My talented co-author and celebrity bear Teddy Tedaloo and I are back from another whirlwind road trip through North America, taking in such destinations as the Black Hills of South Dakota, northwest Montana and Glacier National Park, the Canadian Rockies of Alberta and British Columbia, the eastern portion of the Pacific Northwest, and northern Colorado.
After two overpriced oil changes and having missed the Testicle Festival in Clinton, Montana (yes, you heard it here first!), we were pretty much ready to pack it in and give the exhausted credit cards a holiday of their own. Nevertheless, we managed to visit a lot of amazing places and cross a few more off our bucket list. Even more importantly, Teddy got to visit several brewpubs!
Of course no road trip of merit would be complete without some form of (mis)adventure, and this one was no exception. Last year I encountered a bored border control agent who gave me a load of bollocks going into Canada. This year I encountered a bored border control agent who gave me a load of bollocks crossing into the United States! I won’t say which border crossing it was (in case you might actually know this character), but I get the impression they don’t get too many customers and have to make the most out of this gig.
Now don’t get me wrong – we need to stay vigilant in today’s turbulent and dangerous world, but there’s a big difference between wasting time/resources and being on the lookout for potential terrorists and drug smugglers. I flew after 9-11 immediately after the international borders were reopened (going from the USA to Canada to the UK) and I didn’t experience anything remotely along these lines to enter a “foreign” country. Nor did I have any issues last year upon driving into the USA from Canada with a US passport, entering via New York State. In fact, they actually seemed glad to see me!
Not so in this case. Despite the fact that I handed over my American passport for inspection, I was asked to provide yet another form of photo ID. On presenting my US driver’s licence, the fellow proceeded to enter it into a computer, no doubt expecting to find a “Wanted By the FBI!” alert placed upon it. I was even asked if my car was rented (huh?) and my next intended destination (err… Starbucks?). I began to wonder if I was entering a foreign country rather than the one to which I had proof of citizenship. I looked around for a flag emblazoned with a hammer and sickle, but couldn’t see one.
Sure, it was all sweetness and light as my car and everything in it got a good going-over in search of… what? Dirty laundry? Well, yes, I had a tote bag-full in the boot and I warned the fellow that he would encounter it if he went in there. That didn’t put him off in the least. On the contrary, he seemed to take an inordinate amount of time going through all my stuff as I sat dumbfounded in the driver’s seat, wondering if a body search was imminent or being hung upside-down until I confessed to crimes I hadn’t committed. I dread to think what they do to American citizens who have even a drop of Middle Eastern blood running through their veins or a name with Islamic origins.
After a while I figured out that it wasn’t just about my potential threat to American security. It was also about all the illegal contraband I was potentially bringing into the United States and not paying duty on. (Clearly this fellow wasn’t too au fait with the income level of most authors or he might have slipped me a few bucks to help out.) Sure, I’d purchased a handful of things in Canada, but unless he wanted to tax Teddy’s new hoodie from Banff there wasn’t all that much to get excited about.
Yet boy was I surprised when, with a big Ah-ha! on his face, he pulled from my suitcase a small plastic bag containing not cocaine, but earrings, upon which he inquired if the tiny paper bag inside it contained new jewelry that I’d purchased on my trip. I was pleased as punch to inform him that yes, those were indeed newly purchased earrings in said bag – and I’d bought them in Montana. Last I heard they can’t charge customs on goods purchased inside the United States being brought back inside the United States.
Needless to say, I would have been perfectly cool with it had Teddy and I not been allowed back into the USA. Canada is a beautiful and friendly country that isn’t overrun with blood-thirsty psychopaths with guns, and they’re even civilised and humane enough to offer universal healthcare to its population rather than allowing them to descend into abject poverty or serious illness in order to keep from suffering or dying. So the decision would have been an easy one to make had the US border been shut against me. But after searching my car and everything in it (including the tote bag of dirty laundry I’d warned him about), the agent bid me a fond farewell. The barrier finally came up and we were waved on through. Welcome to the United States.
Now if you think all this border-security song and dance was entirely justified, let me add a postscript to this. I fuelled up the car in the first town I came to and, still fuming over the incident, mentioned to the kindly ladies behind the cash register what had just happened. They asked me to describe the fellow, which I did. Their immediate response? “Oh, him.” Evidently I’d got lucky and drawn the short straw.
Now you’d think with this violation of my privacy and personal space that this guy would have promised to buy at least one of my books? I did tell him when asked that I was a writer, so ignorance was no excuse. After all, I have Darker Edge of Desire coming out and Teddy and I are always keen to find new readers for our Thelonious T. Bear quirky crime/cosy mystery series. But no. It was all just wham, bam, thank you, ma’am.
I felt so cheap and used!
As for that bag of laundry in the car boot, even that didn’t remain sacrosanct. When I arrived at my next destination and began to make use of the washing machine, it came to my notice that a certain article of clothing had gone missing from the tote bag – and it was nowhere to be found.
All I can say is, if that border control guy has it, I hope he and my sock will be very happy together.