Tiptoeing Across The Border...
It was 9:30pm at the Buffalo NY border crossing, and we were two musicians in a VW van that was packed with guitars, mandolins, harmonicas, shakers and CDs. It was packed with bathroom stuff, clothing, pots and pans, packages of ramen noodles and about 4 litres of water. There was Stagg Chili (for more on our relationship with Stagg Chili see here.) and dish soap, laundry detergent, and maps upon maps upon maps. We had a box above the cab with winter clothing, a stove, propane, pilons and various road safety kits. There was also likely a squirrel clinging to the inside of the van for dear life, hoping to cross the border and catch up with his emigrated Canadian squirrel-brethren. We looked funny… And we knew it.
We bumbled into the queue nervous that we were going to be turned away from the US. Haunted with several horror stories from our friends, we were very concerned about what to say, and what was going to happen. We had heard of people having their performing gear confiscated, having lifelong bans from entering the United States, and worse being scolded by a border guard. We were a little worried about the Canadian side holding us inside Canada too… Kasey and I have a couple debts that need paying, and despite our best efforts… Let’s just say it’s difficult paying ALL of your debts on the road when you’re playing for your supper, so to speak.
We rolled in, got the green light and the curt wave from the booth ahead. My throat felt fuzzy.
“Hi, passports please” she said.
“Hey there, heh,” I said, with a nervous chuckle. Man, I’m like a nervous schoolgirl I thought. I handed her our two neatly kept passports, worried she wouldn’t question my beard growth since the passport photo.
“What’s your business in the U.S.A. today?”
Come on Dan… You practiced this. Don’t bumble, don’t sound like an idiot. You’re just going across the border for an extended vacation – what’s the problem? Stop thinking, she’s waiting for you to answer.
“We’re driving across America on a vacation, looking to find some war-“
“Okay, how much money are you carrying with you sir?”
“$600 in cash, we have $1300 on our card.” Kasey interjected. Damn, of course she wanted to know how much we had in total. Dammit Dan.
“How long are you staying in the U.S.A.?”
“2 months… Erm… 8 weeks.”
“… You’re staying for 8 weeks with $2000?”
Dammit. This is it – we’re screwed. I managed to croak out an unsure “Yes.”
She turned back to her computer, and typed. She typed some more. With every little keystroke, a thought of being banned from the country hit me with a pang. All of a sudden I was resigned, ready to admit all of our folly to her… But what did I have to admit? We were musicians, yes, but it’s not illegal to play music in another country. Getting paid is another issue, but we had no gigs booked. We had nothing illegal in our van, we had ‘taken care’ of any of our leafy green substances long before crossing the border. We had no malicious motive, no reason to be in the U.S.A. other than to be on vacation and in the warm weather.
It didn’t matter how much I thought about the legitimacy of our trip. I was fully convinced that we would be pulled over, searched, and questioned. I mean, come on, we’re in a VW Westfalia with BC plates, crossing in Ontario. I’m a hairy, goofy, and painfully nervous-looking hippie with his too-pretty-to-be-with-him girlfriend. We would be stopped, the van would be searched, and they’d discover… Our instruments. … Just our instruments. No, there was something else. Something we have that they’re gonna find, I was sure of it. I didn’t know what. Maybe a squirrel. Or the grapefruit rolling around in the back.
SH*T! The grapefruit! You can’t carry fruit across the border! DAMMIT DAN!
“Alright, welcome to The United States. Enjoy your stay.”
She handed over our passports, and sent us on our way. My jaw was stiff, and I looked at the time. 9:32… That was only two minutes!? I wanted to tell her about the grapefruit we had, but better judgement won over. It would look suspicious if she sent us on our way, and we stopped, backed up, and told her about the grapefruit. Then we’d DEFINITELY get searched. I gingerly pushed on the gas pedal and turned back to see the giant grapefruit rolling around on the floor behind me.
Does anyone else get this nervous at border crossings? Is it founded? Why was I so damn neurotic!? Ugh. Don’t tell me it’s a Canadian thing…