I've been lucky to visit a lot of places through playing music - some of the great cities of the world and some pretty farflung spots like Alaska and Kalispell, Montana. But I've never been to Montreal. Everyone I've ever met who's been says what a wonderful town it is - incredible food, vintage stores, music, architecture, atmosphere. Since we moved to upstate New York I've said "I'd love to visit Montreal! It's only four hours away!" I see it on the road sign every time I'm on the New York State Thruway heading north. "We should do a getaway there one weekend" I say, but we never do because it's really hard to make time for getaways when you travel to play music and there's always that chance a paying gig will lead you to the place anyway. It's only a matter of time, right?
Well that sort of opportunity arose just this weekend. An invitation to play a house concert one short hour north of Montreal in the beautiful Laurentian mountains. Even better, the concert was scheduled for two in the afternoon. Perfect! We could play, chat with people, pack up and be in Montreal in time for a fabulous dinner and probably score a nice hotel half-price on Hotwire.
So why did we spend the night in Plattsburgh?
Superstition: the thought that combining a work trip with a pleasure trip would lead to disaster. A van full of equipment parked even in a paid parking garage in the city of Montreal would probably be broken into and our amps and PA stolen.
Inconvenience? Yes, we'd pay whatever it cost to park in said nice hotel parking lot, but then we'd have to trundle a luggage cart full of half a dozen guitars into the lobby and up to our room, or fight off baying porters - not because we're too cheap to tip but because they have a way of saying "hey I got this!" while slinging cases upside down and every which way - either choice the end result is collapsing in the room drenched in sweat and being left with barely enough strength to limp to the vending machine down the hall. (I have this fantasy of being a chic traveling couple checking into a hotel with maybe a discreet rolling suitcase. It rarely if ever happens that way. Usually we resemble the Beverly Hillbillies and their wagon of old junk.)
Mostly it's fear of disappointment due to lack of planning. After putting all our energy into setting up equipment then playing a show and meeting the lovely people who came to see us, by the time we'd arrive in the city, we'd be so famished yet desperate for the ultimate Montreal experience to be contained in one single meal, chances are we would choose the worst place in town, the choice based strictly on proximity to the hotel. And for ever after "Montreal" would be followed by "sucks! Remember that food poisoning/robbery? Never going back there."
Or maybe we would hit it just right and find a great place to eat. But then something would be wrong with the hotel for sure, like a senior prom with rampaging teenagers in the rooms above, below and adjacent having the best night of their lives while we prayed for morning to come so we could leave.
I was so afraid of ruining Montreal, of destroying the fabulous possibilities of the place, that I said "let's just get a room in Plattsburgh. It's about an hour south of Montreal. We'll be on the other side of the border and that way we can get home quicker tomorrow. The town's probably a dump, but I bet there's some rustic Adirondack-type places you could get a big steak or something."
Wrong on one count. We checked into a serviceable Holiday Inn at 9:45 PM. My eyes were almost too tired to look at my phone but a quick glance at Chowhound yielded grim results: "If you ever have the misfortune of being stuck in Plattsburgh..."
"Really, at this point I'd settle for a Texas Roadhouse!" I said.
"Look there's a Five Guys," Eric said. Five Guys guys were putting up chairs and mopping. The quality bar was descending lower and lower, though neither of us could deal with a Perkins directly across the street.
"Let's try that mall nearby?" The local brewing company restaurant proclaiming "Fresh Beer! Fresh Food!" was closed.
Another sign on a big, busy-looking building said 'Buffalo Wild Wings'. "I could actually go for some wings!" I said, trying to make the best of things. "It'll be a fun cultural experience I bet. Y'know, Plattsburgh, on a Saturday night - what the real people are doing! Much better than being in Montreal with a bunch of pretentious foodies."
"Are you here for the fight? That'll be twenty dollars," the Wild Wings employees all clustered together around the entrance in matching sporty outfits were coming at us with wristbands.
"But..we just want some wings," I said weakly.
"They let you watch people beat each other up for free where I come from," Eric said.
Buffalo Wild Wings was televising a big boxing match.
"We promise we won't even look at the screens!" I begged. "You can seat us with our backs to the fight." No.
There was a lonely pizza place further along in the mall. "Giuseppe's - sounds authentic. I bet there are a lot of Italians in Plattsburgh." Grasping at straws here.
I can't even describe how bad the food was. You probably have had it yourself - the rankest, most metallic red sauce; meat that leaves you wondering what animal; rubber cheese, bread made of glue and Play-Doh.
We ended up at the hotel vending machine for some chemicals to dispel the taste. Saw a gang of teenagers tromping around the lobby in matching sports outfits and we prepared to do battle should they make one peep but they were disconcertingly quiet all night.
The next morning, I found a local coffee place on Yelp. "We should support the local place. It's by the SUNY campus, so how bad can it be?" we said as we both looked longingly at a Starbucks. We passed a Texas Roadhouse and I actually gasped at what we'd missed out on. It was so close, all this time.
The coffee place smelled of sweet syrup. The hapless bro working behind the counter handed me a mug of cappuccino with his thumb lodged deep in the foam. Eric's espresso was in a cup so chipped he had to pour it directly down his throat to avoid cutting his lip.
Still, I pressed on - "Maybe there's somewhere we could get a decent brunch?" My phone showed a huge list of awesome dining options places fairly nearby.
All in Montreal.
We still want to thank Cecilia & Rick and the crowd at Rickk's Room house concert, it was worth suffering Giuseppe's and you did send us off with a big package of incredible focaccia (fresh from Montreal) which we ate the next day to remember what real food tastes like.