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Helen Colgan's Trip

Fitting a Canadian profile

I decided to ride the train from Seattle to Vancouver since that was a morning ride (plenty of time to replace an engine), and I could return by bus in the afternoon - A pleasant day, I thought. And It was a beautiful ride: snow-capped Olympics zagged across a blue sky, balk eagles fished Samish Bay, and I spotted two Great Blues. But the train was late, so I hit Customs running. NOTE: THIS IS NOT A SMART THING TO DO. They pointed me into the interrogation room to face a man who would have fit right into Mt. Rushmore.

Why had I come into Canada for just one day? To see the scenery. NOT A GOOD ANSWER. Where was my luggage? At the hotel in Seattle. He opened my knitting bag, passed over toothbrush and paste and asked why I had brought an umbrella. Someone who lives in Vancouver NEEDS TO ASK THAT?

At the last moment I had tossed in my prescription drugs - why had I brought them? Because hotel maids sometimes steal. He spent a long time going through my Amtrak tickets, 12 segments or so. (He didn't ask for my Via Rail tickets.) I figure if I'm going to spend the money for a sleeper, I want to sleep, so instead of waiting for the train to limp into Sacramento at 1 or 2 a.m., I backtrack to Oakland.

In Philadelphia instead of waiting for the diesel engine to be changed to electric, I hop a Corridere and ride straight to Newark Airport - no sense in trying to wrestle luggage into a train full of New Yorkers far more skilled than I at shoving and pushing. At the airport we get local transport to Evan and Janet's.

All the time he's ripping out vital staples, I'm going, ohmigosh, I've never HAD so much trouble getting into Canada, and he's going, I'm just doing my job.

Then he opens my passport, at random, mind you, to my full page visa from "The Islamic Republic of Pakistan." What was I doing in Pakistan? I wanted to say seeing the scenery since we'd mostly travelled between small mountain villages, soaking up local color, but I knew better by now. Ohmigosh, I said, that was YEARS ago.

Then there were the visas from Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, the first country to offer us landing rights after 9/11. The Uzbeks had also tried to warn us about Al-Quaida (less than two years before 9/11), but we had no idea what they were "really" saying.

Finally, he let me go. I just had time to get a sandwich and catch the bus back. As I sank into my seat, I started spitting out my story to the woman across the aisle. She smiled. Her son works for U.S. Customs, and I fit a profile. Say what? The more I told her, the harder she laughed. "Oh, boy, you REALLY fit a profile." Whatever.

When we left New York to return, Evan said, "Mom, try not to give Customs a hard time." I'm happy to report that they found far more interesting people than I on the Adirondack. (A lady from Spain with no ticket home, a Brit with an expired passport, and a man the dog really took a shine to.) Next year I'll go some place less exciting. Mexico, maybe.

Helen Colgan

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