Wednesday, September 9, 2015

How Not to Cross a Border

We left lovely Passamaquoddy Bay in the morning. Our destination, Portland, ME, for the second part of our Two-Nation Vacation.

We are frequent travelers, some would say professionals at it, so we approached the Canadian-U. S. border without any apprehension. Well, almost. I had considered perhaps a burp but not a stop.

The grim-faced border guard looked at our passports, asked a few questions and told us to pull over. We were ordered to go inside, leaving everything - cameras, electronic devices, purses - in the van, which is why no photographs accompany this post.

It didn't take a Jeopardy champion to see why.

Our driver was a large, tall, ebony skinned man named Mohamed Gaal, who lived in Canada but had been born in Somalia.

We were four women, one young and Hispanic from New York and three Caucasians, one Californian not as young but athletic and the two Good Girls from Florida, one just short of Social Security age and one well over it. In short, between us we fit a lot of demographics and could blend in unobtrusively to many different kinds of groups.

We had flown into Canada but were being driven back to the U. S.

It was five days before July 4 and threats of terrorist attacks were swirling.

Suspicious?  They certainly thought so, despite the new Known Traveler Number on a post-it note inside my passport.

The day was gray and so was the building into which we were ushered and told to sit on a concrete bench-like ledge that ran along the length of the structure. Two men, one young and one not, were already seated there. Evidently they were carrying way too much cash.

Mohamed, Moe, was the main object of scrutiny so one of us asked to use the bathroom. Not until the interrogation was over she was told in no uncertain tone.
Eventually, another agent took pity on us and said OK.

Finally it was our turn and we were called up as a group. Was it the apples the Algonquin had packed as a snack and we forgot to declare?

No way. "Travel writer" was an alien concept. What exactly did we do and why was this large foreign black man driving us? We tried to explain, finally citing the numerous foreign stamps and visas in our passports.

"You mean you get flown and driven around and then write about it?"

"Sometimes" was not a reassuring answer to the incredulous agent.

"What happens then?"

"If our computers weren't in the car we could show you."

Our chorus of different electronic and print outlets must have done the trick because we were allowed to  continue on our way.

Moral: You can go home again, but it isn't always easy.

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