Wednesday 18 February 2015

Me vs Crossing the Border

I’ve always lived within driving distance of the USA border. Not, like, spitting distance, but close enough that I can drive down there and make poor financial decisions when it comes to how many pairs of shoes I “need” to buy from the discount store.

I like shoes. Piss off.

I like going cross border shopping because it’s cheap, and I can get more for my money down there. I know this doesn’t help our economy, but realistically when I can get the identical product for $73 less, I’m going to do that.

But these savings don’t come for free. There are obstacles. Most notably: the border crossing.

Every time I cross the US/Canada border, I feel like I’m a criminal. There is no rational reason for this; I’m not, nor have ever been, involved in criminal activity. I can’t begin to imagine the set of balls you would need to even consider smuggling something like drugs across the border.  To me, this seems like a completely insane thing to do.

Regardless of my lack of criminal history, every time I come to a border crossing I am convinced that they will search my vehicle and find 2 kilos of coke that was snuck into my car when I wasn’t looking.  This will inevitably land me in jail, I will have to become a prison wife to afford myself some protection, and I will be forced to get a prison tattoo and learn to make moonshine in the toilet using old ketchup. This is what goes through my head as I wait 35 minutes to meet with the border guard. Every time. It sounds terrible. I blame Hollywood movies about unsuspecting drug mules.

All of this paranoia is particularly bizarre because it’s not as if I’ve ever had an even remotely bad experience crossing the border. In fact, just the opposite, my crossings have been good, if not a little weird.

My first odd crossing came when I went to Seattle with friends. We were heading down for a rock climbing competition, and a girlfriend and I were in one car, and the guys we were with were in the car ahead of us. They went through with no problems, and when the guard came up to us he started out friendly, asking normal, guard-y questions. He was surprisingly cheerful and started joking with us about what was in the trunk. Hahaha, dead bodies? Hahaha, fresh food (because apparently that’s a thing). Hahaha, endangered animals? Yes, I totally have an elephant back there, it’s doing nothing good for my gas mileage.  Hahaha, drugs? Um, nope. Hahaha….are you sure you don’t have any drugs back there, because if I were the guys in the car up there, I would have given them to you girls, hahaha. Um, still no.

We were pretty sure joking about having drugs in our car was not a good tactic, but this guy was really into what he obviously thought was an extremely funny line of questioning. I had a bit of an internal struggle….do I deadpan the situation and risk offending the guy who apparently thinks he’s some kind of comedian, pissing him off, and getting searched, or do I play to his joke and risk getting pulled over and searched anyway if he suddenly didn’t think my admitting to carrying drugs was amusing.  

I aimed for middle ground….uncomfortable laughter (oh border guard, you’re so clever, tee hee), 
mixed with denial (no sir, no drugs here….which was actually true, btw). I think that joking about drugs at the border is about as safe as joking about bombs in an airport. Just don’t.  We made it to Seattle.

Coming back up into Canada through the border is another joy. Please declare everything. Fine, I have no immediate issue with that, but when they stare at you accusingly as you it’s a bit disconcerting. A friend of mine has a method for avoiding that which actually seems to work. She knits.

Apparently there is some unspoken rule that people who are in the middle of knitting a scarf will not lie to a border guard. Seems legit. Everything she said to the guard was acknowledged politely and accepted without question. She didn’t even need to produce receipts. I don’t knit, but I will make it look like I can next time.

The most recent and most absurd crossing is what I’ve come to refer to as my “Next Time” expedition.

To complete our new house, I’d purchased all of our lighting from the US, and unfortunately this meant I would have to make a trip across the border to pick it up from the delivery depot. I asked a friend if she would like to come along for the ride, so the two of us and my 1 year old piled into the van and off we went.

When we got there, we realized that my friend had forgotten her passport. She had a birth certificate but no secondary picture id with her. The guard, who was really intrigued by my right-hand drive van, decided that her birth certificate plus her Costco membership would suffice. Ok.  He looked at her very seriously and said Next Time make sure you have your passport. Of course officer.

Then it was my turn. I did have passports for myself and the baby, however I had neglected to bring a letter from Dad saying that it was ok to be taking the child across an international border. The border officer looked at me very seriously and said Next Time make sure you have a letter from the father. Of course officer.

Under no circumstances should we have been successful, and yet off we went. Drive, pick up $800 of lighting, drive some more. Back to the border to return to Canada.

The returning guard asked for the inevitable declaration of goods. Well officer, I have $800 of lighting fixtures for my new house. Great, please take your receipts inside to pay duty.

Wait, receipts? Shit.

What I had completely neglected to think about what the fact that all of it was bought online by my husband and all the receipts were safely locked away in his email, which I currently had no access to. 

Could I look more like I was trying to smuggle drugs into Canada????

I went inside to plead my case to the customs officer, who asked me to estimate the value. After looking me over, probably estimating my drug mule potential,  he looked at me and said Next Time make sure you have all your receipts with you.

Good lord.

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