Mini Stories: Volume 6

Point Roberts by Sharif Youssef

Point Roberts is a unique, non-contiguous piece of the U.S. (Washington state to be exact) about 20 miles south of Vancouver. It’s about five square miles and has a population of just 1,314 according to the 2010 US census. However, it can grow to about three to four times that number during summer months when Canadian vacationers come in.

This geographical oddity is the result of a treaty that established the 49th parallel as the border between the US and Canada, separating just the tip of this peninsula from the rest of Canada. There are a few other border anomalies like this one, but Point Roberts is unique in how close it is to a major city. An extensive border survey in the summer of 2012 revealed that 80% of people coming into Point Roberts leave in 15 minutes or less, and only 5% stay more than an hour. What are most people doing? Many are getting discount gasoline or picking up packages or maybe making a quick run to the store or wine shop.

Point Roberts taken from the south, looking north toward Vancouver. Photo by Madereugeneandrew (CC by BY-SA 4.0)

But there is an even more interesting tidbit floating around the internet about Point Roberts. It’s the rumor that this tiny town is actually the home to a few dozen members of the U.S. Witness Protection Program.

Photo by Sharif Youssef

However, this rumor can neither be confirmed nor denied by 99pi. Producer Sharif Youssef actually traveled to Point Roberts himself, and all he found were friendly Canadians, a fellow Oaklander, and gas sold in liters. Plus a restaurant that shared his (nick)name.

Photo by Sharif Youssef

Special thanks to the podcast Stop Podcasting Yourself where Sharif first heard of Point Roberts!

  1. Kevin

    Loved the segment on alleys in NY. Reminded me of this quote from Kurt Vonnegut’s Timequake:

    “Chicago is a better city than New York because Chicago has alleys. The garbage doesn’t pile up on the sidewalks. Delivery vehicles don’t block main thoroughfares.”

  2. I remember walking narrow streets from my way to Tribeca to Chinatown.. Thought and still it is an alley.

    Now a friend of a friend film in NY and the alley parts were filmed in Lubbock TX alleys. I guess this makes sense now.

  3. Alison

    My grandparents lived about 4 or 5km from Point Roberts and one of my earliest memories is going across the border to get gas and groceries with them, without a passport or letter from my parents, and having no problem at all getting across. Just a verbal confirmation and a have a nice day.

  4. Daniel Grossberg

    re “Beautiful Downtown (your city here)”

    Made popular by the ground-breaking variety show “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In” from “Beautiful Downtown Burbank”.

  5. Budislav Basovic

    In Kotor, Montenegro, there is a tradition very similar to Zozobra – traditional annual Carnival ends with the “Burning of the Carneval”, where a large effigy of a villain figure, representing (and blamed for) all the bad things that happened in the previous year, is burned on the waterfront. Earliest records of the Carneval date back to 1508.

  6. Adam

    Great story about Point Roberts, Sharif! I lived in Tsawwassen when I was a kid in the 90s, and you’re absolutely right about the primary uses being package pickup and cheap gas. But other frequent usage included picking up cheap beer (or so my Dad tells me now), going out on friends’ boats (less expensive to dock in the states), and for the NHL Vancouver Canucks’ non-Canadian hockey players: maintaining a residence to avoid Canadian income tax. But it would be remiss of me to not point out that Tsawwassen is pronounced “Ta-wass-in”!

  7. Judd

    I immediately thought of the alley where Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” was filmed. I had assumed it was filmed in NYC—maybe Allen Ginsburg dressed as a Hasidic Jew gave me that impression—but no! It was apparently filmed in London.

  8. Lane

    I’m on vacation in NYC, and I remembered this story, so I had to go see Cortlandt Alley myself. It’s not even a real alley! It has sidewalks, curbs, street signs at either end, and painted traffic directions.

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