Having a Smoke Outside Tim Horton’s

On our trip to Canada in August, an old man having a smoke outside the Tim Horton’s in Baden, Ontario, noticed our Illinois license plates. “From the States, eh?” (Gotta say, stereotypes aside, this was the one time I heard an “Eh?” for the whole trip.)


“They don’t treat their old folks too good down there.”

Well, there you go, a great way to start a conversation. I could callously agree and get on with my cruller-eating, or disagree and get into a discussion with someone who had obviously made up his own mind. Where are you now, Dale Carnegie?

Despite the misconception, Canada does have one national language, and it is politeness. So I had to actually try and converse with him. It really didn’t go anywhere, as he just wanted to tell me he pays $4 for his prescriptions and he knows all about the US because he and his late wife used to golf a lot in North Carolina.

But one reason to stop and talk was to get an outsider’s opinion of the whole health care “debate” now devolving. I hadn’t seen any of the town hall shouting matches, but I don’t think I needed to. If I wanted to see a bunch of middle-aged white guys shouting, I could go to a demolition derby. Unfortunately, I’m pretty uninformed about the topic. Which generally doesn’t stop anyone from having an opinion, but I’m kind of old school about such things. I also don’t like arguing with pensioners. Bad form.

But to explain to him why the arguments were happening the way they have been? Sort of impossible in a casual setting. If he didn’t know that America is more dog-eat-dog than Canada by this stage in his life, he’s not paying attention, and to make the point felt like self-flagellation. Which isn’t covered by my insurance.

I haven’t bothered to watch many of the town hall screamfests now that I’m back with a TV and broadband access. I mean, what’s there to learn, except that a huge portion of my country has been pounded by economic and social change and doesn’t like it one bit, and has decided that aligning themselves with the pharma-insurance industry will improve their lives? Today, I did watch the video clip from the NJ meeting, when a woman in a wheelchair with auto-immune problems was heckled and mocked because she might lose her home. Was it cruel? Yes. Surprising? No.

Because a large portion of Americans have no big objections to watching people’s lives collapse. Not a majority, I don’t think, but certainly a good chunk. As long as they’re not personally affected and their corner of the world stays the same, everyone else can just go to hell. You can dress it all up in flashy principles like small government, no creeping socialism, and all that, but that group of people really doesn’t mind watching others suffer. “The devil take the hindmost,” they think, and one more day when someone else is the hindmost is a good one.

Trying to explain that to a nice old Canuck in front of a donut shop isn’t easy. I didn’t try.

But at the end of our conversation, as a way of sign-off, he said, “Well, regardless, you guys seem to get things done in the end. You find ways to get it all together.”

Sure we do, as long as you don’t tally up all the costs.

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