It was probably the “Umm…” that first set off the Canadian border security guard who was screening my passport and me. That was my first mistake.
It was late when my Bolt Bus arrived at the Canada/U.S. border just shy of Vancouver, British Columbia. I had planned to visit a friend and his partner for a long weekend getaway on Bowen Island. Our bus had some mechanical difficulties along the way making an already long journey from Portland even longer. So I was tired and ready to get to my destination, not really focused on the questioning from the border guard. I’d gone through customs before in many other countries and not had any problem, and I don’t have a criminal record. So while my attitude may have been perceived as laissez-faire, it was far from flippant. But his series of questions and what I answered would keep me from crossing over into Canada.
I presented my passport and Oregon drivers’ license, and a return ticket. Then he asked me how much money I was carrying. I said I had $80, and that my host was paying for the ferry ticket to Bowen and making meals. He asked me incredulously if I thought I had enough money and I resisted the urge to say, “Don’t they have ATMs in Canada?” But I knew I was under scrutiny and kept my mouth shut.
Then he asked me what my line of work was. “I’m currently unemployed.” I should have lied, as proof of employment is listed under “Additional Documentation Which May Be Helpful” in the fact sheet shown at left that the guard handed to me. Highlighting is his own, click to embiggen. I was also unable to produce proof of current residence since I had just moved. And honestly I didn’t think of bringing proof of anything since I was just on a simple weekend getaway. These criteria are what Canadian border security can use to keep you out of the country if they think you’re running the border to find work in Canada.
Would I work in Canada? Sure, living in Vancouver would be fabulous, but that wasn’t my intention and I never mentioned anything of the sort to make him suspicious. Plus my host in Vancouver mentioned many times that government jobs in Canada are just as scarce as they are in the US these days. But apparently suspicion of shiftlessness is grounds for rejection at the border.
It was about 11pm when I watched the Bolt Bus roll away as the guard looked up my files. No alerts, no criminal records were found. Then they took me to be searched, although strangely not as thoroughly as I’ve been searched at airports in DC. The guard was kinda hot but I didn’t get frisked, which was unfortunate. I had mentioned I was going to do some birdwatching as well, but they still freaked when they found my binoculars. “Do you always carry binoculars?” “Yes, I’m a birdwatcher.” When he removed my binoculars from my luggage and found my Peterson Field Guide to Western Birds underneath he said, “Oh.”
I was then escorted on foot to the U.S. Customs office where I went through more processing, albeit more politely. After that was done I asked where the nearest hotel was, and my guard mentioned it was not far away. He also said that Bolt Bus honors returned tickets of those marooned in the area and that I could catch one the next morning.The motel was totally gross. “Do you have nonsmoking rooms?” No, he answered, and my room reeked. I hoped the tobacco stench and tar remnants on the wall and furniture would keep bedbugs away at least. There were holes in the wall and globs of hair in the tub. But I slept a bit and was up early the next day. I managed to catch a Greyhound that morning by slipping the driver some cash. I wasn’t in the mood to wait for the next Bolt Bus as I didn’t know when the next one would come through, and was happy to pay a little extra under the table to get the hell out of there.
I had a friend who was happy to host me in Seattle and recovered what was left of my trip. I went downtown and to Pike Place Market for a bit, then out to Diesel and Pony that evening with a friend from Portland for a few beers. I got on another Bolt Bus back to Portland the next day as I was tired from lack of sleep and wanted to be back to my “own” bed. I will wait to visit Canada another day when I have proof of employment and current address.
Should the Canadian government read this post and feel remorse for their lack of hospitality and beg my forgiveness, here are my demands: