Returning to the U.S. is no picnic

Barry SmithAspen, CO Colorado

“Irrelativity” is on the road as Barry tours his solo shows through the U.S. and Canada this summer. This dispatch is from Somewhere in Western Canada.I’ve been warned about this drive, the one I’m making as you read this. It’s a drive from Toronto to Winnipeg. When I tell people that I’m driving this stretch, rather than flying, they look at me like I’ve just told them of my recently diagnosed medical condition.”Oh no,” they say. “I’m sorry.” Now, granted, they are Canadians, so they would say “sorry” no matter what I just told them, but I have seen genuine concern in the eyes of others when they find out that I’ll be taking a motor vehicle this great distance, across this particular part of Canada.”I drove across Nebraska, so I should be OK,” I tell them.They assure me that this drive is nothing compared to Nebraska. And yes, they’re Canadians, so they actually know where Nebraska is, which is more than I can say about me and Winnipeg.The thing is, there is a much shorter (by six hours) route, but that would mean crossing back into the States for a bit, then back into Canada. And border crossings make me nervous.It shouldn’t come as any big surprise that Americans aren’t generally the most popular species at the moment, so just over a month ago, when I first arrived in Canada, I wasn’t exactly welcomed with open arms. Instead, I was told to park my van on the left and head into the little office. I hate the little office.A woman who seemed incapable of smiling stood behind a thick glass window and asked me, essentially, what the hell I wanted. She was not impressed when I told her I wanted to hang out in Canada for four months and do my little shows.”I’ve got documentation,” I tell her, pulling out my dossier, a manila envelope on which I’d scrawled “Canada” with a mostly dried up Sharpie. In it was my passport, a letter from Revenue Canada (Canadian IRS), and invitation letters from the various Fringe festivals I’d be performing at.”See?” I say, sliding the contents of the dossier under the glass.I figured that with this kind of paperwork and presentation, I was in? – easy. She was not so impressed. And, in retrospect I guess I can understand. Maybe, just maybe, a photocopied letter from the Saskatoon Fringe Theatre Festival saying that I’m an OK guy doesn’t carry as much weight in an international border crossing situation as I might have thought.”Have you ever been to court?” she asked, tapping away on her keyboard.I thought for a second, then said no.She stopped typing and looked up at me for the first time, her face distorted through the thick glass.”Why did you hesitate?” she asked, with a tone that said, “Aha! Gotcha!”I told her, without hesitation, that I hesitated because I’d just had jury duty, and was wondering if that counted as having been to court, but after thinking about it for a second realized that it probably didn’t.She went back to typing. Phew!Certainly this was not the most grueling border crossing situation I’ve encountered – returning to the U.S. after a three-month trip through Mexico in my ’71 VW van comes to mind – but I had a lot riding on this moment. For months I’d been planning and organizing this Canadian tour, and I felt very vulnerable at the border, as the typing, glass-distorted woman had the ability to slam the door on my bitchin’ summer. And, I realized, as she got all excited about the fact that I might have just lied about having been to court, that she could deny me access to her country on a whim. I was bound to slip up if she talked to me long enough. Or worse, I’d try to make a joke. And if she said I couldn’t come in to Canada, what would I do? Tell on her?Returning to the U.S. is no picnic either. The last two times I did so, I was met with guys asking me, blatantly, what the hell I wanted. And they had guns.”Uh, to return home.”Nope. Gonna have to do better than that. Think up a better answer while we search your belongings and read aloud from your diary.So, yeah – I’m currently going the long way around to avoid the raging party that is border crossing.Next stop – Winnipeg. Which, as you may recall from earlier, is in Canada.Read more about Barry’s tour (with pictures) on his blog, His column appears here Mondays.