19 September 2009

Crystal Beach, Fort Erie, Ontario

Here it is getting late in September, school is in full swing, there's a chill in the air, and I haven't even mentioned the Labor Day Parade. Partly that's because school is in full swing. I really haven't had time. But it's also because I missed the Labor Day parade that I came so close to seeing. Since Labor Day is, after all, a Canadian holiday, I went to Crystal Beach in Fort Erie, Ontario just across the border from Buffalo with some friends, Al and J. Ray. According to Google Maps it's only a 24-minute drive from my apartment, but it took us about three times that long because the border was so backed-up. Luckily, not everyone at the border was going to Crystal Beach and, although there were quite a few people hanging out on the waterfront, we managed to park nearby along the parade route. The procession wasn't scheduled until 2pm, but we planned to stay at the beach long enough to see what the staple of their "End of the Summer" festival looked like. Then, as it came rolling down the street, Al screamed, "We'll be stuck forever!" She shoved J. Ray and me into her car and drove off. Oh well. The real highlight of the trip was a Chip Truck we passed in the little town just north of the beach.

On the whole the town looks quaint, but the cutest establishment, and probably the hardest on the heart, is a little red truck selling the best fried potatos in all the... well, at least in the Buffalo/Niagara region. I made Al pull over so we could have a snack before doing homework on the beach. Fortunately she had a few Canadian dollars, because J. Ray and I were unprepared for the sort of quaintness that does not accept Visa or Mastercard. While trying to guess how to best spend her small reserve between the three of us we guessed at what sizes people in front of us were buying. Two gentlemen bought what we guessed was the "family" size, which was a typical styrofoam take-out container overflowing with fries. After them, a group of women each bought what I guessed was a "medium." It looked as tall as a 12oz styrofoam coffee cup, but considerably wider. So we figured we'd get one small cup of regular chips and one small cup of poutine. As we were discussing our options, one of the women turned around to inform us that they had in fact ordered smalls. So, I guess there's no way to get just a taste. That was fine by me. It was my first time trying poutine, a Canadian favorite, and I was happy to have plenty.

I'd heard a lot about poutine, of course, but had never come face to face with it. I must say, I was a bit nervous. It consists of brown beef gravy and cheese curds poured over a bed of fries. I don't think greasy is too strong a word to use in describing the dish. It wasn't nearly as gross as I'd guessed, though, and every once in a while eating trash is actually good for the heart. My heart, anyway. Here's Al looking at the menu and wondering why this Chip Truck advertises "mazzio" fries, instead of poutine. Or, why they advertise fries at all. Maybe consistency isn't as important for Anglo-Canadians so close to the border.

In any case, they were happy to to see young Americans getting a Canadian cultural education. In 2000 comedian Ric Mercer noted and then exploited America's ignorance on that front when he asked Bush during his first presidential campaign if he was excited about Prime Minister Poutine's endorsement. Indeed, he was excited. US-Canada relations are very important, after all. You can see the short interview here, just skip to 3:30 if you don't feel like watching the rest of that embarrassing footage. Next door to the truck was a building with this very attractive and seemingly out of place sign.

After reading on the beach, and subsequently escaping the parade, we drove around the countryside a bit. It's a really beautiful area during the summer with lots of green pastures, old houses and lush vegetable gardens. We saw lots of corn and some really beautiful tomatoes in one yard; a variety of peas in another. We tried to return to the commercial area north of the beach and wander around there for a bit, but most everything closed by 4 or 5pm. We did see this Laughing Sally, which must have been part of the amusement park that was located in Crystal Beach for 101 years (1888-1989). The Mechanical Museum in San Francisco has one that was built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company of Germantown, PA during the early 1930’s, which is where I'd guess the Laughing Sally we saw was also built. We went into an antique furniture store across the street and the lady said Sally was original, but that her owners had updated her wardrobe for the new season.

Before leaving town we bought sandwiches at a weird little place that grouped each menu item into one of four boxes, then offered confusing combo meals based on where the items were placed. The sandwiches weren't good, but we did have a laugh when a group of Canadian adolescents came in and started exclaiming about the Buffalo chicken sandwich. "Hot sauce and chicken fingers on a hoagie roll? That sounds delicious actually," said one young man.

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