I left Vancouver at mid-morning, having spent the night there and really not much more. Why? I was lonely and only getting lonelier. If I worked it right, I could get to Olympia by nightfall and visit with my old college roommate, Monika. I thought if I was lucky, I could go to the US by way of Victoria Island and Port Angeles. But I wasn’t lucky. I drove the 45 minutes out to the ferry terminal, bought a ticket for myself and my car and waited in line for the boat. Many cars got on, but I was too far back in the line to be one of them. I was only five cars away from making it, but it just wasn’t enough. You can make a reservation to be guaranteed a spot if you do it at least 24 hours ahead, which of course I didn’t realize until it was too late. Frustrated, and not able to take the 3:00 PM boat and still get to Olympia, I made a U-turn, parked and got my money back for the $60 ferry ticket. I wish I hadn’t missed Victoria, but hopefully there will be another opportunity to go.
I drove down to the Peace Gate (the border station between the US & Canada) and waited in line for about 20 minutes. Soon I was speaking to a US immigration officer. When he found out I had tomatoes in my car, and that I’d bought a small piece of mink fur in a shop in Banff, gone was any chance of my getting through quickly. He decided that I needed to have the whole car agriculturally inspected. There was no discussing it any further, despite my attempts. My car was tagged with a large orange sticker smack on the windshield and I had to go into the special lot for suspect vehicles and persons. I was marked. When I got into the building, my heart sank. There must have been 100 people standing there in lines, looking dejected and as if they’d been there for a long time. You know what that looks like. There’s a certain despair hanging about, as if the waiting will never end and everyone has quit hoping to leave because it’s just too painful. There were maybe four people behind the desk working so it’s no surprise that the lines weren’t moving. I got worried, but then I noticed there were three lines: an A, a B and a C line. I read the sign that told which persons were to wait in which line, and it turned out my line was “C”, for agricultural inspection. I followed it around the convolutions of the A & B lines, only to find out that there was no one else in the C line! What a break.
After a few minutes waiting to be called, I walked up to the desk marked “agriculture” and asked the man if I was in the right place. He didn’t even look up. He said “oh, I am just reading over your record”. Record?? I have a record? What? I asked about this and he said “I see here that you tried to bring some seeds into the country a while back.” Seeds? I thought about this and remembered that I had indeed tried to bring seeds in from a botanical garden in Grand Cayman in 2008. Mind you, those seeds were actually shipped to the Grand Cayman botanical garden from a seed supplier in the US and it said so right on the packages, but hey, if you want to get home without a fine then you do not argue with customs. I had declared the seeds on my forms and had handed them over for destruction upon request, since they were deemed agriculturally dangerous to the US. I told this story (minus the arguing bit) to the inspector and he nodded, seemingly testing my response against his computer’s record of the incident. When I realized that I was under examination, I thought I’d better try to break the ice a little. I said “do you mean to say that I have priors as an attempted seed smuggler?” He smiled a little and said “uh huh, that’s correct.” Oh dear. This must show up every time I cross! I wonder what that means to the border people? It’s not like I lied or did anything illegal; I followed all the rules. But it’s in the computer now and probably will be forever. I have been officially labeled. Flummoxed, I gave him my car keys, told him where everything was, answered all questions about the contents of the car and asked him if he would please consider not opening my $80 boxes of film since they would then be ruined (though of course, that’s up to the inspector and not up to me). I sat down and wondered what would happen. He went out to the car and was back in a few minutes with a favorable report. I was allowed to cross the border! I cleaned all the stickum residue off the windshield, trying to remove the taint and put the whole thing behind me, and entered into the United States yet again. The drive south was uneventful other than the pouring rain. It had been raining since Vancouver and really had not let up at all. I found myself desperately missing the quality of Canadian roads and the skill and politeness of the Canadian drivers.
Unfortunately, my rather long detour at immigration meant that I hit Seattle right at rush hour. It took me two hours to clear Seattle and get to Olympia for dinner. But I am so glad I waited it out because I had a wonderful visit with my friend Monika. She’s working for Washington state now in a position that helps a lot of people who cannot help themselves, and I think that’s pretty neat. I am proud to be acquainted with such persons. We caught up and we laughed and we remembered why we were friends for so many years. My spirits were buoyed. I thought maybe, just maybe, now I could manage to get all the way home without feeling too lonely.