Last Thursday, my husband and I went on a bus tour with a choir. We and 26 others were the groupies. I will not join this choir because they sing for the pure love of it and are totally dedicated. They meet every Friday without fail and perform almost every weekend. I could never be so committed. Because Adam and I have been friends with the director for many years, we are always included when they travel any distance that requires a hotel stay. This was the third such trip.
Fifty two bleary eyed people crawled onto the bus at 5:30 in the morning and settled in for the three hour drive to the U.S. border. When we reached Port Huron, it was 10:00am. We dutifully pulled out our passports and lined up to show them to the customs officers. When the choir members told the young officer they were paying for the bus and hotel from their own pockets and were receiving no money for the performances, he was heard to tell one of his peers that he thought that was bullshit, and he didn’t believe us. Where were the legal papers stating this was not a money making trip for the choir? Papers? Papers were required? This was news to us all. And so the adventure began.
He told the 24 choir members that though they had crossed the border many times before to sing, their luck had run out on this trip. They were not going to take work away from Americans, and if they tried to cross the border at another crossing, they would be banned from the States for five years. With mouths agape, we heard that the director was finger printed and told he would be screened every time he tried to go to the States.
The only time I got truly miffed was when we were not allowed, in the three hours we waited, to use the facilities or get off the bus. Yes, there was a washroom on board, but we knew from experience that bus toilets, if not cleaned thoroughly and disinfected, go from a slightly swamp like odor to downright sickening. We were using the bus for four days. We would be way past swamp smell. At another point during our wait, an officer came over and told the bus driver to turn off the motor as the fumes were unpleasant. They no doubt were, but if he had turned off the engine, the bus would have been stifling and airless within minutes. Bless him; he refused when they did not allow him to move the bus to an area where the fumes would not have been an issue.
When the director finally got on the bus at 1:00 pm., one of the choir members told us all was not yet lost. He had called a friend who had the telephone number of a U.S. Senator. We were escorted out of the U.S.A. When we got to the Canadian border, a young officer came aboard the bus and hollered that we were all under arrest! My thoughts were elsewhere, and for a moment I was disoriented as to which side the border we were on. It was a “Depends” moment for me. The roar of laughter from the group on the bus instantly reassured me where we were and I was able to join in the laughter.
We pulled into the parking lot of a lamentably small mall and waited. Four senators, and the inclusion of some Washington officials later, we were told we could go back. With some trepidation, we pulled into the same border crossing. I would have paid money to have seen the face of the young officer who had made the stand to not let us in eight hours earlier. I actually felt sorry for him as I’m pretty sure he will get more than a slap on the wrist. I have to give him credit; he made a stand and didn’t waver from it. Some maintained he was an arrogant puppy who was flexing his security muscles. I might have given you a direct quote if I weren't such a lady.
Once again, the choir members had to get off the bus. The rest of us did not. The officers who came on board to check our passports were pleasant and had a sense of humour. The procedure went without a hitch, was stress free, and even included laughter.
Within half an hour the choir was back with bits of paper stapled to their passports stating they could not return to Canada before Sunday. I never did ask why; I was just thrilled and amazed we were in. Later on, the irony hit. First they couldn’t get in, and then they couldn’t get out!
We could not drive to the hotel we were to stay in as the bus driver was already past the legal time he was to be working, so we drove to the nearest motel that could accommodate us and spent the night there.
The rest of the weekend proved that it had been worth the eight hour wait to get into the U.S. We had a wonderful time. I can’t wait for the Washington trip.
© Christine Terepora 2011