Down the Coast 1: Welcome to the United States of America

Seems like everyone who’s crossed it has an U.S. border story. In Seattle, there was a whole hostel pubcrawl worth of us, each with our own special rendition when the topic came up.

As with most, my border crossing didn’t go well. I crossed at Vancouver, driving South on the I5 towards Seattle. When we pulled up, the loud American traveller I had picked up from a ridesharing website was eating an apple and laughing at how nervous I was.

“It’s fine!” she kept saying. “God, you’re so funny how scared you are. Just relax! It’ll totally be fine!”

The car in front of us finally pulled away to drive merrily into America and we pulled forward. The man in the booth looked down at us as sternly as he could. We passed over our passports – her battered American, my Canadian. He looked at mine for a long time.

“What do you do?” he asked me.
“What do you do? For work.” He gave me a hard look.
“Uh, I’m a writer,” I said, deciding that it sounded better than post-student or out-of-work bartender.
“Will you be writing in the States?”
“Yeah, probably,” I said. He gave me another one of his looks and I realised my mistake. “Uh, I mean, not professionally. Not for money or anything.”
“Because, you can’t write in the States. You know that.”
I nodded as earnestly as I could. He looked at me for a moment longer, before slowly passing his gaze over my car.
“That an apple?” he asked my companion.
“Uh-ha,” she said.
“Got any more of those?”
We shook our heads.
“Right,” he said and pulled out a pen. He started filling out a yellow form. “Ok, I’m going to need you to pull over the side there for a car search. So, pull in on the left over here. Park your car and give them this slip.” He handed me the yellow piece of paper with our passports. I took them, panicking quietly to myself as I put the car in drive.
“It’s totally fine!” my traveller assured me. “Relax!”

I parked, found the apple I had in the back seat, and started rushing through it as casually as possible on the walk towards the giant, white, bureaucratic border building. The American deposited her apple core in a flower pot at the entrance.

Inside, the U.S. border guard at the counter looked exactly like a U.S. border guard. Buzzcut, overweight and stony-faced, he was not impressed by the apple I was trying so desperately to finish.
“Uh, do you have a bin or something?” I asked.
“Hey Anne? Anne, can you get Mike over here? This girl’s got an apple here I’m going to need him to have a look at.” Anne left to go get Mike. “Got any more of those?” he asked me.
“No,” I said. “No. I’m pretty sure.”

He stared on the questions. He was a man who liked people to stay where they were, it seemed; people who just stayed put and simple.
“So, you’re one of those people, huh?” he said to my companion after she had finished telling him about how she had been teaching in Thailand and wandering around South East Asia for the past several years. “You just travel around like that? Just go from place to place all the time?”
She nodded.
“But how do you support youself?” he asked angrily. “How do you get the money to do that?”
She told him she worked for it. She taught.

Mike was taking his time with the apple, so we kept talking. I don’t remember how we got onto Germany but a dull light came on behind his eyes when we did. He had been stationed there, he told us, once right before and once right after the wall came down. He knew all about those attitudes over there, all about the people who had them. He lightened up a bit after that, after we talked about his military days for a while. Finally, he and mike pulled on some gloves, told us to take a seat, and marched out to my car.

“My Australian passport is sitting right on the centre console,” I said, watching them pass through the sliding doors.
“I dunno. Just might complicate things,” I said. “I just want to go through. I wonder if I have any other fruit.”

When they returned, Mike was carrying the slightly demented apple I had pulled from Jeanne, Brian and Glen’s tree before leaving Victoria and forgotten about. They called us back up to the counter.
“Sorry about the apple,” I said. “I completely forgot about it.”
The border guard waved it off. “OK, so you’re fine to go through,” he said to my companion. “You’re just an American citizen returning home.” He turned to me. “You, however…” My stomach dropped. “You’re a writer. Now, you might think it’s fine to pick up a writing job here and there in the States. It’s not. You can’t write while you’re in the states.”
I nodded dumbly. “No worries.”
“Alright. So you’re OK to go through.”

On the other side, we stopped at the service station a little down the road to use the toilet. The American traveller bought me a small bottle of cider to celebrate my first time entering United States of America. At the counter, the lady was friendly and talkative.
“This is your first time in the U.S.?” she asked, amazed.
I nodded.
“Well then. Welcome! How was your first experience here?” she asked, indicating towards the restroom.
“Fine,” I said. “Just fine. Much nicer than the border.”
“Well, I’m glad. I haven’t been in there for a little while. It gets so messy sometimes, I tell you. The Orientals – they’re the worst.” She shook her head. “I tell you, they just go ahead and pee all over the place. Terrible. Just all over the seat and everything.”


3 Responses to “Down the Coast 1: Welcome to the United States of America”

  1. 1 S'Mat December 23, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    Great writing Z!
    Is that an embedded advertisement in your blog? In the post where you write about not being able to write in the US for money?!
    I is FLABBERGASTED! Perhaps you can land an ad contract for apples?

  2. 2 zoebarron December 30, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    But it was the apples that ruined everything! I would make a terrible ad person.

  3. 3 awasartDrew January 7, 2012 at 7:02 pm

    Hi Zoe, Drew here, friend of your dad’s.
    The border story is fantastic. I had a similar issue when I ( at 19 ) drove through the US and entered California. I had a bag of apples that I was told I couldn’t bring in…. so, determined to finish them all, I sat next to the toll gate and finished 9 apples. I then recall using every rest stop for the next 300 miles. An apple a day may keep a doctor away, but 9 almost always ensures you need to see a doctor.
    Anyway, I have a suggestion for a fantastic jewel of a book called “ExLibris, Confessions of a common reader” by US author Anne Fadiman. ( yes, apparently you can write in the US. )
    I have bought this book, maybe 16 times as gifts for writer friends…. enjoy.

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