the whole joint is shaking, I can't imagine moving around like Charlie Chaplin in a straitjacket is very satisfying. Myself, it's the only exercise I get, so I tend to turn it into aerobics. Anyway, no matter where I ended up, it was always at the crossroads of Four Very Important Things, so there were people constantly cutting through, interrupting my complex interpretive dance moves. Go around, putz. Toes will be stepped on. I cannot claim responsibility. The music has taken control. But of course, this being a rave and all, I feel massive amounts of love for all human beings, at least the ones who give me a wide berth.

The intense humidity brings on rain from the roof. I betcha the guy wearing the umbrella hat thinks he's Mr. Smart Guy now.

Jon and Jenny spotted one guy actually older than us who wasn't on staff: some 50+ geezer who was apparently a clone of Ben, of Ben & Jerry's. They both think he's coming up with new flavors of ice cream.

"Ravey Gravey!"
"Stupid Phat!"
I found my groove around 3:30am, and held onto it for about three songs, one of them without ear plugs, imagine that sort of recklessness if you will. The Groove is Important.
Pure dance music, if it has any lyrical content at all, will only deal in the emotions experienced within the four walls of a club late at night; basically desire and, more importantly, that area which is beyond desire at the very centre of the Human Psyche. Everything else is meaningless. Any creator of pure dance music that is attempting to communicate any other subject should be treated with deep suspicion. With a danger of getting too carried away on our own pretensions we state that it is through dance music and dancing we are able to get momentarily back to the Garden. Of course, in the clear light of day this is all very silly.
-- The KLF: The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way)
The new DJ, Frankie Bones, starts up a much more varied and interesting set, but it's too late - the relentless, pounding beat has made mincemeat of my little mind. (Memo to myself: maybe some type of illicit drug would suppress fatigue?) We head back home with heads filled with bass.

There wasn't much time to stick around Boston Sunday morning; lucky me, it was a massively-sunny day. I did mention that I don't have an air conditioner in my car, right? [Yello - Zebra] After I got on I-90 and screamed through Massachusetts, I started seeing even more of those hot rods, still headed East. Must be some kind of new transportation system for lemmings interested in pitching off into the Atlantic. As it turns out, they were all headed for Syracuse, New York, and the 1995 Street Rod Nationals, but damned if I knew that. All that I knew was there were a lot of people shelling out good money to re-capture their youth. What's going to happen thirty years from now? The 2025 Pizza-stained Interior, Dented Chevette Nationals?

One of the major disadvantages for being on the road for more [Los Straitjackets - Los Straitjackets] than three hours at a time is Bad Road Food. You have nowhere else to go, you're going to have to force yourself to buy McDonald's, and try to keep it down, please. However, at one of the Thruway stops, there was a Good Humor cart. My mind races: do I have a trailer hitch? I spot the hallowed TOASTED ALMOND BAR on the menu and approach. The top hole of a Good Humor cart is just big enough to stick your head in. Well, my head, at least. "Hello? Hello, toasted almond bar..." The Good Humor Gal is unamused. Health hazard, maybe. Not her, my head. There are no TOASTED ALMOND BARS, but chocolate eclair will do in a pinch. Life is good.

A scant ten minutes back on the road, and I'm stuck behind a minivan [I Start Counting - Catalogue] which is stuck behind a truck which is stuck behind other vehicles. There's a kid in the back seat, about eight-ten years old. Hey, kid. The kid takes a box of cereal and plasters it against the back window. Uhhhh, okay. Then he takes a piece of paper and sandwiches it between the window and the box. It says something. It's a drawing...the letters are too tiny...it's a drawing of a brain.

"This is your brain"
Okay...there's another brain next to it, inside a larger drawing of the United States flag. I'm trying to make out the words, but it's no use. I smile at the kid, he's happy, I'm happy, but disappointed that I couldn't read the rest of his drawing. Sorry, kid. A hot rod ("Easy Driver") with Michigan plates passes me, the first travelling West. Dropped off the lemmings.

Within a ten-mile stretch, I spotted a cropduster actually cropdusting ("What the hell, he's going to crash! Oh...cropduster"), and a family sitting on motorcycles on an overpass. I wave, they wave back.

As soon as I got to the Canadian border, things got slow. The bridge at Ft. Erie was backed up; some people I've talked to still have a hard time believing this. I'm in Canada, again! Funny money...again! Loonies...again! Ten dollars gets you $13.19. Right inside the border, massive road construction! Wahoo! A lot of road construction [The KLF - Chill Out][Pet Shop Boys - Disco][Rave 'Til Dawn compilation][Single Gun Theory - Burning Bright But Unseen][Pop Will Eat Itself - Cure For Sanity]. After this cleared up, I started driving 90 mph (approximately 5.3 km/hr) to make up for lost time. I picked up a ringer (Ringer: a driving term denoting a driver following you because they think you have a radar detector, or figure this will reduce the chances of them being pulled over by 50%. It's true.) in less than an hour. Day becomes night, and I [Trance Europe Express compilation] became unbelievably tired. DAMN YOU RAVE!

I pulled into a Canadian service station listening to Spooky's cover of Throbbing Gristle's "Persuasion", a first-person-child-molestor exposition, while various families are approaching the Burger King. This, combined with my eternal ravelag has got me completely wigged out.

The Burger King employee has a special sign in front of him.

please have
He spotted me four cents for my cheese burger-like substance. Eternally grateful, I went to the car, pulled out a bunch of X Magazines and a nickel, and handed them to him. His automatic response, "Gee thanks", was eerie, like he was on some local cable production entitled "Food service industry employee receives yet another free publication from appreciative foreign customer."

I'm starting to play mind games with myself as I barrel [Consolidated - The Myth of Rock] through Canada. Spotting three trucks on the highway, I immediately assigned them names: "Spider" for the black one, "Dutch" for the brown one, and "Bixby" for the white one. "Yo, Spidee!" Don't ask me. Someday, I will be able to harness this uncanny ability to go totally loco for large amounts of dollars (If you enjoyed this missive, please send $721 to...).

Bridge, or tunnel? Tunnel...bridge...tunnel. Haven't been through it in awhile, I started getting misty-eyed for that Can-US tunnel vapor. There's cops right inside the Canadian side. Hey, maybe another dumb driver decapitation! No such luck, just a stalled car. At the U.S.-Canadian Windsor border, there's a Corisca [The Goldentones - Atmosphere] in front of me, which has a nice ravey logo, if you care about that sort of thing at all. I do. Sometimes I wish I could design logos for cars (I wonder what that's like?). Then no one would buy them. Save the earth through consumer disgust, I say.

Update 98jan31

This is sort of an inside joke. At the time this was written, I worked as a computer programmer for a large automotive firm. I was stationed inside the product ID division of the design office.

Of course, since I signed that "super-sensitive" contract for them, I can't talk about any of it for five years.

It's marked on my calendar.

Finally, I'm home. Trendy, drowning-in-coffee Royal Oak. There's a new "Apollo Burger" at the local Hardee's. Tastes just like the food the astronauts ate, or the spaceship itself. Doesn't matter. No more road food for me.

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