Brad Davis in "Midnight Express"“Do you have a criminal record?”

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.

Bubblegum Wall

At the Bubblegum Wall near Pike Place Market in Seattle.

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:

  • A personal escort across the border by Ryan Reynolds, dressed as a Canadian Mountie.
  • A life-size replica of a Stargate.
  • A Battlestar Galactica Colonial Viper Pilot jacket, autographed (on the inside) by Jamie Bamber.


  1. Drew says:

    Border crossings into Canada in Ontario are no where near this difficult. They’re always pretty nice, congenial and pleasant. I’ve had several individuals not even look at my passport if the line behind my car was too long. Interesting in the differences from coast to coast.

    I’m in Vancouver now and it’s beautiful. I’ll drink a beer for you at Pumpjack.

  2. Mari says:

    Oh Jim. I feel for you. A reeking smoking room is the worst. Were you able to open a window at least?

  3. J.P. says:

    That kind of sucks but I’m curious, was this a really busy crossing? On this side of the U.S. it’s hit or miss with the customs officials these days, but sometimes the U.S. likes to inspect people LEAVING the country at the busier crossings. I don’t know when Canada became so high and mighty with allowing people into their country but I have heard other similar stories in a recent times. Sorry you had trouble.

  4. mark says:

    yea, it’s not uncommon. and your demands are reasonable.

  5. Dwight says:

    Canada doesn’t allow Goa’uld infected humans into their country unless they come by Stargate.

  6. Erik Rubright says:

    And this is why I cross borders illegally. 😉

  7. Blobby says:

    It’s just as well you didn’t end up getting together with Corey. The weekend didn’t go his way.

  8. jimbo says:


  9. kalalaumangob says:

    crimes against humanity — that is what i’ve seen in several gay people over the years. just encountered that with pacific pride foundation in SB. your story is funny, but when i think of all of the gay people in my life who’ve had a free ride from projects while offering regurgitated garbage of fraud. shame. oh well. it’s amazing to know a lot of wonderful people in my life but to see the hate crimes and trafficking for what?? to pay the rent. when more is possible. cute.

  10. brettcajun says:

    You feel like a brother to me, so it pains me to ask — Have you reached bottom yet? Portland doesn’t seem to be working out. You need to take ownership of Jimbo and move out of that godforsaken place! Being homeless and not working for almost a year is NOT cool. What is wrong with you?! Do I need to come up there and bust you out?

  11. TED says:

    Is all this because you’re mad that you were born to late to be a draft dodger?

  12. TED says:

    I meant “too late,” obviously. I blame Nixon.

  13. » Blog Archive » Oahu, Hawaii says:

    […] as I may not be in Portland for long, so decided it was a good time to go. And after the whole Canada debacle, goddammit I deserved a real vacation. It was lovely:That’s Halona Cove, also known as […]