Travelog Part 11 – homeward

We had more trouble finding our way out of Quebec than into it. The trouble was in reading signs incorrectly and not map reading well. Still it didn’t take as too far out of the way and took us into a neighborhood where we observed temporary garages. These are metal or plastic pole frames, slant-roofed, and covered with canvas or tarp standing in the driveways. I imagine the cars are parked in these in the winter and it keeps the frost and snow off them. Then in the summer the car tents can be folded up and stored.

To find people who speak primarily French, one has to get out of the cities, out of the tourist areas of the cities, at least. In Trois Riviere, we stopped for lunch in a strip mall at a place that reminds me of Village Inn, but French. Instead of mini-blinds, there are tall diaphanous drapes on the windows. Our waitress did not have a command of English, so resorted to pointing to help her take our order.

The bridge that we saw when we were in St Anne is the bridge we took to our return toward the states. We took 401 to Cornwall, Ontario. There we saw a sign that said “Toll Road”, which we thought meant that the bridge had a toll. We stopped at a gas station and asked about the toll. We were told that “Toll Road” meant that was the name of the road we crossed, but that there was a toll for the bridge and they thought you had to pay in American. I went to the bank nearby and I had a nice chat with the teller about Oregon and the peach tree orchard her friend has that managed to bear fruit because it was protected from the weather. Duane came in just as I was about to get money from the debit card for the toll and said they will take Canadian. So we were off to cross over. Over the bridge and into American territory.

Border crossing. We had our ID and birth certificates ready. Guard asks, “Where are you from?” “Oregon.”
“Whose car is this?”
“It’s a rental car.”
“What were you doing in Canada?”
“Do you know anyone in Canada?”
“No. We are just on vacation.”
“What are you bringing back with you?”
Somehow it comes out that we were doing research for a book and the guard seems to get more personable, almost friendly.
“Do you have a publisher?”
“I hear that’s real hard. Well, I’m going to ask you to just drive over there and park and go into that building. They will have you sign some paperwork and you will get your ID back.”

We pull over, get out, go in the building, answer more questions about how we didn’t buy anything while we were in Canada. This guard asks, “Mind if I take a look in your car?” Why do they ask? You can’t really refuse. I mean we could have been taken to some island prison and forgotten, if we had said, sorry, no. He pokes around in the car. I look at wanted posters and posters of missing girls. One of them is from Springfield or Eugene, I don’t remember which and there she is on the bulletin board of a border crossing customs and immigration office in noplace New York. Missing teenager. I don’t remember her face. The guard comes back. We sign our document declaring we brought nothing back and we are off again.

We are about to see something we would not have believed if some one had told us, we would not have been able to imagine it. We head out intending to take 37 to 56, to 11 and meet up with 81. But we miss 56 and stay on 37 which parallels the St Lawrence (we’re back in English) as it flows up from the great lakes. Tootling along, we come to a pullout view area. I have to pee, no toilet, have to find a dip in the ground high enough to shield me from the highway. In doing so I spy what appear to be a house and one tree sitting out from the bank, in the river. The sun is hitting the river, and the river is just stirred up enough to reflect it back in zillions of sparkles and this house is sitting in this sparkling river. It looks like the calm after the waters rose, but have not receded. I was dead sure that the river was flooding. “Duane, you’ve got to see this!” We took pictures.

Drove on. And saw another viewpoint. Here we could see the house from the opposite side and we could see other houses on other bits of land and a sign “1,000 Islands”. These were islands. Someone had deliberately built their house on a tiny island and not just them but lots of people built there homes out there in the river. Many of these are probably vacation homes. One of the islands had a French fort on it and is called Chimney Island, previously Ile Royal, previously La Gallette. The old indian name was Orocaneton, meaning hanging sun. It is one of the ghost sights of New York, it is where the French built a fort, Ft Levis and defended and lost. The island was recently on the market and has a new owner. After the French were purged, the Scots were invited in to settle the area and so the sign at the second viewpoint touts the brave and indefatigable Scots who turned the bountiful forests into the marginal farms we see today. Drive on

Oh God don’t let me die in Watertown. Cars, strip malls, soldiers in fatigues, American flags, price-gouging dour purveyors of motels both ratty and depressing. Our first meal back on American soil was dinner at Appleby’s where you can call up on your cell phone and the wait staff will bring your order to your car before the cell phone can alter the cells in your brain more than just an increment toward the tumor. (Are tumor and tumescent related words?). Inside the restaurant is packed and noisy, but here we can understand lots of what is being said, but we can’t understand most of what is being said. The words are clear if the speaker is close enough, but the conversation is unclear. The size of the meals is startling. Steaks the size of your lung. We had gardenburgers. It’s a true miracle we weren’t taken out of town and dumped. Wasn’t that bad. No one noticed us.

Still in search of a motel, on the road again. We needed gas so we went to Pulaski. Interesting little burg. There was no way to get back on the freeway without driving all the way through this town. If fish go extinct, so will Pulaski. We were going to get a bed there, but the motel was unbelievably high and besides they didn’t allow fish in the rooms, nor waders, nor mud. . . so what could we do, but drive on.

Syracuse has two Motel 6’s so that’s where we ended up staying the night. Next morning we took the thruway to Rochester. Along the way we stopped at what the English would call a Layby. There was travelor respite in the form of restaurants and whatnot. At the Starbucks, Duane inquired after the strength of their lattes. Took two shots of espresso and was disappointed.

We drop the car off at the airport and the nicest customer service person in the world gives us information on how to get to the train station by bus. Our plan had been to take a taxi, but spending another 20 when we could spend a couple of dollars just seemed stupid, so we sought out information on mass transit. The man said he sometimes rode the “Iron Pony”, himself. He said there would hardly be anyone on the bus, since it was Saturday, showed us a picture of a building to landmark where we needed to change buses. His attitude was so wonderful that we were put in a marvelous mood. The bus was nearly empty. It was great because both of us could observe the cityscape as it passed by us. The houses seem to be built at exactly the same distance from the sidewalk and since they are almost identical in style, there is a regimented quality to the neighborhoods we pass through. The grass is green on these lawns and I am happy to see green at last. But there is an air of poverty here.

It is a two block walk to the train station from the bus stop and we erred in packing our apple butter and it fell out and smashed on the sidewalk. There was nothing we could do, but leave it. At the train station we were flabbergasted to find out that there were no lockers. We had ten hours before our train was scheduled to leave and no intention of dragging our bags about Rochester and no intention of sitting around that absolutely dreadful station. I was loud in my disappointment, so the ticket agent timidly poked her head out the door of her domain and said we could store them in with baggage claim for a price, which we gladly paid.

We needed food and books. Our walk took us to a mall. The Greyhound Station is attached to this mall. Inside, there were very few people and lots of empty store spaces. There are no plants to alleviate the stark corridors. At the food court we obtained bagel sandwiches. The woman behind the counter called everyone “honey.” In fact she ended each question about what we wanted on the sandwich with the word. “Do you want tomato, honey?” “Do you want lettuce, honey?” Even though it may have had no meaning, it still felt friendly. I mean, how can you not love a person who calls you honey? Unless you are a waitress and it is coming from somebody who has no business getting familiar with you. There is something different about the server calling you honey and being the server who is called honey. It is a power divide, I think. As the customer your social position is temporarily elevated. The server is meant to cater to you. As the server, your position is temporarily lower, one of less power. To be called “honey” is to be placed in a sexually inferior position vis a vis the customer. Even if there is no sexual intent, the term belittles, takes away power. Anyway, the honey-sayer did not know if there was a bookstore in the mall. She suggested the pharmacy, but I needed to go to the bathroom so first we went in search of a toilet.

The search for a toilet took us by a bookstore. We found a couple of books. One by Walter Mosley, Blue Light, amazing book. Complete departure from what he has published in the past. The other one was The Ransom of Mercy Carter by Caroline Cooney, a book for young adults or juvenile, I am not sure what the category is called. This was also a wonderful book. It is the story of a historical person who was taken along with other children from a settlement in Massachusetts by Native Americans when the French were allied with the Indians against the English. Cooney’s treatment of all her characters is superb and compassionate. Mercy Carter refused ransom as did many children captured by Indians. The ransom was often offered years after the abduction and children had assimilated into the tribe and did not want to go back to “civilisation”. That may have been the case with William Way Davis, my ancestor who was captured by Shawnee as a small child. He returned as a young adult looking for his brother, went back to his Shawnee family, but finally returned to the European settlement for good. I don’t know that any ransom was ever offered for him, as his parents were killed. His brother Richard, was not captured. They did end up living near one another for the remainder of their lives.

Duane gets information from the bookseller about movie theaters. It is a young guy and he gives Duane the scoop on some indie houses. With our books selected, our toilet achieved, we set out to explore Rochester and locate the theaters.

Rochester, New York is a city of extremes. Extreme wealth, extreme poverty. Beautiful buildings, empty derelicts. The Eastman School of Music draws some of the very best young musicians. They and their professors occupy a café across the street. It is warm enough for tables outside. In fact in is almost too warm for me in Rochester and Spring has definitely arrived. Trees are leafing, grass is greening, daffodils are blooming.

Several large corporations are headquartered here. Eastman-Kodak, Xerox, and Bausch & Lomb are located here as well as several regional corporations whose names would mean nothing to Westerners. One can assume that there are mansions somewhere in Rochester or perhaps they all live in New York and only the managers and peons live here.

Our walk takes us to The Chevy Café. This is an art deco corner building. Glass and Chrome, lots of outdoor tables and windows that are doors which were open all along one streetside—inside / outside. They knew how to make lattes. The coffee bar is an island in the center of an immense room, the ceiling rising 30 feet maybe, I’m terrible with such estimates. It is high. To the right of the coffee bar is an area separated from the rest of the room by drapery. Here are couches and comfortable chairs, coffee tables, end tables. There is also a fireplace laid with fake logs that glowed. We sit in this section. We are joined later by a group of young people who are rehearsing a wedding. Are they going to be married here? We wonder. They are very friendly and very happy. We spend quite a bit of time reading, then we go to a theater and watch Millions. Wonderful film, recommend it.

Now we want dinner. We decide to check out the Mediterranean restaurant we had passed by on our way to find the theater. It is a few steps lower than the street. Inside are several empty tables, but the hostess asks us if we have reservations, we do not and she says all the tables are reserved. We do suspect that she has just thrown us out for not being the clientele they deserve. Duane notices that there is a private club occupying the level above the restaurant. I am bruised. Across the street is an Asian restaurant and it is open. Packed, but we get a table immediately. It is noisy and friendly. After dinner, we head back to the train station. Here I notice how filthy the shirt I am wearing as a jacket is and I wonder if this had anything to do with the brusque rejection we had received. We are really a travel stained couple at this point in the journey. It had been our intent to wash our clothes in Rochester, but we did not.