By Chuck Pattinian


welcome-to-americaTrapped with a feeling I may never be allowed to go home just about summarizes a recent border crossing experience I had travelling into the US from Canada. When I approached the immigration booth, bells went off, a flashing amber beacon whirled in my eyes and a security boom came down inches from my car’s hood. Three immigration officers, each the size of a Mack truck surrounded the car. I stared at the reverse gear of my car looking for answers. There weren’t any. My heart was pounding in my lower right abdomen and my inner plumbing was hissing and gurgling. A dog’s breakfast came to mind.


Several minutes passed before the security boom went up and I was given the signal to proceed forward by one of the unsmiling beefy border agents. Before even asking what my citizenship was or where I was headed today, the shiny faced, crew cut border agent barked. “How much nuclear material are you carrying in the car sir?”


“What?” I managed to squeak out.


“No, not what, how much?”  He bellowed back.


Several denials and loud counter accusations later I was asked whether I had had any medical procedures performed recently. Nasty is as nasty does. “That is between me and my doctor and nothing to do with immigration and a little personal I might add.”


Wrong answer. My wife and I were escorted to the “Big Hole,” a room full of aliens waiting to be processed and others to be escorted out of the country. We were toast. I have never been to purgatory but this place felt like the purification state my excommunicated priest used to go on about. After scanning the room of 40 plus souls I realized my wife was the only blonde, blued eyed person in the room. I asked a nice couple from Sri Lanka how long they had been waiting. After trying to decipher their heavy accent, they wrote on a piece of paper, “only one hour.”  I snuffled a big sigh and expletive. Luckily, within five minutes we were called to the front desk. Apparently nuclear materials have a shelf life.


The agent explained that they were going to scan my car in search of the glowing green stuff. They found nothing. Then they scanned my body and the arrow on the Geiger counterthey used nearly fell off. Not a good sign. A strip search produced nothing. Please don’t look up my sphincter muscle I thought to myself. It turns out I was loaded with nuclear isotope material from a cardiovascular stress test I had undergone three days before. Those results were negative. But my true stress level in the “Big Hole” was in the positive stratosphere zone. Where is all the valium in the world when you need it most? This Purgatory holding cell could have made a fortune dispensing it from their vending machines. 


I was given the all clear to leave but was warned that if I was planning to re-enter the US within six weeks the nuclear sensor would likely pick up my signals again. I suggested that since I was in the system I shouldn’t be stopped and subjected to another search. Wrong again, bureaupathic systems don’t work that way. Perhaps Joseph A. Banks Menswear in Buffalo, NY would make me a lead suit for my next crossing. 


Two weeks later we took a trip to Canada.  We didn’t know what to expect as we approached the Canadian border – more bells and whistles and radar systems to detect my nuclear veins?  My heart started it’s decent to my bowels.  Imagine our surprise and relief when the polite border agent handed back our passports and said, “Have a nice day, eh.” 


On the return to the US there was a horrific car accident some 30 miles on the highway ahead.  The road was closed and all traffic was diverted to another border crossing to the east of the accident, resulting in a two hour backlog.  As we inched towards the customs/immigration booth the bells went off, the beacon danced in my eyes and the boom came down.  The only thing missing from this déjà vu were the beefy officers. Since I had become an experienced nuclear material courier, I said to my wife, “Don’t sweat this crossing, I know what to say.” We waited for the boom to rise. It remained motionless and it looked like a new shift was starting as another guard entered the booth and the original guy exited.  Either it was a shift change or it was tea time.


The replaced agent motioned us forward. “What the heck is going on?” she croaked, peering down the sea of lined up cars for miles and reaching for our passports.


“Well, you see I had this nuclear stress test and …..” I tried to explain.


“I can’t believe all the traffic, what’s going on? She inquired.


“Well, you see there was an acc…..”


“I’ll never get home in time to pick up my kids from school,” she interrupted.


“Wait here.” She commanded and jumped over the guard rail and spoke to another agent.


Several minutes later she came back, gave our passports back and raised the boom and said we were clear to leave.


As I pulled away, I looked back. The beacon was still flashing. In the corner of my eye I saw an agent jump over the guard rail and stormed into the booth where the agent had cleared us to leave. He appeared agitated as he pointed in our direction and the flashing beacon. On the radio, Johnny Cash was singing the Folsom Prison Blues.




For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com

Ojo Del Lago
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