Monday, February 21, 2005

the ever-constant unpredictability of border guards

Adventures in crossing the Niagara River...

Headed down to Buffalo on Saturday for my usual border run. It was an uneventful drive until I pulled out my wallet at a red light just before the Rainbow Bridge. Birth certificate - check. Driver's license...hello, driver's license?

It dawned on me that I'd driven around for three weeks without my license, ever since I put it in my other wallet for Raquel's birthday (didn't want to bring along the full beast that night). Cue a couple of minutes of self-directed anger. I drove around downtown Niagara Falls, dithering over heading back to TO or taking a chance with the soulless Niagara River border guards.

What did I have to lose? I put the birth certificate back in my wallet and headed onto the bridge. Pulled up to the inspection booth, pulled out my birth certificate and half-feigned a panic attack. I got lucky, as the guard suggested every possible card I could own that might have photo ID on it, down to Costco memberships. No luck. She let me go, with a gentle reminder about future plans by Homeland Security.

I immediately ran to Old Country Buffet to relax my nerves.

It was a typical shopping day for me in Buffalo/Niag. The only unusual move I made was to finally explore the infamous Love Canal site. All that remained were empty snow-covered streets that reminded me of the Brighton Beach section of Windsor (populated until the city bought residents out to push industrial expansion that hasn't occurred yet. However, it may now make the ideal location for a new border crossing). I wished I'd brought a camera along.

On the way back, I was pulled over by Canadian Customs to pay duty for the first time in years. Rule of thumb for avoiding duty - don't pick a booth manned by fresh-faced youngsters. I took my bills inside the customs station. An official looked over them, puzzled by why I'd gone to so many grocery stores. They also seemed overly curious about the type of books I was bringing back (for the record: The Friendly Shakespeare, The Rough Guide to Montreal, a Route 66 guide and a retrospective on Peanuts). After several more minutes of scrutiny, I was free to go without having to pay anything.

Border guards - an unpredictable breed. - JB

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