WHAT’S IN A BORDER?

Today, folks I run my first repeat.  Forget USA vs. Russia!  This post concerns the ongoing war between New York and New Jersey and is the all-time favorite among my readers (more than 1,000 views!).  Please share among your nutty friends who have a stake in this idiotic war!

North of the Rio Grande River is a huge expanse of North America divided up into 49 states, 10 provinces, 3 territories, and 1 district.  Just about everywhere, the dividing lines are sleepy affairs.  No fences to block your way.  With a flashlight, you might find a surveyor’s marker under a bush assuming you knew where to look.  Typically, a sign is erected on the “border” welcoming you to the new jurisdiction.  Some places have signs to serve the opposite purpose, that is to say farewell to the hapless traveler.  In the Southern United States, it is possible to see a sign with the information “You are now leaving Bucksnort, Hurry Back!”

Technically, the most severe crossing is the one between the United States and Canada.  When Mrs. Findlay F. Traveler from the US drives over that line, she can expect to be interrogated by overly inquisitive Canadian custom agents eager to ascertain just exactly how many bottles of liquor and cartons of cigarettes are stashed in the trunk.  Any kind of vague answer will trigger an immediate request to pop that puppy open.  A precise inventory will be taken and the requisite CDN $38.50 levy lifted from the traveler’s credit card.  This interrogation is also offered in French as a sucker ploy.  If Mrs. Traveler chooses (poorly) to respond to any question using her middle school French, the agent’s eyes will harden with suspicion and the customs’ duty tagged with a 12% nuisance surcharge.  It has nothing to do with us in the US; it’s related to some kind of internal trauma up there.  It’s best to answer everything in English taking care to ask if the border station has a gift shop where you can buy the moose tee shirt.  Knowing the system thusly, you can be waved through in under 60 seconds.

Driving back into the US on the other hand is a quick passport sniff to insure that you are really from one of the 63 entities mentioned above (or Hawaii and a few other scattered islands).

All of this is relevant to The Bernard Olcott Story because of one peculiar exception to this peaceful patchwork littering the landscape from the Atlantic to the Pacific.  One border where the crossing is associated with profundity from a logistical, emotional, and psychic (perhaps even psychotic) point of view.

GOODBYE 212, HELLO 201?

Dad turned right to head from Park Avenue (Weehawken) over to Boulevard East where he turned left.  Directly ahead was the Manhattan skyline, in full view from the Battery all the way past Morningside Heights.  The North Tower of the World Trade Center could be seen rising to the right.  “Look at that view!” he declared again.  It was magnificent.  The centerpiece was the Empire State Building stretching regally skywards.  Ordinary and old-looking row houses lined the other side of avenue.

We pulled up to 974 Boulevard East, with its Dutch Colonial roof, which is found in the center of the 1930s era picture above.  It was one of the very few buildings to be found on the east side of the Boulevard, which was usually only a sidewalk, the railing, the Palisade cliffs tumbling down to the river, and of course, the view.  From Boulevard East onwards to the west was a hodgepodge of gerrymandered towns, sort of like the ones on the north side of the Charles River from Boston.  With names like Guttenberg, West New York, and North Bergen, these communities had all of the grit of Cambridge but none of the charm (although today there is a lot of new construction).  By 1970, the trolley line, the railroad pier, and depot down the cliff were all gone, the pier destroyed in a fire perhaps 20 years earlier.  It was a dreary and derelict waterfront.  The rotten posts formed a large swath of dots in the inky water off the trashed riverfront below, missing here and there like bad teeth.

974 Boulevard East itself had three creaky levels.  There was an Irish pub restaurant on the first floor.  The second floor hosted the offices of Olcott International & Company, newly incorporated and busy paying patents renewals in 60 countries around the world.  And a small air-conditioned cocoon of a studio apartment at the penthouse, the third floor.  I called it the “Little Retreat.”  “Look at this commute,” Dad said as he demonstrated walking up and down the small staircase between the second and third floors.  We both looked out the window at the river, the skyline, and boats plying the Hudson.  It was a mesmerizing tableau.  Was it truly goodbye area code 212, and hello 201?

WHAT’S IN A BORDER?

North of the Rio Grande River is a huge expanse of North America divided up into 49 states, 10 provinces, 3 territories, and 1 district.  Just about everywhere, the dividing lines are sleepy affairs.  No fences to block your way.  With a flashlight, you might find a surveyor’s marker under a bush assuming you knew where to look.  Typically, a sign is erected on the “border” welcoming you to the new jurisdiction.  Some places have signs to serve the opposite purpose, that is to say farewell to the hapless traveler.  In the Southern United States, it is possible to see a sign with the information “You are now leaving Bucksnort, Hurry Back!”

Technically, the most serious border crossing is the one between the United States and Canada.  When Mrs. Findlay F. Traveler from the US drives over that line, she can expect to be interrogated by overly inquisitive Canadian custom agents eager to ascertain just exactly how many bottles of liquor and cartons of cigarettes are stashed in the trunk.  Any kind of vague answer will trigger an immediate request to pop that puppy open.  A precise inventory will be taken and the requisite CDN $38.50 levy lifted from the traveler’s credit card.  This interrogation is also offered in French as a sucker ploy.  If Mrs. Traveler chooses (poorly) to respond to any question using her middle school French, the agent’s eyes will harden with suspicion and the customs’ duty tagged with a 12% nuisance surcharge.  It has nothing to do with us in the US; it’s related to some kind of internal trauma up there.  It’s best to answer everything in English taking care to ask if the border station has a gift shop where you can buy the moose tee shirt.  Knowing the system thusly, you can be waved through in under 60 seconds.

Driving back into the US on the other hand is a quick passport sniff to insure that you are really from one of the 63 entities mentioned above (or Hawaii and a few other scattered islands).

All of this is relevant to The Bernard Olcott Story because of one peculiar exception to this peaceful patchwork littering the landscape from the Atlantic to the Pacific.  One border where the crossing is associated with profundity from a logistical, emotional, and psychic (perhaps even psychotic) point of view.