Great Lakes Journal, Part I

A view of the Sifto Salt Mine in Goderich, Ontario


Last week, some of us took a Great Lakes cruise. What do I mean, “some of us”? I mean representatives of National Review; representatives of The American Spectator; readers and supporters of those magazines; and assorted other people. This was, by and large, “a floating right-wing conspiracy,” as someone said.

The speakers included John J. Miller, Bob Tyrell, John Fund, Grover Norquist, and George Gilder. JJM is my fellow Michigander. He is also an expert on Hemingway (among other people, and subjects). Hemingway, too, was our fellow Michigander, sort of. Bob, as you know, is the founder and editor of The American Spectator. A legend. John Fund is the renowned political journalist. Grover is the blue-chip activist, strategist, analyst, and reformer. And George is the all-around sage (and a wonderfully blithe spirit).

If it sounds like fun, it was.

Kind of odd to be cruising one’s home state. Kind of nice, too (when your home state is our fair peninsula — two of them, actually).

The cruise goes from Detroit to Chicago, counterclockwise. I must say, I’m surprised by the Detroit River. (I trust you don’t mind my slipping into the present tense.) I expect it to be a stinking swamp, almost something to walk over. But it’s actually rather pretty.

Our cruise director is a wonderful guy with a Mongolian first name. He’s from Mongolia? No, he’s my fellow Ann Arborite, actually. His Pakistani father and Canadian mother decided to give him neither a Muslim nor a Christian first name. They decided on a Mongolian one. Solomonic, you could say, and also quite American.

We disembark at Goderich, Ontario. A bagpiper plays “Scotland the Brave.” Must bagpipers always play “Scotland the Brave”? Don’t they know any other tunes? Of course they do, as does this one, but “Scotland the Brave” is such a good tune, isn’t it? You almost feel cheated when they don’t play it . . .

A guide takes us into downtown Goderich — into its square (which is actually a circle, I believe). A tornado ripped through here not long ago. The courthouse used to be surrounded by trees. Now there’s practically none. “We realized how ugly the courthouse is,” says the guide. A charming remark — and, unfortunately, absolutely true.

I believe the guide says Goderich has the world’s largest salt mine. Yeah? Eat your heart out, Salzburg (and other places). (“Salzburg,” you will recall, means “Salt City” or “Salt Castle” or “Salt Capital,” take your pick.)

I have always loved the way my neighbors, the people of Ontario — the Ontarians — talk. For one thing, they don’t exactly say “sorry,” when they apologize: They say “sore-y.” When I say “sorry,” I sound like I’m talking about an Indian lady’s dress.

There seems to be a Tim Horton’s on every block in Canada. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a ubiquitous store or outlet, including McDonald’s. Actually, Tim Horton’s calls itself “Tim Hortons.” Does McDonald’s call itself “McDonalds”? Have they, too, lost their apostrophe? I know there was some heartburn in Britain a few weeks ago when Waterstone’s, the bookstore chain, went “Waterstones.”

To me, that kind of thing looks a little dumb. I prefer “Tim Horton’s” to “Tim Hortons.” As usual, no one’s asking me . . .

Over in Amurrica, Kentucky Fried Chicken is strictly “KFC,” right? Didn’t they do away with the full name, to avoid the scary word “Fried”? Well, in Goderich, I see a bona-fide, honest-to-goodness Kentucky Fried Chicken — all three words. Makes me smile.

Our guide on the road from Goderich to Stratford is a young, pleasant Ontario lass. She talks about a regional dump, at which the garbage of various towns is deposited. Because she’s so pleasant, I listen to her more intently than I might your typical guide at the Louvre . . .

We pass a town called Clinton. Boy, are there a lot in America. I remember something a Democratic friend of mine said in 1992. She said that her party’s presidential nominee ought to do a Clinton tour — a tour of towns called Clinton. I thought it was a good idea. Kind of charmingly and winningly hokey. The nominee never did the tour, but he went on to win regardless, I’m sorry to say.


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