I’ve crossed the US/Canadian border by car many a time over the past few years. The last time I went to Toronto (for a Red Sox v. Blue Jays game) the New York border guards mocked my “I don’t break for Yankees fans” bumper sticker. But it’s the border guards at Stanstead, between Quebec and Vermont, that have provided me with the best stories.
Last year, I learned as much about the border guard as he did about me. The conversation went like this:
Border Patrol: Where do you live?
BP: Where were you in Canada?
BP: What were you doing there?
Me: We went to see a concert.
BP: Who was playing?
Me: Bruno Pelletier.
BP: Who’s he?
Me: A French Canadian singer.
BP: Why did you go?
Me: Because I like him.
BP: Ok. I wouldn’t know. I don’t even have a passport.
Me: You don’t have a passport? You’re kidding.
BP: No. I don’t have a passport.
Me: You work with the border patrol!
BP: That’s true. But I don’t have a passport.
Me: So what happens if you walk over there? *points behind car to Canada*
BP: I do my job, and then I walk back over here. I can get everything I need on this side. *points to America*
Me (incredulously): In Vermont? (No offense, Vermont.)
BP: Yes. Do you have any fruits or vegetables.
BP: Ok. You’re all set. Have a nice day.
Me: Ok. Thanks. You should get a passport.
Speaking of fruit, I accidentally almost brought back “fruit” once. After asking us all the usual questions (and my answering in the negative to the fruit question) the guard asked me to open up the back of my car where the windows are tinted. He was distressed by what he found back there: two orange slices leftover from our takeout breakfast! Oops! Actually it was just the rinds from two orange slices. I ate the actual fruit. But the guard was concerned enough by this that he confiscated the containers the rinds were in. Hey, while you’re back there cleaning out my car, maybe you can vacuum a bit, too? No? Well, thanks for taking out the trash anyway!
Most recently (last weekend) our passage back into the States seemed mundane enough. The guard asked us all the normal questions, and I answered them honestly and unsuspiciously. I didn’t even make any jokes even though when they ask if I’m carrying any drugs or firearms, I always want to ask if anyone ever admits to having a trunk full of pot. (I mean really, do they?) It looked like the guard was going to hand us our passports and send us on our way, but instead she opened the door to the little booth and came outside.
Inside, we stood there awkwardly for a while, waiting for someone to tell us what to do. There were at least a half-dozen employees in the room, doing who knows what, but only one was actually helping customers, and he was busy giving the third degree to a man who needed everything translated into French. Eventually someone else called us up to the counter. He gave us customs forms to fill out, like the kind you get on an international flight. After we handed them over, he looked at them then eyed my friend with a suspicious look.
“Did you always live in this country?” he asked her.
“Actually no,” she said.
(She was born elsewhere but came here as a child. This is information he’d have known if he looked at the passport he was holding.) “The way you write the date… day, then month…,” he said.
“That’s the way it says to write it,” she replied. “I was just following the directions.”
He looked at the form and sure enough, under the line it said: date (day/month/year).
“Oh. Huh. I never noticed that. Nevermind.”
Here he was thinking he “caught” something suspicious, but really the only thing he caught was the most fastidious form-filler-outer on the eastern seaboard!
They made us sit in the office and wait for about ten minutes while they searched the car, but I’m not sure they actually looked at anything. My stuff looked rumpled in pretty much the exact manner it was when I left it.
In the past, any time I saw a car pulled over at the border, I instantly thought to myself, ‘Ooooh, look at those terrorists/smugglers/other unseemly characters!’ But now I know better. They’re probably not bad people. They’re just really unlucky!