Border Bliz

12 10 2013

My first visit to Canada almost did not happen. It gave me pause, literally.

Still in Seattle celebrating the end to a four-month long and arduous government contract, I decided to take a trip and see what our neighbors to the north were like. Ryan had to work so I was on my own. He recommended taking this “bullet bus” that cost just 20 bucks, but I stubbornly ignored him, intent on purchasing my fare from the Amtrak Station. It took a couple buses to get there as the station was located near the NFL football stadium and, by chance, there was a game that day. Seattle has a good team this year. The Seahawks they are called.

Of course it was raining.

The station was elegantly designed and the Amtrak tellers sharply dressed in their vests and ties. I showed the Ginger behind the window my passport and bought a one-way ticket to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. As we waited, the rain continued to fall and Seahawks fans filled the terminal. Leaving around midday meant that I would not be taking a train, but rather a bus. I quickly made friends with the driver.

“Is there a bar on this thing?” I asked.

“You’ve had enough,” he shot back with a grin. The driver had a stomach that overhung his belt. It looked like blubber. He also chain-smoked. But he would ultimately come to my aid. The bus didn’t even display the company markings of Amtrak — “Cantrail,” it read on the side in big green letters. It was about half full of Canadians and Americans. As we left, the crowd from neighboring Century Link Field roared with the excitement of the Seahawks doing battle against the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars.

“What’s that sound?,” one young lady asked, oblivious to the sports world.

I sat near the back, wearing Levi blue jeans, a white and tan plaid shirt, my trusty Columbia hiking boots and Yellowstone ball cap. I had just my black hiking backpack with me. Someone on a previous trip had even left a copy of the Vancouver Weekly in the seat so I perused it while filling out customs form. The entertainment ads were quite impressive. Everything was perfect.

And then we stopped at the border.

Everyone had to get off the bus and go through a border “security” line. Posted directions were in English and French. The first border patrol officer, in his 40s, tall and resembling an Indian, perhaps, with dark black hair and brown complexion, asked me where I was going. “Vancouver,” I responded. He looked at my passport and asked me who I was going to see. “Friends,” I responded.

“How did you meet these friends,” the officer asked.

“On the internet,” I replied.

“What website?,” the officer asked.

And without thinking … “Instagram,” I replied.

This answer prompted him to send me into the office behind him, while everyone else on the bus was allowed to exit stage left and reboard. The next border patrol officer, from behind a counter, stood up to greet me as soon as I walked in — asking my occupation, who I worked for and what I was doing in Canada. I explained I had recently finished an assignment in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and was traveling on vacation and while I was a freelance journalist, I had no itinerary and, more troubling to him, no hotel reservations.

“All this sounds suspicious,” the officer said. He was younger than the first guard and had much more of a dominant attitude. Caucasian, 6-foot-5, blond buzz cut. He didn’t like me. “Give me the address of where your friends live,” he continued.

I didn’t have it.

Frustrated, the Canadian pressed forward.

“What kind of articles do you write?”

“Travel and adventure,” I replied. And this was certainly turning into just that. The officer, dressed in cobalt fatigues with the name “Anderson” etched across his left chest, continued his questioning as the rest of my fellow travelers sat on the bus waiting.

“I can’t believe you don’t have a address or a hotel reservation. Do you have a ticket back to Florida?”

I did, but I did not have a way of showing him. My I-phone was jammed. No signal. Now, I felt he was clearly playing games. He made it clear that he did not want me to overstay my welcome and enroll for Canada’s “social services.” I told him we had this issue in America and I assured him this would not happen. I then complained that I had recently traveled to Italy and getting in was not nearly like this.

“Yeah, well, Europe has a lot more lax standards,” he said.

The interrogation would continue.

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One response

14 10 2013
Cala

John: Hope you ultimately get home to Florida – safe. Sounds like you are taking the road with the most pot holes. I have been in your shoes at the border…being older it was the 1963 and the Viet Nam war was gearing up and of course it was Hippie time,,,,there was a steady stream of 18-20’s “escaping” to Canada to avoid the dreaded draft. I was part of about 25 teens (14-19) on a church back- packing trip to Canadian Rockies…..we left Albany, NY after 5pm and headed north thru crossing above Plattsburgh, NY arriving around 10pm. We must have fit the profile. Our 4 vans literately got stripped down to the metal. The seats were removed, the padding on the doors taken off, and everyone was separated and questioned. It took over 3 hours to cross into Canada and another 2 hours to refit the vans and repack all our camping gear. We found out later we did fit the profile….our Episcopal Priest had been writing letters condemning the War and most of us were members of the new Sierra Club and Greenpeace, and half of the boys were about to be drafted. And of course Nixon was president & he had these lists…….We were the poster youth of the 60’s and fit the profile, PROUDLY…..

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