Crossing the real and illusory borders of my life

'You’re going to enter into the country and turn around and head right back. Correct?'

Alistair Taylor

Before we leave the interruption by the Scottish referendum and return to regularly-scheduled programming, I have to pass on a chuckle I got from Facebook maven George Takei.

It said, “Overheard: ‘Well, if Scotland had voted for independence from the U.K., what would have kept Canada from breaking away from the U.S.?’”


Anyway, I would have written about my recent troubles with the U.S. border patrol last week but caught up in the struggle for freedom in the land of my parents (and mine for four years as a child).

So, let us return to the U.S.-Canada border. You may remember, I tend to have curious encounters at the border.

Once I thought I was being subjected to crafty interrogation techniques when a CBP (Customs and Border Protection) officer asked me how long I’d lived in the U.S.? Confused, I stammered, “I’ve, I’ve  never lived in the U.S.”

He said, “What?” and then looked at my passport again and saw that it said UGA not USA for my place of birth. UGA is short for Uganda, where I was born. If my parents hadn’t fled Scotland in a valiant attempt to free themselves from the tyranny strangling their homeland…Okay, okay, they were taking up work and adventure in a world still much under the rule and privilege of the British Empire. Consequently, I was born in Africa and not Airdrie, my parents’ hometown.

Which leads us back to the Port Angeles port of entry into the U.S. The CBP officer laughed at his mistake and gave me back my passport.

Another time, I was crossing the border into Montana in an isolated outpost at Carway, Montana when a good natured CBP officer jokingly asked me if I really expected him to believe I didn’t have a criminal record when I worked as a newspaper editor?

Then, two weeks ago, we crossed into the U.S. at Port Angeles, Washington once again. This time we were taking my son to university in Idaho. We expected his student visa to be scrutinized and processed thoroughly but nothing happened. I even went back into the CBP office to say is this okay to go? The officer looked at the form and said, “Yeah” with a shrug and sent us on our way.

Well, sure enough, my son checks into the international students’ office and is told that there is no record of his entry into the U.S. Guess what that means – a quick dash to a border crossing to have his visa processed properly. Oh, and the nearest one was six hours north at Coutts, Montana. So, what was to be our last day with my son was spent dashing to the border to get his visa processed.

I pulled into the Canadian customs – because we have to leave the U.S. and re-enter – and the Canadian customs officer says to me, deadpan, “You’re going to enter into the country and turn around and head right back. Correct?”

Yep. We pulled away from the booth, took the lane marked “Return to the U.S.” and crossed back into America.

Thankfully, the U.S. CBP officer to whom I explained the problem processed the visa properly, explained what all needed to be done during each crossing and sent us back to the university.

Six more hours away.