Saturday, September 18, 2010

Through the weasel door

I've mostly been staying at a friend's place in North Vancouver, we've spent a weekend on Gambier Island and I've spent almost a week in Seattle. Right now I am in D'arcy again.

I went to Seattle to visit an old boyfriend, Dave, now "just friends". He works on contract at Microsoft, and is more or less constantly working on one of his three vehicles: an older Toyota truck, a vintage Mercedes that he is restoring and a vintage Scorpion sports car. Since the last time I saw him he has sold the vintage Rover he had and the Toyota truck has died. It is still parked on the street in front of his house though. A few days before I arrived at his place, the Scorpion was sideswiped by an unknown vehicle while parked on the street, leaving a seriously crumpled fender. Needless to say this did not put him in a very good mood.

I was pulled over at the border and my truck searched, I was asked a lot of personal questions about where I was going, what I was doing, my current circumstances and my life history. Including the exact nature of my relationship with my friend in Seattle. I guess they didn't believe the "just friends" bit. The fellow in the booth at the border seemed quite unfriendly about the whole thing, the other fellow who did all the questioning and searching was less unfriendly and in retrospect I kind of think he was trying to figure out why his coworker had pulled me over, hence all the detailed questions. Or, as Dave suggested later, my long grey hair gave me a certain subversive look and they were just sure I was up to no good.

In any case it left me with a very bad feeling being in the States. It made me feel like a Very Unwelcome Foreigner, and I spent most of the rest of the week restraining myself from looking over my shoulder. Dave and I used to joke about our respective countries, but it didn't seem funny anymore. Dave used to call the border crossing "the weasel door", the hole that weasels slip into America through. Weasels being all those non-Americans who don't support the War in Iraq but who nevertheless want to take advantage of all the goodies available in America. It was a joke, he was being ironic, but now it feels true.

I don't think I will be going back any time soon. I suppose all this heightened security is necessary, but making one feel like a potential criminal just for crossing the border at a legitimate crossing point, seems to me a bit of overkill. I discussed this later with my North Vancouver friend and she said she has had the same experience and feels the same way about it. She is Dutch; for some reason American border guards suspect that she is trying to settle illegally in the States every time she crosses the border and shows her Dutch passport.

Dave and I spent the weekend working on our respective vehicles. He wanted to fix the crumpled fender on his Scorpion and there's a bit of rust on my truck that I was hoping to deal with under his supervision and with his tools. I expected the whole process to last maybe a day or two, depending on the weather. However, as these things do, it got complicated. I was into Quick and Dirty, Dave was not. If I was going to take instruction from him then I had to do it right, and he was not going to let me proceed to the next step until he was satisfied that I was working to his standards.

I assumed that I would be able to buy the correct colour of spray paint in Seattle, but that turned out not to be possible. On Friday we thought we would have to order the paint and then I would do all the work over the weekend to prepare the truck for painting on Monday when the paint would arrive. However on Monday we found out that this colour has been discontinued and cannot be ordered anywhere.

As it happened Dave had some of the colour I required in his shop, but it had to be mixed up and put into special equipment for spraying under pressure. I would not be able to do it as I did not have the experience or expertise to handle the equipment. So Dave had to take time off work to mix the paint and apply it to the truck on Tuesday. I felt bad about making him take time off work and do the paint job himself, this had not been part of our original agreement. The best I could do was take him out for dinner Tuesday night, before returning to Canada on Wednesday.

I was glad to be back safe in my own country on Wednesday, but it took a few hours after crossing the border before the feeling of being an Unwelcome Foreigner wore off. I had been debating whether I would return east via the USA or Canada, but my trip to Seattle pretty much decided that issue. I'll happily pay the higher price for gas in Canada to feel like an OK person.

The very next day I called Canadian Tire to see if they had the paint colour I was looking for; the fellow I spoke to on the phone said he couldn't find that particular colour code, however he had a couple of colours that might be close and I should come and take a look. I did, and one of them was pretty darn close, maybe even perfect. I bought one can to try on the truck to see how good a match it is. The job Dave and I did on the truck will probably last quite a while, maybe even the remaining lifetime of the truck. But it will be nice to know I can get touch-up paint fairly easily just in case.

And this weasel is happy to stay away from the weasel door for a good long while.


Barbara Anne said...

Good to hear from you, Anne! I applaud your new skills as body shop and paint expert!! Dave is right, rust has to be removed or it will eat the metal right from under the paint.

I am ashamed of how you were treated at our border and wish I could say it wouldn't ever happen again. It shouldn't ever happen again!

Big hugs, my friend!

Wisewebwoman said...

The last two times were nasty for me Anne and I've avoided going there or flying over since. But I take consolation, however slim, in the fact that any friends of mine who are of colour have been through hell and back. One scientist (born in Phillipines) being even asked for a demonstration of laptop operation. she makes most of her income in Chicago so has to endure variations on this type of interrogation every single time.
goodonya and the tryck fix, you never cease to amaze me.

Rain Trueax said...

In a lot of ways America feels like it went nuts after 9/11 and fear rules too much. Given that, it's not a lot easier to be an American going into Canada and back. Or flying or so many other things. I hope it will get back to normal but the fear card is constantly played for political gain

20th Century Woman said...

I, too, had a terrible experience at the border with my late English partner. He was actually denied entry to the US. We had gone to Vancouver for the afternoon but we had to return to Vancouver and stay 3 days in Vancouver to buy a new ticket to England because the one he had went through Seattle. That said, I have had unpleasant questioning at customs in London when visiting my daughter. If I say I am visiting my daughter they immediately think I am trying to stay illegally. Now when they ask why I am coming to England I just say, "holiday." The fewer words one speaks at borders the better.

Annie said...

I agree with you Rain that this is not just a problem with the American border guards. I pass easily into Canada thanks to my Canadian passport. And as 20th Century Woman points out, it happens at other border points as well.

I just think that border guards could be a little friendlier about their job. Not everyone who crosses a border is trying to do something illegal, some of us are actually friendly visitors!

As one of my friends pointed out, when someone treats you like a potential criminal, you start to feel like one. What a way to start a visit to another country!

The darker side to all that though is the racial profiling, pulling people over because of their skin colour as you point out, WWW.

Annie said...

Barbara Anne and WWW, I'm not really good at this kind of work (the truck fixing) but I admit to being fearless about trying things. My friend Dave is not quite so complimentary about my work and he's right. But it is fun to try it. I am now threatening to try it on my son's truck...