How I Got Banned from Canada (before I ever stepped foot in to Canada)
I learned two important lessons from my trip to Canada.
1. Cops are assholes everywhere
2. There is a reason the bus only costs $50
I took a double-decker Megabus from Port Authority (New York) at 7:00 PM. I’ve never taken a bus anywhere. Not even school. But there is something romantic about the bus.
I always looked at that the silhouettes through the window with a feeling of missing out. Where were they going? Omaha? Richmond? So, when my editor in Toronto called me and invited me for the weekend I bought the Megabus ticket, the big blue bus with tickets for $1. Packed my passport and a bag.
Me: Panhandle? I have a MacBook Pro!
My editor also requested I bring Adderall. As much as I could find. Apparently doctors in Canada don’t send you home with pillowcases full of pills like they do here. I had three laying around so I packed those into the loose binding of an old novel.
The point of booking the late bus was to get some sleep overnight. I thought I’d arrive rested enough to party non-stop the next three days. You learn very quickly that the bus is part of your penance for being poor.
There were three main demographics being represented on the bus:
1. New mothers
2. People of Asian Origen (I think Koreans)
3. Broke kids (me and one hot Polish girl to my left)
Daddy’s weekend must have just ended. Young mothers filled in the seats and turned their kids loose. The bus became a Six Flags Safari treck. The kids swung from the bars and ran up and down the center aisle practicing war chants, or maybe a future prison riot. Finally, the hot Polish girl grabbed a bag of Skittles from one of the mothers and said, “You’ll get this back at the end of the trip”.
The Asians all camped on the first floor. They didn’t make any noise. They had electronic gadgets and went the way of the future. Plugged up. Hypnotized.
I gave up trying to sleep and pulled out my lap top. I figured I could at least watch a movie, but my wi-fi never worked. A cell phone from the seat behind me rang, loudly, and kept ringing. Finally, a woman picked up.
Conversation (at full volume)
Yes this is Tammy … you like my profile? … that’s cute … yeah I’m just on a bus, I can talk now …. I do, I’ve got kids … you’ve got four? I’ve got four … well if we get married or something we’ll have to tell em they brother and sister before they start getting each other pregnant … haha you know? … yea I’m sure I can talk now … heading back to Buffalo … this whole country ain’t no place to raise kids. No morals … everyone’s out for themselves … people do look mad … well fuck ’em … no morals ….
I’d taken a Xanax at the starting gate. I was still angry but I couldn’t move. I turned my head to see if any one else thought her actions broke the sanctity of commuter ethics but no one seemed to care.
Our first drop off was in Syracuse. About midnight. A few women got off the bus with their kids. The internet shut off when the bus stopped and I could hear the Asians downstairs growing restless. From my position I could see the door of the downstairs bathroom. Two old men got up and went into the tiny bathroom together.
When the bus started driving we took two hard dips in a pothole. One man came out. A few minutes later the other came out. I forgot about them. I got my computer back out and was trying to think of a story. I guess I did this for a decent amount of time. I typed one letter and the intercom came on:
‘Excuse me, whoever is responsible for the mess in the bathroom should feel … that is not my job …THAT IS NOT MY JOB … I’m disappointed in every single one of you!’
We drove in to Buffalo at 4 AM. All the mothers and their kids finally left. One lady, who had been sitting in the Asian section ran up the stairs to the second floor. She was dressed as a nun but had blue hair. She grabbed a worker.
Nun: Where am I? WHERE AM I RIGHT NOW?
Guy: Buffalo (he seemed unsure)
Nun: Buffalo? Do you swear?
Nun: OK. Buffalo is where I need to be
She skipped off the bus into the abysmal urban forest of dead Buffalo. The hot Polish girl laughed. I laughed. This was my chance. I moved to the seat in front of her and we lay across our seats and laughed together. The intercom came on again: We will be at the Canadian border in 10 minutes. The bus will be unloaded and everyone will go in to the office.
I asked if she thought the border guys would search all of my stuff. She said they definitely would. I took all three Adderall out (30 milligrams each) and held them in my hand. I figured if things got hairy I could just eat them all. I also gave the girl a business card and told her I’d just been arrested #occupying, if I didn’t come back to please call my mother.
The border looks like something the Third Reich would have built to counter an alien invasion. And when you get brought in you’re placed in front of men, all 8 feet tall, ready to send you to the gallows if you hiccup wrong.
As soon as I saw what I was up against I pretended to sneeze and shoved the three Adderall in my mouth. I was so dry and nervous I had to punch myself in the chin to swallow them down. All the Canadians went right through. None of the Asians had paperwork so their conversations sounded something like this:
Guard: I DON’T SPEAK YOUR LANGUAGE
Asian: Bunch of untranslated stuff
Guard: ARE YOU MARRIED (making a ring on a finger motion)
Asian: (Mimics motion)
Guard: OK they’re good, let them pass.
When I saw this I regretted eating all the Adderall. I was a documented citizen of a country, with a passport, and I spoke English. What could go wrong?
Guard: Where were you September 9, 2003?
Me: Well ….
Guard: It says you were arrested for selling marijuana.
Me: Oh no. That got thrown out and no one was ever supposed to see that
Guard: Where were you December 15, 2006?
Me: Well ….
Guard: It says you were arrested for trespassing.
Me: Also a big misunderstanding that was supposed to disappear.
He stepped back and pushed a door open. I walked through. I sat on a bench that other people in my position had carved feelings of despair: swastikas, phone numbers, ACAB, 1312, etc.
About twenty minutes had passed. 90 milligrams of Adderall were kicking in. I could feel blood vessels bursting. I was on Canadian soil. If they told me to go home it wouldn’t be on foot. I’d have to be officially deported across the border in to America. This would be harder to explain on my next trip to Canada.
A man who had been left behind by another bus paced. A woman cop came and interviewed him:
Woman: So you don’t remember assaulting him with a weapon? A bottle?
Woman: You don’t remember going to court and being found guilty?
He took off for the door. Three cops tackled him and one knocked me off the bench on the way by. Two strong hands reached down and pulled me up.
Cop: It says you were arrested in New York in October.
Me: Yeah. I was occupying. But the case got thrown out.
Me: The judge decided the cops acted like psychos and broke the law.
Cop: Don’t judge people too harshly for what they get paid to do.
Me: Like drug dealers?
I laughed and winked at him. He didn’t smile. He just stared at me and didn’t blink. Shut up – I said to myself – This is Adderall talking now, not you, don’t let him bait you into conversations, it’s his job to trip you up.
Cop: Why are you coming to Canada?
Me: To visit a friend.
Cop: A girlfriend?
Me: No. We’ve actually never even met.
Cop: Are you coming to cause a domestic disturbance?
Cop: Are they Occupiers? Are you here to overthrow the government?
Cop: How much money do you have?
Cop: You’re coming to another country with $60?
Me: Well she’s rich so she’ll pay for my food.
Cop: Do you have a job?
Cop: Do you have a wife or children?
Cop: When are you leaving?
Me: I don’t know.
Cop: What does your return pass say?
Me: I don’t have one yet.
He walked away and spoke to another fascist. They took my camera – turned it on, went through every picture. Then they turned on my laptop. I was sweating with big obvious drops. I was so thirsty, too. Little pieces of white curd were forming along my lips.
Cop: Our concern is that you are coming here to panhandle.
Me: Panhandle? I have a MacBook Pro!
He stapled a document in to my passport. He said: You are banned from Canada. This piece of paper says that you are temporarily allowed in on a probationary basis. It needs to be returned by you in three days or there will be a warrant out for you arrest.
Me: But the bus doesn’t stop at the Canadian side on the way home. They won’t stop until the New York side.
Cop: If you ever want to come back to Canada you’ll have to get off and walk back.
I went back onto the bus, three hours later, and everyone on the bus looked ready to bite me. Except the hot Polish girl. She took me out for breakfast when we got to Toronto. Paid for it. And let me crash for awhile at her downtown apartment.
When I left New York it was 78 degrees. I thought it was reasonable to not pack a jacket. The morning I left Toronto it was 28 degrees and blizzard. My bus driver wouldn’t stop at the Canadian border and let me out. At the American side I got off the bus and walked about ten feet back towards Canada. But there was a Great Lake in-between us. And it was a blizzard. And I’m not sure I could walk across a Great Lake under optimum conditions anyway.
Inside the U.S. border house it was my turn. I explained the directions I had been given with the document.
Cop: What did you want to go to Canada for?
Me: To see Canada.
Cop: Why would you want to see Canada?
Me: Because … it exists?
He told me that I could get back on the bus and go home. I sat down and slept straight through to New York City. I Googled Canada the next day and got a number. I called.
Me: Hi. Is this … Canada?
I gave my name and explained my directions and how because of a natural disaster (blizzard) I couldn’t return it on my own.
Canada: Yes, you are definitely banned.
Me: Banned? Forever?
Me: Couldn’t I just come back and that would prove that I left?
Canada: Only if you want to go to jail.
Me: Thanks Canada.
Canada: You’re welcome.
I thought about my new life as an outlaw. My editor said this was a big problem. My father said, “You shouldn’t spend you money in other countries, anyway”. I went to bed that night and tried to forget about everything.
Almost everything. Not the Polish girl.
Illustration by Dan Booth not to be reproduced without his express prior permission