Just me. (lara7) wrote,
Just me.

Welcome to America; mind the guns

There's a pair of axioms for personal safety:

1) Don't throw rocks at men with guns.
2) Don't stand next to the guy throwing rocks at men with guns.

In some cases, like the WTO demonstrations in Seattle, #2 is fairly easy to follow. Sometimes, though, accidents happen and a bystander is imperiled through no fault of his own. Keep this in mind as I tell this story.

So I went to Vancouver Friday night to Sunday afternoon for 3rd and final Santa. I was curious to see which border crossing would be more potential hassle: into Canada, where they might be worried that disgruntled Democrats would attempt to illegally immigrate and not leave after the weekend, or back into America, where we have the twin threats of "homeland security" and smuggled dope, cuban cigars, or Apple Maggot Quarantine products like fresh fruit.

Ivan, me, and Ivan's dog Sally travelled in my artcar. In the trunk was 2 Santa suits, a suitcase with mundane clothes/toiletries, Ivan's newspaper-wrapped birthday present (His birthday is/was Sunday. The present was a DVD, wrapped in a larger box with a heavy textbook also in the box to make it harder to guess what it was), Sally's dog food in a tupperware container, and 4 orange pairs of the suddenly popular shoe that are only sold in Canada that were being delivered to American Burners. We'd gotten a pal in Canada to take individual orders for the shoes (which we prepaid), with the idea they'd come back with American Santas in small batches to make sure customs wouldn't be upset.

Okay, so nothing illegal there. Weird, yes. Illegal, no. Driving an art car kinda breaks the ice when dealing with law enforcement, so while they -might- ask "why are you carrying 2 santa suits and 4 new pairs of funny-looking shoes", there's no "need-to-know" reason for them to ask. Generally they've already pegged me as a weirdo when I drive up, and they ignore other weird stuff in favor of what's important to them.

I drive up to the American border, present our passports. After answering the guard's few good-natured questions about the art car, he asks me to turn off the car, give him the keys, and pop the trunk so he can look. Again, since I have nothing illegal in the trunk, I'm not worried, and I figure the keys thing is to prevent people from fleeing in a panic or accidentally backing over the guard as he looks in your trunk. He places the keys on my roof above the back seat.

First problem is the dog food in the tupperware container, which also has some cooked white rice in it, as Sally had been sick recently and the rice made carb-lovin' Sal more likely to eat the dog food. Guard wants to know Did we purchase dog food in Canada? (no) What kind of dog food is this? (Iams) What variety- lamb? (chicken). I volunteer the info about the rice. He seems satisfied, then asks "what's in the box?".

I had thought this might be a problem if we were searched, and politely explain that today is Ivan's birthday (which his passport will easily confirm, though I don't point this out) and that I'd intended to give him the present last night in Vancouver at midnight, but we were too tired (also true) by that time, and that he can open in right now at the border if that would be better.

So this is where it gets weird and hectic. My guard is the 3rd or 4th station from the left, and my guard is Asian. I hear the voice of a white guard stationed next to my guard saying briskly "she can go". I'm not sure if they're talking about me or some other she, and I know I need to wait for my guard to give me the all clear anyway, plus he has my keys. Asian guard is still poking around in my trunk, and the white guard is behind me and off to the left at his station. I can't see/hear everything going on out my window, since I'm seated in the car, but when I look over my shoulder the white guard has drawn his gun on the car to our left, and the other guards are also drawing their guns and walking towards that car. White guard says "Get her OUT OF HERE" in an agitated manner, looking at me, the Asian guard, and the driver of the car that they're pointing guns at all in the same moment. Asian guard quickly closes my trunk, hands me the passports, and begins to go assist white guard. White guard yells at me "GO!" and I have to yell "But he still has my keys!!"

at this point I picture Asian guard rushing off to go with the other guards to arrest or subdue this other driver, leaving me to wonder should I sit and duck, or get out of the car to get my keys of the roof. Getting out of the car seems foolish, as it would make me a target if something evil is going on, but staying put when something is obviously wrong seems bad, too. Luckily, Asian guard hears me, throws me my keys, runs off with his gun drawn, and I manage to get the key in the ignition and get the hell out of there after what seems like an eternity of trying to hold the key steady in my shaking hand. As we drive away, I wait to hear the sound of gunshots, squealing tires, car crashes, or whatever is going to happen that the white guard wanted me cleared from, but nothing happens in the time it takes us to scram.

Ivan told me later that he could see the other driver, and they hadn't even gotten to the trunk pop part with him before the guns came out. The driver was dark complected, not of an ethnicity Ivan could discern (but not a white guy, either), so we had to wonder if his name came up on an "uh-oh" list when they looked at his passport or if he did something the guards interpreted (correctly or incorrectly) as a threat.

My guard never got a chance to ask about the santa suits or the orange shoes. Nonetheless, I wouldn't count on this happening often enough to make it a good plan for smuggling stuff in/out of Canada.

It did make me think, though; I bet the border guards have some interesting stories concerning Burning Man; "Yeah, this week we've seen a lot of pink haired people in RVs with boxes full of costumes; what's going on?" I wonder if by now the US border people have an official memo/procedure notice about Burning Man: "You will see lots of Canadians in rental trucks crossing this week. Even though they're bringing things like sofas and beds, don't worry, they aren't illegally immigrating and will go back home in about a week. Also, that white dust all over their gear is normal and should not be considered evidence of drug use."

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