May 4: Lacolle, QC, to Keeseville, NY - The Great North American Sticky Bun Hunt - CycleBlaze

May 4: Lacolle, QC, to Keeseville, NY

Waiting for Lolo
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THEY WOULDN'T open at Chez Lolo this morning until 10. The woman who ran it looked older than she was, worn out by long hours of cooking every conceivable combination of four ingredients from a shabby roadside shack which held more character than quality.

"I close when the customers stop coming," she said. She had already been working more than 12 hours and I got the impression it had been that way every day for years. Only the fact that the border crossing down the road closed at night prevented her staying open all 24 hours. A bright-eyed younger woman helped her - her daughter, perhaps - while an older man in a black "Chez Lolo" T-shirt and a tractor driver's hat came and went and gave us the kind of stare that said "Not a regular round here, huh?"

The ride from Montréal to the US border wasn't chocker with charm but we did find this wayside chapel.
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All across Canada we have been riding a badly-surfaced road between featureless, water-sodden fields of mud. The villages gave the impression of clinging to life, the farms the feeling that another harsh season would see for them. The road never did improve. Nor the scenery. The only colour was in the sudden flutter of red and white Canadian flags hoisted almost in defiance just short of the zigzag funnel to the US border office.

"Where you guys headed faaah, anyway?" asked a bright-eyed man in his upper 40s, glad for company on a quiet morning. We fished out the map. "Geez alive," he said as he traced the blue line across to the Pacific and then back up through the Canadian Rockies. "You guys nuts or summ'n?"

He led us into a sanctum where we were to be fingerprinted, photographed and relieved of $6, the price of crossing the border. On top, that is, of the $140 visa and the $15 it cost to make an appointment.

"Y'know what these two ah doin'?" he shouted to his younger companion, who was pecking out a notice on his computer. The younger one listened, made appropriate noises, dealt with us charmingly, then sent us back outside with the instruction that entry into America depended on asking his colleague how the Boston Redsox were doing.

"Why?"

"He comes from Boston."

"And?"

"The Redsox keep losing."

Ever happy to jump into a trap, I asked.

"Aw hell," the man laughed. It wasn't the first time he'd been set up. "But, listen, they waaan last night."

Five things I found out about the Boston Redsox...

1: They didn't wear numbers until 1931...

2: ...but since 1969 they have been sewn on by one woman: Valentina Federico, who has a sports shop in Somerville, Massachusetts.

3: Their clothes have been washed for 29 years by the same man: Frank Marshall

4: Number 15 has been worn by 52 players, more than any other

5: All players' shirts have two extra numbers on the outside: the size and the year of manufacture.

The story resumes...

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He gave his mate a glance that said "Buddy, I'll deal with you when these two have gone", then turned to us and said: "You know Alconbury, north of London?" I said I did. It's just north of Cambridge on a road registered with the World Heritage Society's list of The Planet's Most Boring Roads. "I was based there, air force, and my daughter was born in Addenbrooke's hospital in Cambridge. That was, oh... 22 years ago."

He said he lived just north of Boston, in a town called Haverhill, which he pronounced Have-a-hill. I said I knew the dull original, pronounced Hay-va-hill, and he said he had been there. He had also been to the original Boston, out on the North Sea and known only for the smell of fish and an unusual church tower called The Stump. We parted with waves and smiles.

Instant subtlety on entering the USA.
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After the border, everything changed. The monotony and depressed nature of Canada side gave way to the glitz of Rouses Point. The effect was like finding a television had a colour control and how to turn it up full belt. Dollars dripped from the clouds, the first (or last) town in the Empire State to which anyone goes when he finds he has more money than taste. The road through the middle and for another half an hour to the south is a linear museum of the best of kitsch, a tribute to how many plastic swans, herons, jockey boys and over-cute gnomes can be displayed in a limited area.

Rouses Point was founded by refugees from Canada, rewarded with land for helping fight off the British. That was in the 1700s. Later it was a destination in the Underground Railroad, a clandestine network which passed slaves from station to station until they reached Canada and freedom. In Prohibition, the town turned a coin smuggling drink across the border and gangsters moved in. They, presumably, set the tone for what followed.

The best story about the place, though, is that America once decided to build a fort to hold off adventurous Canadians too keen on coming south. They had got part way through piling brick on brick when they found a surveyor had blundered and they were actually inside Canada. They did the decent thing and scarpered. The Canadians came and took the building supplies and knocked up house extensions and conservatories and work only restarted when a border treaty shifted that small area of Canada into the USA. But it took three decades to achieve.

Colour TV! Whatever next in this exciting world?
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We rode on south along Lake Champlain, looking for the dragits we'd been told we'd see (but not spotting any), on through Plattsburg and its wonderful hippie coffee bar in which I hoped at least one of the many flasks on offer would be hallucinogenic, and then over the start of the hills and down into Keeseville. There, to my great delight, we found a motel still advertising "COLOUR TV". America moves with the times.

AMERICAN FLAGS SEEN: 104

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