Wednesday, October 1, 2014

border crossings

On our vacation, Suzanne and I stayed right across the border in Canada, but many of our activities were in New York so we crossed the border back and forth several times during our trip.  We had our passports ready, but we found we weren't prepared for the verbal questioning about ourselves, our backgrounds, our plans and intentions. Suzanne and I are about the least suspicious people on earth, but somehow we felt suspicious or guilty each time we tried to enter another country. 
"Whose car is this?" It's a rental. 
"Where did you rent it?" Buffalo Airport.
 'Why is it registered in Ontario?" I don't know, it's a rental.  (see? we already seem guilty because Avis rented us a car of a suspicious foreign origin!)
"How long have you known each other?" ok, Suzanne and I have known each other since about 1983 so this should not be a hard question. We were friends in a young adult ward and have been best of friends since.  However, when asked to come up with that information on the spot, we both stumbled over the answer because I though we were taking about the car registration and why we were taking a foreign car over the border. Anyway, we finally gave a stupid answer along the lines of : "ummm, we met in Relief Society? back in the 80's?" (well, not quite that stupid, but we seemed to answer in a tone of voice like we were even questioning our own answer)
"Where are you going?"  well right at the moment, we were going to go find a convenience store, but generally for the day we were going to Rochester to visit the George Eastman House and Museum of Photography  and then to Palmyra to walk through the Sacred Grove. But that all sounded like a little much and really, was he the least bit interested in how we were going to entertain ourselves for the day? So how do you answer that? We are going to Rochester? We are going to a museum?  We are just driving around New York to see the sights? Suddenly a simple question becomes hard because he is looking at us like he doesn't believe us anyway. We felt like we needed to add  "but we will be back across the border before dark tonight. I promise we'll be back at our hotel before the street lights come on."
"What hotel are you staying in?"  My mind starts going blank. . . Super 8?, or Motel 6? I know it has a number in it, but I can't remember under pressure! 
Honestly, if they were looking for suspicious activity based on not being able to answer basic questions, we probably should have been hauled in and handcuffed.
I start wondering what/who they are looking for - terrorists? drug runners? what do they do with this information? verify it? are they going to call the restaurant we are heading to? to see if we are really going where we say we are going?
We realized at one approach to the crossing station, we had the song "American Woman" blasting on the radio. What are the odds?
"Who rented the car?" (Well, we both talked about it, I actually reserved it, we put Suzanne down as the primary driver, and I paid for it on my credit card. So that questions - under pressure - was a hard one to answer. . . who is actually listed on the paperwork if he wants proof? 
"How long are you staying?"  like overall? for our vacation? or how long are we staying until we cross back over the border in a few hours? See how these questions are so hard? 
"What do you have in your trunk?"  ummm . . . I think there is nothing in there, but maybe we left an extra pair of tennis shoes? and an umbrella in it?, but under this kind of pressure, I REALLY HAVE NO IDEA!! And I don't know if someone is going to actually check our answers for accuracy!
"Roll down your back window." After having just answered a question about the trunk and worrying if he was going to check to see if we really had the umbrella in the trunk that we said we had, we said, what? the very back window doesn't roll down.  He looked at us like we were pretty stupid - which we kind of were - and said "roll down your back seat window." Oh, well ok, we can do that. And yes, there is an umbrella there too. 
We struggled with the citizenship grilling so many times we decided we would be prepared toward the end of our stay. We anticipated any question they could ask, rehearsed simple answers, laughed about how ridiculous this all felt, got our passports out of our purses and ready, and stopped to cross the border.  The man we handed our passports to just laughed at us. He was the toll booth operator and he just wanted his $1.50. The border station booth was another 100 yards away. 
The last day, right before we were going to cross the border one last time and head to the airport, I wanted to walk out  to take a picture of the falls from the bridge. I had to cross a pedestrian border station to do so.  There was a coin operated turnstile to walk out onto the bridge.  It ate up my first 2 quarters and didn't let me through. I risked my last 2 coins on another turnstile and walked out.  Walking back I was hoping that I didn't need more coins because my pockets were empty and worrying if I had taken too long, because Suzanne was waiting for me at the car. So my thought process was somewhere else when I was then caught off guard my more guilt-ridden questions to get back off the bridge and into the fine country of Canada. "How much longer are you going to be here?" Oh my goodness, if you'd quit asking me all these questions, I'll be out of your country in about 10 minutes. I promise!
I realized that it had been 10 years since I had been to Niagara Falls on our infamous road trip with the Wagners (4 adults, 7 kids). We had been enjoying the American side of the falls, until we heard there were better views and more to do on the Canadian side. The adults had our drivers licences, but we had no IDs or passports for the kids. We asked if we could walk across the border, and if so, could we come back without identification for the kids. We received this answer: "I don't know." How could anyone who works at the border all day not know the answer to that question? We chose to risk our citizenship and walk across with our little group (rules have changed in the past 10 years, we would not be able to cross without passports now).
As it ended up, we were able to get back into the country after being grilled about how we knew each other, where we were from and where we were going. One of the teenage boys couldn't answer the question quickly "Who is your father?" He stumbled over that question because the question was asked so sternly, he wasn't sure if he should say that the man standing next to him was his father? or if he should further explain that he was adopted and that he had another birth father. His father, Joe, was standing there wondering and worrying if his teenage son would be detained in Canada while the rest of our families continued on our merry way. I can totally sympathize with Drew now. Those simple questions become hard to answer when you are at risk of being detained!

 2004 - the day we entered Canada with 7 kids and almost came back 
to the United States with 6 kids.

                        2014 - The water is still flowing 10 years later.  And we all successfully          crossed the border into our homeland!


Madeline Wagner said...

Memories! I figured when I told Drew I would leave him in Canada and the official said No you won't - I have one of those at home! was the reason we got to bring him back! Good times! Remind me to do all the talking when we go to Mexico this month lol!!!!!

Suzanne Barker said...

I love the way you were able to capture our panic and stupidity! It was a lot of fun, truly.
The back window doesn't roll down,(eye roll from the guard)

Roxanne Reynoso said...

Haha, how annoying. I wonder what they do with that information. Maybe they're looking for the people who have quick answers. Maybe you're considered "safe" if you're a hot mess.