Last weekend, I noticed that I-5 North was backed up starting north of Marysville, WA down to pass south Everett. I mused that the US-Canada border must be busy AF since it’s recently been re-opened.
I have had the pleasure of living through of a worst-case, nightmare scenario at the Canada-USA border. At least I am resourceful enough to live through these stories in order to tell them to Spaceship Earth.
I call it: #OhCanada – My Border Crossing
Aiight, it was the mid ’90s so travel and border crossings were easier than today. I had just started working at the newly formed AAA Washington Express Travel Call Center after graduating from Edmond Community College with AA in Liberal Arts AND a Certificate in Travel and Tourism.
My live-in girlfriend was a tall drink of water, which clinched my thirst on the daily. You see, she was an aspiring model, young, fun, yet plagued with back problems with her height of 6 feet. Her prescription pain medicine was so strong it was narcotics based.
#TallDrinkofWater had shared with me in passing that she hadn’t travelled or been on a train. Since I was new to travel, I wanted to enjoy some of the few fringe-benefits that remained. Being the thoughtful and considerate boyfriend that I am, I purchased discounted #Amtrak train tickets to Canada to enjoy a one day shopping trip and visit of Vancouver, BC. Needless to say, she was excited at the announcement.
I also received my first adult passport (had an expired child). I showed it to her one morning over breakfast, and her consumption of her daily pain pills. After she physically examined it, she handed it back over. She only had her birth certificate and driver’s license, which at the time, was satisfactory travel documents.
I drove us to the Amtrak station in Edmonds, WA. I parked my car fairly close to save my girl a longer walk. Mind you, it was a time limited spot but based on my calculations we would be in the car and gone before time expired.
As Morgan Freeman would comment, “That would not how this story ends.”
We gathered up our belongings, and boarded the train. I was a novice photographer at the time, so my bags was simply my camera bag with my #Ricoh KR-5 Super II and #Pentax lenses. After stepping off the train, I guided her to what was called the Vancouver’s Rodeo Drive: Robson Street.
I had a grip of cash to burn, so we strolled up and down the area. After a purchase or two, we sat down for lunch in the sunshine.
We used the excellent public transportation system to motor over to the Gastown area. After taking some photos of her to help her modeling portfolio, I noticed it was time to make our way back to the train depot to get through security, check-in, etc.
And this is when the dream travel day turned into a nightmare in a heartbeat.
I handed over my passport, and Tall’s birth certificate, etc to the Canadian Customs Officer. He was wearing one white glove, and brushed my passport page with it. It turned yellow before our eyes. He nodded to another officer. He removed us from line, and ushered us to a stainless steel, unmarked door.
Fucking fantastic, I thought, as my heart sunk. Some doors shouldn’t be open, and that was one of them.
“Carlos, the Coke Dealer?”
After entering the room, the smile from the officer’s face quickly gave way to stern look complete with a furrowed brow. He forcibly removed my camera bag from my shoulder. I thought, Hey, asshole, that delicate photographic equipment.
Then he unzipped the top, and strewn all the contents onto the stainless steel table in front of us. He barked at us, “SIT!”
I mentally cringed, So much for ‘delicate, and carefully calibrated’ photographic equipment. He silently searched the bag, by opening every pocket, and pouch, and removed everything. He didn’t find what he was looking for. He eyed us and barked more orders, as he pointed to me, “Stand up, turn around and place your hands against the wall.”
I finally asked, “What the hell is going on?” as I complied with the order.
He grumbled, “Shut up, punk.” He ‘patted’ me down. And when I mean ‘pat’ I mean he dug into my jeans pocket, and forcibly searched my clothes. He repeated the same actions on Tall.
He let out a sigh. He reviewed the camera, and lenses, everything. He held up a small piece of scrap paper I had used to take notes yesterday at AAA Express Travel Call Center. It had two woods: Coke or Pepsi? with the Pepsi circled. Then on the backside of it was a telephone number.
He growled, “Where’s the coke, Carlos?”
“Excuse me?” I asked in bewilderment.
“This, ” He holds up the yellow stained glove. “This special glove detects drug residue. I’m trying to find the cocaine that you’re trying to smuggle across the border or already did. This must be the phone number of your dealer or your hooked junkies.” He put down the glove and held up the piece of paper.
As young, yet proud man, I fired back, “Or neither, because I don’t do that sorta thing. I work in a call center, and I was going to the soda pop vending machines which we had our choice of Coke or Pepsi. I scribbled down that phone number to call an AAA Washington Member back but you’re welcome to call it but I’m confident they will not appreciate a call from Canadian Customs Officer.”
In hindsight, being a young man, that’s dumb, I probably shouldn’t have issued that challenge because he did call it after he stormed out of the room leaving Tall and me alone.
She started to cry, and looked at me for comfort. “What’s going on, Los? I’m scared.”
My anger and frustration gave way to sympathy. “They think I’m a drug smuggler because I’m Filipino, and it’s racial profiling at it’s finest. Plus they have that color changing glove for evidence to back up probable cause. Please don’t worry, we’ll get outta here.”
“How about the train though? I thought you said there was only one train leaving today,” she asked.
Shit, I thought. She’s right, there is only one train.
“We’ll be ok,” I hugged her.
Without a doubt, I was sure they were watching on a hidden camera for reactions, and how we were coping.
Finally, the officer returns. “Mr. Bayne, we called the number. Lucky for you they answered. And they answered my questions. They were either telling the truth, or great actors. I’ve gotta ask, though. Do you take prescription pills for pain, or been in contact with someone who does?”
Tall and I instantly exchanged worried looks. “Yes. Her bottle of pain pills is right there,” as I point to it on the table amongst my camera equipment. “Why?” I growled.
“Because the residue of the pill is narcotics based, therefore giving us the impression you are a coke dealer. In the future, Mr. Bayne, be careful who handles your passport and when. Everything checks out, you are free to go.”
He unceremoniously exits.
“Thanks!” I say sarcastically as I gather up my camera equipment.
And the hits keep coming …
Aiight, well all that time spent farting around with Canadian Customs burned up our check in time. The train conductor was literally removing the sandwich boards in front of each of the train cars. We yelled, “Please wait!” as we started to haul ass down towards the slow moving train.
We literally jump onboard.
The conductor grumbled, “You should’ve boarded sooner.” As I was about to launch into a tirade of untold expletives, I felt a gentle grip on my arm from Tall. I faced her, she was shaking her head, with her pretty pursed lips. Her eyes were begging me not to fight this man, and not cause anymore trouble.
Cooler heads prevailed, as I huffed, brushed passed him, and lead us to our seats in seething anger.
We arrived quickly to the Blaine exchange point for dropping of Canadian Customs Officers for US Customs K-9 Officers. They made their way through each car, and we were seated in the last one.
Well, I’m sure it didn’t take you long to figure out where I’m going with this. The dogs, yes two of them, walked up to me, and sat down in the aisle.
“Excuse me, sir. Please stand up, and come with me,” the officer politely commands me. The other officer takes my camera bag over his shoulder. I’m a 5-OH sandwich with an officer and dog in front of me and the same behind me escorting me to the back of the train car.
Once the door closes that separates us from the rest of the prying ears, they start peppering me with rudimentary questions, like where I live.
I know what they’re doing. If this is a cover or that I’m lying they’ll trip me up. After 10 minutes of asking where I live, where I work, what my middle was, and questions about my girlfriend, they are exhausted. They obviously aren’t international interrogation experts.
They straight up ask why I was there, who I visited, and more. I retort with my explanation that it was a one-day shop excursion on a train to a foreign country so that my girlfriend can have that experience. And boy, has it been an experience!
The dogs sniff my bag and myself – no drugs. After what seemed like foreneverness, they are satisfied or frustrated that nothing came of this delay. They exit the train car since it was the last one. I trudge back to my seat with my camera bag as all the passengers are mean-mugging me.
I AM the reason we’re delayed.
Insult to injury …
The train ride continues without further incident to Edmonds. It was picturesque along the tracks, and the sunset was beautiful.
#TallDrinkofWater and I walk out to my parked Honda Civic only to find an envelope underneath the windshield wiper.
It’s a parking ticket for exceeding the time limit during the posted hours. Of course, it was! Oh, Canada, you were unkind to me this time!