A Day Trip To The US

December 1, 2013

We reached Ogdensburg, the nearest border crossing from Ottawa, bright and early in the morning. There were no line-ups; in fact there were no other cars at the border crossing.

I said to my wife “We seem to be in luck today.”

Words spoken too soon.

The border guard asked us to pull over. He told us our car had been “randomly selected” for an inspection – nothing personal.There were, of course, no other cars to select from.

We went through the inspection without much trouble. There was an underbody check, luckily, it was confined to the car. The guards scrutinized our papers; they were all in order and they let us through in less than five minutes. No big deal.

At that time, we thought we may have been profiled because, being from India, we look a little different. After all, these things do happen from time to time.

Once we entered Ogdensburg, we realized that it was more likely that we were subjected to age discrimination. Both me and my wife are in our sixties, but in small town Ogdensburg, everyone we met looked at least ten or fifteen years older. We might have been the youngest people to cross the Ogdensburg border in quite a while, and this may have raised some flags in the computer systems at the check post.

With the help of our trusty GPS, we proceeded to our  destination – a US federal government office where we had to do some paperwork to get social security benefits. The GPS took us to the right address, a large,dilapidated  building. It was the right address but it seems we entered by the wrong door. The people inside looked a little different and acted a little strange. The receptionist told us we were in an institution for the mentally disturbed, the social security was next door, in the same complex. We finally succeeded in convincing the receptionist that we didnt belong to the institution and she, somewhat reluctantly, let us go.

Such a brilliant idea, we thought, placing the two institutions side by side so people could go from one to the other at will.

The federal office had an armed guard and access to the employees was through a glass partition and using a speaker phone, like in prisons.  Luckily, there was no line up; we were the only people there so early in the morning and the staff was very helpful. We did our business in just a few minutes and we had the rest of the day free to explore the city.

We thought of doing some cross-border shopping and our trusted GPS told us that the Seaway Mall was close by. This sounded exciting, we thought we could even have lunch in the food court before heading back. The GPS took us to the right address but we couldnt find the shopping mall. We drove around the area for several minutes, until my wife pointed out a rusty sign on a small building that said “Seaway Mall”. The entire shopping complex, it turned out, consisted of two or three shops in the same building.

There was even a Chinese restaurant there, but it was closed for the winter. We looked around and found a sign for a Harveys a couple of blocks away. This, too, was closed for the winter. We searched the GPS and found a Pizza Hut in the vicinity. We got there, and this place seemed really busy -always a good sign when you are looking for a restaurant in an unknown place. There were a dozen trucks parked in the lot, and lots of people going in and out of the building. When we got really close,we saw they were digging up the floor of the building, as some renovation work was in progress.

By this time, we were really hungry. So we drove around the city – all five kilometres of it – to see what were the areas of interest. We even asked a couple of elderly residents. They told us the main institutions of the city were the social security office, the home for the mentally disturbed, and  a correctional centre adjoning the border. The resident also told us about an Italian restaurant that served good pizza.

By this time we were very skeptical but we made it to the Italian restaurant. To say the least, we were pleasantly surprised. As soon as entered, we were treated like royalty. The waitress gave us a special table, perhaps reserved for visiting Canadians. We ordered a white pizza and it turned out to be the best pizza we ever ate.

Most restaurants give their preferred customers some kind of a coupon for a free meal or a dessert. This restaurant went one step further – we got a coupon for a free crossing across the international bridge, saving us about three dollars.

When we crossed the international bridge, there was a line up at the Canadian border. It seems there were more people trying to escape from Ogdensburg than trying to get in -not really a surprise to us, after spending a few hours in the city.

Once we crossed the border  to enter canada,we drove really fast all the way to Ottawa as we didnt want to meet up with any of the escapees from Ogdensburg’s leading institutions.

Niraj Chandra

Presented at the Portage Toastmaster’s Club, Gatineau, November 5, 2013.


Leave a Reply

Hit Counter provided by Los Angeles Windows