Flash Roadtrip II

U.S./Canada Frontier Control
Plattsburgh, USA
December 30, 2013

I keep making brief dashes across the border with Colombians. Once again, I've come back to this little town in upstate New York to spend just a few hours before I turn around to return to Canada.

There isn't much of interest in Plattsburgh--at least not much that's interested me on the trips I've made, yet far. But, Plattsburgh is the nearest city of any size to Montréal. That distinction alone has been enough to bring some of my former classmates here for their first taste of the U.S..

My former classmates Andres and Rosa--and their two young children--all received their U.S. visas the very day after we all saw each other in Québec City, last week. They were clearly excited about the prospects of making their first visit to the U.S.. Before leaving town, I'd told them I'd be happy to play escort whenever they were interested in making a roadtrip. They took me up on that offer immediately.

Spicy Buffalo Wings
Initial aspirations were well higher than we could manage on a flash roadtrip: How about a few days in Boston? Would New York City be too far? How about accommodation? I persuaded Andres and Rosa that it would be better to make a fuller, further trip some months later when better weather and prior planning might allow a more enjoyable visit. Would they be up for a briefer introduction to the U.S. before the New Year? I was happy to have the excuse to see all of them again and to idle a few hours back down in the motherland.

We've spent only the day here. So far, it's gone off without a hitch. Crossing the border did require waiting and bureaucracy--though at a level typical for anybody making their first foray into the U.S.. Anybody who requires a visa to visit the U.S. (i.e., most of the world) will be fingerprinted upon arrival. Each person has to pay a $6 fee for any document issued including the standard "white card" stapled inside each passport: a scrap of paper whose function does nothing more than state that the bearer has the right to remain in the U.S. for six months.

We arrived at an hour good for a late lunch. Circling downtown Plattsburgh didn't take more than a few minutes. We settled on a place that looked like it wasn't a chain restaurant and would have a typical American menu. I insisted that Andres and Rosa would have to attempt to order. That meant speaking English for the first time in their lives. Each did have a minimal background from schooldays long past but had never used the language outside of a classroom setting.

I let our waitress know that it was everybody else's initial hours visiting America. It was well past any lunch rush so she was patient and happy to play along with stuttering, halting orders that came out more in French than English. (We tipped her well.)

Beyond issues of fluency the entire menu required not just translation but interpretation and setting in cultural context. I felt I did a reasonable job translating what sort of sandwich a "Reuben" might be--though I was the only one at our 5-top to order that particular item. I ordered a plate of Buffalo wings for the table, as well. I pointed out that most other items on the menu--sandwiches, hamburgers--were fairly typical across much the U.S.. However, the wings have relatively regional origins in Western New York so I felt a platter was mandatory.

I hadn't realized that Colombian cuisine must never be spicy. Though I'd ordered the mildest of the glaze options, more than one person at the table gave up an involuntary reaction: "¡Muy picante!" Both children took one taste and left the rest of their wing on the platter.

Hot Chocolate and
Tic-Tac-Toe with Sugar
Packets and Coffee Stirrers
Not knowing the town well I asked our waitress where she thought might be worth exploring around Plattsburgh. Even she was short on suggestions. Her advice to find anything interesting was to skip town and head east across Lake Champlain to Burlington, Vermont. Perhaps I'll choose that city instead if there is a next time I bring another crew of Colombian classmates on a flash roadtrip. We haven't found much unique in Plattsburgh.

Though, I suspect that visiting anywhere at-all with young children along makes finding local color less important. We've spent much of our time in kid-centric ways. I made good on an origami promise I made in Québec City, last week. While there I showed the kids how to fold a sheet of paper into a frog. I promised them I'd show them how to fold a sheet of paper into an inflatable ball the next time we met.

The kids' highlight of their first U.S. visit was probably going to the local park. Though it was many, many degrees beneath freezing the children were happy to find a playground (to which our waitress had directed us) to run around and slip down slides. Andres and I kept them company around the play equipment while Rosa more sensibly chose to wait in their car while the kids burnt off excess energy.

We've finished our evening over games and hot chocolate at a large, chain coffehouse on Cornelia Street. I've enjoyed bringing you to the U.S.A. for your first visit, Andres and Rosa! We'll plan a return some months down the road.

Next time in Burlington... or Boston... or New York!