The Bobbsey Quintuplets

Okay, I’m not sure why I’m bothering to kvetch about this topic because what’s the point? But I’m a little cranky this week.

I made a sojourn to Canada a couple weeks ago for the first time since the United Snakes of America implemented the passport requirement for returning to our loverly country. We went on a day hike with some Canadian friends and, as we were driving back to the shopping center where we had parked the Grand Poohbah’s loverly new Prius, I couldn’t help but think how beautiful the area was and wish that it was easy to just hop into your vee-hickle and drive to Canada. And back. Like it used to be…

Actually, it is really *not* that hard to drive *over* to Canada on a good day. It’s the getting back that presents the difficulty. With the over-the-top border security measures implemented after 911, almost every time I am in Siberia and look up at the International Bridge, the traffic coming into our country is backed up at least halfway across the bridge. And that’s not even to mention all of the Chevy Bronco SUVs (or whatever the heck they are) that the Border Patrol has constantly traveling all over Sault Ste. Siberia. Scuttlebutt has it that those young turks are paid to drive around all day whether or not there’s anything constructive to do. Do you have any idea how quickly driving around Siberia becomes stultifyingly boring? I love Siberia and I love to drive and I love to drive around Siberia but sheesh… And there’s the fancy new ICE building right next to FV… I’m sure that the US customs agents do *occasionally* find something interesting coming across the border. I bet it isn’t too often that they need such overblown services in such a sleepy little border town. Can we really afford all of this infrastructure?

It didn’t used to be like this. When I was a kid, the only way to cross the border at Sault Ste. Siberia was to take a ferry. It was a car ferry but we often parked and walked onto it. We would walk up to Queen Street on the other side and buy tartan skirts at Eaton’s or somewhere (I barely remember this) and eat at the Girl In Red. The Beautiful Jan remembers taking the ferry *by herself* to walk to someone’s house in Canada for ballet (or was it piano) lessons. I bought the fabric for my first formal dress at the Textile Shop, also on Queen Street.

Experiences with customs on both sides ran the gamut but, in those days, we didn’t have to carry a passport or a birth certificate and it was rare that anyone even asked for a driver’s license. Once, a Canadian Santa Claus ushered a friend and I into that country with a merry “have a good time and be off with you!” On the flip side of that was the time the GG and I were returning from a camping trip around Gitchee Gumee. An ailing water pump already had me chewing my fingernails. I don’t think I had been able to bathe properly that morning so I was uncomfortable and, since we were at the end of the trip, the car was a bit disheveled. We were young and I’m sure I was visibly nervous (because of the water pump). They probably suspected drugs. We were directed to pull our vee-hickle into a garage to be searched. I stood frozen in a state of terror as I watched them rummage through the jumbled camping junk in our trunk. Until they stopped. Abruptly. We were free to go. Why? They had found the GG’s federal government employee ID.

In the grand scheme of things, this summer’s trip to and from Canananada was a piece of cake. We had absolutely NO wait on the Canadian side and our wait on the return trip was uncharacteristically short. On both sides we showed our passports, answered a few random questions, and were waved through with little ado. Nobody tore apart Pooh’s car, no body cavities were searched, and no one was subjected to a long pointless interrogation.

It was the attitude that bothered me. Snotty and sarcastic with just a hint of bully. Both sides of the border. Okay. I know that customs agents need to know how to be intimidating. I know that they have a difficult job and that there are legitimate reasons for interrogating people crossing a border. I understand that it must be difficult to stand in a little booth all day and assess whether or not the occupants of each vehicle are who they say they are and aren’t lying about what they are carrying.

Still, I had the distinct impression that our customs agent knew damn well that the five 50-somethings in the Prius were not smuggling drugs or carrying firearms or plotting to blow up buildings or even hiding undeclared purchases from Loblaws. All we had were a couple of empty coffee cups from Tim Horton’s and a few cherry pits from some cherries we bought in Canada (not at Loblaw’s though) and ate before we crossed the bridge back to the US. We declared the empty cups. I admit we didn’t declare the cherry pits (and they were from the state of Washington). But still. Why the sarcastic tone for the question, “Why were you in Canada?” Why not? He knows darn well that gazillions of Americans travel to Canada across the International Bridge every day. He sees a good segment of them coming back. What’s the big deal? And then, one of the stupidest questions on earth: “Why do you all have different names?” In a snotty “are you guys for real” tone of voice. What? He was expecting the Bobbsey quintuplets, maybe? Do they not ever get groups of friends who travel back and forth to Canada to shop or lunch or whatever? Did he pull that question randomly out of a hat because he knew damn well we were not terrorists but had to ask us *something*? I think so…

We are all on edge these days when we cross borders or board airplanes. If a customs official (or the TSA or whoever) legitimately suspects something is amiss, then they should (maybe) get surly. For the rest of us, the teeming masses? I don’t get the surliness, sarcasm and general ill will. If you know that the folks are okay but need to ask perfunctory questions, ask them in a perfunctory way.

Our government is spending waaaayyy too much on all of this homeland security crap. We need to protect our borders and our airspace but so much of this is just a charade. Big time overkill. Ratchet it down, boys.

3 Responses to “The Bobbsey Quintuplets”

  1. Becky Courtois Says:

    Both of my parents grew up in Windsor – so we have always gone back and forth quite a bit due to family. I can still remember coming back from Windsor w/ my aunt Peggy who stuffed her grannie panties w/ booze and cigarettes (she was fun). I was in the back seat instructed to be quiet and not say a word. Then last year I took my dad to a funeral in Windsor and it was a weekday and just the two of us. The tone was not friendly at all and we just explained we were coming back from a funeral. I mean really a middle age woman and 82 year old man a threat to nat’l security. How much can we really patrol our border w/ Canada?

  2. Aimee Nassoiy Says:

    You go gal! I’m saddened that the border situation has become so tense. There is a photo of a friend and I, when we were 18, hiking across the US/Canadian Border at Chilkoot Pass that was published in a coffee table book about the border shared, titled “Between Friends”. I have seen it several times in the past few years, and it makes me feel nostalgic. I wish we could live up to that these days. Instead we must answer inane questions with straight poker faces, or face those body cavity searches and other harrasments. Ridiculous. And I’m still glad that the “shoe bomber” wasn’t the “underwear bomber” or we’d have to strip a few more layers down for TSA, with who knows how many bins necessary. . . Still it is worth maintaining our cross the border friendships for the greater perspective of sharing space and commonalities.

  3. jay Says:

    In the past four years I have crossed the border more times than I can remember. Almost all with passports. Heck, we played the “how many color passports can you see in the car ahead of you” game a few times. I even unknowningly attempted to bribe the Canadian border patrol a few times. I keep my Canadian money in my passport, so it will be with me when I go. And a few times I forgot to take it out.

    But for the most part the border patrol folks have been decent, and with a reasonable attitude. We even had them joking with us that we were required to have our ‘red mittens” coming back from the olympics. (We did)

    The last time I got searched was way pre-9-11, on the way back from the family Saskatchewan roots trip. In Montana (I think). We were the only car in sight. I think they were bored.

    And there was an underwear bomber, which is why folks that use diapers should not try to go through TSA with a load on. They will check.