I sat on the edge of our country on a nice park bench by the Detroit River. I thought about three things: they’ve found fish with abnormal appendages and cancerous tumours here, there’s a mortally evil undercurrent, and if you drink the water you might end up like the fish – which were floating dead down the river with the undercurrents and the ice.
That is the curse of this particular border city. Lots of nice places to sit and enjoy the view of Detroit, but it all has become a bit tainted. An awesome view of the Renaissance Center with its cluster of fellow skyscrapers, the picturesque Catholic church spire, a miniature-seeming monorail, and the Ambassador Bridge spanning the space between, all of it smudged with pollution and poverty.
Living near Detroit comes with mixed feelings. The pollution must be their fault, as if they’re some sort of evil pollution-making monster, the cause of our outrageous cancer rates. After all, on a clear day, one can see the Fermi II nuclear plants straight across. The pollution from the Detroit River ruins the possibilities of swimming safely in our lakes. A bad driver? American. Rude shopper? American. Someone starting a fight downtown? Probably American. They’ve become the brunt of all blame, and also a favourite storytelling topic.
I have my stories. I dole them out for amusement. Like the time an American customer came through my line desperately trying to sort out the cent value of their Canadian coin, as I gritted my teeth and refrained from pointing out how ridiculously similar the value actually was. Or the time I was stuck on the other side of the border in an overheated car and the customs officer wouldn’t let me use the phone, telling me to use a pay phone somewhere in the midst of downtown Detroit. Downtown Detroit is scary. Empty and barred-up. Not like the consumer heyday the older generations speak so fondly of. All a reminder that Canadians are smarter, nicer, and now the shopping attraction of Americans.
Windsor needs validation. After all, Canada ends at London. Windsor lives in the shadow of Detroit. It is our point of reference. Where do I live? Near Detroit. Motown. The place of race riots, Rosa Parks’ institute, rock city, and to be more contemporary, 8 mile. I grew up watching American television, getting Fox, NBC, ABC, and the WB, all without the benefit of cable. I resist, but here I am – I can distinctly pick out Canadian and American accents, all the while wondering where my voice fits in, despite some insistent Americans who distinguish my ‘about’ from theirs. I’m left wondering if they’d ever stop laughing if they heard a real Canadian accent.
Despite my protestations and despite the complaints, or rather in spite of them, America has infiltrated and moulded Windsor and its inhabitants. We’ve been reduced to a drinking well and a thoroughfare. Hit with a barrage of under-21 year-olds every weekend and hundreds of transports every weekday, our city is forced into a standstill. In 1997, $120 billion in U.S. trade crossed the Ambassador Bridge, a number that increases every year with no effective solution to the traffic problem. Cars with decked-out boys and girls and American plates line the streets Saturday night hoping to attract someone shivering in the line-ups to get into bars. Transports idly occupy the center lane of the main road everyday, and stretch end-to-end for miles…I mean kilometres.
So, we’re stuck. Looking at a skyline and making accusatory remarks. As I sit on the frigid bench, I contemplate the towering Renaissance Center amidst its assemblage of smaller skyscrapers. They kinda look like they’re shooting you the finger..