Small Observations on America

Before I start this blog post, I should mention that, by the time you read this, Doctor Who’s Waters of Mars should have debuted in Canada on the Space Network. You can read my review of it here. Did you like it? Did you not? Check out my review, and add your own thoughts

We’re here in Des Moines after two days travelling. The kids took the long journey like troopers, but it’s still a lot to ask for an eighteen month old to sit in a car seat for eight hours or more on two consecutive days. And tomorrow we head on to Lincoln. But the kids just opened some presents from their grandma Rosemarie and their grandpa Michael and are in good spirits.

The journey down was uneventful. Despite worries that we might be hit by the big storm that’s shut down the middle East Coast, we seem to have escaped most of it. The journey from Kitchener to Benton Harbor, Michigan was uneventful, and we cleared through the border at Sarnia in under a half hour (having two cute kids would appear to help enormously). We got a dusting of snow overnight, and the roads were wet through Chicago, but things dried up once we got to the middle part of Illinois and, after that, all we had to cope with was fatigue and kids needing to pee.

It’s always interesting visiting the United States, and encountering a culture that is very like our own, but with slight but telling differences. For example, I always end up picking up a Milky Way chocolate bar while I visit, as these are unavailable in Canada, for some reason.

And despite resolving to avoid the fast food chains on our long trips, having kids has changed that dynamic. As much as we’d like to take chances with our restaurants, we do need to find places that are consistent and kid friendly. To wit, we discovered a McDonalds with a Play Zone in Lansing, Michigan, which allowed the kids to run off a little steam before we added another two hours to our trek, before ending up in Benton Harbor.

And I have to say, you see the world differently when you are a parent. That’s an obvious comment, but it shows up in small ways. For instance, I never paid much attention to whether bathrooms had baby change tables, until now. And in Canada, a lot of establishments are enlightened enough to offer this amenity, which is much appreciated. What’s odd, though, is how this arrangement is handled in the United States. When we crossed the border into Port Huron, we stopped at the first Wendy’s hamburger joint we found. I took Nora into the men’s changing room to change her, and found no change table. Well, that was okay; she wasn’t dirty, only wet, so I changed her, standing up by the sink. But then, as we were heading out, Erin casually offered to change Nora’s diapers, as the women’s washroom had a change table.

That’s interesting, I said. The men’s washroom doesn’t.

Oh, really? It’s usually found in the accessible toilet stall. Did you look?

Yes, I did, I replied.

And this pattern was repeated again, at the McDonald’s in Lansing, Michigan, and at a Wendy’s in Ottawa, Illinois. A Starbucks in the Barnes and Noble in Iowa City, Iowa had a change table in the men’s room, but you expect that sort of forward thinking from them. But for McDonald’s and Wendy’s at who knows how many establishments across the United States, baby change tables can be found in the women’s washrooms, but not the men.

Spot the assumption.

Another difference was encountered in Michigan City, Indiana. Erin has been fighting off a sinus cold these past few days, and on Thursday before we left, I picked up some Advil Cold and Sinus off the shelf from the Sobey’s supermarket down the street. Unfortunately, we forgot to pack it, so while we were heading out today, Erin asked that I pick up another bunch of capsules.

Well, the first thing I noticed when I walked into the local Walgreens is that Advil Cold and Sinus couldn’t be picked up off the shelf. No. Instead, a product card directed me to the pharmacist, who was required by federal law to ask for some ID. My Canadian drivers’ license flummoxed the system (not her, I hasten to point out. She knew from bitter experience that the computer system choked on Canadian addresses), and with numerous apologies, she asked for the manager to help us through the system. The manager also apologized, and said “has she told you the reason why we have to do this?”

“No,” I said, returning his sympathetic smile. “But I can guess.”

He eventually got me through the system by putting down my mailing address, and substituting “Indiana” instead of “Ontario” for the state, basically putting in a false address, which shows you how seriously the system really takes this situation, even though federal law mandates it. But I appreciated the manager’s friendly candour, and the work he did in getting Erin the medication she needed.

The reason for all of this rigamarole, of course, is to try and stop the spread of meth amphetamines, since cold medications like Advil Cold and Sinus can be used as a raw material towards that drug. But I have to wonder, how much worse is the problem in the United States given that they have all of these protections, and I’m still able to take a box off the shelf at my local Sobey’s supermarket. And if it is so much worse, what’s going on in the States that isn’t happening here? Or, what are we doing here in Canada that the States hasn’t been able to?

Anyway, differences like this make life interesting, I guess.

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