Books Without Borders

Rainbow GateAt the Rainbow Gate, one of many border crossings between Canada and the US, the official who processed our car was unpleasant from the moment we drew up. Surly even, as though his day had begun with nails for breakfast or a wife who gave him shit for coming home drunk. He was tall, his head shaven, broad shoulders enhanced by a bullet-proof vest, eyes without courtesy.

He took our passports and Nexus cards without saying a word.

“Where’re you going?”

“Naples, Florida,” Ian said.


“Vacation. We have a vacation home down there.” Ian and I have a rule that only one of us talks, so I remained silent. My husband learned a long time ago that customs and immigration folks have no sense of humour.

The officer scrutinized our Nexus cards once more. “Roll down your back window.” He peered in. “Is everything in there coming back with you?”

“Most things,” Ian said.

Gotcha. The officer shifted into a more aggressive mode. “Whadya mean?”

I leaned over. “He means food and stuff like that. We have lunch in the car.”

“Open your trunk.”

Officer Nasty began poking into things, unzipping bags, pushing stuff around. I heard the sound of something tearing. “What’s in these boxes?”

“My wife writes novels. We’re taking some of her books with us.”


Sensing Ian’s building anger, I leaned over again. “We have friends down there who want copies.”

And that was the kiss of death. We waited and waited while Officer Nasty busied himself in a little booth not much bigger than a bathroom stall. He was on the phone for several minutes and then gave us a piece of paper and our passports. “Park over there against the fence and proceed to the administration building.”

“What for?” Ian asked.

“Just proceed to the building.”

“This is fucking ridiculous,” Ian muttered.

“What did you say?” Officer Nasty leaned towards Ian’s window.

“I said, have a nice day.”

Once inside the building we were directed to the second floor where grey plastic chairs bolted to the ground were set in four rows. FOX news was on the TV. One other couple was waiting. Five minutes passed, then ten. Suddenly wondering where our Nexus passes were, I checked my handbag, not once but twice.

“I’m going to the car to see if they’re in the front seat,” I said to Ian.

Down on the first floor again, I made my way to the door where another officer stood.

“Where are you going?”

“I’m going to my car to see if I left my Nexus pass there.”

“You can’t leave the building.”

What the fuck? No I did not say that out loud, instead I asked why not.

“You can’t leave the building,” he reiterated.

He’s bigger than me. He has a gun. Guess I’m not leaving the building. My temper surged. “I thought this was the land of the free and the brave,” I said. No response.

About an hour later, a woman called me over to the desk telling Ian in no uncertain terms to remain seated. She explained the problem. It appears that bringing books into the United States is forbidden. If I wanted to sell my books, I would have to have filled out all the necessary paperwork before attempting to cross the border. The fact that I am a self-published author who was bringing a mere 112 books with me meant nothing to those at Customs and Border Protection. She told me we had to return to Canada and dispose of the books before approaching the Rainbow Gate again.

“Can I put them in the garbage here?”


Books without borders? Definitely not as far as the US is concerned. Maybe they should rename the crossing Thunderstorm Gate?

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12 Responses

  1. So sorry you had such an unpleasant experience! I have crossed the Canadian Border by car several times in the last 40 yrs and we had a bad one once coming back to the USA, and let me tell you about crossing from Mexico UGH! I only became an American in 2004 and it makes a huge difference. Welcome home versus scrutinizing! But 112 books I think in any country would be crossing with merchandize, I have never traveled with more than 12 , usually 4 or 5. Ironically, you can probably ship them to yourself! I am just 2 hours from Naples in Delray Beach if you need any help or place to send them to! WOW… like a checkpoint Charlie!

      1. Across the Florida Peninsula over Alligator Alley. I am traveling to Mexico, but if you drive all this way, I am happy to prepare a full meal, not just coffee! we used to go to Naples every Sunday when my in-laws were alive. Now we rarely visit.

  2. Holy crap! What about NAFTA? This doesn’t make any sense. I understand them searching your car, but throwing away your books when you could have legally shipped them via UPS? That’s bizarre.

  3. After three bad experiences at USA borders, the last in 2006, I vowed never to go to the USA again. Putting an American in uniform is bad … very bad. I know they helped us out in Great Britain in WW1 and WW2 but at what cost? – the loss of the Great and Empire. From your experience it is hardly a surprise they are still making British Petroleum pay over the odds for the Gulf Pollution compared to Esso in Alaska and UC in Bhopal and are now crucifying Standard Chartered Bank. Double standards and interests prevail. At Canadian borders I recall extremes of a great man on entry in Vancouver welcoming us to Canada and showing interest in us a visitors only for this stock of goodwill to be lost by a real sour puss of an official on departure.

    Lots to be said for staying home and traveling in one’s writing.

    1. The Exxon Valdez ALSKA incident was in 1989 under George H.W. Bush who was in the pocket of BIG OIL. It is a disgrace they were not made to pay more, but it was oil from ONE carrier not a GUSHING underwater well. President OBAMA would have forced ANY BIG oil to pay just as much and if you look it up the Republicans called his behavior Un-American . I am sorry you have not been treated properly in USA Borders, because there are many nice ones. I know before I became an America and travelled under a Mexican passport many countries were not so readily welcoming when I backpacked around Europe. I lived in France and Sweden and travelled often by train, my Mexican passport often caused authorities to wake me up at night, perhaps to make sure I was “human”? I also know that the times I visited the UK with a Mexican Passport vs, American , I did get many more questions, luggage checked etc… It was not for ease of travelling that I became an American, I applied for citizenship when George W. Bush attacked Iraq, so I could have a voice AGAINST war. I love visiting Canada, and Vancouver is one of my fave cities, but with a Mexican passport, I remember how the Canadians scrutinized my brothers in the 1970s…. it happens.

  4. I sympathize. Even as an American citizen, I feel intimidated returning to face those goons at the border.

    On the other hand, many years ago, we were once held up an hour crossing into Canada because we couldn’t persuade the guards that our infant son belonged to us; at the time, there was some noise about kidnapping and child-trafficking. As a result, we missed our ferry from Tsawassen and had to hang out hours waiting for the next one, trying to calm a fussy baby. Not fun.

    1. Definitely not fun, Larry. I suspect border folks are similar everywhere in the world. Our daughter and son-in-law came up to Canada this summer with a fussy baby and were waved right through!!

  5. Once when we were crossing at Cornwall into New York the wonderful border guard told my ten year old daughter that he could have her father and I arrested if she wanted! She was crying her eyes out. Of course I couldn’t see his name or badge, but believe me if I could have he would have been reported!

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