A grilling at the border

Here we were, two happy-go-lucky Americans, thinking a little drive across the border into Canada and back would be a lark.  Wrong, very wrong.

On our way yesterday to Canton, NY, to do historical research, Nebra and I paid the $2.75 toll, crossed the high bridge above the St. Lawrence onto whatever island of the Thousand Islands it was and then dropped down to the border crossing.

We’d been to Canada several times in recent years.   To Toronto to visit one of Nebra’s Australian friends.  To Quebec and the Martimes for pleasure.  And finally to the Canadian Rockies in the west.  Twice we crossed by car, no problem.   All this after 9/11.   But yesterday turned out to be different.  Quite different.

At the Canadian border we produced out U.S. passports, but faced five minutes of questioning at the “guard house.”  There were the usual questions.  Where are you going?  What are you doing here?  Where did you travel from?

But this time the questionier, a dark-complected man in uniform, asked for much more detail.  For instance, the research trip to Canton became a big deal.  I was asked what I was researching and who was this person?

“A former Arizona governor,” said I.  That brought about more grilling.  And a question I’d answered earlier, “Where are you from?”  Was this guy trying to trip me up.

After the first minute or so, I bent over fromt he passenger side and began answering more of the questions.  Nebra was trying to be nice.  I could see this as a potentially dangerous situation.  The crossing guard was focused and dead serious.  No smile, no hint of a human being.

Eventually we were handed some yellow papers and told to proceed to the building on the left for more intensive investigation.  By this time I was seething.  Later Nebra would say she was “irritated.”  But I took it personally.  I think the gate-keeper saw somthing in me, maybe my dark looks and long hair, that upset him.  All the guards on the Canadian side had neat haircuts and were dressed formally as any Nazi.

After some questioning at the building, yet another guard, a spic-and-span male, asked for our car keys.  We were to stay at the building  while.  He did a car search.  I watched as he went to the trunk, then opened the back doors then the front ones.  He was searching, he had said earlier, for “illegal” items.

About 25 minutes had elapsed since we hit Canada when the guard said it was OK.

“This is a little different than I remember the last time I crossed,” I said, trying to evoke some sort of dialogue with this mechanical man.

The guard looked at me frostily and said, “A lot of things have changed, haven’t they, sir?”

I was directed to make a U-turn at the end of the building and return to the U.S.

“I suppose I’ll have to go through this again on the other side,” I said.  “Yes, you will.”

But as I found out, crossing back into the U.S. was much easier.  How ironic, I thought.  The U.S. was the country attacked by terrorists.  It wasn’t Canada.

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