Nothing like a guy in a uniform and bulletproof vest to make a couple feel welcome.
As if the sartorial choice of the Canadian border guard weren’t imposing enough, he’d added a pair of Roy Orbison sunglasses to complete the ensemble. That made it impossible to see where his eyes were focused as he peered into our car from the protection of his booth at the Sault-Ste. Marie border crossing.
We’d pulled up to the Arret! sign, fidgeting and digging for our passports, and wondering if the carload of stuff we’d carted around for seven weeks would warrant a full search by a suspicious guard. Instead – shock of shocks – we encountered a friendly, smart guy with a well developed sense of humor.
The conversation went something like this:
“Where you headed?”
A slight tilt of the head – no kidding. “In particular?”
“We’re just driving. Don’t know where, but we’re headed east.”
“Where’s home for you?”
“Boston. Well, just north of it.”
“Purpose of your trip? Vacation?”
I launched into my well-practiced response, explaining that I’d quit my job and we had decided to just set out and see the country – ‘er, countries – see the sights and meet people.
“There are easier ways to get to Canada than the route you took. If you’d kept the ocean on your right when you left Boston it would have been a much shorter trip.”
Ah, a comedian. Then he was back to business.
“What kind of work did you do?”
“I was a career journalist,” I said, using the handy umbrella definition rather than explaining the differences between real news gathering and the commercial wire business.
“Do you need our passports?”
“Oh, we’ll get to all that.”
He turned his attention to Gabi.
“I was a journalist, too.”
He picked up on her accent, sharp tack that he was.
“And where did you come from originally?”
“England,” she replied, using the Cliff notes version of her personal history rather than delve into the somewhat confusing details of her earlier years.
“Are you a naturalized US Citizen?”
Turning back to me and paying no attention to the line of cars gathering behind that I’d been monitoring in my rear view mirror, he straightened in his chair and took a pen from his pocket.
“Since you’re both journalists, I have a story for you that will earn you a Pulitzer Prize.” He began to scribble notes on the paper.
“It will get you in a lot of trouble and will be dangerous to write. You know that the world’s finances are really controlled by a very few, powerful men, right? Google “Economic Hitman” to get a sense of what I’m talking about…”
Just my luck. I had read the book at the urging of my daughter Kirsty, a budding Che Guevara in her own right. It’s a kiss-and-tell tome of international economic intrigue written by former Bostonian John Perkins.
”I’ve read it. It’s by a consultant who helped US business and political interests win lucrative huge construction projects in South America….”
“Oh, then you know about it. If people only knew. It’s quite a story.” He wrote furiously. “Look on Google…”
Having established a rapport, I decided to probe a bit, joining my new buddy in ignoring the growing line of cars behind me.
“So, are you a conspiracy theorist, or just a smart guy who reads a lot and pays attention.”
He stopped writing, raised his head and stared at me. I think.
“I’m no theorist. It’s true.”
Gabi, either impatient or uneasy with the serious tone of the conversation, cut to the chase on more important matters.
“Where would you suggest we go from here? We want to see parts of Canada that are off the beaten track?”
“I’d head to the tourist information booth and ask them,” either blowing us off or being funny. It’s so hard to tell when you can’t see the eyes of the person you’re talking to.
“Do you have any suggestions?” she probed deeper.
“Oh, I’d go to Manitoulin Island. You can hike, bike, fish…very quiet.”
He handed me a piece of yellow paper with his tips for my forthcoming Pulitzer-winning expose scrawled over warnings about transporting excessive currency, drugs, firearms or invasive marine or animal species and launched into what I suppose were the required questions.
“Anyone else in the car?” “No.” “Carrying more than $10,000 in US cash?” “No.” “Do you have a credit card?” “Yes.” “Is it maxed out?” “I certainly hope not.” “Do you have a US bank account with at least a few bucks in it?” “Yes.”
We had apparently satisfied his curiosity that we were no threat to Canadian national security, even if there was no guarantee that we’d turn out to be the Woodward and Bernstein he’s been looking for.
“OK, have a nice trip,” and with a faint smile waved us into Canada.