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Thursday, July 24, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 73.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Citizen Dave: There's more to Niagara than the Falls

Credit:Niagara Economic Development Corporation
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Do I look like a dangerous person to you? I do if you're a Canadian Services Agency officer.

I've been to Canada four times in the last eight months. I'm very big in Canadian biking summit circles. And each time I get stopped at the border.

The conversation typically goes something like this.

Canadian border officer (looking down at my passport): "Purpose of your visit?"

Me: "Business."

Canadian officer (still looking down): "What sort of business?"

Me: "I'm giving a speech."

Canadian officer (still looking down): "A speech aboot what?"

Me: "Biking."

Canadian officer (looking up now): "A speech aboot biking?"

Me: "Yes. I'm speaking aboot biking." (I can tell that my attempt to make a connection by using the Canadian pronunciation of "about" is not going over well.)

Canadian officer (looking back down): "Where are you giving this speech aboot biking?"

Me: "Welland."

Canadian officer (looking up again): "Welland?"

Me: "Yes. Welland."

Canadian officer: "You're giving a speech aboot biking in Welland?"

Me: "Yes."

Canadian officer (looking back down again with a slight shake of the head): "What do you do for a living?"

Me: "I'm a part time professor and a consultant."

Canadian officer (continuing to look down): "So, you're unemployed then, eh?"

Me: "Well, no. I wouldn't say that. I've also got this blog and..."

Canadian officer: "Pull over there and take this slip into the immigration officer."

So I pull over and park. They come out with the dogs and the mirrors at the end of poles and conclude that I'm just odd, but not dangerous to Canadian national security, so they send me on my way.

Once they let me in their country, I like Canada and Canadians very much. What they take for rude disagreement up there would pass for a Rotary Club ice cream social on this side of the border.

I've always wanted politics to be like the PBS NewsHour with middle-aged people in rumpled suits trading statistics from Brookings Institution reports and disagreeing so politely as to be almost confused with agreeing. Despite what Canadians will tell you, their politics is kind of like that, at least compared to the knife fight that is American politics.

Anyway, I was there, in fact, to talk about biking. I was visiting the Niagara region this time, which is between lakes Ontario and Erie, an area about the size of Dane County and with about the same population. It was -- and still is to a large extent -- car country, with huge plants that feed General Motors. But the region is also diversifying its economy and becoming Canada's Napa Valley. The combination of soils and climate are great for grapes and the region now has dozens of wineries.

That's where bikes come in. Niagara Falls itself has, of course, always been a tourist mecca, but the visitors seldom ventured far from the mist. Now, they can tack on a tour of the nearby wine country and a lot of them like to do that on bikes. The topography is flat and the wineries are close enough together that you can visit a few in a day by bike.

In addition, the regional government (they actually have one) is interested in getting more people to commute to work by bike. Which is mostly the reason I was invited.

Anyway, I recommend it. You can fly into Buffalo and be there in forty minutes by car, or you could make it in a day driving directly from Madison. But when you get to the border, don't say you're there to give a speech on biking and that you're a school teacher instead of a part time professor. It'll go easier for you.

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