Over the years I have gone over the Canadian-US border a lot. With friends in Seattle I’d drive down sometimes several times a month. In most cases, there have been the usual spate of questions by the border guards and away I’d go. Since 9/11 I’ve only been stopped once, which was pretty much the random draw of the lane. Some guards have been big on asking numerous questions, which often contain, where are you going, where are you staying, how long will you be gone, how long have you known your friends, where did you meet them, open your trunk, whose car is this, where do you work, etc. Fairly standard. The following three tales relate some of the more…involved interactions with US border security (who are definitely more tight-assed than the Canadian side).
Incident one really wasn’t a big issue. A friend and I were going down to the US on a sunny Sunday. We noticed that day that there were a lot of Asians and Arabic people. And sure enough we were pulled over and searched at random. However, when we had to go inside and present our ID and answer questions, we noticed the predominance of the aforementioned peoples. I told my friend at that point that it was obvious we were picked just so that US customs could not be charged with racism in their searches. I’d say the ratio was one white person/car to ten people of darker skin types. Interesting when you consider that the border crossings probably have the ratio the other way around with at least ten white people to one person of color going over. This was before we heard much of the phrase “racial profiling.”
Incident number two involved the fast lane border passes. I forget what they were called but they all ended with September 11, and several years later they brought back the passes but call them Nexus now. Because I was going down every weekend I applied for and received the pass. It took months to receive. The first day of using it, which speeds up going through the border when you have nothing to declare, was a Sunday. I picked up my friend and we started on our way down. Now I had an apple in the car that I had been intending to eat and forgot about.
We we arrived at the booth, in honesty I said, I have an apple I forgot to eat (which was most likely a Washington apple anyways). Well, the border guard, you know the type, the ex-arm sergeant who’s bitter that he didn’t get promoted who believes everyone is still a bug that has to be brought into line and brainwashed to OBEY ORDERS tells me to pull over. I got out of the car and said, “Here is the offending apple.”
But, oh no, that was not good enough. We had to go upstairs. I can’t remember whether they searched the car but most likely. We had to stand with all the other boys and girls and wait to get a filled out reprimand form for disobeying the rules of the pass, where I tried to reiterate that I had only forgotten to eat the apple and I had let them know, which was not heard and I was told, another infringement and we will take away your pass. It was my first day of using it, I had been honest about what I had, it was a mistake, but still I was treated like I was one degree short of a mass murderer.
Shortly after, 9/11 happened and the passes were made null and void. However, they didn’t refund our money for the unused portions. I should say that with the pass, if you bought anything at all, even a pack of gum, you were expected to fill out a claim form to be deposited when you went through the border. The problem with these forms was that the provincial government would then send you a bill for any taxes on the amount spent. Normally, when you buy something and go through the border you have a tax/duty free exemption of a certain amount depending on how long you’ve been gone. This was somehow waived if you used the passes and had to pay more. Which did garner me another search when I bought a bottle of wine and chose to go through the regular lineup rather than pay extra taxes (which defeated the purpose of buying over the border).
Incident number 3 involved going down for the Christmas holidays. It was the morning of Christmas eve and I was planning to stay at my friends in Tacoma, driving down in my Honda Civic. However, we had had a freak snowstorm the night before, with about two-three feet of snow, and I couldn’t get my car out of the parking spot.
I chose to take the bus rather than remain in Canada for the holidays. Over the years I have had streaks of color in my hair: turquoise, blue, purple, red. I’m not sure what color it was then but probably purple. We’re not talking punkified cuts here but long hair with a streak or two. I had a winter coat that was made up of squares of purple, yellow and green. I wore quite a few rings.
When we arrived at the border, we all had to disembark and go through customs. At the counter this hulking black guy started asking questions that went something like this: Where are you going? To my friends for Christmas. What are you going to do there? Eat and sleep and visit. How much money are you bringing down? About $30. That’s not very much. What if you need something. It’s Christmas eve; I’m not planning to shop. The stores will be closed. What if you get stranded or the bus breaks down? I’ll call my friends. What if you can’t reach them? I have three credit cards right here. You could have them maxed out. What are you going to do if you’re stuck? (At this point I was getting angry. I almost said, I’ll stand on the street corner and sell my rings.) My cards aren’t maxed out. I could call my friends or use my bank card. How do I know that you have any money in your account? (I almost said, but bit my tongue, are you asking me all these questions because of the color of my hair? ) Look, I was going to drive down but my car got stuck in all the snow. (Suddenly a look that suggests I’ve just moved one level above bug out to steal US jobs on Christmas eve.) Oh, you have a car? Yes, I couldn’t drive because of the freak snow storm. (And luckily for me.) Here’s a bank receipt from yesterday showing that I have money in my account. Oh, you have money in your account. Okay you’re free to go. Have a nice Christmas. Yeah, right. (What this guy was really trying for was to make me cry so that he could go, why are you crying? Oh, don’t worry, little lady, you can go now.)
I will never ever ever take a bus over the border again. They automatically think you’re an unemployed lowlife. Still, it wasn’t as bad as the woman I sat beside on the way back. She was American living and working in Canada. She said, It doesn’t matter which customs I go through. Watch, I’ll be the last back on the bus. She had to bring bill receipts showing she had an address in Canada because the official letter/piece of paper wasn’t enough. And sure enough they ran her through the ringer before she was allowed back on the bus.
If you’re ever needing good examples of anal retention and people pushing power, the border is a great place place to hang out.