Sunday Top Ten: Significant Experiences In Canada

Welcome to the second edition of Sunday Top Ten, a list of completely random and undoubtedly self-indulgent things that may or may not be published on a Sunday or number “ten.” This feature is a continuation of the Sunday Top Tens I used to write for my earth-shattering personal blog Autowin, where I talked about myself pretty much constantly from 2006-2008. 


Well folks, as we speak I’m on an airplane, on my way to the great land of Canada to enjoy holiday festivities with my girlfriend’s family in Ottawa! This seemed like an opportune moment to reflect on my storied history with this important country. I grew up in Southeastern Michigan, which means Canada was basically in our neighborhood, enabling lots of opportunities for Michiganders to cart their Americanness across the border into Canada, land of nice people and big skies.

Some names have been changed to protect the innocent humans who unfortunately once upon a time unknowingly involved themselves with somebody who would later share her entire life with the entire internet forever.


 

Chatham, Ontario: late ’80s

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Wheels Inn, this hotel/resort situation with an indoor amusement park, was essentially an indoor playpen for children like me who harbored vast reserves of enthusiasm for concepts like “water parks” despite “not really knowing how to swim.” Just being close to the waterslides was enough, really. When my parents said we’d be going there for the weekend, I went completely insane with excitement, like a dog about to run face-first into a glass door. Speaking of running into things, one afternoon at the Wheels Inn Bowling Lanes, I made an ambitious bowling ball size selection that resulted in me slipping and banging my chin on said ball. My chin immediately began gushing blood, and my father swiftly picked me up and hauled me out of the room before I gave everybody SARS. I left a trail of blood in my wake and the scar on my chin remains to THIS VERY DAY. Also don’t worry I didn’t really have SARS. I don’t think it had been invented yet.


 

Stratford & Toronto, Ontario: Spring 1993

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As with all class trips, our parents dropped off their bleary-eyed seventh graders just before dawn, where we were summarily herded onto a charter bus headed north. By the time we stopped at Tim Horton’s for breakfast, everybody had awoken and the bus was throbbing with pre-adolescent hormones and aggressive gossip — most of the gossip was about how me and Alissa had crushes on Ted and how Milo was gonna break up with Elise at the buffet later. Everybody took sides regarding the Elise/Milo breakup. I sided with the Mean Cunts, obviously. We spent our first night in Toronto, and the next morning en route to Stratford my internal faceplate organs started aching like somebody had decided to store their toothbrush in my ear canal. It kept getting worse, too, like maybe a tree or a monster was growing out of my ear, which would’ve been bad news for me w/r/t my romantic prospects. It turned out to be an ear infection.

According to my diary, “the last 3 hours (bus ride home) were the only good parts of the trip. Jamie started secretly going with Milo and everyone found out. Elise started crying on the bus, and we all got into a big group discussion and decided to be mean to Jamie and Milo.” Not sure why that qualifies as “the only good parts of the trip” but um, I was a very unhappy 12-year-old, I think, is the takeaway here.


 

 Windsor, Ontario: Summer 1997

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Some balmy July afternoon, Macaela and I went to Canada because we couldn’t really think of anything else to do that day and she’d just gotten her drivers license. We had about four hours to kill, which was just enough time to lurch through the border, park in a lot near some touristy shops, buy postcards to prove that we’d been to Canada, and then drive right back. I got a postcard of a Canadian human on a horse in a red outfit, and also a postcard featuring a washed-out publicity photo of The Spice Girls. We felt really wild, I think she even smoked a cigarette with the windows rolled down.


Vancouver, British Columbia: Summer 2000

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The most remarkable aspect of my trip to Vancouver is that I managed to fly from Detroit to Seattle and then drive from Seattle to Vancouver and back without a drivers license, passport or birth certificate. I’d just fled an unsavory living situation in New York two months earlier than initially planned and therefore spent my summer overthinking everything and visiting friends on the West Coast, including Sabra, who’s family had just moved to Seattle and had never been in a car for more than an hour. Thus, while Gemi and I were visiting, Sabra had planned her very first “road trip”! To Vancouver! Three whole hours!

I liked Vancouver so much. I thought, “I could live here.”

We split a bottle of red wine at a restaurant with big windows overlooking the whole city, and in the daytime we walked through downtown, where homeless kids, skaters and punks lined the sidewalks in surprising aplenty. On our way home we stopped at the Capilano Suspension Bridge and the Butchart Gardens and I liked feeling like a tourist because the act of tourism suggested “leisure time,” which felt like something I didn’t deserve just then.


Windsor, Ontario: Fall 2001

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At the University of Michigan, “Date Parties” are a thing wherein fraternity or sorority members and their dates wear nice outfits and take busses to Windsor to get drunk ’cause the drinking age is only 19 there. I wanted to go to a Date Party really bad but unfortunately had no dates, but luckily my friend Benjamin took pity on me and took me on his fraternity’s fall journey to Windsor. It was a Jewish fraternity so I was basically the tallest person there. (I’m Jewish too, but got this body from the not-Jewish side of the family) At the border, we all had to get out of the bus so they could search for bombs. It was a few weeks after 9/11. My only memory of this night was dancing really hard to “Livin’ on a Prayer” and I think it was pretty awesome.


Windsor, Ontario: Winter 2001

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That same year, December, I started dating a guy who went to Eastern Michigan, one town over from where I went to school. He was a frat boy but his friends got really upset when you called them “frat boys.” Unlike the Winter Formal Date Party I attended with Benjamin, there was no luxury motor coach for this event, just a bunch of kids driving shitty cars and a row of hotel rooms just over the border, across the street from the bar and restaurant where we’d be “partying.” Highlights included and were mostly limited to William running around the hotel in a Hooter’s waitress outfit. Other highlights include a game of “I’ve Never” which seemed designed entirely around the concept of slut-shaming me in front of all my boyfriend’s friends. On the way back they searched my boyfriend’s car and the border guard found a bunch of porn in his trunk and made a joke about it that I found hilarious and my boyfriend found humiliating. I left Canada feeling very American.


 Toronto, Ontario: Spring 2003

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He was unimpressed when I asked if I could bring a book with me to the hockey museum

New year, new boyfriend with bleached tips! Everybody in Canada had SARS so they were basically giving hotel rooms away, and my then-boyfriend’s family were hard-core Cubs fans so we all went up there for some Cubs/Blue Jays games. The day before I’d been hauled to the emergency room after a bad slip on my inadequately weatherproofed porch resulted in a blood-soaked uniform shirt and me being unable to walk or drive. The doctors took my x-rays, gave me a bottle of Vicodin and said it would get better soon. The next day I woke up and felt infinitely better, a transformation which has since given me an overly optimistic forecast for all similar tragedies that have ever happened to anybody I’ve ever known. Like that time at Dinah Shore when I told Laneia her foot would be fine the next day. SORRY LANEIA.

The Cubs lost. A teenager on a bike rode around us in circles chanting “LOSERS!” at us as we filed out of the stadium in our blue-and-red hats and my boyfriend’s brother yelled “well at least we don’t have SARS!”  We went to see The Matrix 2. As the theater began filling up an ominous voice instructed all of us to move closer to one another ’cause it was sold out. “This is why they all have SARS,” my boyfriend’s brother whispered as we lessened the distance between our bodies and the bodies of other pasty North Americans. On our way back to America I bought my boyfriend a new pair of shoes at an Outlet Mall so that he’d stay with me forever but instead he broke up with me four days later for illusive reasons. So now I was glad I’d gotten that Vicodin after all.


 Windsor, Ontario: Spring 2004

At this point aforementioned boyfriend has become an ex-boyfriend who’s still sleeping with me and loves me but also has a secret girlfriend I hadn’t found out about yet, I think. I’m actually not entirely sure when this night happened since that whole year is an emotionally tumultuous blur. So then one night he’s like, let’s go to Canada tonight, and I’m like, oh totally, I’d love to even though I have to open the Macaroni Grill tomorrow morning and it’s possible you’re only asking me ’cause I have a car with gas in it but I don’t even care because I am a pathetic lovesick tortured beast of burning desire who would probably hang out with you in a tank of ham water and now here I am watching you spend your last $40 on losing Blackjack at a casino in Windsor because I’D RATHER WATCH YOU PLAY THIS GAME THAN ENDURE THE GAMES YOU PLAY WITH MY HEART. Yup. But we had fun though, ’cause we always did have fun, and for one night I knew exactly where he was. This was also a thing I liked — spontaneously running off to a different country in the middle of the night and not telling anybody — spontaneously deciding to stay the night, too, and then praying the whole way back that I wouldn’t get fired. I didn’t. Don’t worry you guys, I opened The Macaroni Grill and everybody got the Pasta Milanos of their dreams.


 Victoria, British Columbia: Summer 2006

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The face of somebody who really wants frozen yogurt but can’t find any

So once upon a time I was dating Haviland Stillwell? And she’d invited me on the Rosie Cruise to Alaska, a decision I’m pretty sure she regretted instantly when I lost my drivers license at a bar and realized my passport was expired like five days before takeoff. (I think she found such antics far more adorable after we decided to be best friends instead of sorta-kinda-almost-girlfriends.) Anyhow, on the cruise she performed lots of songs in fancy outfits and we followed Susan Powter and Kelli O’Donnell around trying to absorb their auras. Our #1 mission in our last port stop of Victoria, as it was at every port, was for Haviland to find frozen yogurt or soft serve. I can’t remember if we found it or not but the sunset was super-pretty!


Halifax, Nova Scotia: Summer 2008

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A new year, a new Rosie cruise, a new girlfriend with bleached tips! (Just kidding, Alex had already grown out her bleached tips by the time I met her.) The #1 mission of our docking in Halifax was to find and marry Ellen Page, but we failed. However, we DID succeed in:

  1. Acquiring Tylenol w/codeine
  2. Buying a bunch of used books
  3. Rolling down a grassy hill, as a team
  4. Maybe discovering I had developed a latent allergic reaction to grass
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Making serious progress w/r/t rolling down the hill

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Hitting a rolling-down-the-hill plateau

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The feeling of totally giving up

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My friends continue their laborious descent

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fuck this shit


 

Ottawa: Winter 2012

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A new year, a new girlfriend, a new reason to visit Canada! And could you believe that it was my first time visiting with an actual Canadian?

It had been a few years since I’d seen snow, and suddenly there was so much of it, everywhere, like the winters I’d spent in Northern Michigan where you couldn’t even see the sky through all that snow. Marni’s Mom got me Canadian winterwear — the best were the mittens, these red-and-white striped paws with red canadian flags right in the palm. Marni’s Mom is the best mom. We went to a wedding and I wore a black dress with tights, and we hung out with friends of Marni’s from high school and they served poutine but I did not partake. I drank too much so Marni guarded the bathroom so I could be a hot sick mess for a minute. Then I was able to drink more in order to dance dance dance in my tights and achieve a level of body warmth previously unparalleled. That’s love, I think. Guarding the bathroom and still loving me afterwards.


 

Montreal: Winter 2012/13

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We spent New Year’s in Montreal, where there was even more snow than in Ottawa, or at least it seemed like it, maybe because here the snow’s desperate battle with urban development was more intimately executed. We delicately mounted the small, snow-caked steps to Renée’s apartment and left our wet boots on the stairwell, huddled inside like tiny animals. We arrived just in time to get dressed and go out for New Years, and thus saucily we bounced from HQ to this house party and then another. People fell on the ice and slipped in the snow and we all died of hypothermia and woke up and it was 2013.

The next day was gorgeous and sunny and still so cold, but still, we walked. We layered and we walked all day, so I could see all the places she’d ever been, and why, and where she’d lived and eaten and worked. I want to see all her things and meet all her people. Every additional minute we spent in the subzero quietness of New Year’s Day, I knew, would add to the enormity of the ultimate payoff — the moment you come inside after a long day in the snow, peel off your clothing and smoosh your nose against your knees and feel like you’ve really lived. Instead I fell down the stairs and got huge monster bruises on my limbs, but it was totally worth it. I was in this cold pretty place with a girl I loved who loved me and the whole enormous year was ahead of us, because bruises fade, and people change, but Canada is forever.

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Riese is the 33-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York City, and now lives in The Bay Area. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are!

Riese has written 1795 articles for us.

46 Comments

  1. Thumb up 8

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    So once when I was 19 and very dumb and very in love, I eloped in Canada. After we did it we sat on a bench in a park, and our stared at our rings, and double checked our foreign Canadian coins to make sure we had enough to get the bus back into Detroit.

    That’s what canada makes me remember.

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    I have to say I’m a little sad Saskatchewan wasn’t on this list. Sometimes the prairies get labelled as boring but the natural beauty here is amazing! We have forests, valleys, 100s of lakes, badlands (dinosaur fossils), the largest sand dunes in North America and we get over 200 days of sun every year!!! Vacation spots don’t always need mountains, ocean and huge metropolis’ to be enjoyable. If anything come for the fresh air and the ability to see stars even while in the city! (This is my PSA/Tourism plug, come check out the place where the wheat from that bread your eating is grown!)

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      Yes I would love to see the prairies! The funny thing about every single time I’ve been to Canada, and part of why I thought this’d be a fun series of stories to tell, is that I’ve never been like “I would like to see [part of Canada], let’s go visit it!” I somehow just keep ending up in Canada, like THE UNIVERSE CONTINUES DRAWING ME TO CANADA. Either it’s a “quick trip from Michigan” situation (almost always organized and planned by somebody else) or, like, I’ve managed to get a free cruise that happens to stop in a certain city in Canada, or I’m on a school trip, or my girlfriend lives here, or my friend wants to go on a “road trip.” I feel like somehow my body will end up in all the other parts of Canada at some point…

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    As a Canadian, I’m very glad you’ve had so many great experiences in my beloved country. But I’m also crazy jealous that you seem to have seen more of my beloved country than I have!

    Also, have fun in Ottawa! I’ve been living there for the past few years (though currently with family in Toronto) and its a really wonderful city. Though you may get to experience the unique joys of an ice-storm caused power outage…. Don’t forget to try a beavertail!

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    I have no idea why you would want to be in Southern Ontario right now. LOL I’ve been praying to be magically transported elsewhere than Toronto (since transit has been down here)!
    The ice storm up here has taken out power and made a general mess of things. I’ve been in the dark since Saturday night, curled up in front of a fire. Trees in the front and back-yard are down… come to think of it, how are you with power tools? I need more firewood to keep warm and I’d be happy to toss you a chainsaw to cut up those downed trees!
    Keep safe and keep warm :)

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    Everything from Wheels Inn in Chatham to Windsor’s influx of 19 y/o American drinkers to Ottawa in the winter is tugging on all those nostalgia heartstrings and giving me that weird internet feeling of knowing you have shared a space with someone you feel like you know but you don’t really know and I don’t know why but I feel like that’s important. Thanks for sharing your Canadian adventures Riese, have an awesome time in Ottawa!

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    Ah I love everything about the way you write. It made me so nostalgic for trips to Canada I have yet to make with the woman I love that I have yet to meet. I’m pretty convinced my future wife is going to be from Montreal.

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    I have so many awesome memories of so many awesome fun Canadian places but this one has to take the cake.

    Going into the Canadian parliment building for a tour and sis and I brought our Barbies along. As we have to take all our stuff off and put it in the scanny thing my sister (probably 7 yrs old) LOUDLY says ‘but daddy what if my Barbie had a BOMB in it’ *facepalm* you do NOT say that in public pretty much anywhere!

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    Two things, Riese:

    1) I’m back in Michigan from St. Louis and managed to arrive a few hours before the ice storm hit thanks to a well timed text. Hope Ottawa is better!

    2) I attended and graduated from Eastern Michigan (we have the best phallic water tower, dammit!), and it totally sounds like you dated a Delt. A lot of my fraternity friends were Delts. He also sounded douchey, so boo.

    Those were my things. Being back in Michigan makes me nostalgic.

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    this is fantastic. i’m one of those annoying americans who have never been to canada but have a lot of feelings about canada being great. so i need to go and remedy this situation as soon as i can.

    but a thing: I ALSO HAVE A PERSISTENT CHILDHOOD CHIN SCAR.
    my chin was a magnet for pain. i first hurt it by tripping and falling into my little motorized jeep thing. and then i busted it by falling on the jungle gym, directly onto one of the bars. stroking my tiny childhood chin scar in solidarity as i type.

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    I loved reading this. I’ve lived in Ottawa, Toronto, and am now in Victoria. Vancouver is next on my ‘places to live in Canada’ list. Thanks for the nostalgia.

    Oh and p.s. Butchart Gardens is on Vancouver Island not in Vancouver :) Maybe you went to the UBC Botanical Gardens?

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