pergamond: ([Bleach] Ichigo // -.-)

The day I travelled down to Rochester dawned fresh and bright and full of the scents of spring. The sun shone, birds chirped and bunnies skipped through the fields, oblivious to the fact they would shortly be caught, covered in chocolate and stuffed into an egg for Easter. Yet, despite all these pleasantries, I was nervous.


Because we were about to cross the Canadian-USA border and there was a non-finite chance I might be detained and miss my flight back to Japan. In three weeks time. 

Since I had --upon consideration-- decided against renting a car on my slightly illegal Canadian driving license[*] and using it to cross an international border, I was hitching a ride with a friend. She and I used to play on the same hockey team in Canada and we were visiting another ex-team mate who was a Baptist minister and had recently relocated to a church over the border. Really, you couldn't do better than our trip for shiny, wholesome fun. 

Knowing the USA border as I did, I suspected we would be detained for decades.

My friend was Canadian and in possession of a 'Nexus card'; an ID program that allows pre-approved, low-risk travellers to skip the queues at the Canadian-USA border. However, on this trip her vehicle was harbouring a British citizen who was working in Japan, visiting Canada and carrying a new passport which contained suspiciously little evidence of her sordid part. Low-risk we were not. We would have to go through the long way. 

"Where are you from?"



And so the questions began. 

"What is the purpose for your trip?"

"We're visiting a friend," my friend explained. "He lives in Rochester."

"And what does he do?"

"He's a minister," my friend obediently expanded. "He's Canadian but working in the USA."

"And what sort of friend is he?"

OK, let's take a pause in our story to consider WHAT SORT OF QUESTION IS THAT? This guy has a car in front of him which contains two women of different nationalities, one from neither of the countries that this border straddles. The questions I was expecting concerned how I knew my chauffeur, how long I was going to be in North America and what I was doing here to begin with. His main concern seemed to be how did some religious dude get a job abroad and import an international harem of women for his guilty pleasures.

You believe I'm unfairly jumping the gun on the internal workings of this poor border guard? Let me continue….

"He's my boyfriend," my friend admitted after a slightly surprised pause.

The border guard leaned down and took another look at me. "What about her?"

WHAT ABOUT ME? The 'girlfriend' role is now taken. Did he expect me to admit I was the concubine? Sister wife? Imported bride? The girl they picked up on kijiji when advertising for a genuine 'Tarts and Vicars' weekend? I feel these should not have been the first 'go to' options here!

"She's …. a random friend," my friend volunteered.

…. well, I suppose 'random' beat 'imported concubine for an orgy'.

After that we were let through to collect the required visitor visa. I suspect the border guard went to fill in his application to theology college. 

[*] Technically, the license was in date, but showed my old Hamilton address, which meant lying about being a Canadian resident. It was also not possible to update said address without having a current national health card (OHIP). Go figure. 


pergamond: ([PoT] Ryoma // all or nothing)
"Try and take a seat over there."

For the first time in over a year, I was driving to the USA after more than three months since my last airflight in. This had the unfortunate side affect that I needed to stop and get a new green tourist I-94 visa waiver. My flight from Buffalo airport was at 1:10 pm and --knowing as I did the affection US border control has for human kind-- I had left just before 9 am for what would be a 90 minute drive if I was in an armoured Bat mobile with a disregard for international laws.

I arrived at the Niagara bridge around 10 am and shuffled my way for half an hour through the giant car tetris game to the border crossing. There, my passport was sent up a pipe leaving me to follow through the more traditional entrance of the office's main door. That was the point where I was told to try and take a seat.

... the operative word here was 'try'.

As far as I could see, everyone in Ontario required a US tourist visa right now and they'd each brought seven possibly-illegally-immigrated friends along for the ride. I stood for the first fifteen minutes before managing to squeeze into a seat beside a family with two children. The mother was exclaiming at the men in uniform while her ten year old son wanted to use up all her US change in the drink vending machine. She refused him. I obnoxiously decided to buy a soda, just so I could suffer slightly less than at least one other person.

Really, it was worth getting an iPhone just for situations like these. I worked my way through two games of 'plants versus zombies' and multiple chapters of my ebook before I was called to the counter. The border guard in charge of my passport was evidently a new recruit; he smiled at me and was fascinated by the computer system. A detailed conversation with a colleague ensued while he inquired why the system required both my sets of finger prints but no thumbs; apparently variations on this biometric theme are demanded depending on what the database finds when the passport is scanned.

Enchanting though this was, time was running out before my flight. I tried to keep smiling pleasantly and resisted the urge to tell him it was a magic 8 ball and just live with that.

Eventually, cash was handed over and my passport was stamped. The guard asked me the time of my flight (I had the impression that many he'd asked that day had replied with an hour in the past) and how many times I had visited my friend in Missouri before.

"Oh ... uh .... none."

I tried to make it sound damn casual in a manner that didn't suggest this was someone I had met on the internet. Fortunately, he seemed to consider this normal. Maybe the computer was just more interesting or perhaps no-one ever visited the mid-west more than once.

I took my passport, smiled at everybody, nodded to the guards on the way out... then I slammed on the gas. It was lucky that I'd checked in for my flight online. I was the last person to board the aircraft but then, I was totally worth the wait.

It occurred to me as we headed down the runway that this might be the last time I would face the US border for quite a while. Will you miss me, guys?
pergamond: ([Blackadder] You cannot be serious.)
While passing through the US border control can be infuriating, it goes without saying that the guards are there to protect us all from something much worse. It is quite understandable that the American government would want to monitor imports such as animals, food that might not conform to US safety regulations, drugs that could be sold on the black market, firearms, suitcases collected from strangers in Japan belonging to someone whom the carrier met on the internet[*], expensive items such as alcohol whose sale could damage the economy and, above all....

Kinder surprise eggs.

These small chocolate eggs that contain a toy are loved by children in both Europe and Canada (a snack, a surprise and a toy; 3 treats in 1!). However, I learnt tonight that the US border control guards are under orders to seize and destroy any kinder eggs that pass through their gates. Apparently, American children CHOKE on the toy and DIE INSTANTLY. ALL OF THEM.

There is really only one word that springs to mind at this news:


[*] If you don't know .... don't ask.
pergamond: ([Blackadder] You cannot be serious.)
"Nationality?" the humourless US border guard demanded, staring at the cover of my British passport.

".... British."

"Purpose for your visit to the United States?"

"I'm visiting a friend in Chicago."

"What is in Chicago?"

".... my friend."

Ever noticed how my conversations at the US border are highly circular? The guard flicked through my passport, pausing as usual at the two expired US visas.

"You were a student here or something?"

"Yeah, a few years ago."

This was true, but in fact both the visas in my current passport were for research jobs after I'd graduated. I contemplated whether this was going to matter but apparently it went unnoticed.

"I have a recent stamp," I pointed out. "On the back page from April."

The guard continued to look at the centre of my passport. "These are old," he declared.

"Yes, my visas have long expired."

Through the tinted glass, I saw him put my passport in a tube to send it across to the main office.

"Hey, excuse me! I have a recent stamp! I don't need to stop."

I was ignored.

"Excuse me!!"

It was 8 am and my flight was at 10. Technically, I had time to stop if I was forced to go in and get a new visitor visa and passport stamp. The problem was that a delay could cause me to run smack into rush-hour traffic in Buffalo. I also wouldn't put it past the border office to take more than an hour to write out the necessary small green slip.

It is rare to meet a border guard with any care for humanity. This guy was no exception and, should I sound too irritable, I was quite confident would pipe my passport away out of perversity, setting it alight as it flew down the tube.

The guard paused. "It's from April," he said curtly, still holding the dispatch tube like a pipe bomb. "It's expired."

"No, I got it in April," I protested quickly. "It's good to July. Would you let me show you?"

Admire my politeness in the face of obnoxious sadistic border guards. There was more superfluous flicking through the passport. Then a long pause.

Cake or death?

The passport was handed back to me. "I found it," he said expressionlessly.

"Thank you." I flashed him a charming smile. He returned it with a look that made me confident he was the precursor model for the Terminator.  I accelerated hurriedly and scooted off over the bridge.

pergamond: ([Random] kitten // rar)
My car was full of chocolate aero bars. I'd stuffed three in the glove compartment, two in the cup holders and now I was trying to find homes for another five. Clearly, some rearranging was required.

I was parked at the duty free store by the US-Canada land border near Niagara. While this leg of the journey should have taken only an hour, I had left home at 9:30 am and it was now 2 pm. The heavy snow the night before had taken not only me by surprise, but caused a tractor trailer to jack-knife on the highway, blocking all three lanes and resulting in near-stationary traffic for hours. This had led to repeated texts to [personal profile] rosaioko, who I was meeting, providing ever longer estimated arrival times.

I supposed I should count myself lucky. As I had sat there flicking through the radio stations and failing to find any traffic news, a car carrier truck had drawn up beside me loaded with three mashed-up vehicles. I suppressed the temptation that had been growing within me to start ramming the car in front.

Despite the fact I was anticipating spending at least another hour at the border office getting a tourist visa, I had pulled into the duty free to use the bathroom. Feeling that someone should benefit from this chaos, I had bought [personal profile] thislife_is_beautiful more of her favourite chocolate while in the store because you can never have too many aero bars... except when they don't fit in your glove compartment. But then, it was better than the other (rather tempting but probably regrettable) option of accepting the free samples of ice wine.

For reasons designed to vex me, the US air and land ports have different policies regarding entry visas. The airports have moved over to the electronic ESTA applications and consider these so shiny and superior that they confiscate the old green paper visas on sight. The land border, by contrast, has rejected this crazy modern technology and wants you to have the green slip in your passport. The upshot of this is that I am either sulking in the land border office waiting to be called to the counter or watching sadly as the airport guy destroys my paper visa like a mother weaning a child off a pacifier.

Before pulling onto the bridge, I called [personal profile] rosaioko and told her I should be in Buffalo in about two hours, depending on the queues and business of the border office. I hoped for once that I wouldn't have send the follow up text telling her to double that estimate. Then I stuffed the chocolate into my bag and slid onto the road.

"Reason for coming to the USA?" The border control guard took my passport and flicked through its pages.

"I'm meeting a friend."

"How to you know them?"

I'd long ago learned to outright lie to this question. I had met [personal profile] rosaioko through internet fan group for Japanese anime. If that didn't sound like something for which I should be detained and questioned for 6 weeks, I don't know what does.

"College," I said, my face bland. I watched the guard examine my collection of visas and took a long shot. "I've entered the US recently," I explained. "Less than a month ago through Atlanta airport. There's a stamp in the back."

A visitor visa to the USA lasts three months before you have to renew it. Every other time I had passed through though, the lack of the green paper slip has meant that I have to get a new pass done. Still, I'd never explicitly tried pointing out that this should be unnecessary.

The guard examined the stamp. "Okay, carry on."

....Seriously? I was so surprised, I nearly forgot to put my car back in gear. It was a good job I'd stopped to use the bathroom at the duty free. I drove slowly through the gates, reaching for my phone to text:

"25 minutes."
pergamond: ([Bleach] Ichigo // -.-)
My flight from London had touched down in Detroit at 11:45am EST. It was now past 2pm and I had spent the last two hours of this fresh new year standing in the line before American border control.

For me, the standard question of "Why do you want to visit the United States of America?" had the simple -- if slightly obnoxious -- answer of "I don't." My intention was to take a connecting flight to Buffalo, collect my car and scoot over the border back to Canada. Because of this audacious plan, I had struggled with my customs form which demanded to know the full street address of where you would be staying while in the USA. After a moments consideration, I had scrawled 'Canada' in that box with the idea that this was either an issue they dealt with frequently, or they just wouldn't notice that Canada wasn't part of America. Of course, this did require me making my connecting flight. The 3.5 hour layover was starting to look woefully inadequate.

As I looked down the snake-like line of people waiting with me, I realized I was probably sharing these dilemmas with a sizable fraction of the room. American security demands that incoming international flights go through US customs, even if you are simply connecting through the airport to leave the country directly again.

I idled away the time imagining all the irritating answers I'd like to give to the humorless border control guards if I had less sense and a taste for prison food, and watched while a couple of students were carted away for forgetting their I-20 work permits.

Finally, after another 20 minutes of waiting, I was third from the front of the queue. Another student was taken away, probably to be sent to the modern equivalent of hard labour in Detroit's failing automobile industry. Second in line...

Due to a nation-wide error, we are have a problem with our computers and cannot process passengers at this time.

I raised my head slowly to look up at the intercom that just broadcast this announcement. It appeared the USA border control and I would be starting 2011 as we undoubtedly intended to continue.

Air border

Aug. 22nd, 2010 11:20 am
pergamond: ([Bleach] Ichigo // -_-)
US border guard: What is the purpose of your trip to the USA?

Me: I'm attending a conference in astrophysics.

US border guard: How long is this conference?

Me: Three weeks.

US border guard: .... that is too long.

Me: ..... you're telling me -.-
pergamond: ([Bleach] Ichigo // -_-)
almost half way -.-

"Each frozen grape only produces one drop of ice wine."

I looked up from the bottles I had been considering to see a smiling sales assistant. She indicated a TV screen in the corner of the store which was showing the ice wine making process. Apparently, the grape must freeze naturally after it has ripened, which makes the timing rather precarious.

"Only here in Niagara and Germany can make ice wine," the assistant continued.

Wikipedia, incidentally, disagrees with this. It notes that those two are the largest producers, but also throws in Austria before mentioning other countries make some ice wine but cheat by refrigerating the grapes. Evidently, my companion had a dim view of such methods, possibly coupled with an irrational dislike for 'The Sound of Music.'

"Have you ever tried ice wine? Let me give you a sample."

I looked back at the bottles and then glanced outside. I was at the duty-free shop at the Canadian/USA boarder on Saturday morning. The land border at Niagara. The one you had to drive through. The one EVERYONE passing through that duty-free had to drive through.

"Well, um... I'm driving?"

The woman followed my gaze. On the road running outside the store was a stationary line of traffic heading over the bridge to border control. To even get as far as the shop had been a painstakingly slow journey. When I had ground to a halt behind a large black SUV, I could not even make out the start of the bridge. Quite where everyone was going was somewhat of a mystery. It was almost lunchtime on a Saturday, so the only place that you really had time to travel to for the weekend was up-state New York (where I was visiting [ profile] britkit27 \o/). I guessed they were all taking off for several weeks summer vacation. I ground my teeth. Slackers.

The sales assistant turned from the unmoving line of cars to me, "You know, dear, I don't think it will be a problem."

I wondered whether it was possible to get free samples in tankards.

"You are going to the USA?" she confirmed as I was handed a paper thimble full of liquid. "We don't sell these bottles to go anywhere else and you can't buy them at the duty-free coming into Canada."

I raised an eyebrow. At this stage, I don't think I had a choice but to cross the border, or at least attempt to, but it made you wonder about the contents of the wines. Was this part of the grand invasion plan? First we poison you with ice wine, then we march on your ice rink? I swallowed the my sample. Invasion had never tasted so sweet.

Back on the road, I eased my car across the bridge. The speed limit on this stretch was 15 km/h and electronic speed detectors were set up to warn drivers if they were going too fast. As I passed one, it flashed up a '4'. My SatNav system randomly rotated the map by 180 degrees. It seemed to be subtly hinting that diving off the bridge might be quicker. Even with the associated jail time.

"When were you last in the USA?"

I had finally inched up to a booth and the occupant guard was idly flicking through my passport, hunting for the ID page.

"It's at the back," I volunteered. "And a couple of weeks ago."

"You didn't keep your green visa slip?" he grinned, quite unnecessarily in my opinion. "You'll have to stop. Hope you brought a good book!"

I sighed and speculated that maybe the border guards were only in a good mood when they could be assured that you were about to have a worse day then them.

The journey back, however, was its usual plain sailing.

"Are you bringing anything back from the USA?"

"Cat litter. Nope."

They're getting their own tag.


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