It's Great Up North
Date: Monday, November 21 2005
Sunday November 20, 2005
I booked the train ticket from New York to Toronto feeling good about my carbon footprint and imagining a pleasant day gliding north up the Hudson river to Niagara and the Great Lakes. The landscape was stunning and I'm glad I went that way. However, I could not recommend it. For one thing, Amtrak has perfected a meal - the only meal available - which is the final evolution of convenience food: a molten cheesy, doughy mass which is optimistically called either a breakfast roll or cheeseburger, though it approximates neither. For another, the trip takes 13 hours and includes many stops, the longest of which comes at the Canadian border, where endearingly - or cunningly - half the station is occupied by an antiques shop.
Midway through the morning, I was drinking a cup of coffee, watching the Hudson slide by when we came to a bend in the river. On the far bank was a large, forbidding establishment. My neighbour, a big man in his thirties, caught my eye. 'That's West Point,' he said. I nodded. 'That's West Point! The US Military Academy,' he insisted, his jaw clenching with pride.
'Really. I assumed it was a prison,' I replied truthfully. I don't know what reaction he hoped for, but this was not it. What was I meant to do? Salute? Nod in respect for the great work being done in white phosphorus 'shake'n' bake' tactics? The train rolled on and West Point disappeared from view. Some minutes later, he turned to me. 'You a liberal or something?'
'Eh, no. I really thought that was a prison.' A silence followed. 'You're a liberal; I can tell,' he said aggressively. I was about to give him my standard lecture about the tragedy of American politics descending from the contest between Republicans and Democrats to the remorseless demonisation of liberals when he crushed his paper cup, got up, glared and stalked off.
And that, in short, explains why leaving America for Canada is done with no enormous regret. Behind you lies the weight of American touchiness and hysteria, the radio shock jocks, the twerpish, bow-tied TV pundits, the religious nuts who deny evolution with the phrase 'intelligent design' and the madness that descants on the ills of passive smoking, yet allows a tax break on SUVs that consume one gallon every 12 miles. This is to say little of a President who seems only confident when he is standing at a podium as commander-in-chief with bristling military types behind him talking about 'Amraaaaka.'
[Proofreader's note: this article was edited for spelling and typos on November 21, 2005]