Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Guarded.



We moved slowly and steadily past the Peace Arch and toward the line marking the division of the United States and Canada. Our dirty white Hyundai, only seconds prior brimming with boisterous conversation and chronic interrupting, quieted suddenly as we rolled up to the guard post.

I pulled the tiny lever and the window squeaked its tired displeasure at being summoned yet again. The guard post's window slid open.

"Hi," I said. "Hi" is okay, right? I thought. Shit, maybe not. He might think that I, a cocky Yank who thinks the rest of the world just needs a Coke and a smile, am not showing the proper respect for a border patrolman who must remain vigilant on a daily basis. For God's sake, this guy has to be on the lookout for everything, from tookus-tucked dirty bombs to a forgotten box of aplets and cotlets. Just be cool.

"Good afternoon."

Wow. The guy was short in stature, but his bicep and forearm were the size of a mollycoddled toddler. A patch reading Canadian Border Patrol strained as if the stitching could rupture at any moment from its taut sleeve.

He leaned down and glared at me. "What brings you folks to Canada?"

Folks? Okay, I can work with "folks." It's... you know... folksy. "Umm, we're just going up for the night and coming back tomorrow," I said more timidly than I would have predicted. I feared I was looking at his mustache rather than his eyes.

"How long will you be in Canada?"

Didn't I just answer that, short strong man? "Uh, until tomorrow."

"What are your plans?"

"Um, well, we picked our daughter up from college in Bellingham and thought it would be fun to spend the night in Vancouver. You know, just kind of get away a little bit."

I followed his eyes as they left mine and scanned the disheveled back seat of our Elantra. "Passports, please." He nimbly thumbed through our documents, stacked them and held them to his chest. "When's the last time you were in Canada?"

"Oh, um, let's see, Geez, I'd say around 2005."

"Why would you suddenly decide after ten years to come to Canada for one night?" He scowled as he again surveyed our car.

Look, Officer Friendly, we didn't "suddenly" decide. This has been in the works for a month, I thought, but the last thing I wanted was to be made into a spread-eagled Hyundai hood ornament in front of my wife, daughters and the van full of cub scouts behind us. "Um, well, this was the only night that would work for all of us, so that's just kind of what we decided to do."

I glanced up in rear view mirror. Both kids' faces looked as earnest and uncomfortable as a couple of kids being read a goat book by the president.

"Will you be leaving anything in Canada?" I watched his fist tighten around our passports.

What the hell would we leave in Canada besides our money and little half-full shampoo bottles? "Nope."

He took another step out of the booth. Is "nope" a bad word up here? Maybe the "Nopes" are French British Columbian separatists or something! Shit, who knew?

His meaty arm jutted through my open window and nearly compelled me to leave something in the United States, but as I looked into the watchman's face, his features softened languidly into a half-smile.

"Enjoy your stay."

My wife had to grab the passports from my lap, but at least the tires didn't squeal.

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