Monday, February 15, 2010

Welcome to the USA

This commercial advertising Canada hockey jerseys has been playing during the Olympic coverage here. And while it’s very funny, it also reminded me of my worst border experience ever, anywhere. On two wheels, of course.
The plan was to avoid the north of Superior route by dropping down into the US at International Falls and then head east, crossing back into Canada at Sault Ste. Marie.
We awoke that morning just south of Kenora to the sound of rain on the tent. But it wasn’t until we opened the flap and looked out into the gray dawn that we realized it was freezing rain. The grass, our motorcycle, the tent - all were covered with a sheet of ice. Certainly unexpected for August, but generally representative of the terrible weather we’d had all summer.
By the time we’d had some breakfast and struck camp, the temperature had risen enough so the ice was no longer a factor, but it was still damned cold.  Nonetheless we loaded up and bundled up and headed south to the border where we were greeted by the most ignorant prick of a customs officer we have ever dealt with before or since.
Picture the scene. By this time it’s noon and we’ve been riding for about 3 hours. The temperature is hovering around 40 degrees and it’s been raining all morning. As we come up to the booth he says two words, “Over there” and directs us to a secondary inspection area. While we’re standing out in the rain and he’s sheltering under the building’s eve, he has us unpack everything, unroll the sleeping bags and tent, open up our luggage and spread it on the ground, open up our toiletries for inspection including squeezing our toothpaste and having my wife unscrew her lipstick to the point where it came out of the tube.
When I had the temerity to ask what the problem was, I got a lecture on the perils of drugs and how it was his duty to ensure no one one was going to pollute America’s youth with illegal substances. Probably the same illegal substances that were crossing by the kilo in the trunks and door panels of the cars being waved through without a second glance, but that he was not going to find on us no matter how hard he looked.
Ordering us to not touch anything (anything being everything we had, laying on the ground in the rain), he then disappeared for about 15 minutes with our passports only to return with a curt, “You’ve got 5 minutes to clean up this mess and get out of here.” He then turned his attention to making someone else’s day miserable, and we got the hell out of there before he thought of anything else.
At least he didn’t have the gall to say “Welcome to the U S of A”.

19 comments:

  1. I can see why you would have been somewhat upset..... sometimes officialdom just leaves a bitter tastse in your mouth.

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  2. What upsets me most about the border services folks (and Canada is no better or worse than the rest of them) is that they should consider themselves ambassadors for their country. They are the generally the first official representatives of a country the visitor (or even the returning resident) meets, and to be greeted by a surly malcontent is not the kind of welcome most people appreciate.

    Certainly the majority are, if not overly friendly, at least officially polite, but there are still enough, like our jerk, in uniform to make you wonder about their staff hiring and retention policies.

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  3. Never have I had an experience at the borders that made me smile. I've always been treated with disrespect.
    (Not so while flying,) It's the motorcycle I guess.

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  4. Chessie - It's like no one ever told them they can be just as effective, if not more so, just by being decent human beings. No one is asking for a memorable experience, just some respect.

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  5. I agree that a border/customs agent is not only law enforcement, but an ambassador for his/her country (for better, or worse, as was your situation). Part of their job performance rating should be courtesy/respectfulness toward the public, in my opinion. Perhaps they could have "mystery border crossers" (like mystery shoppers) to rate public servants ... but on second thought, we (in the U.S. anyway, don't know about Canada) need smaller government, not a bigger government.

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  6. Crumbs I can sure see why you were upset, of all the Countries we rode through, we only once had a very long wait and gave constant reasurrance that we did in fact have the correct paperwork, and that was Turkey where we live and have residency for!!!

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  7. Ken - Not a bad idea. I think a large part of the problem is their effective immunity. I mean the last thing you want to do is complain, because then you get that little check mark against your name and are forever after subject to harassment.
    As for less government - I'd just be happy with different government.

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  8. Linda - It's always a crap shoot. You never know when or where one of these folks will strike.

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  9. Canajun:

    I travel across the border fairly often and they are even checking Nexus more diligently now. I always get the 3rd degree as the sensors for the transponders don't always read the card. With the car, no problem, but on the bike it fails.

    They seem to have the superiority complex but you just have to bite your tongue and say nothing, and only answer what is asked in the most concise sentence.

    bob
    bobskoot: wet coast scootin

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  10. Bob,

    I just read your post but I didn't understand what you meant by "they are even checking Nexus more diligently now". I am curious - what does this mean?

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  11. Gary, via Canajun:

    my lengthly reply has been posted as a comment to your last BLOG post

    bob
    bobskoot: wet coast scootin

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  12. Bob,

    I now fully understand. Thank you for your detailed explanation. It sounds like a good system. We don't have the full system like you do, but we do have the retina scans in the UK.

    Thanks Canajun for us being able to use your comments space!

    I must say that when entering the US for the last few years, the reception I have been shown has been excellent - the immigration folk has always been very polite. This is a vast improvement on what it used to be like. I found the same professional and helpful manner at the US Embassy in London when I recently needed to get a visa for the US there.

    Gary

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  13. I totally agree with you Canajun - why do these folks have to be so rude and curt, when they can do their important job with a more welcoming attitude? I had a friend come in on a late flight from London, and while he was at the US border desk he put his hands on the desk and leaned forward (he was tired), and the officer told him to "stand straight." Go figure.

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  14. Dear Canajun:

    DHS and TSA officers in the United States believe the best way to catch a potential suspect is through total intimidation. They don't give a shit what you think, and if you have the timerity to complain, you will find yourself on a list that will make your life miserable.

    You will have to go though life with the smug satisfaction that the border officer that made you spread all your stuff out in the rain has a two-inch dick and his wife is screwing the pizza delivery boy while he's at work.

    Also bear in mind, that while this asshole is busting your balls, Nigerian terrorists can walk onto an airliner, moving past at least 35 multi-billion dollasr systems that failed to detect a gas can tied to his leg.

    Fondest regards,
    Jack • reep †oad
    Twisted Roads

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  15. Lance - I guess it's just a power trip for some of them. And then there are others (granted they are the exception) who are friendly, will actually talk to you, and make the whole experience almost pleasurable.

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  16. Jack - You do have a way with words. Laughed out loud at the pizza guy reference. Maybe that's why he was so pissed.

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  17. Canajun:

    Maybe being a Pizza Guy or a Mail Man wouldn't be so bad. Depends on the fringe benefits

    bob
    bobskoot: wet coast scootin

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  18. Good post and I feel for you. With a few notable exceptions, it's probably a fact of life that the public service draws more than its share of petty-minded individuals as it gives ample opportunity for power trips. Politicians would be the classic example!

    Geoff

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