Midnight Suntans

Saturday, 02 October 2010 09:10 AM Written by 

WATERTOWN, N.Y -- Nice and Easy Shoppe parking lot

I didn't sleep here last night. But I did get another good night's sleep at one of Walmart's Sunspot Inns.

No other travelers took advantage of the company's open invitation to sleep in its vast asphalt spaces, but I didn't care.

After a few hours of US 11's dark emptiness, the blazing -- and inescapable -- lighting setup at Walmart's Potsdam store didn't seem so bad this time.

So thanks again, Walmart. I'm getting to like your accommodations.

But really, couldn't you cut back on the light by a few million watts? You could claim you're trying to save the planet, like everyone else, plus your guests wouldn't wake up with suntans.

I'm now in Watertown, N.Y., angling south on US 11.

The flat foggy farmland on both sides of the highway is dotted by large prosperous dairy farms that offer pumpkins and tomatoes for sale on the honor system, plus the occasional dead motel and blink-and-you-miss-them communities like Dekalb and Canton.

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But US 11 also cuts through the center of the classic American town of Watertown. The old highwy runs through a residential neighborhood in Watertown that's a textbook example of the kind of old-fashioned neighborhood they don't -- and can't -- make anymore.DSC_1935_copy

Broad quiet streets, sidewalks, large handsome shoulder-to-shoulder houses, tall old oak trees.

When Steinbeck  plied those quiet streets exactly 50 years ago, the trees were younger, thinner and shorter, but the neighborhood was already old.

At Mexico, N.Y., I'll turn west on Route 104 and eventually get to Niagara Falls, where Steinbeck tried to cross into Canada.

To save time,  he wanted to slice across southern Ontario from Hamilton and pop out at Windsor/Detroit.

Maybe he wanted to visit the birthplaace of his pickup/truck camper, which was made in Michigan by the Wolverine Co.

In any case, he was foiled because -- you guessed it -- he had a dog.

Charley didn't have the proper inoculation papers; today, it's humans who need all the paperwork to cross into Canada. Good thing there aren't border guards at state lines, yet.

I don't have a dog but I don't have a passport, either. I plan to spend Saturday night not far from Niagara Falls at my family's cottage on Lake Erie in Port Colborne, Ontario.

My mom and aunt Louise -- native-born Canadians whose average age is 90 -- are there and are expecting me.  

Getting into Canada should be no problem; it's getting back into my own country that will be the hassle.

I can't wait.

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