If you've never actually traveled somewhere or experienced it firsthand, most of your impressions are shaped through the lens of media, whether it be through TV, movies, or news reports. Typically, when you're talking about TV sitcoms or movies, stereotypes are almost comically exaggerated, often to the point where many Californians that haven't traveled to Texas think of tumbleweeds rolling across the freeway, followed by armadillos, and Jim Bob driving his pickup and shooting road signs at will. The reality is the state is much more cosmopolitan and culturally diverse than its perception in popular culture. Likewise, the Canadian province of Alberta bucks many of the prevailing stereotypes of Canada. Our neighbors to the north are often portrayed as politically liberal, constantly punctuating their sentences with "eh?" and seeing Americans as gun-toting rubes that want to spread their consumerist culture to every corner of the globe. And yes, they're obsessed with Tim Horton's donuts and coffee. Well, that last part is true.
I was invited to travel to Calgary, Alberta, for the Canadian press introduction of the 2015 Chevrolet Silverado HD and GMC Sierra HD models. Having attended the U.S. media program, we were already very familiar with the trucks, having taking them to the track for testing. I happened to be the only American journalist on the trip, which made me feel simultaneously special and conspicuous.
My departing flight out of LAX was delayed both for weather-related reasons, as well as having to unload a no-show passenger's bags out of the cargo hold. Consequently, I didn't arrive at the Calgary airport until 11 p.m. I had to go through not one but two stages of customs, with the second officer being especially wary and incredulous toward my story of traveling there just to drive trucks across Alberta's plains. The GM Canada representative waiting for me at the airport looked both tired and relieved upon my eventual emergence from the gauntlet of customs and immigration. I apologized profusely at my tardiness and explained the departure situation. Thankfully, the hotel was literally just on the other side of the walkway from the terminal.
The next day, we weren't scheduled to hit the road until about 10 a.m., so I got up after feeling adequately rested, and turned on some local TV. If you think Toronto mayor Rob Ford is a big deal in the U.S., he's an even bigger deal in Canada, as the better part of the news coverage on the trip was concerning his entry into a rehab facility in the U.S. and his political opponents making political hay out of his irresponsible behavior.
After breakfast, we had our customary briefing about the new model highlights. Interestingly, although Canada is predominantly metric, it isn't entirely. Speed, distance and fuel economy are metric, but payload and towing capacities are still referenced in both pounds and kilograms. And unlike many other countries where engine output is listed in kilowatts and newton-meters, it's still horsepower and lb-ft north of the 49th parallel. Also, I found out that people's height is still referenced in feet and inches, rather than centimeters or meters. I was paired up with Canadian automotive and motorcycle journalist Steve Bond, who was my driving partner for the remainder of the trip. Steve was easy to talk to and shared that he actually went to high school in Southern California. He had been on many motorcycle trips in the U.S., so he was quite familiar with American geography and culture.
Driving through the Calgary metropolitan area, the topography and construction looked a lot like the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, and it's no coincidence that Canada's quintessentially Western province has a lot of similarities with the Lone Star state. Anecdotally, a few of the people on the trip claimed the Calgary Stampede was now a bigger event than the Houston Rodeo. Trucks and cowboy hats were a common sight, getting even more common the further you ventured from the urban center. In the more rural areas of Alberta, like Texas, the ratio of trucks to cars on dealer lots is about 10:1.
Although much of Alberta is rather flat, as you get closer to the Montana border, you can see the Canadian Rockies on the horizon, and the view that started as a spec in our windshield gradually got bigger, making us excited at the scenery to come. As we drew closer to our first day's destination, the route mapped out by our hosts did not disappoint. We stayed that night at the Waterton Lake resort, just minutes away from the Montana border and at the northern tip of Glacier National Park. While we were warned of bears in the area, we didn't see any but got fairly close to several deer, moose, and goats.
That evening, we dined on some prime Alberta beef and enjoyed some British Columbia wine. After joking with the GM Canada PR staff about American's predominant perceptions of Canada and Canadians being shaped by Bob and Doug McKenzie and Strange Brew, we came to the conclusion that Americans and Canadians are far more similar than we are different, with Alberta especially having a distinctly frontier, independently minded vibe. Other than going through the hassle with customs, I'd happily take off on another trip to the Great White North, if they don't mind a token Yankee tagging along.