American Adventure II

Emile and Ella


With the first step
suddenly hollowly alone
as if everything in front
of your spine disappears
A nakedness that is terrifying
the decision made you continue on
dressing in new reality slowly
like a suit of clothes everything
ungainly the first time
growth will come
out of this emptiness

I comfortably place my life in his hands
safer in his competence than other travel
an ancient vehicle quite worn under-repaired
things weathered a little around the edges
Such are material things, mortal life
but his passionate drive is beyond confidence
his focus has grown to handle the situation
whatever it is, under whatever circumstances
his calm gestalt moderates ensures an outcome
he could otherwise not manage

time allowed will always shorten to the minimum
the rules of this adventure quickly become clear
Desired destinations, other than a successful end
will be denied, trimmed away by circumstance
yet beautiful fleeting byways will appear instantly
to be grasped savored on the fly

Starting Out

Awakening Ella from six month’s of uncomfortable rusty sleep
trying to rush this old lady onto perilous roads of adventure
without proper potions or unguents for her joints
old knees tired and arthritic, slow moving
so she dug in her tires like a stubborn mule demanding
that we men play with her, and heal her a little
give her a few treats, get her some new toys
trying to rush her off, and her brakes all locked up

Emergency brakes so rusted we removed them
rusted decaying retaining pins, we replaced them
empy reservoirs, we refilled them
working into the night, flashlights in the parking lot
we have places to go, deadlines to make, but

Ella has spoken, what Ella wants, she gets
like her namesake a simple woman
most definite in her needs

No rear view mirror - can only tell if a car is immediately behind Ella
no way of knowing if a cop is trying to pull you over


There was no way around Detroit. What had seemed like an out-of-the-way crossing above Lake St. clair disappeared as I zoomed in on Google maps. Only two bridges across the St Lawrence Seaway at Detroit and Port Huron, a huge detour. That was what US maps told me. When it was too late Canadian maps told of two ferries across small towns north of Detroit. Have our closed minds and closed borders also closed our maps? I would have liked to passed through the Ojibway Nation.

Detroit was the saddest scene of the whole trip. Careful route selection put us deep into this urban disaster but we could not avoid the closed factories and depressing blocks of abandoned housing. Most deplorable was the segregation. Suburbs almost wholly white, urban Detroit completely black - we did not see a “white face” until we approached the (somewhat) economically revitalized border. Desperate for a coffee I thought to see a Fox Coffee in a somewhat renovated theater area. Stopping and running back it was Fox Box Office and Fox Café somehow mutated in my desperate mind. Walked back to Emile chatting with one of the many blacks on the street who was admiring Emile’s restoration and, to him, the social consciousness it exhibited. Stopping closer to the seaway and actual coffee an older guy came shuffling up who had worked for Ford and really knew Ella. Had me open up the hood and we discussed her mechanics. Seems that the WWII Jeep was patterned off of the Model A. He advised us not to use the tunnel as I had planned, “Those big trucks go like a bat out of hell through there”, and to use the bridge. Getting to the bridge was a new plan and thus a bit of a disaster - we soon found ourselves on the freeway. The good news - Ella with her new “high speed” head could keep up in the slow lane; the bad news - it probably was responsible for our later bearing problems.


Entering into Canada was too easy. We showed our passports and auto registration. He asked us about Ella’s 1929 California license plate and Emile showed him the new one (unmounted) and we were in. Asking for directions to Riverside Drive we were directed to the Canadian Tourist office, which I give a 10.0 on a scale of 10. A cheery young woman gave us great maps, camp books, and even Recreation Maps to help Emile find places to bike.

What a difference crossing the seaway was! A small depressed area that was obviously integrated and felt immensely better. Poor but well kept up houses. Following Riverside Drive to the north around Lake St. Clair was a lot of new construction and beautiful parks and boulevards filled with variegated Same locale so why are the Canadians doing so much better economically? Only complaint - gas went up to $3.85 a gallon, but probably for social services.

Our tourist angel told us where to cut south through the peninsula down to the coast of Lake Erie, and the rest of Ontario was flat farmlands, flatter than the Midwest, a lot like our Central Valley. Since Emile is training for this mountain bike race in Costa Rica, the hardest race in the world, this turned out to be a perfect place to put the road bike together and put in about 50 miles. All of a sudden I was driving Ella after 5 years. Fortunately we checked back after 20 miles because I had no idea how to start Ella!

by nightfall we were approaching Port Stanley and Ella developed a horrendous knock, Emile likened it to trolls with a big hammer. We had planned to carry on to Port Bruce and a campground but were freaked out of that. It sounded to me like a rod about to throw which could ruin the engine. Port Stanley was kind of chi-chi tourist and a bit out of our price range. While I was getting directions in a pizza parlor Emile was talking with motorcyclists, and the woman’s dad was a mechanic whom she said would be intrigued by looking at Ella. We decided to head to Saint Thomas where her father worked and found a cheap motel run by an amenable Sikh way out in the woods. It was humble but clean and he allowed me to call California for free - trying to get a hold of Mr. Bolton from our previous trip - ex-Marine aviation mechanic and Model A guru.

That night Emile figured out Ella’s problem. It had too much looseness in its rear main bearing. That was the source of the appalling knock as well as why she was hemorrhaging oil. Lying awake that night I compiled a list of parts and supplies. That morning I asked the motel guy if we could work on it if we were neat, and he agreed. That night he had asked permission to photograph her. To be safe we took everything and headed into Saint Thomas for parts.

Driving through town I spotted a good looking coffee house and we stopped. This old-town part looked mildly depressed but the coffee house was worth photographing. As soon as we entered the man at the head of the line wished us good morning and hoped we were well. I answered that we were but our Model A was not and did he know of a Model A owner? He immediately gave me an old codgers name, but 5 minutes later stuck his head in the door and told me that he had been thinking about us and instead to go this way and that to a rental center where there were two brothers who really knew old cars.

At the retnal center, after a brother had arrived, it took only one minute before he was on the phone, rounding up the troops. Soon Ron Houghton arrived, semi-retired and a finisher who completed restoration projects when the owners ran out of steam. Ron went driving off with Emile to listen to the appalling knock and apparently said, “so what?” Upon returning he asked if we wanted to fix it (note: not that we had to fix it) and we really did. So we followed him out to his place and he gave us space by his filled garage to work. We could have done the main bearing job ourselves but it went faster and was less nerve racking to have a stream of experienced rebuilders passing through and helpful tools at the ready.

We lucked out, or Ella chose her breakdown wisely, since St Thomas is a center of rebuilding. Our host had a Model A, and old Packard, an old Cord, a 1913 White (one of only 17 in North America, and another was next door), and her personally drove a circa 1960 Studebaker that turned heads as we drove. The other brother next door had the other White, as well as an ancient car that looked like a long-papoose carrier wood framework (no engine yet). Ron would take nothing for his assistance, claiming brotherhood of the road, so I dedicated a poem in his name - that he was going to put in their club news.

Emile ended up taking out all the shims and thus getting Ella’s main only seriously out of spec. He also found that the oil return had been blocked by the babbitt. These old cars do not have replaceable shell bearings but have a lead/tin mixture poured hot onto the bearing shell and then machined to fit. This had been a bad sloppy job from the outset. The edge was cracked and the surface seriously crazed but the guys said that was not a big deal. Extra babbitt had blocked the oil return apparently since the beginning and had to be laboriously broken out. Ella was still seriously limping but her chances were declared good to get to Boston.

Having lost an entire day, and thus any chance of making the cider festival in Vermont, we made it to Simcoe and down to Turkey Point Prov Park by dark. The weather in Ontario was beautiful, warm in the day, almost too hot for a sleeping bag at night, and no wetting dew in the morning. Walking through a strange campground in the dark with my windup flashlight, looking for the shower and for the drinking water to stretch my legs. What if the light failed? I counted my steps just in case, Boy Scout stuff. We slept outside to the sounds of strange birds and hopefully I captured the “whoosh” of whole flocks of them flying off in the morning. Emile found it best to put Ella between him and my snoring! Never saw the coast of Lake Erie but did see a lot of marsh and hooting some things. No mosquitos, or any bugs to bother us.

Stopping a the small grocery in Normandie the next morning (we couldn’t buy anything because he couldn’t take plastic and as usual we had a folding money shortage, and neither of us had remembered a debit card!). Walking out the hardware store guy across the street comes out and asks us what our time frame is. If we have the time there is a lovely coastline road, slow going but worth traveling. I tell him the Kepler’s graffiti mantra, “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.”

While most of the coast of Ontario was farms right to the edge, this section to Port Dover was all small summer cottages of every type and description. The only common element was that these were cherished summer family retreats. It poignantly brought back my summer days in White Rock, BC. Some places were elegant and next door might be somewhat shabby but their was a pervasive sense of egalitarian comfort. Many park benches to enjoy the coastal view. I must say that Lake Erie has more than a touch of “auld reekie” to it! Flowers and fun touches. I can only hope that my many pictures through the window glass come out.

From Port Dover we shot up to cross back into the US at Niagara Falls - more good advice of the tourist lady. The last few miles saw the flatness turn to increasing rolling hills, more stands of timber, and more cattle. Crossing back into the US was equally transparent: passport and registration, where is a current license plate, produce the plate, offer to put it on right now, refused, and sent on with no paperwork. No car checks that I could see. Infiltrating the US would not be a problem. Maybe the two agents just watching the traffic had ESP. Canadian side pretty and successful, US side a dump, a slum perhaps worse than Detroit. After maybe 20 miles the economics recovered into productive farmland and the ubiquitous corn, and its alternate crop soybeans (from Michigan to into Vermont).

Before crossing we decided to treat ourselves to a view of the falls. Working our way through the extended carny; Vegas type lights, high-rise hotels, cheap eating places, zillions of souvenir shops, etc, we found ourselves on a riverside drive with no stopping and expensive parking. The falls are impressive, each part. After driving slowly two miles to one end, while returning I jumped out to get some photos and the cars behind Emile got pushy and he had to move on. I ran to catch up but couldn’t. Allofasudden I realized I was in Canada on a Saturday afternoon, in between thundershowers with a light jacket, no money, no wallet, no id, nada. I crossed the street to wait for Emile’s return. After 40 minutes I was quite concerned. Traffic was slow enough that an auto fatality was not likely. What I had taught Emile as a young child was to disappear until I showed up - so I made myself very visible until he showed up. Unfortunately Emile went ahead to a place to stop and waited for me to catch up.

I had a schedule. At 2 I would look up a cop and find out if there was any bad news of a Model A. At 2:30 or so I would use the available leaves to make a large DAD - AAA and then look up the Canadian AAA for help. Did not want to spend a wet night penniless going into Sunday. Emile reasonably called Betsy did not get her, called Heather and talked it over and finally drove around looking for me and picked me up.

On To New York


Poetry Main Page


William Bruneau, Publisher
18001 Shafer Ranch Road, Willits, CA 95490-9626 USA
Our e-mail address is
© Copyright 2007, William Bruneau