Oh, Canada. Sigh.

More art, fewer billboards.

For Father’s Day this year, my wife and I took our daughter to the Toronto Zoo. We’ve been trying to get back to Toronto for some time, but I guess we’ve been a little busy ever since she was born. I’ve always loved visiting foreign countries, though I’ve only really been to a few. However similar you think Canada is to the United States—or any other country for that matter—I’m always concentrating on the differences while I’m there. The way the money looks and feels, the way the people look and act, the landscape, the food, even the way people drive. I’ve been to Canada several times in my life, and the differences by and large are very subtle. But this time, I noticed something that I’d never noticed before.

The entire time I was in Canada, I didn’t see a single billboard.

Not one. All the way from Buffalo to Toronto, a two-hour drive entirely on major freeways. Even in and around downtown Toronto, not one billboard. Not even a big one saying, “This way to the Toronto Zoo!” with pictures of lions and zebras, which I greatly appreciated and took as a sign of respect that I was smart enough to get directions before I left my house. I did a quick Google search, and apparently there are billboard companies in Canada, and I even found some announcements for billboard campaigns by organizations like PETA. Even the fake rapture from this May came up. I just have no idea where they are, because we didn’t see a single one.

I don’t consider myself a nationalist at all. Not that I don’t have genuine respect for my country and my responsibilities as a citizen, but I don’t consider it much of an accomplishment or a decision to be born someplace. There are people who have fought tooth and nail and suffered more than I can imagine to get into this country and become a citizen, and that is a wonderful display of commitment and enthusiasm on both the part of the people and the country. So I’ve found good things and bad things everywhere I’ve been, and I will certainly give credit where credit is due. England by and large has terrible food (except for Indian, beer, and fish and chips), but I love their use of the English language, I love driving on the left, and the countryside is gorgeous. Portugal seems to be obsessed with flavorless cod, but their coffee and desserts are amazing, port wine is pure delight, and the colors all over that country are ridiculous. I hadn’t really noticed what a drag billboards were until they were absent in Canada, and it took almost the entire trip up to figure out what was so different.

I spend so much time in my life trying to get rid of the noise in my head, just get through to that place where you can really listen. Writing music demands it of me, but it’s something we all need in our lives, regardless of our vocation. We just need a little peace and quiet. I don’t think I’ve ever realized that I receive noise through my eyes, though. At least, I had never connected internal aural noise to visual stimulus. It was shocking to me how much more peaceful my mind felt, just driving and enjoying the landscape, not thinking about anything in particular, not being barraged by the fact that at least every other exit has a McDonald’s, or what health insurance I should switch to, or what kind of car I should drive. It’s obvious to me that this was a deliberate decision, and it impresses me greatly.

So thank you, Canada, for my vacation from visual noise. I really appreciate it. Maybe I’ll take a stab at writing another verse to your theme song in honor of this glorious absence of ugliness:

“O Canada
You cleared my noisy mind
Two hours of ad-less driving were so kind
My eyes were freed from shopping greed
For just one hundred miles
Such a sacrifice 0f merchandise
Will make one million smiles (I’ll work on that line, it’s quite corny)
Please keep your land gloriously free
O Canada from billboards’ tyranny
O Canada I thank the stars for thee”

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