During my recent trip to Canada I confess that I had certain expectations. The first was that my daughter's wedding would be a wonderful event, which it was. While I am not a fan of weddings generally, I knew that my daughter's would defy tradition and be different, which it was. I based this assumption on my knowledge and experience of my daughter and her husband. My other expectations were also based on experience, which is why I assumed that crossing into Canada would be pleasant enough, but returning to my own country would be horrible.
This is the way it has always been from the first time I ever crossed the border way back in the 70's. I made the crossing in the west that time and it was an eye opener. Back then you didn't need a passport or a pass card to cross into Canada as it was a very open border. A driver's license was sufficient. The Canadian border guard was friendly, charming, and welcoming. The American border guard behaved as if we were International spies pretending to be Americans who were attempting to steal some dubious secrets from some hodunk town in Washington State. It was horrible. This was a long, long time before September 11th and decades before terrorism as we know it today but the aggressive paranoia was already in place. At the time I was in the army with other soldiers and we all had military ID's, which, instead of making things easier, seemed to just make it worse. Even more ironic is the fact that we aere all in military intelligence and had clearances miles above his. Granted, it was during the cold war years, but I don't think the guard was worried about us being Russian spies or anything. I think he was just a power-happy dink who delighted in throwing his weight around.
I crossed the Maine border into Canada in the late 70's again when my parents retired to northern Maine. We were, believe it or not, merely going over the border to snag some excellent Chinese food from a restaurant on the other side. People did this all the time back then. The Canadian border guard recognized my parents from various other forays into the land of maple leaves and was glad to see them, exchanging pleasantries and calling each other by name. On the way back, the American guard was even nastier than the one I had come across on the western border. He behaved as if my older parents were smuggling diamonds in the fried rice. He opened every container and poked at the food with a tool that looked suspiciously like a fondue fork. I would have laughed if I wasn't afraid that amusement would get me strip searched. The whole time the guard poked at the chop suey he had a look on his face that advertised his distrust and dislike of us, our choice of food, the car, and everything about us. It was awful. When he finally let us through I asked my parents if that was the way it always was coming back into Maine. They confirmed that it was. The really funny thing was that they knew the guard by name and had passed though many times with the same guy and they said that every time he behaved as if he had never seen them before and considered them a potential threat to the republic.
Since September 11th crossing the border back into the states has become even more unpleasant, as hard as that is to imagine. When my son and I went camping in Canada a few years ago the Canadian guard was very nice. When we returned it was a nightmare. Chuck was 16 at the time and we had a friend of his with us and legitimate passports. The guard made us get out of the car. He treated my 16 year old as if he were an evil nemesis of James Bond and made him remove his jacket and shoes. He dumped all our camping equipment out of the trunk and onto the ground and finding nothing more threatening than a Coleman stove, made us put it all back while he watched us like a hawk. Needless to say, I was exceedingly angry and exercised iron self control in not telling him where he could put his badge.
Naturally, I expected more of the same when we returned home this last time. We pulled up to the border fully prepared to be treated like hardened criminals. Surprise, surprise...it didn't happen. He was actually rather pleasant. He asked all the usual questions about where we had been and what we had been doing, but also asked if my daughter's wedding had gone well and if we had enjoyed ourselves in Nova Scotia. He joked with my son about the beard he had grown since the passport photo. He did look in the trunk, but not as if he were expecting to find a nuclear device hidden in the underwear. He even smiled and wished us a safe trip home. We were gobsmacked. This was an entirely new experience. This was like being welcomed home. This made us feel less ashamed to be American.
It just goes to show you, no matter how many bad experiences we may have, all it takes is one person to restore your faith just a little bit in mankind and even if the next time we cross the border we have another nightmare experience, we won't forget this one, or the gentleman at the gate.