They'll never take me alive.

The problem with lying to customs officials is that you can never stop. You've got one story, however real or fabricated it is, and you've got to stick with it.

I have no idea why I straight-up lied to the officer who was weighing my worth as a traveler through Ontario. His rapid-fire questions pitched me off balance for reasons I still don't understand. Maybe his sneer and his gun combined to activate some heretofore-unexperienced mixture of primness and terror that raised my hackles and my inventiveness.

Consequently, my brain defaulted to "lie like a rug" in some misguided attempt at self-protection.

"Do you have tobacco in your car?"

"No, sir," I smiled. What? What the hell. I had a half-smoked pack of American Spirits right next to me in my bag.

"Do you have alcohol in your car?"

"Nope," I answered with a resolute headshake. Another lie. What was the matter with me? There was a bottle in my backseat. It wasn't too late, I could have a sudden epiphany and come clean and tell --

"Any food?"

"Not at all," I said, glancing down at the mini-cooler full of apples and sliced veggies on the passenger-side floor. Okay, surely he must see that...

He handed back my passport and impatiently waved me through. I stopped myself from asking him what would happen if I'd just lied to him, and whoops, I had all of these items on me after all.

"Well," I thought to myself as I drove on, "you've made some interesting choices just now. Also, what the fuck? I thought Canadians were supposed to be polite."

I wondered what the training sessions were like for these border patrol ... professionals.

"Ok, someone pulls up. How do you greet them?"

"Hello, welcome to--"

"NO! You bark 'What are you doing in Canada?' at them."

"Um, why?"

"To make them feel intensely uncomfortable for no reason at all and assert your position as an authority figure with no sense of propriety in social engagement. This makes you a 'loose cannon' -- unpredictable, and, therefore, dangerous. They'll respect you for it, trust me."


"Now, let's talk posturing. Make 'em feel like human garbage. But you can't call 'em human garbage, so you say it..." [dramatic pause, points to temple] "...with your eyes. Touch your gun frequently, and for no discernible reason. It's a delicate dance, you see. Nuanced. Refined. Let's see, what else? Start asking a question before they finish answering your last one. Don't look them in the eye, ever. If you must look at their face, look at their forehead. Better still, never take off your sunglasses. Never smile. React to at least one of their most innocuous, mundane responses with an alert jerk of the head, like you smell something rotten. That always freaks 'em out. Any questions?"

"Why can't you look them in the eyes?"

"Would you lie down in front of a gott-damn grizzly bear with your balls exposed and a rare rib-eye draped across your neck??!"

"What? No--"

[nods] "Exactly."

Thus began my white-knuckled drive through Ontario's bleak southern peninsula.

As soon as I left Niagara Falls (it was fine), I realized I had no idea how to "be" in Canada. I had no Canadian -- what, dollars? They call them dollars here? How rigid are they about the -- oh, for fuck's sake, the speed limit is metric. Ok, fine, where's that damn conversion button on my dash? Ah, ok, there we go. What do I do if I get pulled over?

I imagined myself getting pulled over for driving 3 Km (kM? KM?) over the speed limit; being found to possess contraband alcohol, tobacco, and produce; not knowing how to speak like a Québécois; being unrealistically dressed for colder weather; and getting arrested and thrown into Canadian jail for the aforementioned atrocities.

My mind conjured a scene out of Canadian Midnight Express, in which we were forced to drink Labatt Blue, eat rancid "bacon," and receive free -- though purportedly mediocre -- medical care.

Who would save me?, I thought. How would they know where to find me? Do I need to buy a calling card? I think that's a thing: calling cards. And who's going to be on the other side of that glass when I expose myself in a desperate plea for human contact? A moose? Oh, Billy...

What's the big deal?

I drove the precise Km/H speed limit for the entire five-hour drive.

True to form, I didn't bother researching anything about where I'd be driving through. When I imagined this leg of the trip, I imagined a panorama of Toronto -- hell, it could've been Montreal -- from a GIS. I thought of clean streets cluttered with the sundry characters from Kids in the Hall. It's basically just a cleaner, more civil America, I lied to myself.

Driving through a map-inch of Canada took half a day. It occurred to me how vast the territory looming to my right was. And there was nothing to this highway but broad stretches of flat land, occasionally sprinkled with subdivisions and strip malls.

For the rest of the drive, I was distracted by the diminishing hope that this expanse of Canada would, at some point, be interesting. Beautiful. Not at the top of my list of places to fall into the ocean and go unmissed.

And, after what felt like an eternity, I was jolted back to reality as I saw the Canada-Michigan border station emerge ahead of me. A gas station attendant a few hundred (thousand?) kilometers back was as flummoxed as I was about whether or not the border police would accept American dollars for the toll.

One hallmark of adulthood is the ability to admit one's errors with humility and grace. By the end of this drive, I was destined to be a wizened paragon of maturity.

I pulled up to the border patrol kiosk with a pleasant smile, bracing myself against the officer's unconcealed and unwarranted contempt.

"Do you have tobacco in your car?"


"Do you have alcohol in your car?"

"No, sir."

"Any food?"

"None whatsoever." [grinning broadly]

After a battery of nonsensical questions -- what do you mean, "Why would you want to see Niagara Falls?" -- I was released back into the wilds of my homeland.

It occurred to me how easy it had been to lie, and how easy it could be to omit some crucial truths again in the future.

"Do you have any firearms in your car?"


"Human remains?"

"No, sir."

"Misbegotten riches?"

"None whatsoever." [grinning broadly]

My God, the possibilities were endless if I could keep a stupid smile plastered on my face. And, according to trusted sources, that was an inevitability. I was a shoe-in for some kind of transnational, amoral trade. How exciting!

And with that untoward villainy whispering in my ear, I broke free from Canada's brutal police state and returned to the precious soil of my peaceful mother country.

I never would have thought I'd be relieved to be in Michigan.



© 2018 Rachel Trignano