Catching Lies


I've been through customs a few times in the last month, twice in the car at the Pac Highway Truck Crossing and once in YVR. Every time I have to pass through I get nervous and wonder what I'll be asked and what I'll answer.

I've never been detained or harassed by CBP, so I don't know why I get anxious, but I do. I speak only when spoken to and I offer no extraneous information. I make some eye contact but I don't stare. I try to appear casual and relaxed even though I'm acutely aware of every move and twitch I'm making.

It probably has a little something to do with having been arrested many years ago for a minor traffic violation. I would have registered my car when it was due had I been able to afford it, but I let it lapse because I could barely pay my rent back then. I got a fix-it ticket for expired tags and when I didn't get that taken care of, the county of Santa Clara issued a bench warrant. For expired tags.

The next time I was pulled over - for expired tags - they looked up the warrant and took me in, in handcuffs, in the back of the cruiser. For expired tags. If I couldn't afford to register my car, I sure as hell couldn't afford to make bail. So I sat in the county lockup for about eight hours until they processed me out. For expired tags.

I guess that "learned me" that at any time, for seemingly ridiculous reasons, Johnny Law can clap your ass in handcuffs and haul you away. I'm sure back then I realized it was possible I could have been taken to jail for failure to pay the fine, but I didn't believe it would actually happen. Turns out it can! Who knew? This is what can happen in a small town without any real crime.

Anyway, when crossing the border into the US, the CBP is all business - very serious - and they ask a fair amount of questions: "Where do you live?" "What brought you to Canada?" "What kind of video games?" "What titles have you shipped?" "What systems?"

Those questions were for David when he was with me recently on a day trip to Seattle. Later I asked David why they asked so many questions about games/his job - he said they're trying to catch you in a lie.

I told David, if my passport & work permit have certain information, my story is going to support all that information, down to the last detail, true or fiction. Do they really expect to catch anyone by asking a bunch of easy questions? As George Costanza said, It's not a lie if you believe it.

Going down last Thursday, I got the standard battery, where do I live, where am I going, and what's in the box. They almost always ask what's in the box, which first makes me think of Gwyneth Paltrow's head, but then I remember they mean the cargo box on top of the car.

Coming back into Canada, first of all, there are no radiological scanners and all they ask is how long you've been away and if you're bringing any booze or cigarettes into the country. Sometimes you'll be asked if you're bringing more than $10,000 across the border, to which I always want to answer I wish! but I don't want to push my luck.

This last time I returned to Canadia, CBSA asked me if I was a PR. A Personal Record? No. Person of Record? Not sure... Took me a second to figure that out, but then I answered no, temporary resident on a work permit.

He asked me how long I'd been away and if I'd brought anything back with me. I said I'd gone down for the day and brought back a mug and a t-shirt. He said Have a nice night and sent me on my way.

I felt like the biggest idiot. I had a bag of Trader Joe's groceries on the floor in the back that COULD have been a bag full of booze. Blerg.