Note: everything else about the vacation is going to be positive, but I needed to mini rant about this one.
One of the unfortunate things about leaving the country is returning. Not because it’s not great to come home, but because of the stark contrast between border crossing outbound, and border crossing inbound. I’ve done this border crossing enough that when going to Canada I plan that entering Canada adds 15 mins to the drive, entering the US adds 1 hour to the drive. Here’s how it went this time.
No line of cars, pull up to security checkpoint, stop, hand over our passports.
Guard: hey folks, where are you going today?
Me: Vacationing in Nova Scotia for the next couple of weeks.
Guard: Any Tabaco or Alcohol?
Me: Half a bottle of Port.
Guard: ok, but no Tabaco or Firearms?
Guard: how long you going to be here?
Me: About two weeks.
Guard: Ok, enjoy the vacation.
Elapsed time: 3 minutes
Crossing back to the US
Wait in line for 10 minutes in line of cars. Get to booth, stop, hand over our passports.
Guard: hey folks, where you headed?
Me: home to Poughkeepsie, NY, back from a couple weeks vacation.
Guard: how long… oh you said a couple of weeks.
Me: yep, about two weeks.
Guard: any alcohol or tabacco?
Me: yes, we’re bringing by alcohol from a distillery in Canada
Guard is typing away with passports, not actually paying attention.
Guard: what was that, sorry?
Me: we’ve got some alcohol from Canada.
Guard: how much and what kind?
Me: 3L, some vodka, rum, a couple other types.
Guard: that’s from a Canadian distillery right, not Cuban?
Me: yep, from a microdistillery down in Luneburg.
Guard: ok, any Tabaco?
Guard: can you roll down your back window?
Guard: you folks bringing any produce back into the states?
Susan: I think we’ve got some celery and a pepper in the cooler.
Guard: the celery is ok, but we’ll need to take the pepper.
Susan: ok, if it matters they both actually came from the US.
Guard: doesn’t matter miss. Where is this?
Me: in the cooler in the back.
Guard: can you pop the trunk sir?
Me: should be open.
Guard goes to back, opens it, struggles with the cooler a little bit.
Me: would you like any help?
Guard: no, sir, stay in the car.
Guard gets back to the guard station, elicit pepper that’s been travelling with us for two weeks in hand. Guard goes back to typing on computer.
Guard: miss, did you loose you passport at some point?
Susan: yes, my bag was stolen in India back in 2000-2001 with my passport.
Guard: (type type type) ok, we’ll need you folks to pull to the side up there. Please pull into bay #2 and go inside.
We pull into bay #2, there is a big sign that says “wait for guard”.
Me: hmmm… so do we wait, or go in?
Susan: I don’t know, lets wait, they’ll tell us what they want.
A couple of minutes pass, Guard hands off passports to Guard #2 chats to him a bit, then walks over to our car.
Guard: folks, I need you to go inside.
Me: no problem.
Go inside, come up to desk. Guard #2 and Guard #3 start typing at things and looking at passports and us. Guard #3 seems to have gotten the role of checking out our passports.
Guard #3: so miss, you lost your passport?
Susan: yes, my bag was stolen in India, back in 2000, so I had to get a replacement.
Guard #3: ok, and this passport is a renewal?
Guard #3: so this would be your third passport, so to speak?
Guard #3: when were you folks last in Canada?
Me: we were just trying to sort that out. I think I was last here in Ottawa back around 2007.
Susan: I think my last time was 2005 when we did a Vancouver trip.
Guard #3: what about 2008, 2009?
Me: huh, no I don’t think we were here then.
Guard #3 is now clearly looking at our other travel records, but he didn’t actually tell us he was interested in anything beyond Canada.
Guard #3: where else did you travel in 2009?
Me: … I think that might have been India, or maybe that was the year before. We were in Germany around then as well.
(honestly, we travel enough, that I have a hard time keeping the order of trips sorted, especially being 4 years ago).
Guard #1 comes back, Guard #3 and #1 start trying to find something on the computer. Some linke. Guard #3 asks what he’s actually supposed to do. Guard #1 says go to some system, plug in her (Susan’s) name and birthday.
Guard #1: hey folks, can you take a seat for a moment.
Note, there aren’t any seats, but there is a stone window sill on the other side of the room. We go and sit there.
There is typing, and more typing. Guard #1 comes and goes. At some point I think Guard #1 had to log into something with his credentials because Guard #3 couldn’t get into the system they needed. About 10 minutes pass, Susan and I chit chatting during it. Guard #3 calls us up.
Guard #3: miss, what is your mother’s maiden name?
Susan responds with her mom’s full maiden name, first and last.
Guard #3: what was that? (clearly he was expecting only last name)
Guard #3: ok. (Hands back our passports) you folks are free to go.
We walk out the door and head out.
Total elapsed time: 40 minutes
Note, this isn’t the first time that Susan’s gotten pulled aside because of the stolen passport, though they only seemed to start doing it in 2008 (back from India, where they didn’t want to let her get on the plane without a second form of ID), and 2009 (on our trip from Germany where Susan got swept off into a back room for 30 minutes after we landed). My guess is they implemented a new software system that flags more people. I’d have thought that after a few of these conversations they’d have annotated the records, but apparently our tax dollars hard at work means that they really like talking to her on every border crossing. Especially given that the stolen passport wouldn’t even have valid dates on it any more, because it was 12 years ago that it was stolen.
Realistically this was still less than the hour I’d allocated for the crossing. But it just always frustrates me that border crossing back to our own country is such a dreadful experience, and a think I always loath at the end of the trip.