We are a family that got our Nexus cards a long time ago. With a son attending high school in Vancouver, at the time, there was no way we were going to wait in the Border line-up each and every weekend. For those of you who know what a Nexus card is, you also know that Nexus holders rarely agree to carry non-Nexus holders in their car. Crossing the border without stopping to answer questions, without dealing with the mega-lines that form at the gate between us and lower British Columbia (BC), is like winning the lottery. I get giddy each time I cross, with my Nexus. No one gives lottery winnings away, and it’s easy to start thinking that it’s just not worth going at all, if you have to stop. Admittedly, we had become a bit selfish: No Nexus, no ride with us. Not anymore though. We have China and Denmark now, and that means we have to live like the others and stop to answer questions. In fact, we have to answer a lot more questions. Apparently, it’s a very odd thing for an American family to have a Chinese “son” and a Danish “daughter,” living with them for a school year, despite reams of paperwork that says it’s ok. In fact, apparently it’s almost criminal in appearance, because we had the re-entry of our lives yesterday, as we returned from our wonderful ski vacation (note: I added the extra photos that were promised).
After a horrendous drive home, down the Coquihalla Highway, where conditions were slushy, raining, snowing, totally gray, fogged out– all that, and shared with psycho trucks, who blaze by you (Me! Who drives faster than they ever should!) and blind you with their spray as they do! It was H-E-L-L. It reminded me why I prefer to drive to Whistler. I did the driving, and we reached the Sumas border ready for burgers and fries at Bob’s. My shoulders were heading into spasm from the stress of such a long drive; and we were all tired and hungry, when we pulled up to the Border patrol booth. Our friends pulled into the one right beside us and we all signaled that we’d see each other at the restaurant (we could see the place… we could smell those burgers). I rolled down all the windows, as expected. I handed over all of our Nexus passes (proof that at least our family has been checked and double checked by US security) and the passports, visas and student visas of our two adopted kids. It had been so easy coming into Canada, we expected a “welcome home.” Cue screeching tires. I shouldn’t say this, but I will: The US border guards are not the nicest people. And I so hope they don’t read my blog! Just in case, let me back peddle: I know they have a very difficult job. We do have a pretty serious drug trafficking issue between our area and BC. We still have security threats. They deal with all kinds of issues all day: people with expired visas/passports. Canadians dragging gallons and gallons of milk back from our Costco, no doubt some hidden fruits and meats. Americans and Canadians trying to bring things in without paying taxes… they don’t have fun jobs. I get it. However, it seems that all the really grumpy ones were waiting for our SUV last night.
Back to the booth: Windows down, passports and cards presented, smiling faces (from us) and polite answers to all questions. And then, the officer asks where China’s “I-something-or-other” is? Um, what? Those are all of his papers right there sir, I stuttered. I admit it, those guys scare me. “He’s missing his I-something-or-other Mam.” We tried explaining that his visa and papers were all there, politely, cautiously. We tried assuring him that these kids were in fact meant to be with us (documentation in his hands). We assured him that we were upstanding citizens, and
all we wanted was burgers that we were nothing but compliant. But, he told us to pull in, that he’d send our documents inside and that all of us should go in for inspection. The stress level in our car went from 4 (hungry teens, tired mom) to 10+ instantly. Smart Guy and I reminded the kids to do as little talking as possible. We told them to be polite, answer the questions and not panic. Then, as my shoulders tightened further and I began to panic, we went inside… where there were numerous highly armed men, in black uniforms and bullet proof vests. I’m pretty sure China has never been that pale. My shoulders went to full spasm instantly as we approached the desk, I smiled, and the (unsmiling) agent said: “Mam, you are missing an I-something-or-other for one of your passengers.”
The officer we got appeared to be a newbie, and determined to follow procedure… to the letter. I’m sure he’s a really nice guy in real life, but his job is to make us all sweat a lot and, apparently, tell us each and every rule that we may or may not have been breaking, or might ever break in the future… if we got out as free people. As the driver, I was the one being questioned, along with China and Denmark. Immediately he noted that the three Americans had no IDs… Panic! What? They should be right there sir. We handed them to the guard at the window. I could feel my deodorant fail. “Well, I only have Weis… Wex… Wix…” We call him C. Or China. He looked up, carefully. “China?” It’s easier than Wex..n. “Right. Anyway, we don’t have your Nexus passes. We have China’s and K’s (Denmark’s name is easy to say) passports here.” We calmly explained that we’d handed them to the officer in the booth, that he’d said he’d bring them in… now we all waited as Newbie went out to find them. China got paler, Denmark got redder, that’s what she does when she’s excited/upset/tired/cold/angry/scared… We all waited, and any thought of burgers was replaced by images of prison cells, and China being hauled away for interrogation.
Newbie returned with our Nexus cards but continued to insist that China was missing his I-something-or-other, a “big issue,” he explained. We continued to insist that it was right there, in the passport. Finally, Newbie unfolded the very visa that both officers had told us was missing and that had landed us inside with the heavily armed sour pusses. Ahhh, Thank goodness. We’re starving! So glad it’s all ok, I said cheerfully, grinning, and sure we were in the clear. Nope. “Well mam, as the driver, it’s your responsibility to present all Identification at the border, for the passengers in your car.” I did officer. I handed all of the papers that you’re looking at right now to guard outside. And, then again in here. A bit meeker now. “Well, we didn’t see them. It’s your responsibility to present all papers, clearly.” Hello? I did! My head was beginning to spin, my shoulders were screaming. I smiled. I’m sorry
Newbie fool officer.
Ok… I rant now: Really? Really! It’s my job to hand you, burly border guards, who are geared up and packing, all of our paper work and then what? Reach into the booth and actually unfold the paper, that you’re holding, and read it to you??? Or, if I do that, is that confrontational and I’m in trouble? Is it also my responsibility to make sure that both officers see the papers in their hands? It’s not enough to state that the papers are right there, in the passport. It’s not enough to remain calm and polite and state again (and again) that the papers are right there… I should reach across the desk and lift it up to your face? Were we so threatening, with our Nexus cards presented (you have our finger prints, our entire history, you know us!) and scary looking Denmark and China?… Who looked like he might faint any moment! Really? (I will now step off my soap box and continue with our interrogation.)
Of course, all paper work cleared, we all assumed that burgers were in our immediate future. We just hoped our friends were ordering beers too. Nope. Newbie says: “I should probably have agriculture inspect your car.” What! Really? Why? Why? We had already claimed anything that we knew was in there… key word Knew. I’d claimed what was left of my Cheez Its. I told him about the small piece of mozzarella (because I’m too cheap to just toss it). I claimed the tiny bit of vodka we had left and the few beers. “Did you buy the alcohol there? If you buy x amount…blah blah… we need to tax you.” No sir, we brought it up with us, from home. “But you have some left?” Clearly we didn’t drink enough. He smiled, but I am certain he did not get my sarcasm. Smart Guy did and shot me the look. So, Newbie wandered over to a much tougher, sourer looking agent, who was reading, and he looked us over, and decided that we did not need hamburgers any time soon… we needed to be inspected. Now, I can say with total certainty that we were all sweating; that China might have thought he was going to Guantanamo and Denmark might be too. Little Man was slumped on a bench, looking miserable. He has a Nexus, this wasn’t fair! Sit up, look like an American for God’s sake! And nobody speak! I hissed.
Newbie felt that this was the time to chat with us, and to inform us of any possible paperwork we might ever want to read, while his buddy did a cavity search of our vehicle. IF China wanted to return (doubtful at that moment) to the US, after his five year visa expires, Newbie told us what he could do. He explained why Denmark can come any time she wants (we play well with Denmark apparently, not as well with China). Why we should never bring fire wood back: beetles. And as we listened to him, we all panicked a little more and began to think of what might be in that car. We’d packed in a hurry; we’d thrown everything in without really looking. We’d packed with others… others who were probably eating burgers, while we waited in security hell. Wait! I have some eggs too! I confessed. “Eggs are fine mam.” “We have gummies!” Little Man cried out. “Gummies?” Newbie perked up. “Candy.” Smart Guy clarified. And as I stood there, I vaguely remembered that there had been one last apple in our condo… where was that apple? “Brownies! We have brownies.” Little Man shared. No, I gave the last one to S. (a boy in the other family), I stated. “What! You gave the last brownie to S!” Denmark, China and Little Man simultaneously exclaimed! Pandemonium ensued as all three kids interrogated me about this breach in brownie etiquette. I’d shown favoritism to the wrong kid. All the other heavily armed guards began to watch us, not smiling. Don’t speak! I glared.
Meanwhile, Smart Guy was watching the other guard, who was checking our car, and suddenly he blurted out (loudly people, loudly!) “Oh great! He just spilled our stuff on the ground!” with clear disgust in his voice. Clear disgust. Um, that’s fine. Totally fine. He can dump whatever he wants, on the ground. I groveled. I began to fear for bladder control as I held Newbies’ blank gaze. “So, how did you end up with China (he actually had begun to refer to him as China) and K. anyway?” Seriously? He nodded. Well, honestly, I went to the Farmer’s Market one Saturday and three days later I had two new kids. I told them no, multiple times, but somehow we just ended up with them. “Really? You went to the Farmer’s Market and came home with two kids…” Really. I couldn’t make this stuff up sir. And then, he smiled. I could feel him warm to me. I knew he liked me now. Putty. I can’t lie, I smiled back. I considered winking. He backed off the story he’d told us earlier about a family that was fined $300 for one orange, and began to be nicer. “If they do find anything, I can always tell them that you packed with other people (true) and that you did tell me you had lots of stuff.” I smiled again. We all waited as Smart Guy stewed about which items had landed on the ground.
And then, I saw him… scary, burly, Sour Puss returning to the building… with a single, yellow apple in his hands. Now we were in trouble! Now we all panicked for real. Smart Guy looked at me, glared I might say. We were going to prison. No burgers. Hours of interrogation perhaps. Worst of all: we were losing our Nexus cards! We’d be in lines forever, from now on. We all looked as pale as China. “Did they claim this apple” Sour Puss asked Newbie. Newbie looked a tad flustered too, but then, he pulled through for us, and my flirting payed off, as he said: “Well, they said they weren’t 100% sure. They packed with another family (long gone, we nodded, throwing them under the bus), but they did tell me they had several items in there.” Thank you, thank you, I silently sent my appreciation over the counter. “Mam, as the driver (That again?! I will never drive again!), you are expected to know what’s in your car. As it turns out, this is an American apple. If your fruit has a sticker that says BC or USA, you should always claim it. You are allowed to bring it in and out. If it says Chile…. blah blah…” As Sour Puss read me the apple riot act, my head was spinning and I just stood and humbly nodded, and apologized, a lot. He put the apple down on the counter in front of me. Just set it there, inches from me. Um, should I take that? I asked skittishly. I am not generally skittish, but I was afraid of that apple. “Yes Mam, the apple is fine. You can take it.” I’m free to take the apple now? We’re done? We can go? I remained skittish, paralyzed even, lest anyone draw a gun, as I took that forbidden fruit. From behind me, China said cheerfully: “Can I eat that apple? I’m very hungry!” Don’t speak! I shot him a look. On the way to the car, Denmark sidled up to me and desperately whispered: “I have another apple in my back pack! I was afraid to say anything.” There are cameras everywhere! They may have bugged our car. Get in the car, don’t speak!
And we drove away… my shoulders and neck in full spasm, our stomaches growling, no one touching that apple. Our friends were waiting just beyond the gates… no doubt trying to figure out where to get an immigration attorney… or whether to eat without us. To their credit, they were true blue. They waited, and we all entered Bob’s starving, ready for drinks, telling our tale, and laughing again… Only to meet Sour Puss’ female alter ego: our nasty waitress. Welcome home folks!
Note: I love my country. I love our border. I love the men and women who guard that border. This was all said in jest…. just in case any of you read blogs. And that was not my apple!
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