Posted on November 10, 2015 under Storytelling with 2 comments

NYC Skyline 2

NYC skyline

Peter MacDonald photo



It seems everyone is travelling these days. Young people are working all over the world and the baby boomers can’t seem to get enough of southern vacations, cruises and exotic adventures.  And families still like to go to old tried and true resorts like Disney.  Because of the sheer number of people on the move, the law of averages kicks in.   At some point you will experience travel delays, lost luggage and other hassles that often leave you wondering about the merits of simply staying home and reading National Geographic.

Ever since 9/11, travelling to the United States has become a bit more complicated. Increased security measures require thorough screening of people entering the country.  Long lineups at airports and border crossings have become the norm.  And sometimes, you are one of the unlucky ones who gets singled out for a more rigorous inspection.

There is only one thing worse than getting stuck in a long lineup of traffic at the U.S. border on a Friday night, and that’s getting caught in a lineup of precisely one car … yours.

Such was the case recently when my son and I were motoring to Victoria, B.C. from Halifax, with a small detour for a few days of sun and sand in Florida. Despite all the charms of the East Coast (the winter weather not being one of them), Peter had decided to move to a more moderate climate where he could pursue work and enjoy the healthy, active lifestyle that the West Coast is famous for.

He carefully packed all of his worldly possessions, including his musical equipment, into his car. Anticipating a shortage of space, he had purchased a clam shell to go on the roof. The vehicle was jammed so tight that there wasn’t room for an anaemic flea.  We looked like the Clampett family rolling into Beverly Hills.

I have never approached US Customs before where there wasn’t another vehicle in sight. We pulled up to the booth and handed over our passports.  We were asked a few questions and expected to be on our way in minutes, if not seconds.  However, it became abundantly clear that the agents on the evening shift at the St. Stephen’s crossing were bored out of their skulls.  I had visions of the Maytag repair man.  We were instructed to park our car, disembark and enter the Customs building.

Did I mention that I had to pee like a proverbial race horse?

The young official on the other side of the counter was all business. This was going to be the highlight of his night.  What could he possibly be thinking?  It became apparent that he was concerned that my son was going to look for work in the U.S.  (“Oh yeah.  This young guy and his dad are hitting the road and are gonna make it big time in Nashville and live like rock stars.”)  Two guys in ball caps – the next Hall & Oates.

After the initial round of questioning, I asked permission to use the washroom, which I thought was a reasonable request. But I guess if you’re a balding 60 something you could be a drug mule and might flush your drugs down the toilet.  Request denied.

The border agent was trying to verify that Peter had gainful employment in Canada. He was indeed set to join a band, having played a few gigs with them earlier in the year.  Now if you’re name is Bono or Ringo, proving that you are a member of a band is one thing.  How do you prove that you are about to become a member of a band?

I paced from side to side and finally, the agent felt a twinge of pity and let me use the washroom; saving a janitor the unsavoury duty of cleaning a puddle in front of the counter.

“We need to inspect your car.” Never have six words struck such terror into the hearts of these intrepid travellers.  I had this vision of the agent opening one of the side doors and the contents of the car springing forth and crossing the border on their own.  In my darkest moment, the thought also struck me that they might decide not to let us cross the border.  Rather than lying on a beach in Florida, I suddenly had a vision of us passing the giant statue of the goose in Wawa, Ontario as we make our way across Canada.  In November.

It was obvious that the Customs official needed something, anything, that he could justify to his boss for letting us through the checkpoint. Peter was allowed to retrieve his cellphone from the car and in short order, produced a picture of himself playing with the band.  He could have been playing with the Muppet’s band at this point and the agent would have let us go.

We slipped back into the car and eased down the highway. We flicked on the local FM station and heard the familiar strains of “Band on The Run”.


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