Monday, June 17, 2013

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Canada

I can laugh about it now... sort of.  If I think about it too deeply, I get pissed all over again.

Here's our side of the story...

The windshield wipers slapped in time to The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald as our family approached the Canadian Border.  Our history lesson was finished for the day thanks to Gordon Lightfoot.  
Greg rolled down his window as we pulled up to the border’s drive-through window.  Sliding our five passports into the extended metal drawer, he greeted the guard with a smile.
 The guard recited as she flipped through our passports, “Do you have any alcohol, tobacco or weapons in your car?” 

We had driven eighteen hundred miles up the east coast from South Carolina to Maine with three kids.  Of course, we had alcohol in our car. A cigarette might have helped, but I didn’t smoke.  Weapons?  Last week, Wyatt fashioned a slingshot out of two pencils and his sisters’ ponytail holders. Did that count?  Just yesterday, Emma beat Anabel into submission with her Teddy. Should we declare her stuffed animal as a lethal weapon? Whenever an authority figure asked me a question, I panicked regardless of guilt.  I assumed they could read my mind to uncover some past indiscretion.

Sharing my thoughts, Greg responded to the French-Canadian border guard with his best poker face, “We have some blueberry beer from Maine and a bottle of gin. No tobacco or weapons.”

Frowning at the overflowing rear compartment of our Ford Excursion we affectionately called, the family truckster, she said, “Pull over just ahead.” 
No photos of our story after this one... I was afraid of confiscation. 

Two guards, armed to the teeth, approached our vehicle with clipboards in hand and said, “Please vacate your automobile leaving everything inside.”  A family of five Americans entering Canada on an October morning seemed to be subversive stuff. Unfazed, the kids bickered as they scrambled over notebooks and travel games exiting the car.  Greg winced as two cans hit the ground and rolled toward the guards’ feet.  He was more embarrassed by our mess than fearful of possible contraband.

Smiling as the chilly northern wind hit my face, I turned on the Southern charm. “How are y’all?” No response.  “We’re so excited to be in Canada!  We’re on a family sabbatical…traveling America to teach our kids first hand about history and geography and different cultures…” I rattled on about our one-year radical lifestyle change while one Francophone guard- a man wearing ladies’ glasses- wrote down our make, model, tag number and passport information and the other began searching our car.  They spoke to each other in French, so I moved closer to put my twenty-year-old college French into practice.  

Threatened by a woman in mom jeans and a knotted scarf, the armed guard stopped my progress with a brisk flash of his clipboard in my face. “Step away from zee vehicle!” 

I prepared to push aside the papers of the rude officer and teach him some manners- fifteen years in public education taught me how to deal with impertinence-  when the other guard (a man sans glasses – see, I know some French) unfolded himself from our car holding a carton of bullets in his hand; So much for my indignation. Our kids, silent for the first time in eight hundred miles, huddled against the cold as their father was frisked on top of the family truckster.  The guard in little girl glasses demanded to know where the gun was. He yelled loudly to be heard over the swooshing sound of other cars smoothly crossing the border. 

“At home, locked in a gun safe in Georgia,” Greg answered to the hood of the car.

“Sir, we don’t have a gun with us; we are traveling with children.” I reminded him little eyes were watching with a glance towards our traumatized kids. The other guard gestured for Greg to stand. Seeing the look in Greg's eyes as he put his wallet and change back in his pockets, I began to explain. “We have used the bullet box for years to keep the glove compartment’s light off.  It is heavy and just the right size.” They ignored me and began stripping our ten-year-old car.

Lost something in your car?  Cross the US/Canada border from Maine to Quebec, and the Canadian Gestapo will find it for you.  After pulling out three weeks’ worth of luggage and laundry, home school projects and portfolios, along with Skittles and empty Coke cans, they gleefully discovered a three-inch butterfly knife covered in sticky-kid-crumb debris under the backseat in the crack between the loose carpet and the rusty seat frame.  Greg owned the knife when I met him 24 years ago.  It was like the one Emilio Estevez flipped out in a flash of light in the movie, The Outsiders- you know the knife was cool if it made Emilio Estevez look tough. We had not seen the knife in years, but because they dug it out of our car twenty-feet past the border’s drive-through window, and we had “not declared that we were carrying weapons,” that once cool, now Fruit Loop-encrusted knife was costing us five hundred bucks. 
Southern graces gone, I pleaded, “How do we declare something we didn’t know was there?” I tried to appeal to their sympathy by sharing how we quit our jobs to take a life break and travel with our rapidly growing kids.  After inspecting every inch of our car, they should have surmised that we were not the Rockefellers. “We don’t have five hundred dollars to give you.” 

Without a hint of irony, the guard in pink, bedazzled glasses said, “We take Veeza and MasterCard.” 

Greg said I blacked out at this point.  He feared my arrest as I began speaking in tongue from the darkness of my anger and quickly returned me to our car with the kids before he followed the guards inside the building. I couldn’t believe how calm he was. 

Signing the receipt, Greg couldn’t resist asking, “What? No line for a tip?”  The French Canadians stared.  He left before they arrested him for having a sense of humor.  


  1. This is a bizarre situation and would have made me very angry. But as you mentioned, after a while we can smile over the whole thing.

  2. Who would have thought Canada? Right? :-)


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