Friday, March 2, 2007

We made it into San Francisco yesterday evening but not without a significant load of stress thanks to US customs.

I had called the border services of both the US and Canada the day before asking what paperwork I needed to cross with a few pages to sell. The Canadians were very helpful and the American gave me what sounded to be some good advice, keep the merch under two grand, inventory everything and mention that it's for a trade show and you should be okay.

I downloaded all the forms, put together a list of pages, everything neat and tidy. I get to the airport and head to the Canadian export office with my declarations, the man there was very pleasant, gave excellent advice and stamped my papers with a smile.

We stroll into customs about 90 minutes before our flight, the crowds are light and we're thinking "Whoo hoo, this is going really well".

Until we see That Guy.

That Guy was the same guy who ran our family through last May for the Hawaii wedding trip. He flagged mom for some oddities in her travel papers, whisking her off to immigration while we all waited on the other side being barked at by the guards to keep going, not knowing if mom will be cleared for her own daughter's wedding!

It turned out all right but it was quite stressful for no reason because mom's papers were all in order, just not in an order That Guy was used to.

We go up, hand over our papers, he looks at Vicky's US passport and our Canuck ones and tells her she needs to step back because suddenly she isn't traveling with us anymore. He types things into his screen for a long time then marks our customs forms and says "Follow me."

No chance to talk to Vic about what to do in case we miss our flight, zip. Off we go into customs land.

And the moment we sit down it looks bad. About a dozen people are sitting in chairs all looking very pissed. There are customs officers all over the place and none of them are talking to actual travellers. They're standing at their posts, chatting in their offices, having lunch basically. We sit there for some 20 minutes before we realise that no one's been called up yet.

The green door we're supposed to enter once our name is called has a rusty hinge that squeak/grinds with teeth rattling annoyance. Guards keep going in and out of this crazy door but no travellers.

There are signs everywhere blaring CELL PHONES ARE PROHIBITED IN THIS AREA and about ten minutes before our boarding time my phone starts to ring. And ring and ring. It was obvious that Vic was freaking out over what to do at the gate, stay or go, and I wanted very much to answer and let her know what was happening but the customs people were clearly not interested in that so I just had to sit there while my Sanford & Son ringtone chimed weakly in my shoulder bag, a chime I liked quite a bit until then as it landed us a point in the audio portion of the previous night's pub quiz down at the Anza.

Finally things start moving about a half hour into our wait, people get called up, most of them having their foreign sounding names completely butchered by these guys, it reminded me of that scene in Adams Family Values, the one in summer camp where all the non-waspy kids get the crappy bit parts in the Thanksgiving show.

About five minutes before our flight is set to leave I get called in and am thoroughly grilled about my citizenship which becomes more alarming when the woman steps aside and though whispering, very audibly asks her colleague if I should be considered a US citizen since my parent's weren't citizens themselves when I was born in Jersey. Holy crap. She returns and starts up again "Did your parent's have a Green Card? Was your father staying on a diplomatic visa since he was working at the UN?" and all I could answer was "No idea."

"Did you ever have a US passport?" and I answer "Yep, my last one I got when I was twelve, it's since expired. I was considered a US citizen until I naturalised in the early 90's." I would have added "and now I'm dual" but past experience with US customs agents has always led to near violent outbursts claiming "There's no such thing! Rahrahrahrr!" so I kept my mouth shut.

Finally she gives up on this line of questioning and starts on the pages themselves which leads to the working status of both myself and Ian. Yes, we live in Canada, work for companies in the US, pay Canadian taxes, yes it's a comic book convention, yeah that's like a tradeshow.

She frowns slightly then says "Follow me." and leads me back out to the main waiting area, over to the inspection counter where she hands me off to another guard, very Dick Butkiss this one, and we go through import/export laws.

Turns out, despite being under $2000 in goods, the Vancouver airport is not considered a commercial port and therefore commercial goods can't be processed through there. What I should have done is sent the pages ahead by FedEx and let their customs people deal with it. I would be let off this time but if I ever tried this stunt again it would be on my record where That Guy will probably see it and I'd be busted.


So nearly two hours later we're standing shoe-less in the security area waiting to get my folio case back because it got tagged for further inspection when the X-ray person didn't know what my roll of masking tape was all about.

Now boys and girls, do you see why I tend not to bring pages with me to US conventions? I can't wait to line up for the seller's permit today!

Luckily there was another flight available, this one direct so even better, and we only had an hour and a half wait.

Once up in the air the combined lack of sleep and crazy citizenship stress led to passing out halfway into chapter 16 of Deja Vu. I woke up in the middle of chapter 18 as we were making our final descent (I'm going to have a fun time trying to figure out how far back to go in the book).

There was some added amusement at the car rental place, a little semi-scam with the compact Vic ordered online. It turned out to be this little Aveo, BRIGHT YELLOW with a huge dent in the passenger side door. The guy tried to upsell us to a prettier Ford Taurus "for only 8 bucks more". Yeah, right. We took the clown car, turned down a lot of upselling on gas (only three bucks a gallon from our pumps!) and extra insurance we didn't need since ours covered things just fine, whereupon he proceeded to tell us a story about Canadians from "SOO-RAY " who had an accident just last year and their insurance didn't cover them. Uh huh, no thank you. The car is pretty good, the upside being you can spot it immediately in a parkade, the downside... you really need to lock the doors to make sure people don't jump in thinking you're a cab. So far we've had one woman try to hail us on Market street.

Time to face Friday.

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