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Ross Murray's Border Report
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Ross Murray
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is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at ross_murray@sympatico.ca
Posted 09.09.10
Stanstead, Quebec

ROSS MURRAY

American deep-fried pie

You know what I love? Shopping in the United States. Not for clothes or cars or firearms. But food. Specifically, junk food. No one does unhealthy snacks better than the Americans.

A tremendous amount of American ingenuity has been poured into devising ways to package and deliver salt, sugar, fat, and crunchy concoctions in countless combinations, all of it laid out for you in vivid colour, aisle after aisle after aisle.

Say what you will, the US does crap right.

I was in the eye of the bad food storm this past long weekend during a camping trip to Old Orchard. It was my first time in this seaside town, and, yes, it's true what they say: it is full of people from Maine. But that's okay because the anticipated hurricane passed us by, leaving only high waves, warm water, and bellies waiting to be filled.

The strip at Old Orchard is geared for tourists: souvenir shirts, carnival rides and food -- tons of food. Burgers, hot dogs, poutine (of course), pizza, ice cream, frozen bananas, candy apples, deep-fried Oreos.

And then there's fried dough.

We have fried dough in Canada, too, but here we call them beaver tails. In the US, it's just "fried dough." They don't try to sugar-coat it like we do. Actually, they do sugar-coat it... and syrup-coat it and whipped cream-coat it...

I sensed some conflict between the food vendors and the clothing vendors. Many of the clothing stores had handmade signs posted in their windows banning food and drink. I even saw one especially intimidating sales clerk (who looked like he'd definitely done time) hurl verbal abuse at a girl with an ice cream cone. Clearly there had been some past incident involving raspberry ripple and an "I Love Drunk Girls" hoodie.

Sales people in general were either surly or pushy, the result, no doubt, of years of exposure to tourists, who are themselves surly and pushy. I liked this sign in a window: "We don't do change." Sounds like a motto for America.

Which brings me to Rite-Aid, the pharmacy at Old Orchard. This place was huge and amazing. Not only did it have aisles and aisles of junk food, it sold booze. In a pharmacy! Now that's my kind of health supplement.

While standing in line to pay for my cheap beer and paper towels, a call came in to one of the cashiers, an unenthusiastic woman in a blue smock.

"Just hold on," she said wearily into the phone, and then into a microphone: "There's an emergency phone call for Jennifer Buel. Jennifer Buel, you have an emergency phone call."

She waited a bit and then spoke into the phone. "There's no Jennifer Buel here... Oh. Okay, one minute." She spoke into the microphone: "Jennifer Beal, you have an emergency phone call..."

This exchange raises some questions:

1) If your name was Jennifer Beal and someone paged Jennifer Buel, wouldn't you just maybe go check it out in case it was for you? And wouldn't that be obvious to the person doing the paging?

2) What chain of events would lead you to try to contact someone at the pharmacy? "Okay, I'm going to Rite-Aid for Viagra and scotch. If there's an emergency, you can call me there. If I'm not there, I'll be at the deep-fried omelet shop."

3) Didn't Jennifer Beal star in Flashdance?

All in all, there was so much to do and observe at Old Orchard: the space shuttle-sized camper vans, the parade of flesh on the beach and off, the noise of the arcade, the way people pronounced "lobster" -- and the locals talked pretty funny too.

I'm afraid I'm a bit all over the place this week. Sorry about that. I think I might still be buzzing from my lunch of Nutter Butters and Tootsie Rolls. Thank you, America.

Ross Murray's collection, "You're Not Going to Eat That, Are You"?, is available in Quebec at area book stores and on-line at www.townships.ca. Ross can be reached at ross_murray@sympatico.ca.

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