“It’s a losing proposition but one you can’t refuse – it’s the politics of contraband. It’s the smuggler’s blues.”
Smuggler’s Blues by Glenn Frey
I took the day off from the big blog yesterday to go down to The States and pick up some stuff I had ordered online from Home Depot. They were quite happy to deliver it right to the house but while shipping to anywhere in the United States is free, shipping to Canada is 300% more expensive than the actual cost of the item. That worked out to almost $1200 so I opted to have it delivered to the store closest to me in the U.S. and took a jaunty drive across the border.
The day started out dull and dreary but by the time I hit the highway, the sun had broken through, the coffee order was right for a change and the talk show I was listening to was just full of back and forth about DuffyGate, the Senate expense scandal that had expanded to include PeruGate when the Prime Minister hightailed it to South America without answering any questions.
In other words, the day was working out just fine although it did slow down a bit at the border.
Traffic was light but my American friends had decided to only open two lanes into the Land of Opportunity so, of course, traffic was backed up for at least 45 minutes. In situations like that, I don’t measure line ups by how long they are but by how long they take to get through them.
It’s my own little variation on Stephen Hawking’s space/time continuum theory and probably explains why he’s considered a genius and I’m not.
When it was finally my turn to be interviewed by the border agent, I inched my car up to the gate slowly. I wanted to give the multitude of cameras pointed at me ample time to get a couple of good profile shots.
I like American border agents. They’re polite and even friendly although they never lose sight of the fact that you could be a possible terrorist or worse, a conservative. I know this because she asked me if I had any alcohol, tobacco and weapons including guns, knives or weapons of mass destruction. I assured her that I didn’t and I thought it was very nice of her to take my word for it.
She asked the purpose of my trip, how long I would be in The States, where I lived, was I born in Canada and apparently I scored well enough on the test to get a pleasant smile and a sincere, “Have a nice day.”
A forty-five minute zip down the Interstate and I was at Home Depot, online receipt in hand hoping to God they hadn’t screwed up the order. I tend to be a bit pessimistic about things like this but mostly because of my experience with Canadian retailers. I keep forgetting that Yanks get it right.
Sure enough, the order was waiting for me although I had to wait twenty-five minutes to find that out. There was only one other customer at the Customer Service Desk and, of course, whatever it was he wanted necessitated the Customer Service clerk having to make a half dozen phone calls, check the computer three or four times, refer to a catalogue, print out at least four different sheets of whatever only to end up telling him that someone would be down to speak with him shortly.
It happens to me all the time. No matter what line I pick in a store, I always get the one where somebody has shown up at the cash with an item that has no price tag, they can’t remember the pin number for the debit card or they have – coupons. God I hate customers with coupons. They never have them out and ready; they’re always buried in the bottom of their purse and we all stand around and wait while they fish around looking for them.
The Customer Service Clerk was a quite young, petite and very pleasant. I gave her my online receipt and she hopped right to looking for my order and there it was – four big boxes that were about ¾ as tall as she was.
No problem. She pulled up a flat cart, hiked those four boxes up onto it like they were weightless and wheeled the cart over to the service desk where I was standing waiting for her. A couple of quick data entries, a printed receipt for signature and we were done. I started to wheel the cart out and after she thanked me and told me to “have a nice day”, and then said something that cut me to the bone.
“Would you like some help with those Sir?”
That was kindly meant but cold. It had been my intention to ask for assistance but pride is a bitch at times so I thanked her and wondered just how old and frail I looked as I pulled the cart to the SUV. The boxes were more awkward than heavy but I was damned if I was going to let some little whippet of a thing out do me when it came to hoisting them up into the cargo area of my vehicle.
It’s at moments like that I wish I would put ego and bruised feelings aside long enough to remember that I have a bad back. Pride is a poor substitute for Advil.
Pride goeth before a fall they say and while I didn’t actually fall, the ride back to the border was a little less comfortable than the earlier drive from the border to the store.
There was almost no traffic going into Canada so, of course, we had five lanes open. I believe it’s probably the result of one of the government’s job creation programs.
I wheeled up to a gate, going slowly for the usual set of 8 x 10 black and white photos and then stopped to chat with the Canada Border Services Agent.
Ever since Canadian border agents were moved from Immigration where they were customs agents over to CBSA where they became quasi-Para military law enforcement officers who, by the way, are now armed and wear nifty SWAT uniforms complete with black leather gloves, Canada’s border agents are a lot less friendly than they use to be.
Some are pleasant but most of them take themselves just a touch too seriously and even Maggie who at one point, early in her career was a border agent, finds the attitudes of many to be a little over the top.
I was fortunate, however, this particular agent was quite pleasant although all business. She asked where I lived, where I had been, how long I had been out of the country and if I had anything to declare.
I answered all her questions and my response that I had been out of the country for less than two hours raised her eyebrows. I told her the value of what I had picked up at Home Depot and she dutifully noted it incorrectly on a little yellow card. After asking if I had any guns or knives in my possession, directed me to take my yellow slip inside to pay the duty and then told me to “Have a nice day.”
Inside, I walked up to the counter, handed both the yellow slip and my store receipt to the agent. The numbers on the yellow card did not match the numbers on my receipt. He immediately looked at me with suspicion and asked why not. I suggested he ask the border agent outside. Clearly, I was expecting to pay the higher amount on my receipt, not the lower amount on the card his colleague had filled out.
“Oh yeah.” He replied. “Right.” It made me wonder just how stupid you had to be to think someone was suspicious because they provided correct paperwork that required them to pay more than the original border agent had indicated they owed.
He asked me to describe the contents.
Now friends, at this point my sense of humour was starting to desert me faster than the rush of Senator Duffy’s former colleagues in the media and the Conservative Caucus trying to distance themselves from his beatific smile.
I had bought lawn edging. Yes, I know it’s not very exotic but while I used to be cool at one point that’s what my life has come to now – plastic lawn edging. It was of a type not available in Canada, not even online and it was perfect for what I needed. (Good Lord, I’m starting to get excited just talking about it – my life is over).
I don’t know how many smugglers and terrorists use lawn edging as a means to carry out their nefarious schemes but clearly I was now on the watch list.
I described it as best I could but there’s only so much you can say about plastic and I could tell he either didn’t really believe me or else he just had difficulty visualizing it. Nonetheless he stamped my yellow card, told me to take it to the cashier and gave me the obligatory, “Have a nice day.”
I paid the duty, got my receipt and another “Have a nice day” and headed for the car where I was stopped by the agent who had reviewed my receipt. He and a colleague wanted to search my vehicle.
I figured this was probably going to take longer than waiting for someone to find coupons in the bottom of their purse so I gave him my keys, told him to help himself and went over to a park bench to sit down, sip a coke and smoke a cigarette.
There were three other vehicles being searched too so I amused myself by watching the agents comb through boxes and trunks, cargo areas and bags. Every now and then one would point to something and the other agent would go over and look at it and then shake their head negatively.
The disappointment that it wasn’t contraband was almost palpable.
Meanwhile, over at my car, Agent Happy Pants opened boxes and took out some of the decorative plastic edging and then struggled to get it back into the box properly so that the cargo hatch could close properly. You could tell he was frustrated. Clearly I wasn’t a terrorist or a smuggler and he wouldn’t be able to use the training he had been given to stop another threat to national security.
In Canada, border agents are not permitted to shoot travelers for paying the correct duty on their purchases – much to their annoyance.
He finally gave up trying to find some evidence of illegal activity, came over and returned my keys to me. He was so disappointed that it was all he could do to squeeze out another “have a nice day” through clenched teeth.
I told him that if he wasn’t doing anything on the weekend, to feel free to drop by and help me install the lawn edging but he just scowled at me. CBSA border agents don’t have much of a sense of humour although I admit it wasn’t much of a joke to begin with.
I appreciate that they have a job to do and I’m sure it comes with its own levels of stress and frustration but surely to God having a bit of personality wouldn’t interfere with doing that job nor would the application of a little common sense.
People who are smuggling don’t present receipts for higher amounts than the agent at the gate entered on the yellow card and it is absurd to question why someone hands in a receipt with a higher amount in the expectation of paying duty on that amount. Even I know it’s the folks trying to pay less that are the smugglers.
It’s even more absurd to ask someone if they have weapons. Do they honestly believe that terrorists or criminals are a) going to carry weapons openly across the border and b) admit it if they did?
“Do you have any weapons with you?”
“Shit! You got me. Yes I do. Take me away officer.”
But above all else, if you’re a CBSA border services agent and you search my car but find nothing illegal – try not to take it personally and look so disappointed. Lighten up and give us a smile with that ‘have a nice day”. You’ll catch someone else sooner or later and who knows?
If you’re lucky, you may even get to shoot them.
© 2013 Maggie’s Bear
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