archives greymatter top

powazek productions
{ personal log }

a story from the road

I was no stranger to passport checks. I went through many on my way through Europe a few years back. In fact, looking over my passport now, I'm proud of al the stamps. Amsterdam. Austria. Ireland. Poland.

So when I approached the visa checkpoint coming into Toronto a few days ago, I knew how to behave. You answer the questions fast – if you hesitate they eye you suspiciously – and be truthful without volunteering any additional information.

I have a game I play with immigration lines. There's always a dozen different stations, and usually the lines are all about the same. So I check out the people doing the checking at the end of each line, and try to pick the one who looks like he's in a good mood.

This time, I chose wrong.


The roundish, mid-thirties guy I chose coming into Toronto looked like the jolly sort, but he was all business.

"Final destination?"


"How long."

"Three days."

"Business or pleasure?"


"What business?"

"I'm speaking at a conference for the CBC," I said, hoping to pique some local interest. He looked unimpressed.

"Are you getting paid?"

"Yes," I said. It was the real answer, the true answer, the wrong answer.

He picked up a pink highlighter pen and drew a giant slash across my immigration form. It seemed like a pretty drastic thing to do, but I stayed stupidly optimistic. I remember thinking, hey, maybe everybody gets the big pink slash.

He handed me my slashed form and visa and said, "proceed." I wondered if he was really a robot.

So I went to the exit. But where everybody got to walk straight ahead, I was diverted to the right by a guard to a small line of very nervous-looking people.

Everybody does not get the big pink slash.

We all eyed each other suspiciously. I asked the woman behind me if she knew why we'd been diverted and she just shrugged. I steadied myself and kept thinking positive. I mean, really, if there was something special I was supposed to have done, surely the CBC would have taken care of it, or told me, or something.

But my attempt at keeping positive was foiled when a grumpy immigration guy came walking down the line like a soldier. He stopped at the elderly Asian woman who was talking into a cell phone and said: "You can't use that in here. Turn it off." When she looked at him blankly, he said it again louder, which caused her traveling partners to start chirping at her in a machine gun blast of some Asian dialect I didn't understand. She quickly folded up the phone and put it away. I felt sorry for whomever was on the other end. A daughter, perhaps, or a husband.

The grumpy man continued patrolling the line for a few minutes, and then settled in behind the counter, joining another three or so windows that were open, taking us one at a time. I made a small prayer into the universe: Please, please, I can do this, but please, not that guy. Anyone but the grumpy guy.

So, naturally, I got the grumpy guy.

"Next!" he barked. I glanced behind me at the woman I'd spoken to earlier. She looked afraid.

I shuffled up to the counter. Grumpy guy was looking down at something, so I set my slashed form, my passport, and my California driver's license down on the counter. He gave these items a cursory glance and said gruffly: "You can put that license away – it's no good here."

"Well," I said, "I just thought you might like a more recent photo." I decided to get jocular: "Wait 'till you see the photo in my passport. It's kinda old."

This got his attention. He picked up the passport, flipped to the heavy photo page, and held it up, glancing from it to me to it.

What he saw when he looked at that passport photo was me, a few years out of college, with hair down to my butt and a long goatee. The first stamp on the passport was Amsterdam.

The grumpy guy paused for a moment. I wondered if he was considering calling over the nearest cop and having me arrested. Instead, he reached into his own pocket.

"That's nothing," he said. "Check this out."

He flipped open his wallet to his own driver's license. It was him alright, with curly reddish brown hair down to his butt. And this wasn't any hair, this was bigass hair. Hair that could have faught gravity and won.

My eyes ping-ponged between him and his license. He was now a middle-aged guy with graying, buzz-cut hair, slightly balding. For the first time I noticed a small gold earring in one ear. What a difference a few years make.

From that point on, we were buds. I didn't even get worried when he asked me if I'd ever been arrested. He filled out some forms, warned me that if I ever came into the country to do consulting without getting the proper clearances I could be arrested, and then sent me on my way.

"Good luck on your talk, eh?" he called out after me as I was leaving.

I love Canada.

{ 12:05pm }


{ 1 comment }

» Oh my god! I've been in the Toronto immigration line. I've *gotten* the pink slash, and I, too, have been diverted to the area on the right, away from the baggage claim close enough to taste!

It was January, 1997, and I was going with a delegation from CKS Partners, to meet with Levi's Canada about the store we were building for them.

I gave all the wrong answers. The right ones, as it turns out, was that we were building the store for Levi Strauss USA, and were just meeting with Levi's Canada for their opinions, not that they were our actual client.

Half our team made it through, half (including me) got detained for a good 90 minutes while they went through rules and paperwork.

The lady helping me wasn't turned to the light side so easily...

But I have another story about that trip...

Kevin Fox  { 3.28.02 @ 3:46pm }


« before     { current }     after »

{ news }
» Goodbye old friend.

» Don't miss the photos and audio from Fray Cafe 2.

» Psst. Hey kid. Wanna buy some swag?

{ me.elsewhere }
  My snail tracks on the web.
» DfC profile
» New Riders profile
» Amazon wish list
» {fray} is page
» Mirror Project pics
» FilePile profile
{ new in dfc }
  Gaming the system: How moderation tools can backfire
Sometimes all the widgets backfire, encouraging the very behavior they're designed to avert. The rules have a dangerous side-effect: they create a game.
{ new in fray }
  "I wanted to spend the 4th with someone who always knew the way back home."

Counting Flags by Kevin Smokler.
{ new in sfstories }
  the slow glimmering descent
I've been watching fireworks there for years, but last night was different. And not just because it was clear.
{ new in fray org }
  fray day 6
Fray Day 6 is coming to cities all over the world on September 14, 2002. Come tell your story.
{ see also }