Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Margin Notes: Travel, Safety, Left Turns, Border

A Halo Burger in Flint, Michigan was noted on 25-July-2009

TORONTO, ONTARIO - One of the things I like to do when traveling is try out regional chain restaurants that I had not experienced before. On this recent trip to Michigan, Bob Evans and Big Boy did little for me, but I was impressed with Bill Thomas' Halo Burger, a small chain centered around Flint, Michigan. While it doesn't stack up to In'N'Out Burger in the southwest or Burgerville in Oregon, I have little doubt that it is the best burger in Flint. I also give credit to Luigi's Restaurant in Flint, which serves thin-crust pizza. While not quite Pizza Therapy material, it is likely the best pizza in Flint.

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The amphitheater at Flint, Michigan's Riverbank Park was only sparsely populated during the "Keep On Keepin' On" Festival on 25-July-2009

While exploring Flint, I stumbled onto the "Keep On Keepin' On" Festival, billed as an "Afrikan American" community event, at Riverbank Park along the Flint River. I was there mid-evening, and was surprised to find not more than a few dozen people enjoying an interesting mix of Rhythm and Blues and techno music. Furthermore, for all the talk of racial polarization in Flint, at least a third of the people in attendance were clearly not African-American.

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It was interesting to hear the BBC Newshour include a feature reported from Flint, Michigan while I was visiting the region. While the racial divide at the river reported by the BBC was evident driving around town, the reported tensions were not apparent to a visitor--at various businesses, I was served by people of all races and noticed mixed clientele. It is common not to see such issues in a short visit, but I literally saw no sign of them except for the geographic separation.

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Various people had expressed concern about staying in Flint as a high-crime area. A webmaster of a prominent railroad enthusiast website actually commented "I got the feeling our cars would be gone in the morning" when referring to the neighborhood where I stayed. Well, my car was not gone any of the four mornings and I saw no sign of crime. The level of fear of the poor in the United States can just be ridiculous.

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A typical Michigan left turn signal was noted in Flint, Michigan on 24-July-2009

Not quite ridiculous, but an interesting quirk of Michigan traffic signals is the use of a specific traffic light labeled above as "Left" instead of a left arrow. While the above example is from Flint, I saw the same kind of signal in Owosso and other towns, so it appears to be an acceptable convention throughout the state of Michigan. The only advantage that I can see is that it is likely cheaper in initial capital cost, and it isn't that confusing for visitors.

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After noting the extreme rudeness of the US border officials while entering the country, it's worth stating that my return to Canada was completely different. The agents were polite, asked about virtually nothing except what I was bringing back to the country, and the whole experience using the Tunnel Bus took no more than two minutes, compared with nearly ten entering the United States. If the US is trying to discourage foreign tourism, they are doing a good job.

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