Friday, June 3, 2011

Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Cross The Border...

Today I come to this Blog with a tale to tell.

 (And incidentally, I'm watching the King's Speech on DVD right now, so if my vernacular has a bit of stoutly English propriety to it, that would be where to point the long finger of dire blame).

Upon the completion of the girls' first school year, we decided to squeeze in a quick trip up to Niagara Falls. As mentioned in a previous blog entry, Pizza Paradise, this is a favorite destination. And, alas, it would seem the pizza was indeed calling our collective names strongly this year. It was more like a yell, really. And far be it from me to ignore such a summons as that.

We picked the girls up from school and headed to our first stop: Kalahari in Sandusky. Yes, I know that is actually no where near Niagara Falls. It's going in the opposite direction for us, in fact. But this was an upside down, topsy turvey trip, as it turned out. So our random start fit in well.

We spent the day sliding our little hearts out at Kalahari, and fell to sleep tired and ready for a super great 4 and a half hours of driving joy the next day. Whee!

Wednesday morning dawned bright and early and off we shoved to our next stop on Destination: Fun. Niagara Falls, Canada. My favorite part of the trip up to Niagara is always that last leg of the trip on the Robert Moses Parkway. This by-way rambles around the waterway, taking you past the water as it's still calm, and then as it becomes a raging series of rapids making ready for its grand performance at the brink of The Falls. And all the while the jagged skyline of Niagara Falls, Ontario is in the background, standing at an odd angle to the water; just past the void left by the carved out gorge.

My least favorite part of the journey is always going through customs. Let me start off by declaring my full knowledge of how stupid this fear is. I am not, nor do I ever plan on becoming, a criminal. I'm just regular, law abiding citizen type A. Hello.

And yet.

On this particular trip up, I'm pleased to announce that we made it through to Canada with no problems to report. Whew.

Fast forward through our stay: (insert lots of fun memories and perhaps a few future blog entries here). Time to pack up and begin our journey home. If I'm nervous on the way into Canada, I'm a true wreck on the way back on to U.S soil. We've had a few experiences at customs in the past that will back up my hesitancy. There was the time when they thought we were driving in a stolen vehicle because we still had temp tags on it, which made for an unhappy officer and some equally edgy travellers. Then there was the time when, upon being asked if we were in fact her parents, a 3 year old Caedance stubbornly screamed, "NO! Now shut the door!" to our utter horror and equal astonishment.

It's the unpredictability that keeps me on edge, you could say.

We decided to take the QEW to the Peace Bridge home this time, which is something to put on our "First Time" list. It was a nice enough drive, and it's always fun to play the Convert Miles to Kilometers game, so we went for it.

As the Peace Bridge and customs loomed, I took out our passports and felt that familiar gnawing of growing worry rumbling around in my stomach. I sat back and began to wait the feeling out. It was a crowded day at Ye Olde Peace Bridge, let me tell you. Cars were jockey-ing their way into lanes amidst commercial trucks trying to sidle into their own respective lanes. We waited. And waited. And waited.

Finally our turn drew near. One car ahead of us. Then the lane was clear. We pulled forward slowly, window down and passports at the ready.

"Citizenship?" U.S
"How many on board the vehicle?" Four.
"Reason for your trip?" To see The Falls. (Whew, this was going okay, after all!)
"Okay then, the computer has just randomly chosen you for a vehicle search. You'll need to pull over and go inside door number 2. You'll get your passports back after you're done inside."

Uh-oh. Maybe not so good after all.

We looked at each other. Oh man. Even the girls were quiet.

Have you ever been behind a car that didn't make it through customs? Well that was us today. Access denied.


We pulled off into a gated area in front of the building, parked the van and made our way into whatever awaited us behind Door Number 2. Truth be told, I've always wondered what the inside of a customs building looked like. They seem so shiny and impressive on the outside, but the inside was a big blank to me. And as to what went on behind those reflective surfaces, I had no guesses.

We found ourselves waiting for a bit while our particular case was being reviewed. An officer called us up and asked us the routine questions that you get asked at customs, and then asked for our keys. We returned to our seats while they searched our van.

Have you ever had your car searched? This was another mark in the "First Time" column for me. Truly. Let me state this clearly: we have nothing even remotely controversial in our home, let alone in either of our cars. And yet, there I sat, mentally tearing the van up, fearing my mind's eye would uncover some hidden danger; like a weapon I never knew we'd had or something equally damning.

And oddly, another thought going through my mind was how truly grateful I was that despite being on vacation, our van was clean. And I mean clean: organized, dusted, vacuumed, and all toys put in the actual bin where they belong. Oh yes, that's me. Even on vacation. And I found myself wondering if the inspecting officer was noticing that as well. Perhaps he (or she) walked to the van thinking, "Oh man, they've got kids. What kind of a wreck will this be?" And then when he or she looked in on that clean interior, maybe they were just a bit impressed. "Wow. I'm impressed." Maybe. Or maybe he was only looking for guns and drugs. But I'd like to think I sort of made someones day today with my surprisingly uber clean vehicle.

After their inspection of our van, the officers returned our passports and keys, sending us on our way with a "Good day to you" from one, and a "Have fun" from another. We piled back in and proceeded on our way home. We were wary of our presence in the flow of traffic, as if we had a large "Detained At Customs" sign on our tailgate; our own scarlet A to mark us as sinners.  But we trudge forward anyhow, putting on the James Dean persona of You Got Somethin' To Say To Me?  to our fellow road mates.

All told, this unforeseen adventure only took about 20 minutes. True to their word, the officers did have us out of their building and on our way again.

And it's worth the mention to say that even though it was an intimidating place (rightfully so), every single officer we worked with at the Peace Bridge was extremely polite and respectful to us and to every person we observed them interacting with.

My experiences today have me thinking on the increasingly delicate balance act these men and women perform every day. They protect our borders, acting as sentinels against what must be an at times dangerously invisible enemy. It's a job I'm not sure I would ever be able to handle, raising them up many notches on my Esteem Scale.

It made for an interesting end to our impromptu vacation, and quite the kick off to our Summer Of Fun, indeed.

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