Heading out of Creston, I grabbed a deli sandwich and a coke at a convenience store and headed south. It’s not far from Creston to the border, and I was there before I knew it.

Was it the beard? Was it the Deli sandwich? I spent quite a while in customs. I pulled up to the window, happy to see that there was no line. The customs agent started very politely asking me where I had been and what I was bringing back with me, and asked me for ID. I pulled the shirt from the passenger seat where I had had my passport. It wasn’t there. Hm. I pushed the winnebaggo out of the way to check the seat for the passport. Not there. Uh oh. Wait a minute.. it’s in my pocket. Whew.

The sandwich has beef in it. It’s not coming into the US. I’m hungry. “Is there a place I can sit and eat my sandwich here?” I asked.

“Sure,” she said. “park over there and bring your sandwich into the office. You can eat it while we search your car.” So there it was. I was in secondary. I wasn’t in a hurry; I knew that getting searched was likely. I suppose if I was a customs agent I would send people like me into secondary. This way I got to eat my sandwich as well.

In the office another guy gave me a more intensive grilling. Where I’d been, and so on, then a very long list of questions about what I was bringing back with me. In the end, the sum total of the things I had purchased in Canada and brought back over the border: a deli sandwich and a coke. “No souvenirs?” No. “Nothing?” No. Finally I’m allowed to sit and eat my sandwich. Mmmm. Good sandwich.

From where I sit I can see the agent outside, pulling the bags out of my car. Out comes the bag with everything from my bathroom. (I’ll do an episode on packing soon). I hear the echo of the customs officer: “Any prescription drugs?” “No,” I had said. But what if there were prescription drugs in there? At such times, the most inconsequential worries are somehow magically magnified. Like they’re not going to let me back into the country if there was some old penicillin I missed when I was throwing everything away. so I was nervous for no reason. But did they notice I was nervous? Was that suspicious?

The woman searching the car moved on to another bag, and I returned to my sandwich. Finally she was done, but I had to stay for a while longer. They were running some kind of check on me in one of those new-fangled databases of subversives and no-goodnicks.

Lighter by one sandwich, I pulled out of customs and into northern Idaho. Now I’m back in the good ‘ol USA, and it’s nice to be here.

6 thoughts on “Customs

  1. Of all the borders I’ve crossed in my day, the most problems I’ve ever had was coming back from Kanada! I don’t think I ever made it through without the car being searched. I remember asking for a drink of water, sorry, the drinking fountain doesn’t work. My friend wanted to have a smoke, sorry, can’t go outside. The Greyhound bus driver once told me of the huge underground holding cells they have there at the boarder. Apparently they can keep you there indefinitely while they check to see if you are really you. Was he born in Tallahassee Florida? Better check. Nope. Have to try somewhere else tomorrow. I’m sure we will find his birth records eventually, if he is from the US. Don’t know if the bus diver was joking or not, but it wouldn’t surprise me that they have a giant prison half in Kanada, half in the US. They must have liked you, you got to eat your sandwich!

  2. As database searching gets more powerful, I imagine the delays will get worse, not better. I can just see it now – “Excuse me sir, but do you have a Web site where you call the president an idiot? and what’s this about wanting your constitution back?”

    Although, just as I would have searched me at the border, if I was a border agent I’d be sending your car into secondary every time as well. You should take that as a compliment. You just have that subversive look to you.

  3. One of my favorite writers is Tim Cahill and his book ‘Road Fever’, detailing his part in setting a travel record from Tierra del Fuego to Point Barrow, Alaska is a hysterical book well worth searching out.

    Mister Cahill and the other driver become jaded experts when it comes to border crossings from Hell (Your papersssss, please)

    By the time the reach the US/Mexico border crossing in Texas, they have become completely derisive of ANY checkpoint that DOESN”T include an Inspection pit…

  4. If I have the right Tierra del Fuego to Point Barrow story, a key to getting across many of the checkpoints was the load of rotting milkshakes they were carrying in their truck. One of their sponsors was a company selling a milk product that allegedly didn’t require refrigeration.

    More than once the soldiers opened the back of the truck, took one whiff, and said, “That’s OK, you can go.”

  5. Even within the US, the travel security people can be a problem.

    When Pat broke his arm in Marina del Rey and the HMO wouldn’t let him see an orthopedist until he got home, the ER doctors said his splint shouldn’t cause a problem with airport security. Wrong. When the airport metal detectors sounded the alarm, the security guys took an extra 10 minutes going over Pat with a handheld metal detector to make sure he wasn’t carrying anything dangerous. He was already a bit loopy because of the painkillers he was taking, so I was afraid he wouldn’t be allowed on the plane.

    In the end, we were able to get on the plane and get home, but I have strong advice for anyone else who might pay attention — never, EVER, suffer an injury while on vacation.

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