“Is it OK if I check your bag?” the Canadian customs officer asked me. I couldn’t have heard that correctly.”Excuse me?””Is it OK if I check your bag,” he repeated. He had one of those little alcohol-swab-on-a-stick things poised over my carry-on.”Uh, sure … thanks for asking.”We arrived in Victoria, British Columbia, after a full day of flying – 16 hours. I was there to perform my “Jesus In Montana” show at a theater festival, and my wife, Christina, was with me. Our checked luggage, however, was nowhere to be found.”Did you take your bags through customs at Vancouver?” the Air Canada agent asked.”Uh … no. Just our carry-ons.”Duh.Look, we were tired, and confused, and tourists. We were, apparently, supposed to have picked up our checked bags, carried them through customs, then rechecked them. In retrospect this makes perfect sense, but we had been told that our bags were checked all the way through, and even had baggage claim tags that said “Victoria” on them.So, our bags are stuck in Vancouver, in customs. Clearly we are screwed.”No problem,” the man said, “I know it’s real confusing there, and this happens a lot. We’ll get it taken care of, eh.”Huh?”Just tell us where you’re staying, and we’ll have them shipped over on the next flight once they clear customs, then we’ll deliver them to your hotel. Sorry for the inconvenience.”Huh?This guy was SO nice that I was getting paranoid. What’s going on here? I was looking over my shoulder, thinking that maybe he was trying to distract me with niceness while someone crept up behind me with a tranquilizer gun.But no. He was being so nice because he was Canadian. He gave us each an Air Canada overnight kit: floss, toothbrush and paste, deodorant, an oversized T-shirt and a better razor than the one I owned. The next morning our bags were at the hotel.Our itinerary back home was equally convoluted – another 16-hour day ahead, most of it in layover. The ticket agent – Canadian – said that he could probably get us on a better flight and proceeded to do so. And it wasn’t just a matter of tapping in a few commands, he had to get our bags released from the other airlines, meet us around back at customs, do some other airline voodoo that I didn’t understand. And this better flight left in less than an hour, giving us 20 minutes to check in or else we’d get bumped, and we still had to go through U.S. customs. This was shaving six hours of travel time from our day. This guy was SO helpful that I once again found myself a bit uncomfortable. Not that people have never been helpful in America, or even that all Canadians are like this – I’m just telling you what happened. I was consistently floored by courtesy while in Canada.OK, tickets done, now to race through customs and check in, or else we’re back to a suck-ass day of travel.”What were you doing in Canada?” asks the U.S. Customs agent.”I was performing at a theater festival.”She gives me some serious stink-eye, grabs her blue Sharpie, makes a big “C” on my declaration card and hands it back.”Step into the door on your right. NEXT!”Inside the door we’re greeted by a guy who is clearly a foot shorter than he wishes he was. He launches into interrogation mode: “Why were you in Canada? What did you do there? Why? What’s the big deal about Canada, anyway? America not good enough for you? Put your bags on the table so I can search them!”It was a pretty weak search, but I know that’s all part of the game. He was watching for a reaction, like when he unzips the bag that I DON’T want him to look in I’m supposed to lurch forward and yell, “Oh, dear – it sure is hot in here all of a sudden!”He scowled a bit, asked some more questions, and sent us on our way. And never once did it occur to me to think, “Why is this guy being so nice?”I just though, “Ahhh … welcome home, eh.”
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The past sneaks up on us in the strangest of ways, and I don’t mean bounty hunters flashing those “Wanted: Dead or Alive” posters in our faces.