At 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?