Journey-man’s Journey

by John cooper


There has been a lot of chatter following the recent Presidential election, and with the inauguration just weeks away, I’ve heard some celebrities stating that they plan to move to Canada once Donald Trump assumes the office of the presidency. Included on the list are Cher, Barbra Streisand, Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie O’Donnell and Lindsay Lohan, to name just a few. However, if their experience is anything like mine recently was (see Diablo Gazette, December 2016), they may be better off staying at home, as crossing the border to Canada is no cake walk.

A few months ago, as summer was about to end, I traveled to Canada on my motorcycle. As I made my way toward the Canadian border, I made a mental note of all the things I needed for a quick and smooth border crossing: passport, driver’s license, vehicle registration and insurance. I’ve crossed many borders over the years and expected this one to be nothing more than routine. Instead, it went something like this:

Border Guard: “Welcome, where are you traveling to”?

Me: With a pleasant smile, I said “I’m not sure yet, I’m just trying to get out of town awhile”.

Border Guard: Firm in his voice, he said “You don’t know where you’re going”?  “Where are you coming from”?

Me: Eager to please and not seeing what I was about to step in, I replied, “I’m coming from California, but just spent a week in Mexico” (see Diablo Gazette, October 2016).

Border Guard: With a snarky voice, “So you’re coming from Mexico, but you live in California”. He continued, “I see that your motorcycle is registered in Oregon, but your driver’s license is from California”. To drive home the point further, he continued, “And you don’t know where you’re going”.

Border Guard: With a dismissive air, as the decision was already made at this point, he said, “Are you carrying any alcohol, tobacco or weapons”?

Me: “Yes, I’m carrying all three”.

Border Guard: Pointing firmly to the back of the building, he said, “Pull over there, turn off your engine, and stay there”.

I pulled my bike around back, turned off the engine as instructed, and proceeded into the building, unaware that I had just entered a scene reminiscent of the movie “Groundhog Day”.

As I waited patiently in line, I casually gazed around and noticed the room was full of misfits and rebels and other nonconformists, much like me, and I got the sense that the border agency was no place for games.

“Next”, an agent yelled from behind the counter. As I approached I saw he was wearing a bullet proof vest and a handgun was resting on his waist. Before I said a word, he asked for the keys to my bike, my wallet, cellphone, passport and driver’s license. It was then that I knew I wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Then we played a game called “One Thousand Questions” or so it seemed. Although it was more akin to fifty questions repeated over and over and over again. Questions like, “what’s your name”, “where are you traveling to”, “why were you in Mexico”, and “have you ever been denied entry into Canada before”.  “Have you ever been convicted of a crime”, “have you ever stood before a judge for any reason”, and so on and so on, the questions continued.

My conversation with the border guard(s) went on for another hour as they calmly and systematically dismantled everything on my bike looking for contraband. I realized at that point that “honesty, is not the best policy” when it comes to crossing the Canadian border and answering all the questions with just a hint of vagueness didn’t help my cause. I would have been better served had I just made up a final destination and conveniently left out everything else. Perhaps my appearance played a role too as I looked a little rough around the edges, unshaven and unshowered for several days, riding a motorcycle, with quite likely a few bugs smashed about my body.

I must say, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had little sense of humor that day. However, finding little more than a flask of Tequila and a small camping knife, I was set free and allowed entry into Canada. On my way out the door, I thanked them for allowing me to participate in their security program, an attempt at humor that fell on deaf ears.

By contrast, when I re-entered the U.S. a week later, I was only asked one question when I appeared at the border crossing. With a passing glance at my passport, the U.S. border agent asked, “Are you carrying a firearm”? “No sir I am not” I said, and that was that. No fuss, no muss, while he waived me forward and back home.

And so I say to all the celebrities who plan to move to Canada once Donald Trump takes up residency in the White House, “I don’t think so”. If their experiences will be anything like mine, they’re better off staying at home.