Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Going to Borders

I used to live pretty close to the Canadian border. In fact, we used to affectionately refer to Potsdam, New York, as suburban Montreal. I did a fair amount of crossing back and forth between the US and Canada for a number of reasons:

a) In those days, the exchange rate was pretty favorable, which meant that b) donuts were cheaper in Cornwall, Ontario than in Massena, New York. Also, c) There was a roadside stand that sold terrific perch rolls made from St. Lawrence River perch, which gave me 100% percent of my Recommended Daily Allowance of mercury. Or perhaps that was 1000%.

I also crossed the border to get to the airport, since there were more flights from Ottawa to Washington (where my girlfriend was living) than there were from Massena to Washington. And because flying from Massena involved traveling in something resembling an oversized paper towel roll with wings. It was always interesting flying back into the United States, having only gone to Canada to get to the airport, and invariably resulted in a conversation with the US Customs officer like this:

Customs officer (seeing my US passport): And how long were you in Canada?

Me: About an hour and a half.

Customs officer:
I beg your pardon?

Me: An hour and a half. I just went to Canada to go to the airport to fly back to the states.

Customs officer:
Anything to declare?

I have this box of donuts.

Customs officer:
Okay, if I could have you step into this other line here...

Things just weren't the same when the INS started stationing people in Ottawa -- they actually understood what the heck I was talking about. At least about the donuts, anyway.

But the climate on the border was just different in general than it is today. The port of entry in Cape Vincent, New York was there mainly to meet people getting off the ferry from Wolfe Island, Ontario. There was a sign on the door suggesting arrivals ring the door bell if no customs agent was apparent. Entering Canada at Havelock, Quebec involved going through a customs booth that was open from 6 am to 10 pm, but with no gate to keep anyone from going in or out at other hours.

All this comes to mind as I read today's story about a Canadian who apparently crossed into the US (at Calais, Maine), having just murdered a neighbor -- carrying a homemade sword, a hatchet, a knife, brass knuckles... and, of course, a chain saw stained with blood.

Things were, in fact, a little tighter at the border -- they did detain the man for questioning before letting him into the US. But somehow, it's still a little disquieting that the guy made it to Massachusetts before being arrested.

On the other hand, Bill Anthony, a spokesman for US Customs and Border Protection noted that the man hadn't obviously broken any laws before crossing the border: "Being bizarre is not a reason to keep somebody out of this country." And thinking back on returning from those late night donut trips back to Cornwall, Ontario, that's a good thing.


Carol Davidson said...

This guy was smart. He knew not to carry a Koran with him.

Mitch Teich said...

Thank goodness there's a Dave Barry quote for every occasion:

One effective technique for avoiding boring conversations on airplanes is to pull an extremely sharp ax out of your briefcase and spend the entire flight fondling it and muttering. Of course, to get the ax on the airplane, you'll have to convince the airport security people that you're not a hijacker:

Security person: Excuse me, sir, but there's an extremely sharp ax in your briefcase.

You: Yes, I need it for my business. I'm an ax murderer.

Security person: Oh, okay. Sorry to inconvenience you, but we have to be on the lookout for hijackers. It's for your own protection.

You: Of course. Keep up the good work.

Of course, I note this at the risk of making my own writing look a little, um, derivative.

Anonymous said...

My friend in Customs & Border Protection says that DHS got a bum rap. The press, as usual, got it all wrong. It was a "mini-chainsaw" and there was no blood on it. And he told the authorities he was an assassin working for NSA (not NASA as was reported). You reporters really ought to shape up.

Mitch Teich said...

Actually, it's funny -- I think I just read that Burger King restaurants (Roi d'Hamburger in Quebec) are now including "mini chainsaws" as the prize in their kid's meal offerings.

Carol Davidson said...

I just teach my four year old that the french fries are mini-chainsaws and the ketchup is... well, you get the picture.