May 10: Boonville to Port Ontario, NY - The Great North American Sticky Bun Hunt - CycleBlaze

May 10: Boonville to Port Ontario, NY

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"YOU GO UP THERE and say Cowgirl sent you."

We were looking for food and we'd stopped at a bar. The door was open and the lights were on but a chunky woman with a weather-rendered face and a powerful voice had bellowed "We're closed!"

She said her name was Janna but that customers called her Cowgirl because she always looked after cows and horses. "Everybody round here knows me as Cowgirl."

When we got to the diner she recommended and said Cowgirl had sent us, it brought a blank look.

"She said her real name was Janna," we explained.

The diner woman looked unimpressed. "Cowgirl? Pain-in-the-ass, you mean..."

We assumed they didn't get on.

We were in Redfield, a village of 600 on the side of a twinkling long lake that didn't look the reservoir that it was. We arrived there after a delightful ride on rolling, quiet roads that passed through mixed woods in which lay the crisp snow of the day before. It was cold - just two degrees above freezing - but it was sunny. The morning was one that deserved to go on for ever.

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I passed my time as usual counting American flags. I have been to a great many countries but never have I seen a land with such enthusiasm, determination, to shout "Hey, we're American!" As though there was a serious risk that they would be anything else. When I ask people why this should be, they look surprised I should ask and say, mumbling almost, "Well, it's just what you do."

But nobody can or will say why. If I press, the explanation is that it's patriotic. Well, yes, it is. But does that mean that Canadians, why fly their maple leaf far less, think less of their country than Americans do of theirs?

And why do people put flags on graves? It seems to be a competition. You can pass half a dozen graveyards that have no flags at all and then one which will have dozens, literally. We walked round one, just to count: there were 37 flags.

What to make of it? Is there competition between relatives? "Hey, look honey, the dead guy in the grave next door has a flag: guess we oughta have one as well, huh? Can't have our dead guy looking less patriotic than their dead guy."

And what lies behind it? If the dead have moved on to the ultimate kingdom beyond the skies, then what point a flag on earth to show their old allegiance? An allegiance, I might add, that has been pinned on them after death by friends and relations. Unless, of course, heaven has a soft spot for Americans.

All this came into focus as we rode past a rubbish tip, or an "environmental recycling depot" as it's called here in the land of euphemism. It had a nameboard and, beside it, a post three times the size of a man and, at its top, the sort of American flag of which an embassy would feel jealous. What was that boasting? "This may be rubbish but, by golly, it's patriotic rubbish"?

Anyway, to get back to Redfield...

The food shop was closed and the surrounding buildings derelict. Two had burned down. Another was a heap of boarding and collapsed roof as though a bulldozer had been clumsily parked beside it.

"The village's hotel burned down a year back," said the woman in the diner, the one who had called Cowgirl a pain in the arse. "That was a big blow. It was the biggest building in the village."

She said most people worked in wire factories in neighbouring towns. There was some farming, but not much. She and her husband lived in a trailer across the road.

"I have this job and he works for the town council, so we both have jobs," she said. "We're managing OK."

The unspoken assumption was that many others weren't.

AMERICAN FLAGS SEEN: 106

It said it was famous so I took a picture of it
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