Saturday, July 30, 2016
I was at the Darby line Quebec/Vermont border on my way to New Hampshire border. Feeling keen to get to Sutton House B& B in Harbor City, and excited about meeting finally meeting the folks at the Loon Preservation Committee that booked me on a loon cruise on Squam Lake. My enthusiasm was about to be squashed.
I was in the slowest moving line, and when I got to the agent, it cam eto a long halt.
Leaning out his window, the young twenty-something customs agent took my passport, and looked at me askance.
He began to bombard me with a load of questions about the fact that I was traveling alone – a woman driving far and alone. I could hear the wheels (or should I say rocks in his head) turning. He paused, and I said I often drive alone. "Do you know the Gatineau region?” N was his answer. Well I spent my summers there with a pump, an outhouse and fishing with my dad. I have that in my blood. Being alone is in my way. He seemed perplexed, even fascinated.
He changed the subject: he asked me where I was headed and I told him a loon cruise in the lake region. He paused, and then asked if I knew anyone in New Hampshire or had documents to prove where I was going. I hadn’t taken the email bookings showing the friendly banter between the people I was to meet up with, but I replied that I hoped to meet my B &B host and the cruise biologist, and that perhaps a friendship might form.
He then asked me a series of quiz type questions: “When was the last time you were in the States?” I asked if he meant stopping through an airport of visiting a city? I thought I was in a quiz show, and he said, like a quiz host, “the airport”. I said, "I think it was Orlando or Miami coming back from Mexico". I got the date right, but the year wrong. Oops! He looked like a teacher scolding a student when he held up my passport pointing to March of this year. How could I have forgotten? I was in San Miguel launching me new novel. I apologized.
Then he asked me what I did for a living. I referred to my retirement as a teacher. I did not mention my writing career. That would have surely put me in jail.
“Put your car in park and pop the trunk,” he demanded, and then the weirdest thing happened. My lovely car refused to move into ‘park’. The stick shift was locked; it was on Drive and my foot was on the break. He began giving me a driving lesson - telling me to keep my foot on the break (which it already was on obviously). I panicked telling him I could not move the shift. Instantly I saw my cruise plans going up in smoke. Was my car on the blitz? He came out and looked in the trunk. There was nothing there of course. Still persistent, he asked if I had alcohol or food on me - a question he was supposed to ask me in the first place, I thought.
Another long pause, and then the man showed his complete ignorance. He really wanted the answer to the question he was about to ask. Like a wide –eyed child, out came his question – nothing to do with customs: “What’s a loon?” I then proceeded to imitate the “whah whah” sound of the beloved bird. He looked puzzled. I then told him about the Canadian loony – the one-dollar coin with a loon on one side. I was the teacher. Then with a big smile he said “Have a nice trip, Nancy.”
It took me a good half hour to recover form his interrogation, and I had spent a half hour with him – already having to wait one hour to reach his window.
Coming back into Quebec, I had not one ounce of trouble. A simple where are you from and what was the purpose of your trip. A smile came on his face, and said – off you go!”