Land of the Free, Home of... Adults

Written by Jamie MacMaster

With the worn peaks of New York State's Adirondacks quite visible on any clear day, it is difficult for Glengarry folks to ignore the presence of our neighbours to the south. But proximity notwithstanding, my forays into 'Merica' have been decidedly few: an occasional ski trip, a few days wandering the Presidential Range in New Hampshire and an evening or two watching the bears circling barbecue pits at a Vermont resort - all would fall into the category of jaunts as opposed to excursions. And with the exception of Mike and Nadine from Minnesota who we met on vacation a few years back and have become our great friends, my interactions with Americans have been few, fleeting and mostly of the business type.

So it would be safe to say that until a few weeks ago, my image of Americans had been constructed almost entirely upon the suspicion that when it came to Yanks, the bed-wetters at CBC and the Trawna (pronounced as in trauma) Star were probably once again serving us up their ovine political ideology as a substitute for independent thought, analysis and accuracy. I suspected that the 'culture of the gun' was just as firmly entrenched on the streets of Scarborough as it was in Harlem, and the average Canuck wouldn't fare out any better in a street interview about peculiarities of the U. S. of A. than Rick Mercer's hapless Yankee victims did when quizzed about the supposed state of affairs in our Great White North.

So when Yours Truly and business partner 'Jom' Picken loaded up the truck with assorted dead deer parts, lumber and business propaganda, and struck out for ten days among the natives in Harrisburg, PA, the idea that I would be laughin' and scratchin' with my redneck cuzzins made me just as happy as the prospect of luring some of them north next fall to spend some Yankee bucks on Canadian bucks.

I tell you, Harrisburg was an eye-opener. The Eastern Sports Show bills itself as the largest event of its type east of the Mississippi; over a million people pass through the State Farm Show Complex over nine days to take in the wares showcased by 1200 plus exhibitors. Bass-boats, bullets, barren-ground caribou and beer... lots of beer; the dozen or so bars in the huge show halls opened at 11:00 a.m. Now you'd think that this would be a recipe for disaster with all those red-necks fuelling up on rifles and rot-gut. Nope. With my apologies to Maude Barlow, Mary Walsh and Jack Layton, I searched high and low but I couldn't find a single drunk let alone a right-wing militia or a lynching. Tens of thousands strolled past our booth with beer bottles or Jack Daniels in hand, but there wasn't a raised voice, broken bottle or a fist fight to be found.

The scene in the gun hall would have Trawna Mayor Miller retching in the aisles. A middle-aged Amish (maybe Mennonite) lady handed a hunting rifle over the counter to a complete stranger, who worked the action, sighted through the scope at a sparrow up in the ceiling trusses, and then plunked down his credit card and strolled to the parking lot with his new steak-maker. In the archery arena scores of twelve year olds whistled arrows into the vitals of deer targets with deadly accuracy, and later on their parents shook their heads in disbelief and exclaimed "But that's just plain stupid, look at the money your government's losing," when we told them that, so sorry, they could come up and hunt in Ontario, but their young'uns couldn't.

But the one scene that drove home the fact that we were truly in a country where adult decisions and actions (at least for the time being) were encouraged, took place in the restaurant lobby of the hotel complex where we stayed. We were standing in line waiting to be seated, when the restaurant manager came up to us with a tray of hors d'oeuvres and asked us if we wanted to try some. We took him up on his offer, and, while sampling the smoked delicacies, asked him what it was. "Oh, my assistant manager and her husband are big hunters, and every year they do up some deer and elk for you folks that stay here during our Sports Show." Now I invite you to speculate on the probable fate of a restaurant manager at the Sheraton or the Holiday Inn in Mississauga who would dare to hand out home-smoked venison to his guests. And while you're at it, what about the hotel chain itself?

But it was the thoughtful words of a gentleman from Virginia, who pulled up a seat in our booth during a quiet spell one afternoon, which came closest to putting a finger on the difference between 'us' and 'them'. He listened while I told him about the land confiscations, our gun laws and the crippling effects of the incestuous relationship between our governments and environmental NGOs that our rural population was enduring. He shook his head in disbelief, not that he didn't believe it was happening, he couldn't believe it had been allowed to happen. "But Men wouldn't put up with that. No, men don't put up with that."

And in a way, I think he had it right. Because a rural population that demands spoon-feedings of subsidy cheques, supply-management security blankets, and blindly accepts stewardship program soothers in lieu of real compensation for confiscated lands, is probably quite content to let Mommy Government handle all the grown-up stuff: rifles, beer, smoked venison and property rights.

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