It’s a strange phenomenon what happens to me whenever I cross the US/Canadian border. I’ve crossed many land borders before: 3 in Central America, 3 in South America, 3 in Asia, 1 in the Middle East, and numerous borders in Europe. Besides getting strip searched at the Peru/Chile border–I had food poisoning and darted off to use the toilet when the bus stopped, causing the agents to suspect that I was a smuggler, I guess–I’ve never had any major problems crossing borders.
But whenever I cross the US/Canadian border something happens to me. I say things as if my mouth has zero connection to my brain. I think it all began that first time my family drove from Seattle to Vancouver after we finished hiking around Alaska. “I’m doing all the talking,” my father told us, taking charge as he had during our hikes when he had committed to banging a stick against an Altoids box and singing, “Hail to the box. The box is good,” in order to keep the bears away.
“Where are you from?” the customs agent asked my father.
He panicked. “Brooklyn. I mean Long Island. I mean New York.”
Much of the Q&A went like this. Luckily we crossed that border before Homeland Security became a thing.
Crossing the US Canada Border Again…
On my most recent trip across the US Canada border, which I was crossing to attend a friends’ wedding at a Toronto brewery, the agent scanned my face and the two passports I had handed her for me and my wife.
The typical where, how long, why questions ensued.
“Whose wedding?” the agent asked.
“Zoe and Shawn’s,” I said.
She looked at me out of the corner of her eyes.
“Friends,” Marissa added, understanding Canadian better than I do.
“Are you bringing anything besides personal items into the country?”
I looked at the backseat. We had an abnormal amount of popcorn in plasticware because I had never made popcorn from a jar before and didn’t realize how much a cup could produce.
“We have popcorn,” I told her.
Marissa shook her head. The border agent had been trained not to shake her head.
She let us through.
On the way back, we went through Niagara Falls, refusing to stop in that godforsaken town that has been transformed into the worst of Vegas (though the falls are incredible). Regardless, we got to see Niagara Falls from the Rainbow Bridge. Marissa made me practice things that I would say to the agent.
“Don’t tell him about popcorn,” she said.
Luckily, we had eaten all of the popcorn.
The agent was monotone and a prime candidate for leaving his post to sprint down the bridge and hurl himself onto whatever was below. Water and rocks, I presumed.
After the usual questions, made even more boring by his melancholy, he asked, “Do you have any alcohol or firearms?”
“Yes, but we brought it up from the Finger Lakes and now we’re bringing it back with us and–”
“I need to search the trunk,” he interrupted.
“I think I answered pretty well,” I said to Marissa after we were given permission to cross.
She shook her head again because there would always be a next time for crossing the US Canada border.