What's with the change?

A Tale of Two Border Crossings

July 6, 2013


What were we thinking? I still can’t believe I let us get into the situation we found ourselves in at the border.

Why am I directing the blame onto myself? Because I’m the natural born (and self appointed) organiser of the duo. But on top of getting ready for the two week / eight state road trip, I was also working 40+hr weeks and attempting to finish university for the semester. I also needed to find a birthday present for my sidekick- a low cost present that is still nice for a 30th and practical for travel (i.e. a BBQ was out of the question). Somewhere in that madness, I forgot the wisdom that is looking presentable at a border crossing.

footwear to impress

Into the customs office we trooped; me in a hoodie and green sneakers, my sidekick in a faded lime green footy jersey and thongs. He was also rocking the haven’t-shaved-for-a-week look with hair so far past a cut but still a long way from a trendy ‘roughing it’ style. In our defence, we had left at 7am on a Sunday and we were dressed for comfort to ease the 20 hr trip ahead. It’s safe to say that border officials don’t give a shit about your comfort.

The dude at the tollbooth was probably the best. I want to call him stern, but it’s not the right word. He just didn't smile. I don’t expect border officials to smile but he spoke like a normal person would, just lacking the facial muscles required to alter from a Terminator seriousness.
“Where are you going?”
“What’s down there?”
“A music festival.”
“When does it start?”
“Tuesday.” Sweating, hoping we didn't accidentally mention we were volunteering (read as working).
“Do you have anything to declare? Alcohol?”
“No. What idiot would buy alcohol in Canada?
“We have four apples.”
You’re going to a music festival with apples and no alcohol?
“How much money do you have on you?”
“Twenty bucks.”
You’re going to a music festival with apples and twenty bucks?
“Where are you staying tonight?”
“We don’t know yet. 
You know, travelling free- Jack Kerouac style.”
“Better come up with something before you get in the office.”

The customs building was a like a portable classroom from the 70s: cramped, loud and a lot of slacking off going on. There were way too many officers but it still took an hour to get processed- probably because there were about seventeen steps*.

First, there was confusion about a clipboard and a green form, mostly about the clipboard though and whether or not we had a pen (the ownership of our Royal Bank of Canada pen was questioned as we left). They should give a Fast Pass to people who bring their own pen.

How we appeared.

The main room was full, and as standing/being vertical is aggressive, we had to sit in a bizarre triangular room tacked onto the office. We listened hard for our names above the conversations and testosterone. We thought we heard it so we tripped our way through the chairs. 

Our man, Ginger Meggs, didn’t hesitate to let us know how many times he’d called our name. I apologised. He looked at our form. He chastised us about our address: Motel 6, I65 Nashville. “You need the exact address.” I apologised. He chastised us for not filling out the bottom section under an OFFICE USE ONLY heading. I apologised. He screwed up his baby face and glared at us with such intense derision that I wondered if he would need botox to get the creases out. I was glad that my life’s purpose, to make his day hard, had been fulfilled.

We sat back down in the triangle. We glared at the people making all the noise. I began to panic that without knowing, I’d become a drug dealer and stashed a kilo of coke behind a panel in our rental car.
We were called back. Ginger Meggs flicked through our Canadian work permits. Just touching them was an insult to the bald eagle.
“What do you do for work?”
“I work in admin.”
“But where?!”
I told him.
“What’s that?”
“Commercial real estate.”
“What about you.”
“I’m a store person.”
“A what?”
“A store person.”
“What’s a stope som?
“Yeah, I’d be interested in that answer too,” the officer slouched next to him asked, spitting tobacco into the dust and eyeing us suspiciously from under the rim of his cowboy hat.
“A store-per-son.” We laughed nervously. A red light flashed above our heads, WE HAVE SOMETHING TO HIDE.
Why didn’t you just say that then?
I’m speaking the same language, douche bag.

We found a seat in the main office. I made mention of penis sizes then worried Ginger Meggs had supersonic hearing. I wondered if they’d discovered the weaponry stashed in the spare tyre. He called us up again, using an exceptionally loud voice for the metre distance. I paid him $12 for his time. I scanned my thumb, four fingers, thumb, four fingers. I looked into the webcam.
Only the thumb of my sidekick was scanned. 
Are you stupid or something? I said look into the webcam.”
“What about my other fingers?”
I’m doing it differently ‘cause I want you to feel like an idiot. I got beat up in high school OK and I’m also feeling threatened by your ginger beard. I’m the only ginger in the village.”

We got back in the car and paid a toll (unofficial extra border fee?). “Welcome to America,” I said into the smog of Detroit’s industrial outskirts.


3am local time.

We had been driving straight since leaving Chicago at 6:30pm. We were the only car at the crossing.
“Hello.” The border official poked his head out the window.
“Hi, how are you?”
“I’m great! I see you have Ontario plates, welcome back!
“Which part of Canada do you folks live in?” He looked briefly at our permits and passports.
“Did you buy or sell anything in the states?”
“We bought beer.”
“How many cases you got back there?
“About 15 cans.”
“Oh so only what you couldn’t drink eh?”
“Yeah.” We all laugh. “Pretty sad really.”

“Have a good night guys.”


*prone to hyperbole.

NB some facts may have been embellished to fit my memory. For the sake of accuracy, I have indicated these in yellow.

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