On a cold Thursday night in lonely upstate New York

On a cold Thursday night in lonely upstate New York

“How do you two know each other?” 

It was all we could do not to burst out laughing. Are you really that unobservant? 

We thought it very loudly but we didn’t let our mouths say it. There are jokes you don’t make at customs, ever. Like, anything remotely funny. 

He was alone manning the crossing near Prescott. The most powerful nation on earth (or so it thinks) had, as its lone defender against the chaos brought on by mischief-makers like yours truly, a balding pot-bellied gruff-muffin who, evidently, was also blind as a bat. My eldest is the absolute spitting image of me. 

No wonder he was stressed. 

He’d already asked me to move my car up roughly 2.75 inches because, he explained without the slightest trace of irony, he needed to see in the backseat that the empty void I carried around was entirely free of humans or other controlled substances like, say, oranges. Seriously, never get caught carrying fruit across the border. Ask me how I know. 

And he’d barked at the kid to put her phone down, which she wasn’t even using. I mean, it was in her hands but if you’re familiar with teenagers, you’ll understand my audible eyeroll. 

You could say this lone guardian of the sovereignty of these united states enjoyed his power and not just a little. 

Anyway, this lonesome yet slightly control freaky customs agent wanted to know how I knew my own kid, so I told him. “That’s my child,” I said like it didn’t even hurt at all to utter something so obvious. 

The kid nodded by way of confirmation. 

Crossing the world’s longest clichéd border is like Forrest Gump’s legendary box of chocolate. You never know what you’re going to get. I did find out, however, that as long as it’s true, “spending time with my lover” is the easiest answer to give when asked why you are so desirous of entering the legendary empire that runs on cheap gas and buckets of soda high-fructose corn syrup. 

They wave you through like they can’t get rid of you fast enough. 

Alas, this time, my beloved wasn’t part of the weekend so there I was, at midnight o’clock, explaining my storytelling adventures in the Tennessee Valley to a man who probably didn’t know you can binge shows on Netflix. 

“What kind of storytelling do you do?” 

“I write stories of people and places and then tell them to anyone who’ll listen.” 

“They do?” 

“Sometimes. I’m also a dreamer.”

The thing I like most about that part of upstate New York is that it’s stubborn like nobody’s business. You can’t make these people change their mind about anything, ever. This explains why this part of the state always feels the same no matter what decade it is outside, but also why it, somehow, endures without much by way of visible signs of prosperity-inducing industry. If you exclude Fort Drum, that is. Which isn’t especially visible anyway, unless they let you in. I’ll bet you it looks exactly the same on the inside as the last time I was there, in 2005. 

I devoured the I-81 miles, kept awake by the sheer awful taste of my gas station coffee with the non-dairy “vanilla” creamer — no, wait, “creamer” — while I sang along to St. Dolly at 1:42 am. I’d already munched on something pretending to be food and consisting of a slice of cured meat rolled around a stick of alleged mozzarella. It worked, in the sense that it kept me from fainting with hunger. 

Gotta love Sunoco gastronomy. 

I am always game for a road trip because I find inspiration there. The endless miles, the sameness of the interstate system, but then the lovely little variations you find if you keep your eyes open (PSA: It is generally advisable to keep your eyes open when you drive) are all I need to come home with a mental notebook full of observations, colours and smells I use in the storytelling I do when I’m not busy scaring customs agents with my love life.