Disorder At The Border

A journal entry typed way, way up in the sky:

As I type this I’m in an Airbus jet somewhere over the Midwest, a mode
of transportation distinguished only by its speed. The constant noise
annoys me, and I do wish that one could see more than small oval
glimpses of the landscapes and cloudscapes we pass.

Three flights took me to Halifax from Tucson starting Monday night:
the first, a short one, to Phoenix, the second to Philadelphia, and
the third over the Atlantic to Nova Scotia.

Due to an unfortunate encounter with Canadian officialdom I’m now
reversing those flights. The Canadians refused to allow me to enter
Canada for more than one day, and they kept my passport in order to
ensure my compliance. I think they expected me to linger around the
airport and perhaps rent a motel room, but Bev and I drove north to
her place at Round Hill instead. We didn’t get much sleep, as at
about one-thirty in the morning we had to drive back to Halifax for my
expulsion at five in the morning.

The several hours of driving were worthwhile for both Bev and I,
though. I got to see what the Round Hill house and grounds look like
after all of Bev’s work this year and we were able to spend spome
bittersweet hours together away from the soulless ambience of the
Halifax airport.

When I get back to Tucson I’ll take a motel room for the night and
morning. This will enable me to e-mail my Bisbee friends, in
particular Liz, from whom I hope to re-rent the apartment I’ve been
living in for the past month. Somehow I have to shepherd my baggage
and myself back down to Bisbee. What a farce, escorting bundles of
clothes and cased musical instruments across a continent and back in
the course of two days!

I knew things were going wrong when the Halifax border official’s ears perked up when I mentioned that I was intending to play music with friends in Nova Scotia. The official was a woman, and I had heard the the female officials are more stringent than the males, but of course I wasn’t offered a choice of sexes! The official said:

“Hmm… a musician, eh? [she flipped through my passport] So you were here for a lengthy stay last summer, it seems. I think you will have go to the Immigration desk; it’s just down the hall.”

My heart sank as I trundled my baggage down the hall. Other Americans were gaily walking right by the Immigration desk, but I had been singled out. I waited for the one Immigration official to finish processing a mixed-race couple with backpacks. The official was a man, and my native optimism kindled a spark of hope. The backpacking couple moved on, and the official beckoned to me. I handed him my papers and passport and he scrutinized them.

“Hmmm… a musician. What do you play?”

“Irish dance music on the fiddle.”

“Oh, fiddlers are always trying to get in! Playing in pubs, making money… really, you are wanting to work in Canada, right?”

“I don’t play for money, even in pubs. This isn’t pro-level playing, I’m not playing gigs, it’s just music with friends!”

“They all say that. Playing for tips, no taxes involved… quite a sweet deal for you!”

“I’ve never made a penny playing music in Canada!”

“Maybe, maybe not. What you need is a work visa.”

“But this isn’t work! It’s playing with friends in kitchen jams, things like that.”

“I’ll do you a favor; I’ll start processing a work visa for you, and we can get this formality behind us.”

“But I don’t want a work visa!”

The official, who wore a holstered pistol, peered at his computer screen. He said, with evident satisfaction,

“Well, what have we here? Why don’t you tell me about your criminal record?”

It was rather odd that he asked me that, as obviously he was looking at every trace my life had left on the legal system, right here in black and white on the screen.

“Well, I had a misdemeanor disturbing the peace conviction in Hannibal, Missouri a few years ago. My dog had gotten loose more than once.”

“Well, that one doesn’t show up here — must have been expunged at some point. I don’t care about trivial city-level offenses, though. What interests me is this Iowa thing.”

Oh, the curse of my life, which follows me around like an especially insistent stray dog!

“Okay, I did have a DUI conviction in 2011, but I managed to satisfy every legal obligation.”

“Yeah, I see… big fines, some jail time, all that stuff. Y’know, here in Canada we take a dim view of drunken driving. It’s a felony here, and so in our eyes you are a felon and we don’t want you entering our borders. We’re big drinkers up here and we have to be rather picky about drunk drivers.”

He went on:

“Now, Larry, I can tell that you are basically an okay guy, and you’ve been leveling with me pretty well. If I didn’t like you I could have you held in a cell overnight before we put you on a plane back to the USA. We have arrangement with the airlines. It they fly an undesirable into Canada they’ll pay for the fares to get them back to where they came from. Now, I’m going to give you a break. I know that your “friend” Bev is waiting for you. She’s already talked to some of our people. I’m going to hold your passport, and you can stay in Canada, preferably right here in the airport, but at five tomorrow morning you have to be here. I’ll be off duty, but two other immigration officers will escort you to the airline desk and see that you get your passport back, and that you are put on a plane back to your own country. Now if for some reason you choose not to show up, you will be a fugitive… and we have special operatives who will track you down and bring you back. They’re tough guys and you don’t want to mess with ’em.”

This was getting weird. Had I wandered into a spy novel? Such melodrama, and I could tell that the officer was enjoying this bullshit presentation.

Well, Bev and I decided to drive back up to her Round Hill place. We could spend a few hours together before driving back to Halifax early the next morning. She wanted to show me the progress on her house and grounds, and we both badly need some time together before I had to retrace my aerial steps, all the way back to Bisbee.

At five AM two uniformed and armed Canadian immigration officers showed up at the airport. I had to sign a paper stating that my passport had been given back to me, and the airline gave me free boarding passes all the way back to Tucson. I bade Bev goodbye and waited for the next flight to Philadelphia. Another day of flying, ameliorated only by talking with other passengers. This time I had a good story for them!