466 km: Border sweats

Welcome to Maine

From the get-go I’ve thought that this whole scheme hinges on two tricky maneuvers – getting around the Darién Gap (still a long ways off) and getting through the Canadian-American border.  Many people I’ve spoke to about this have told me it shouldn’t be a big deal, after all, how many people cross the border every day?  It’s one thing to cross the border as an upstanding, taxpaying citizen, but as an unemployed homeless guy in a car with no back seats, it’s a whole different game.  I’ve also had a bad track record with border guards – some incidents are on my “permanent record” – so crossing has weighed pretty heavily on me.

The last time I tried to drive across the US-Canada border was in the summer of 1999 (coincidentally at the exact same crossing I was hitting today).  I was a hot-blooded youth, disinclined to take guff from pushy authority figures who bark in my face without cause, and I ended up in an interrogation room for two hours.  The conversation quickly devolved to this level:

Guard:  Do you have any tobacco products?

Me:  There might be some butts in the ashtray, but you can have them if you want.

And ended up like this:

Guard:  I’m going to give you a piece of paper that says you’re being rejected due to lack of funds, but the real reason is that I don’t like you.  I think you’re a punk.

I let him have the last word but when I went out to the truck I decided to prove his “lack of funds” charge wrong by disregarding his instructions to turn around and continuing on to a nearby gas station.  While I was filling up, several visibly upset officers showed up.  The one who’d grilled me was in the lead, decked out in aviators:

Guard:  What do you think you’re doing?

Me:  Getting gas, what does it look like I’m doing?

(Guard slowly lowers glasses, very David Caruso-esque)

Guard:  Finish up here and get the hell out of my country.

There’s at least some kind of partial record of this, and it gets brought up about 50% of the times I cross, so I was sweating when I drove up to the border today.

When I told the guard what I was doing I was quickly told to pull aside and go inside the building to get interviewed.  The situation described above was raised (of course) but the guard really seemed to suspect me of coming to the US to work.  I said something along the lines of “I play by the book”, probably a bit too forcefully, and he spent 20-30 minutes searching my car and going through all my things.  He wanted to some third-party confirmation that I was really going on a trip (and not a job hunt), and asked for my family member’s phone numbers.  I couldn’t remember any numbers that he could reach anyone at, and when I explained that my father was camping and my mom was at my grandmother’s he said (with much disdain) “You don’t know your gram’s phone number?”  Eventually he called Mr. Jonathan Murphy and confirmed my story, but he gave me a stern warning about not working in the US before letting me through.  All in all, it was about a 90-100 minute process, after which my palms and back were nice and juicy.

It’s all good though. I’m over the border and no body cavity search took place, and that’s what really matters.

– MacKay

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