Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Trip to Almost Canada

Since I am going too exhausted from the heat to do much more than surf tonight, I will now regale you with the story I hinted at back in May, about my trip to Almost Canada. It’s been sitting on my laptop since then, and why waste a perfectly good story?

It has nothing to do with Breyers, or model horses, but it does have something to do with travelling, something a lot of us will be very familiar with this week. And I’ve been told it’s quite funny, at least to the people who have already heard it.
The job I have is neither glamorous nor high-paying, but it does provide me with two other things that are almost as important: flexibility and stories. My family and living situation are complicated, hence the draw of the flexibility.
As for the stories, well, to a person like me, stories are the best kind of currency. And some days, I get paid in spades.
My job involves a lot of local travel; the district is huge, and I live on the outer edge of it, so whenever a carpool is made available, I tend to avail myself of it. I’m not a big fan of driving anyway, so if I can find someone else to do it for me, all the better.
The day’s assignment was in Port Huron – about 40 miles from me, but 15 miles from the meet site. So naturally, I go, even though it’s actually out of my way.
When I get there at oh-my-God o’clock, one of the few people there was someone I most definitely do not want to drive with. You know the type: loud, obnoxious, overly helpful, and prone to oversharing. Kind of like me, but less funny and less interesting. (I was not alone in my opinion – of her. I can’t speak of your opinion of me.)
Anyway, she’s not intentional being obnoxious, but the thought of having to sit in a car with her for two hours of commuting was enough for me to jump into the other carpooling car, driven by a guy I had never even met – or worked with before.
Carpooling with near-total strangers is hazard of this job: my company of employ has an insanely level of turnover, which means that it simply doesn’t pay to get close to new faces until you’re pretty sure they’re not a new face anymore.
The driver hadn’t driven to Port Huron before, but I figured that when the time came, I’d point him in the right directions and in the right lanes when necessary, so we wouldn’t end up in Canada. You see, the road we’d be taking sort of blends into the road to the bridge to Canada; it’s not normally an issue, but there’s been some road construction going on, so it makes accidents more likely to happen.
All was well until we got to the highway. Where I promptly fell asleep. Did I mention before how early it was? Well before sunrise, even for this time of the year.
I had gotten enough sleep the night before, but it’s my natural inclination to fall asleep when someone else is driving. I think it’s a self-defense mechanism: I come from a family (both sides!) of less-than-perfect drivers (too fast, too slow, inattentive, prone to road rage, doesn’t like to wear their glasses while driving, etc.) I guess I learned early on that the best way of coping with the terror is to sleep it away, with the added benefit of my body being limp (and less prone to injury) lest anything bad actually happens. (Which has, but that’s another story entirely.)
So I wake up, with a start, when we were halfway up the ramp to the Blue Water Bridge.  To Canada. Exactly the thing I was hoping my presence would avoid, except for my inability-to-stay-awake-in-a-car-I’m-not-driving complicating things.
This has happened to carpools with our company before, enough that you’d think the Border Patrol would have a protocol set up just for us by now. They direct us to go up the bridge a little, past the concrete barriers, and turn back around.
We sat there for about 15 minutes before we realized that the car in front of us was stalled; in that little bit of leisure time we had, I made mention of the fact that the officers of this particular border crossing had a reputation for being hard cases.  About a year earlier, a science-fiction writer got a little bit sarcastic with a guard at this very same crossing, and ended up in handcuffed in the hoosegow overnight.
We pulled up, and handed over our driver licenses. The guard looks them over, and starts questioning our driver.
“Sir, where is your green card?”
Up until that point, we didn’t know that our driver was a resident alien. He had a slight accent, but just about everyone I know – even the folks who were actually born and bred here – talks funny, so it’s another one of those thing your really don’t think much about. (Heck, my grandfather had a fairly noticeable accent, and that side of the family emigrated from Poland in the mid-19th century.)
So he didn’t have his green card. And – even better – the car was a rental, since his had gone kaput a couple days earlier. Another occupant of the car had just moved the week before, and my address – well, if you’ve ever done business with me, you know I have this funny address that I’m constantly reassuring people is not fake. It all seems a little too hinky for the guards, so they decide to confiscate our electronics and direct us to the station to be interrogated.
Yeah, really.
So we find ourselves in the station, filling out declaration forms, then waiting in the lobby as they make sure we all are who we say we are. In the meantime, FoxNews is on the TV. Today’s topic? Illegal immigration. (Surreal, much?)
This was almost too much for me, and I had to stifle a laugh. I was beginning to get the feeling that the guy who was investigating us might have been the same guy that writer might have pissed off, and as amusing as it all was, I really didn’t want to try explaining how I ended up in an international incident on any future job applications.
I did, however, give my fellow carpoolers a knowing look. “What was I telling you?” They all giggled nervously.
At one point the investigating officer gives us a stern look, and asks us “Are you guys member of a bowling team, or something?”

This wasn’t as random or absurd a question as you might think: we’re all wearing matching polo shirts and hard-soled work shoes. And this is a big area for bowling; several coworkers are actually members of bowling teams. (Not me, though. If I were any more uncoordinated, I might actually qualify for one of those handicap parking permits. I’m so clumsy, I’ve actually injured myself reading. But, I digress.)

Anyway, I had to bite my tongue almost to the point of bruising and let one of my coworkers answer the question, because at this point anything I would say – no matter how carefully I had chosen the words – would not be taken well by the authorities. 
After about a half an hour, they finally decided to let us go, but not without giving our driver a stern warning about his green card. “If this happens again, you will be handcuffed and you will be arrested.”
(It just had to be that guy. Had to be!)
We show up about an hour late for work. Even better, there’s no “good” equipment left; it makes my workday even more difficult than it already is. The annoying coworker I was trying to dodge? Not only did she have functional equipment, she also ended up with an hour more of work than I did by virtue of not getting trapped in Almost Canada.
But you know what? The trip was worth it.
Hope all of yours this week are, too.


Evelyn L. said...

Oh Andrea,
What a funny story!!
Living about 20 minutes from the New York/Canadian border I can certainly appreciate and commiserate on everything you mentioned! I've lived in this area my whole life, have relatives that live in Canada and STILL get uptight whenever we cross the border.

Carrie said...

As a life-long Port Huron resident, I've heard many a similarly hilarious tale! Personally, sometimes I think the border guards draw lots to see who gets to be the crabby one any given day.

It certainly doesn't help that the new 'improved' expressway terminus is the exact opposite of that which every single person who's ever been here more than 10 minutes knew & no one bothered to put up a sign demarking such.