It was a dark and stormy night as the rented generic white Chevy, chosen for its inconspicuousness, rolled toward the Canadian border at midnight. I was the driver and I focused on my breathing, working to control any physiological signals that could prompt the border patrol to pull me aside for a more thorough inspection. My passport sat on the center console and I simultaneously grabbed it while powering down the window through which I would pass it to the agent manning this border oasis.
“What are you doing up here?”
“I’m here on business.”
“Seattle.” Crap. My first blunder.
“So what are you doing up here?”
“Just came out early to check out Vancouver for the weekend.”
He was buying it. “You have relatives or friends there?”
“Where are you staying?”
“Holiday Inn, North Vancouver.”
“Awesome. You know I hear Shania has stayed there.”
“Oh, I know. Why do you think I booked it?”
“Party on, brother, and have a good time.”
He was ready to return my passport and then pulled it back.
“You don’t have any weapons, do you?”
“Not unless you count these fists.”
“Just make sure they’re only used in self-defense, Grasshopper.”
My hands, indeed, remained relaxed throughout the weekend. The folks of both Vancouver and North Vancouver were very Canadian, yet receptive of their visiting neighbor from the south. After approximately 60 hours it was time to head back to take care of business, so I tossed my duffel bag in the trunk and my backpack on the passenger seat and made my way back to the nurturing bosom of my homeland.
I rolled up to the border and found it much more crowded at noon than at midnight, with the overhead signs indicating a 30-minute wait. While spending my last minutes idling in the great white north I noticed that about 90% of the cars in line displayed Canadian license plates. I sat smugly in my US licensed vehicle, US passport in hand, waiting for my turn to be waved into my homeland.
As I got closer I spotted a sign notifying us that all fruits, vegetables and meats must be declared. My heart started to race as I remembered the two apples and two bananas in the bag on the front seat. I considered quickly wolfing them down, but had nowhere to dispose of the core and peel evidence. The line moved forward and suddenly I was before two uniformed border agents.
“Where’s your car?”
What kind of stupid question is that, I thought. I’m friggin’ driving it, genius. Of course, my actual response was a dumbfounded, “What?” as I handed over my passport.
“Where’s your car,” he repeated, as if repeating it made it any less stupid. Then I realized he was trained to spot rental vehicles amidst a fleet of generic, supposedly inconspicuous Chevys. I suppose that’s because rental vehicles arouse suspicion, as I obviously would not use my own personal car to make a political statement by blowing it up at a US-Canadian border crossing.
“In Chicago.” Since he was so interested, I considered telling him that it was really my wife’s car, even though it’s in both our names, but I take the train or ride my bike to work every day and really don’t have a use for a car on a daily basis, but even if she didn’t need the car I still probably would have chosen to fly into Seattle and drive from there rather than make a half continental road trip out of it.
“So what were you doing in Canada?”
Jeez, none of your goddam business, dude, I just wanted to drink some cheap Molson and get a free prostate exam.
“I have a meeting in Seattle this week, so came out a few days early to check out Vancouver.”
“What did you think?”
I think it’s not worth the hassle of trying to get back into my own country, Chief. Now how about giving me back my passport so I can let you get back to checking out these shifty Canucks in line behind me.
“Pretty nice, got in some good hiking.”
“Take some good pictures?”
Are you fucking serious? Does my passport say Ansel Adams or are you trying to trick me into saying I was really up there getting some Canadian kiddie porn?
“What did I tell you about ‘yeppers’?”
“I don’t remember.”
“I told you not to say it. When are you going back?”
WTF, you going to arrange for a car to take me from my hotel to the airport? Or did you just want to try to get together for a beer?
“Turn off the car for me and pop the trunk.” His partner went around back to look for dead hookers or back bacon. Or both. Your best Canadian hitmen know that back bacon is often used to cover up the odor of dead hookers.
“Give me the keys.”
Crap. That’s it, I’m going to end up in Guantanamo Bay in an orange jumpsuit and nothing but some prayer beads and a copy of the Qur’an for the rest of my life.
“Are you bringing back anything purchased during your visit?”
“I have a couple apples and bananas – hope that’s not a problem.” I was totally screwed. I prepared to be waterboarded.
The ruckus coming from the trunk area intensified. The back door opened and I was waiting for the drug sniffing dogs to discover the meth stash that porter working for Hertz stuck under the floor mat when his shift supervisor surprised him last week. Instead the agent had finished his examination of the trunk and was now searching under the back seat like a jealous girlfriend looking for a pair of unfamiliar panties. Then the passenger door opened and I told him, “Gas, grass, or ass, buddy, nobody rides for free.”
Well, I said it in my head. He didn’t look like the joking type and he pounded on the dashboard as if it were a soda machine that had just stolen his quarter. Fortunately, no hookahs fell out and he finally seemed satisfied with his vehicular molestation.
His buddy, still in possession of my keys and passport, seemed to run out of small talk and reluctantly turned them back over to me, obviously unaware of my unpaid parking ticket from back in 1990 and my activities during that night in Memphis in November of 1996. But I digress.
I finally got waved through and gave the Mrs. a call to relate my traumatic experience.
“You have a goatee, probably haven’t shaved all weekend, and I bet you’re wearing your bank robber hat and sunglasses, aren’t you?”
“Well, of course they inspected your car.”
Screw you guys, I’m going back to Canada where I’m welcome.
Here is what they did to my normally well-organized bag.