I left New Hampshire on my way to southern Indiana, and since I’d never been to Michigan, and it had been 1986 since I’d been to Canada, I decided I’d take the scenic route.

That may have been a small error in judgement. 

When I last crossed into Canada, the border basically consisted of a booth with a guy who waved to you nicely as you passed by. That’s not the case anymore.

I got to the border, and the agent at the booth asked me the expected questions. Where I was from, where I was going, why was I going there, that sort of thing. Then she asked more and deeper questions. And more. And deeper. Lots and lots more. She asked me a lot about carrying knives across the border. It was a little weird and unsettling, actually.

She told me to pull to the left and go inside to talk to another border guard. I did that, and the new border guard and her very tall, muscular colleague were waiting with concerned looks on their faces. I was the only traveler inside. The guard asked me a lot more questions, and again a lot of them involved whether I was carrying weapons, specifically knives, even pocket knives, across the border. I don’t know why. Her colleague spoke to her frequently, in French, and it seemed she’d then relay his questions to me. Lots of questions about where I lived, and whether I was carrying knives, even pocket knives or other sharp objects. I had declared my cooking knives about a dozen times when the first guard told me her fellow guard would go outside and search Gypsy.

Ok, whatever. I wasn’t carrying anything I shouldn’t have been, it was just weird and annoying.

He was gone about one minute when he came back inside and spoke to the first guard again. They both donned gloves and went back out to Gypsy. Now I was starting to get really weirded out. What the hell could the problem possibly be?

It was about twenty minutes later that they came back in, the large fellow carrying something in his hand that was jingling a bit, but I couldn’t see what it was for his very large hands. He didn’t go back behind the counter, but stood to my side while she went back behind the counter and gave me an extremely disconcerting stare. More questions. Where did I live? Was that a permanent residence? Did I have family in the states? Was I meeting someone in Canada? How much money did I have on me? What was my source of income? No questions about knives.

The tall fellow spoke in French, and I didn’t quite catch it. She asked me to empty my pockets. I did. He spoke again, I didn’t know those words. In very heavily accented English, he asked me to turn my pockets inside out, but asked it in such a non-idiomatic way that I didn’t understand what he wanted. She translated, and I complied. I was pretty sure that jingling was from a pair of handcuffs at this point, and I was about to be arrested for gods-only-know-what.

“Is everything alright?” I asked?

“Yes, fine,” she replied. “See, here’s the problem…. You’re very clearly living out of your car. You work for yourself, but don’t really have a job. You have almost no money in your pockets, and less in your bank account. You say you’re coming to Canada to go to a park and take pictures of the stars and leave via Michigan. We just want to make sure you leave when you say you will.”

It turns out that Canada is bracing for an influx of illegally immigrating refugees from the fascist regime currently occupying the White House.

That’s pretty scary.

Once I showed her my campsite reservation for Friday in Canal Winchester, Ohio, the atmosphere tangibly shifted. The mood lightened, the interview was over, and I could leave happily on my way.

The big guy handed me Gypsy’s keys. Yeah. Not handcuffs.

I got out to Gypsy and discovered they’d tossed her thoroughly, and made a huge fucking mess. Shit was everywhere. I keep a container of Country Time lemonade mix on the passenger side floor next to five gallons of water, so it’s easy to reach (because of course I do – it’s THE MAKING LEMONADE ROAD TOUR, duh). A bunch of it was all over the front seat. My guess is they dumped some out and tested it for drugs, hence the assistance needed by the big guy and the gloves.

Also, I’d forgotten I had two corkscrews of the pocket-knife style in Gypsy, one of which rides right between the front seats, in plain sight. Also two actual pocket knives in one of my bags. Also my leatherman’s tool in one bag. Also three wood chisels in my tool bag in the trunk. Oddly, none of them had been confiscated, so I’m not sure what the big fuss about knives was about.

After all was said and done, Quebec didn’t welcome me very politely when I came, and they were very happy to see I’d be leaving quickly.


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Louis Shackleton is a boudoir, portrait, art, event, and wildlife photographer formerly based in Wilmington, NC and now traveling the continent in his 2001 VW Passat named Gypsy.

Head on over to the About page to read more about him and his work.

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