Interrogated and Admitted

30 10 2013

The bus driver stared through the glass doors at me, looking down every so often at his watch. He was waiting on me — and so were 20 some other people sitting on the Cantrail bus.

Meanwhile, the border patrolman continued his interrogation.

“John, you sell your stories, right?” he asked. “Yes,” I replied, and then I began to give him more background on my career before he stopped me again.

“And what are you doing in Canada?,” he asked.

Again, I had no plans. This trip was more of a whim. I was this close, staying with a dear friend in Seattle, why not? Actually, I had always thought my first excursion into Canada would be into Quebec or Ontario. British Columbia, however, was proving to be difficult.

I told the officer I was planning on seeing two new friends for dinner that night in Vancouver. I had never met these gentlemen and that was part of the intrigue. One being a Canadian citizen, the other from Indonesia.

“How did you meet them?,” the officer asked, now sitting down in front of his computer behind the counter, no friendly expression on his face. To my left, through the glass doors, the bus driver began to pace. No doubt pissed with this situation and probably hankering for a cigarette.

“I only know them through the internet,” I explained. “This will be the first time we’ve met.”

At the border

At the border

This ticked off the officer even more. He demanded the address of the restaurant and immediately looked it up on his computer. It was a pizza place near the bus station.

“You don’t have a hotel reservation, you can’t tell me who you are here to see and I don’t know how you are getting back,” the officer declared. “I don’t know, John, this all sounds suspicious.”

He wanted my airline reservation back to Florida, but I was not letting him into that e-mail account. He then went for the holy grail — Facebook.

“Let me see it,” he said, demanding the i-phone. “I have one of these too.”

Suddenly, the bus driver came through the glass doors.

“How much longer we got here,” he asked the officer, while another Canadian guard, a black man about my age, walked past me and into the office behind the counter. He stared at me while he passed. I smiled and he continued on his way, but I did not want to see where he was going and I had had just about enough of this situation.

“I wanted to write about your beautiful country. This is my first time here,” I said.

The officer told the bus driver a few more minutes and turned his attention back to me. “I’m sure, John, if I was to come to Panama City you would want to know about me,” he sarcastically said.

“I would welcome you,” I said. “We are allies, after all.”

This was the one time during the course of his interrogation where we agreed. Scanning through my Facebook account, he asked what I wrote about in Panama City. I recalled one of my last assignments at the News-Herald when I reported on a murder case at a bayside motel. I told the officer I had always maintained a professional and courtesy relationship with the police.

“Why don’t you join them?,” he then asked, again with a sarcastic, yet serious tone. I had no answer.

He didn’t need one.

“Okay John, I’m going to let you in,” he declared, getting up out of his chair and handing me my passport back. “But make sure you don’t miss that flight back to Florida.”

Some welcome.

He then gave me my i-phone back, remarking “It looks like you like to hike a lot.”

I felt so defeated. I met the bus driver outside and we walked to the bus together without uttering a word between us. I was greeted by a strange silence as I climbed aboard the bus again. Some glances thrown my way but no one spoke. Before I could take a seat in the back, the driver loudly announced, “Next stop, Vancouver.”

At the station, I waited for the driver to unload everyone’s luggage before approaching and giving him a nice tip. He smiled and shook his head, “That’s the world we live in, kid,” he said.

Politically, tensions abroad were running high as the United States weighed its military options on Syria while a covert war raged across Africa. My first order of business in Canada was to the Greyhound Bus terminal to purchase a ticket back to Seattle. I would have less than 24 hours to celebrate Canadian liberty and I was damn determined to make the time count.

Keep Exploring

Keep Exploring


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.