Dead bodies in wood chippers becomes a tourist attraction

Who would have thought a dark comedy in which one of the characters is murdered and thrown into a wood chipper would be a good billboard for tourism? But apparently it worked and we found ourselves pulling into Fargo, ND.

We didn’t know what to expect and Fargo was one of two cities on our trip that we had an intense curiosity about.

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The other, Moose Jaw in Saskatchewan, turned out to be the place for oil-changes-cum-temporary-prison-hood.  It was the third mechanic who finally agreed to change our oil right away. We stopped in at the Ford Fast Lane, which contrary to its name, was slow as all get out. I losttrack of time and considered hiking alongside the highway to Manitoba (since the road signs imply that it’s legal), but I think it was a 90 minute oil change.

Otherwise, Moose Jaw was a disappointment, despite its cool name. There wasn’t much to the town and it was too painful to take pictures.

Fargo, on the other hand, was what we were hoping Moose Jaw would be like (whereas Moose Jaw was what we feared Fargo would be like). The town was absolutely adorable, especially the older parts where the homes were built with an attention to architectural detail. Kids were playing with sprinklers on their front lawns; it was just so quaint.

We stopped into a restaurant and I simply gave in to the urge to try to hear the accent made famous by the movie named after the town.

I asked the waitress what’s the farthest one of her customers ever came from.

“Nooo, ya, I supppooose the fahrthest sooomeone came from was up in Canada, ya kno?”

Success!

CONFIRMED: Theory on US / Canadian Border Patrol agents

I think our US Border Patrol agent was drunk. See my previous post about Canadian Customs to read about our theory that Canadian Border Patrol agents have spunk and personality and are always good for entertainment.

He spoke as though he were in a bar trying to pick up a cheap date.

So questions like:

  • What do you have in the back?
  • How long were you in Canada?

Sounded like

  • Can we go back to your place?
  • Why won’t you sleep with me?

Makes me want to turn back into Canada.

Three examples as to why Canada feels like an alternate universe.

Canada feels like an alternate universe. It’s the best way to describe our experiences in this great country to our north. Marc and I have seen more of Canada than most Americans have and possibly more than a good chunk of Canadians. Between the two of us, we’ve been to most of the major cities except for Vancouver and Edmonton and have been to every province except for BC and Nova Scotia.  Through our various travels, we’ve noticed a few differences that can make you feel like your dreaming, in a cheesy sci-fi miniseries, or – dare I say – on an episode of DeGrassi Junior High? This is despite the fact that many things around you, including the language, remind you of home.

Here are our observances:

  1. Passive-Aggressiveness – Ever piss off a Canadian? It’s kinda awesome. Being passive aggressive is hardly a uniquely Canadian experience, but Canadians are just so damn good at it, you might first think so.

    Example: When we checked into our hostel in Lake Louise (outside of Banff), we accidentally walked by a nervous Japanese couple that was tentatively waiting in line off in the distance. Who could blame us for thinking that the registration desk was available for us to approach? Apparently the woman behind the counter.

    What followed was a classic example of Canadian PA.  Yet if I were to type a transcript of the interaction, the words themselves would be harmless.

    “You can get to the third floor by following this hallway and take the stairs two flights up. There’s a shared kitchen downstairs through that doorway. Did you bring your own laptop? Well, here is the security code. The café is open until 9.”

    See? Big deal, huh? But every word she said to us was laced with an undertone of a perfect mixture of anger, frustration, and hostility that she didn’t use with the previous or the following guests she dealt with. Her spite was directly directed at us. So the above quote, in full context, felt like this:

    “YOU can get your rude ass up to your room by following that hallway. Take the stairs because there is no elevator for lazy people and be careful not to knock people over as you pass them. Assuming you know how to cook, there’s a kitchen downstairs. Can you afford a laptop? Really? Ok, here’s the security code which we will change after you check-out.  There’s a bar that serves food here, and it will close at nine. And yes, they serve beer since I know you will ask me that.”

    Whatever part of me is considered a New Yorker after growing up outside the city wanted to say “Listen, you got a problem? Why don’t you just come out and say it!?”

    Not to get all academic, but the cultural anthropologist Edward Hall compared culture in his book Beyond Culture to the now often used iceberg analogy.  Since most of icebergs remain underwater, most of culture too remains invisible. Apparently we had transgressed against a social norm and had to be punished for it, underwater.

  1. Canadian Music – Canada is a great country. Everyone is friendly, the scenery is beautiful, and relative to many places in the US, Canada is progressive enough to appeal to our liberal hearts. It kind of feels a little too good to be true. You can even forgive Canada for Saskatchewan and Calgary. That is, until you listen to the radio.

    Canadian music is heavily subsidized by the government and the government requires that a certain percentage of radio stations play Canadian artists. Consequently, this leads to a lot of air time needing to be filled – thus giving many artists a chance to get signed to a label and broadcasted when they otherwise might not be able to do so.  Consequently, there’s only so much Celine Dion, Alanis Morrisette, and Avril Levigne a station can play before they get really desperate.

    What it comes down to is that the “filler music” on Canadian airways sounds like what German pop music would be if it were sung in English. It just kind of hurts. Not so much the melodies, but the lyrics.

    Example: “Failure is the best way to learn. Failure is the best way to learn. Failure is the best way to learn.”

    For the love of god, make it stop.

  1. Canadian stores – Don’t be surprised if you’re driving through Canada and see signs for Safeway, Staples, and Starbucks. But that’s not what is interesting. There are a bunch of Canadian stores that you don’t get south of the border. It feels as though you’re in a movie and the producers couldn’t get the rights to use all of the retail logos in the shooting, so they just made up some names.

    Examples: Tim Horton’s (donuts), Grand & Toy (office supplies – OfficeMax’s Canadian arm), Rogers (entertainment), Hudson’s Bay Company (Macy’s, only a lot more important to Canadian history than stupid Macy’s), and Hakim (Lens Crafters).  For crying out loud, even Honda dealerships changed their logo to a red background to accentuate their Canadian-ness rather than a Yankee blue background.

And so we head home, celebrating our Yankee-Doodle-Dandiness, blasting our Neil Young MP3s.

Oh wait, he’s Canadian.

Don’t forget…

The trip is nearing an end – so don’t forget to vote for which State / Province is going to have the most road kill.  Click on “Take a Poll!” to vote.

Funny Canadian Road signs.

Took pictures of these Canadian road signs that made us laugh – or at least notice them from the clutter of driving advice.

This post is dedicated to our dear friend Schoene Mahmood. Who, in addition to being an incredible person, is also a fan a funny road signs.

While I appreciate the warning, it does beg the question, why are pedestrians on the highway?

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We thought this was the strangest sign of the trip (the funniest is below). This was warning motocyclists about the cattle guard (called “Texas Ramps” in Canada), but the picture is priceless.

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This was classic. We loved the fact that it looks like an adult is jamming a beer bottle into his eye. So we did the appropriate thing and re-enacted it in the following picture.

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This just looks like it would be on a t-shirt.

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We loved the specificty of this sign: don’t feel the bighorn sheep.

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For a moment, we were

For a moment, we were literally listening to the Mission Impossible theme song while searching for license plates from HI and RI.

A hot dog vendor confirms my distaste… for Calgary

What is becoming a common theme on this blog, it seems, we did something interesting when we were hungry.

We were walking through downtown Winnipeg and heading back to our hostel. We spotted a hot dog vendor and hit him up for two dogs, chips, and soda. He had put sample carpet tiles out on the nearby concrete wall for his customers to use.  So we sat there, underneath a tree and devoured our hot dogs with his homemade hot sauce and a smidgen of barbeque sauce. And it was good.

The vendor was a big man, half-muscle and full-bigness, and was most likely in his 40s. Whenever he spoke, it seemed as though he had a permanent smile on his face. Although, it wasn’t an affected smile, it seemed genuine; a smile that lets you know that deep down his is truly content and a happy individual. After a lull in customers, he came over and asked us where we were from.  After we told him about the road trip and the route we took, he started telling us about his travels.

His wife is a nurse and he, understandably, only vends during the warm weather.  Him and his wife travel a lot, mostly to the states, but he’s gone within Canada and he really wants to go to Europe. He actually owns another vending cart that he hires other people to work. He used to own five carts, but he said that it was too hard to staff.

“Especially by kids these days,” he said. “They just don’t know how to count. You need to give them a calculator.”

Yikes.

He then went on to tell us about someone who he knows who is sixteen years old. The teenager apparently has difficulty remember the order of the months.

“It’s the schools here, they just don’t care. Especially at the elementary level.”

Living in Chicago, you tend to think that our school system is so sub-standard, that it would be impossible to screw things up more than the educational system in the US. But alas, at least we aren’t alone.

The subject changed back to travel and we talked a bit about Vegas and his Disneyworld and Disneyland excursions. But then I asked him the big question, the one that I’ve been wanting to ask a Canadian for days.

“Is there anything remotely redeeming about Calgary?”

You see, as we drove through Calgary, we felt any life and joy being sucked out of us. It’s not a horrible town, it’s clean enough and seems overly safe. But it’s just that there is absolutely no energy, no vibe, no soul to the city.  Mind you, we believe in finding the redeeming qualities of struggling cities. We lived and thrived in Baltimore for crying out loud.

He gave an understanding nod and laughed aloud. “No, not really. It’s kind of like Saskatchewan, there’s just nothing there.” We both laughed and after a brief pause to think about it he said, “Well, there is the one strip where there is a bunch of bars. Western bars where they play country music and dancing and things like that. But that’s pretty much it.”

Just one strip with a tiny bit of a

And thus my case against Calgary rests.