Update 9/8/2014

September 8th, 2014

After a much needed vacation, I’m back and feeling re-energized. Our special vacation spot allows us to escape the hectic madness of our daily lives. It’s a wonderfully quiet place that’s off the beaten path. It’s a Canadian island accessible only by ferry, and it provides the setting for my as-yet unfinished “Island Girls” story. That story has been hanging fire for some time now; I found I’d dug myself into a hole with it. The First Law of Holes is, “If you find yourself in one, stop digging.” That’s precisely what I did. I stopped digging and put the story aside. I hoped returning to the scene of the crime might give me the inspiration I needed to find a way to climb out of the hole, and I’m happy to say I think it did. However, Karen and Laci get first dibs on my limited writing time.

Our little slice of heaven is definitely not for everyone. It appeals to those of us who can go a week without a Wal-Mart, MacDonald’s, or chain restaurants. Cellphone service is spotty, especially if your provider is American, like Verizon or US Cellular. Internet access is quite limited if you’re a visitor, with only three or four public Wi-Fi hotspots. The rhythm of life on the island is set by the ebb and flow of the extraordinarily high tides. It’s crisscrossed with a series of excellent hiking trails, enabling an amorous couple ample opportunities for frolicking in the pucker brush. The weather being unusually beautiful, we took full advantage of those opportunities both day and night. (We long ago discovered that a blanket is a must if sex-on-the-beach is on the menu – sand has a way of getting into places it was never meant to be.)

Since our special place is in Canada, there is a need to cross the border. When we first started going, the crossing we used ran through the middle of two small cities. It’s one of the 10 busiest US/Canada crossings, so things could get congested. Since the two cities were separated only by a river, the local residents were used to crossing back and forth with no more hassle than would be found at a toll booth. We’d reach the crossing into Canada, and a border patrol officer would scan our driver’s license, ask why we were entering Canada, where we were going, how long we planned to stay, whether we had any firearms, pepper spray, or mace, then said, “Enjoy your stay.”

The return to the US pretty much mirrored the procedure to enter Canada, except the border police tended to be less congenial, and more suspicious. If you had a cooler, you could count on it being inspected for contraband food. One year, an asshole border cop confiscated a 5 lb log of Maple Leaf bologna I wanted to bring home (it makes the best fried bologna sandwiches ever), and tossed it in a garbage can. He looked like someone who liked kicking puppies.

Still and all, crossing was relatively easy the first couple of years. Unfortunately, the times they were a-changing thanks to 9/11 and the hysterical fear it bred. Where once a driver’s license was sufficient documentation to cross, now a passport is required. The Canadians don’t seem to be as terrified, so getting in to Canada remains relatively easy. Their border cops, while not exactly warm and fuzzy, are generally polite, courteous, and seem to like puppies and kittens.

Some years back, it became apparent to the bureaucrats in charge of such things, that that particular border crossing station was inadequate for the volume of passenger and commercial traffic it saw. Bean counters in Washington and Ottawa got together and agreed to join forces and build a new crossing about three miles up the river.

The Canadians used the opportunity to build a new four lane highway from the crossing to the largest city in the province, and all points inbetween. The crossing itself was designed to look like an old-timey railroad station. Their border cops at the new station still dress in generic police uniforms and greet visitors with courtesy, and oftentimes even a smile. 

On the American side? The extent of the road upgrade consisted of a new traffic circle on the same pot-holed, two-lane road that hasn’t been upgraded since it was first built in the 1930s (In my part of the US, environmentalists fight any infrastructure upgrades tooth-and-nail; they’re masters of using the courts and the bureaucratic red tape to ensure improvements will never happen. I think the Canadians have it right. When it comes to infrastructure projects like highways, all stakeholders involved, environmentalists and developers, know they’re not getting everything they want. Their system seems to require both sides lay out their wishes and concerns ahead of time, and once a decision is made, the courts are loath to get involved, thus stonewalling is, if not eliminated then greatly attenuated. A happy medium is attained, and life goes on.) All the money available for the project went into the actual crossing station.

The new border crossing station is a massive, essentially windowless one story granite edifice, looking like either a prison or a fortress, surrounded by fences, and under the watchful eyes of hundreds of surveillance cameras. The border agents are decked out in military uniforms not much different from my son’s National Guard uniform. They pace restlessly, at least one of them with a guard dog by his or her side, and once with one carrying some sort of assault gun. Those of you of a certain age will understand what I mean when I say it closely resembles Checkpoint Charlie. 

The American border cops, already among the most disagreeable, arrogant assholes I’ve ever encountered (and trust me, I know cops – my son is one, and if anyone understands the BS they face every day, it’s me), now have permission to play soldier, and they lap it up – perhaps Canadian tanks are going to come rumbling across the bridge any day now.

We’ve been singled out for “further inspection” two of the last three times we’ve returned home. On both of those occasions, we were asked the standard questions: where have you been? where are you from? how long have you been gone? Are you bringing anything you purchased in Canada? Any alcohol or tobacco? What is your relationship? It’s this last question that seems to draw the most interest. Two women; married. Hmmm. (The last time we were sent for further scrutiny, a “lady” border cop my wife nicknamed GI Jane, brazenly ogled her, which almost led my subdued other half – HA! – to say something that would have gotten our car and ourselves strip-searched) OK asshole, not all lesbians look like GI Jane, or Sergeant Sadie, USMC. Whatever it was, the four packages of Donair meat and log of Maple Leaf bologna I fessed up to when asked, or some sort of homophobic assholery, I was directed to pull the car over to the inspection bay and follow the instructions of the officer. Said officer, all resplendent in his soldier get-up, instructed us to exit the car, leave the keys on the hood, step through the revolving door, and report to the officer at the desk for instructions.

Sigh. As we approached the revolving door entrance, a party of four which included an elderly lady with a walker, and presumably belonging to the car under inspection next to ours, came sauntering out. We reported to the desk officer, a sour-faced middle-age man who looked like he spanked his grandkids if they made too much noise, told us to sit on the long granite bench opposite him until we were told otherwise. After five minutes of the desk sergeant tapping away on his computer (probably watching a ball game), I could see my wife’s notoriously short fuse was about to be lit. I elbowed her to shut the hell up, so she settled for glaring at the cop, with her jaw set and smoke coming from her ears. Barney Fife didn’t seem inclined to much care.

Luckily for us, at that moment, one of the border cops escorted four men who were clearly Hispanic into the welcoming area. Here was a far more interesting catch than two married dykes. From what I could gather, the men came to Maine to pick blueberries, went to Canada “just to see it,” and were coming back to dig potatoes, then pick apples. At least the border cops were polite with us. The Hispanic men didn’t get even basic courtesy. Sigh

Now faced with genuinely potential illegal immigrants, they lost all interest in us. We were given our passports and sent on our way, duly harassed and reminded the good ol’ days when your government trusted you are gone. They’re in charge and we damn well better remember it.

Freed and cleared, we returned home. Where do we stand with our heroines? I’m about 2/3 through the first draft of Chapter 15. I hope to have it concluded next week, barring unexpected intrusions on my time. Even if it isn’t finished, I’ll post a new update. I’d like to share our experience seeing the Boston Symphony performance of Beethoven’s 9th, the source of Laci’s Chapter 14 epiphany. I also see that the BSO is performing Beethoven’s 5th on the 20th of September, and that has me thinking…