To be honest, I thought long and hard about whether to share this week’s tale from last fall with anyone beyond the one person who was there who already knows it. As a matter of fact, I said that to my Lady Jane as we pulled slowly away from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Station in Calais, Maine.
Now, the very nature of the mistakes that most of us make with a fairly high degree of regularity in our actions are unintentional, which sets the mistakes apart from those of the criminal types. So it was with this faux pas, which I own 100 percent should historians ever wish to record this. In no way was my passenger, The First Lady of Montezuma, culpable.
Despite my telling Jane last October as we pulled away from the authorities that we would harbor the secret of our experience with the same zeal as the three returning canoers in the movie Deliverance as to what really happened on the banks of the fictional waters of the Cahulawassee River, I’ve decided to provide you this following cautionary tale.
If you’ve been with me for a while, you know I do quite a bit of traveling and often write of my road experiences. My travel-centric writing style is, like a lot of other parts of me, pretty quirky. Not only do I provide you with the standard what-I-saw-and-you-should-too prose, but I also try to inject a lot of the human element as well.
Let me get you back to Calais and my crossing back into my country from Alma, New Brunswick, a Canadian fishing villages where the locals rely on lobster and scallop fishing in a stretch of the North Atlantic known as the Bay of Fundy.
The nearby Fundy National Park and the rugged coastline of the Bay of Fundy that rises to the Highland of Canada were as pretty a palate to paint the colors of October’s deciduous trees as could be imaged.
However, there eventually came the time to cross back over the St. Croix River from St. Stephen on the Canadian side to Calais and continue our journey on to Springfield, Massachusetts, so I could scratch that basketball itch to see its hall of fame in the city where Dr. James Naismith first posted his 13 rules of this thing he called, using two separate words, basket ball.
When I crossed on my way to Alma, I had no trouble with a clearly marked lane to the booth and customs agent. However, coming back across, it looked a whole lot different as I got in a lane that I thought would take me to a booth. It turned out the lane led to the road, meaning I had inadvertently bypassed the booth. I realized my mistake as soon as I heard and saw three agents running out from the main building, not with guns drawn but certainly with hands on top of their holstered weapons and yelling for me to halt.
We were ordered out of the car and into the main building. Over the next half hour, Jane and I were certainly eyed with great suspicion. We handed over our passports to one agent, who busily checked her computer and asked a whole battery of questions. We handed my car keys to another, whose job it was to check the car from engine to trunk.
While explaining my honest mistake, I saw the car-searching agent through the window with the two stuffed lobsters that were in the trunk that I was bringing back for my granddaughters and momentarily thought they may cut them open to look for any contraband. The agent settled for some Charmin squeezes before returning them to the trunk. When my little ladies, Caroline and Abigail, are a little older, I’ll tell them those stuffed lobsters were actually pre-played-with before their Pa Pa gave them.
Finally we were allowed to continue on our way after stiff warnings that we approach every checkpoint carefully from this point on, which, of course, we most certainly will.
Looking back, I really have zero hard feelings. It was my own confusion and stupidity that caused the incident, and I certainly appreciate the difficult jobs that our border personnel do to keep us as safe as possible.
And, that’s my travel tale for today, one that comes with a valuable lesson that applies to so much in life. Both figuratively and literally, it’s always best to make sure you’re in the right lane.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.