Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Welcome to America

Mount Robson, British Columbia

This trip – and really, I think the word odyssey is more appropriate – is technically to Los Angeles, but really has been to Blaine, Washington. Why Blaine? That’s where the border crossing is between Vancouver and Seattle.

The U.S. border service, for Canadians, is like the weather. We are constantly complaining about it, usually personally affronted by it, but for all we carry one, we're usually only ever slightly inconvenienced by it.

Everyone has their horror stories to share: my Dad had heard from one of his golfing buddies that if we didn’t have “the right form” our car could be confiscated at the border. There was, of course, no hint of what “the right form” was, nor was the legality of such a car seizure explained, but such is the mythic power of the U.S. Border service: to listen to Canadians, you would think that the 49th parallel was patrolled by a particularly unreasonable species of ogre.

So, as we left Vancouver, the tension level in the car was high. We had several forms for the car that we hoped were “the right form” (one of which had arrived by fax at our friend’s work yesterday). We had our visa applications, and several other documents we found on the Internet, one of which seemed to want to know if I was or ever had been a member of the Communist party. We had copies of our birth certificates, wedding certificates, college diplomas, and a Merit Badge from when I was in Scouts.

We didn’t need any of it.

Forest-fire devastation near Kamloops, as seen from the car

As we pulled up to the border, my hands were literally trembling. Amynah had her folder of documents sitting discreetly over her swelling abdomen. The guard looked in the window.

“Nova Scotia plates? Wow, that’s the first time I’ve seen one of those.”

“Yeah,” I said, controlling the trembling in my voice, “It was a heck of a drive.”

“I can imagine,” he said. “How long did that take you?”

Ah ha! A question! This had to be a trap. I thought quickly… how long had it taken?

“Uh, yeah. About sixty hours, all told,” I said, then, confidence building, I ventured a joke to prove my Canadian credentials: “There’s a whole lot more Ontario than the world really needs.”

“Oh yeah. Well of course – Ottawa’s there.”

What? Did a U.S. Border guard just make a Canada joke? Who was trying to ingratiate himself with who here?

In any case, he waved us aside, and told us to go to the desk to fill out our visas. This was done by a guy who was about to go off shift, and so was trying to dispense with us as quickly as possible. Anxious that our car should cross the border properly, and having gone to some difficulty to acquire “the right forms” we asked if we could import it legally. He gave us a doubtful look.

“Well, you could… I guess. But it’s up to you,” he said, in a tone that made it clear that he would prefer that we not bother. When we indicated that we wanted to, he sighed, and called over a colleague to help him out. I suspect if we hadn’t mentioned it, no one would have brought it up at all.

In any case, we’re now in Seattle, about to have dinner with a friend here, and then make our way south to Los Angeles. Three countries, eight provinces, and 6500 km on, the final leg of the journey begins!


julie said...

Glad to hear that all is going well thus far :)

JC Martin and the Paranoidals said...

Don't be fooled: "They" are monitoring this site, waiting for you to slip up.

Greg said...

When you were in the Customs office in Blaine, did you notice the early Dale Chihuly works? Once I was in there when crossing the border and the staff was not extremely friendly. Then I asked them about their art exhibit and they all got quite chatty and proud about it.

Mark Reynolds said...

Hi Greg,
Nope, I don't think I saw those. I'll keep an eye for them for the next time I cross.