Border Crossing

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“Wrong Turns Write Life”

Border stories are what all visiting families usually talk about upon arrival. Ours was unusual because we had taken two cars for our family to fit our kids’ friends, everyone’s belongings, food for a week, and the dog.

You need a passport or other paperwork proving citizenship to cross the U.S. and Canadian border. The border agents are usually strait-laced with little tolerance for even the slightest irritant. If you want to kill an hour or more because you tried to be cute, you can join the long line of cars learning a lesson off to the side.

I prepped the teenage girls in my car for the Q&A session about to happen with Mr. Happy—the border agent peering in our windows. I explained he’d ask, “Citizenship?” to which my daughter’s friend in the back asked, “How do I answer?”

Oh boy! My hands clenched the wheel a little tighter.

“Citizenship?” barked a deep voice in my left ear.

I actually paused to think about it. I saw the man’s impatience, so I spit it out. Then came the question about relationships, to which I had to explain why I was taking an unrelated minor across the border. After handing our passports, the dog’s paperwork, and the forms showing I had permission to bring my daughter’s friend, I did the unthinkable – and got a little chatty with Mr. Happy.

He had asked whom I was traveling with, and I explained that my wife and other kids were two cars back. I realized he was only speaking about our car, so this opened a new series of questions. As he stacked our passports to hand back with the other paperwork, I asked if I could pull a little forward to wait.

“No, but there’s a McDonald’s around the corner,” He deadpanned.

Entering Canada, we had to turn off our cell phones to avoid international charges at the time. I parked at McDonald’s and paused to put passports back in their holders before flagging down my wife’s vehicle. That’s when extreme panic ripped through me.

My daughter’s passport was not there!


I turned on my phone and called my wife – son – my son’s friend. Nobody answered.

I jumped from the vehicle and headed back to the border on foot. I wondered how much attention I’d draw by running up to the booth I was processed through. My mind didn’t care. I needed to get that passport back. The shortest distance from point A to point B was a straight line. The quickest solution was to get what I needed where I knew it was left. I had a one-track mind.

Then I saw my wife coming down the four-lane road. I jumped out like a raving lunatic to flag her down.

She finally calmed me down by waving my daughter’s passport in my face. Here, my phone calls were heard, but the border guy told my wife not to answer.

He said, “That’s your husband calling for this.”

And he handed over my daughter’s passport.

Later, deep in Ontario, phones were all off. I needed gas, so I signaled to the other car, old-school style. We pulled into a very busy gas station. My daughter’s friend asked if it would be okay to get a candy bar quickly.

“Sure,” I said.

The card reader wasn’t working, so I went inside to pay. I remember thinking it was odd that I did not cross paths with my daughter and her friend. I returned, and two cars were jammed bumper-to-bumper on an angle to get my pump. I tested their patience and found my wife’s car to see if the girls were there.

They weren’t.

We pulled into a larger parking lot where a strip mall spread across the far side. I went into store after store, searching. Finally, I entered the grocery. I looked through another set of doors and saw the two 15-year-olds in line, arms full of crap. With a head of steam (and relief they weren’t abducted), I burst through the exit door when someone left – otherwise, I’d have to sprint across the store and might miss them had I gone through the intended entrance.

I had a loud voice, and my anxiety had peaked.

Not only did I get their attention, but every judging eye in the place was fixated on my seething face. The girls left their armloads of junk where they stood, and together, we made a march of humiliation to the car.

I was never happier.

The last border story was crossing into Canada from the U.S. by ferry. We hopped in our car once they rolled it off the ferry and headed for the customs checkpoint. Anyway, I was in an honest mood, so when the customs officer asked if there was any pepper spray in the vehicle, I said yes. Now, I did pause to consider how to answer. I quickly wondered if they already knew because we were separated from our vehicle on the ferry where it was parked below and out of sight. When I said yes and had my wife hand me the tiny bottle from the glove compartment, my 17-year-old daughter said, “I have Mace in my purse. Is that illegal?”

So, I was escorted to a little building to find out.

I could tell that these two men were not in a good mood, and I was trigger enough for them to blow off some steam.

Inside, it was explained to me in a harsh tone and threatening words that if I did not voluntarily give them the spray, I would have been in serious doo-doo if they had found it on their own. According to the irritable agents, pepper spray is considered a weapon, and if they had found it, the situation would have been treated the same as if I were trying to smuggle in any other type of weapon. I just nodded at their raised voices and threats of jail. I sensed the theater-level drama was not going to escalate beyond idle threats, so I calmly filled out some paperwork and left the spray bottles with them. When I rejoined the rest of the family, it was quite a reunion. I was anxious to get to the beach house, especially since we were now smuggling pepper spray my wife had discovered while I was inside being interrogated.

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun! 

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