July 27, 1999

My Trip to Plattsburgh

Hubby and I drove "down" to Plattsburgh NY today. Plattsburgh is a sleepy upstate NY town, population around 21,000, about an hour's drive from Montreal, if there's no wait at the border.

The drive is rather boring.. on the Canadian side, mostly cornfields and a few trees, now largely damaged by the Great Ice Storm of 1998. Around here, branches point downwards as often as upwards, but they're just thankful if they have leaves at all.

Digression:
I often think how confusing our signs must be for tourists. First of all, mileage is in kilometers, and our speed limit is 100 kph (about 65 mph). Signs have no English and visiters are greeted with big posters hawking "Feux D'Artifice" (fireworks). Duty-free shops are labelled "Hors Taxes" (without tax) but that can be misconstrued quite creatively. Customs is Douanes, and Bridges are Ponts, that's assuming you make it up to Montreal in one piece after unwittingly driving at 100 mph.

Once you cross the border to the US, you're greeted by fields which unaccountably look a bit greener to me, cheap gas, and private postal outlets catering to Canadian businesses using US addresses for whatever reason. Twenty minutes later, you're in Plattsburgh.

Plattsburgh's major claim to fame was a US Air Force Base, but that was closed in 1993. It also has a SUNY branch, a good mall, factory outlets, beaches on Lake Champlain and vacation campgrounds. The homes are mostly wood with a few brick structures, and as we drove through the residential area I was lost in a sort of amorphous daydream and recollections of childhood emotions. I never summered in Plattsburgh but it reminded me of times spent in the Laurentian mountains, long walks with my grandfather, evenings spent scouring the stores for comics and magazines..

Then we turned left into the main street, and saw four people picketing a building.

The sign on the building said "Family Planning". Hubby said, "Let's get out of here before the bomb goes off." Arg.

We had some minor personal business in a Federal Office Building, and easily found it on a picturesque corner. As I approached the front door I saw the sign.. it was similar to a no-smoking sign, with a cigarette in a red circle with a red line running across it.. but in place of the cigarette was a silhouette of a handgun. Double Arg.

Well no bombs went off and we didn't see any guns in the building. Our business was taken care of quickly and efficiently by a friendly lady, and we were on our way.

I truly hate what's happened to the world's most promising, powerful country. And it's made its way right up to our border, to an area I think of as an extension of my own home. In the US I'm classified as a "nonresident alien" but never before have I felt like an alien in a country that I grew to love as a child and in which I always felt completely at home. It's very, very sad.

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