In which I go to another country

In the morning I woke up and we had a fantastic breakfast hash. It was lovely indeed.

After breakfast, S went on in to the office. I showered, and computed, and hung out with P for a while until it was time to take him to work.

My lovely hostess, S, is the proprietor of a store called Wander on Whidbey. After I dropped P at work, I went and checked out S’s shop. It’s lovely. There’s great stuff there. You should go there, maybe right now, and buy some stuff. I did. I bought some shorts, a shirt, and a sewing kit. I still need to get rid of some shorts and a shirt. I can’t let the amount of stuff in Walden continue to grow.

I’d planned to get the ferry from Anacortes, Washington to Sidney, Vancouver Island, British Columbia. They recommend that you make a reservation on the ferry, but you can’t make reservations the day of the show. Since I barely know where I am on a given day, the idea that I might know where I’ll be the next is far-fetched. Nevertheless, I managed to get on the ferry.

Unlike the last ferry ride, this one lasts a good long while, nearly three hours. It was pretty cool. I looked at the racks of materials to see if there was info a boot (that’s Canadian, get it?) things to do once I got to Canada, but there wasn’t much. Apparently the Washington ferry authority people don’t know or care much about what people do when they get to Canada.

The boat ride came to an end and I drove Walden off the boat. A man asked for my passport, and then asked some questions like whether I had any weapons or food. I told him that I had no weapons. (I was pretty sure that they wouldn’t find the bear spray that I had dropped in the back of the clothes closet. Heck, I’m not sure that I’ll be able to find it.) Yes, I had some food, sandwich meat, mostly. “Vegetables? Yes, I think I have an onion.” “How long am I staying? Less than a week.”

Then the man wanted to know whether it would be six days or five or what. Apparently the whole “less than a week” thing was some kind of flag.

“What are you planning to do while you’re here?”

“I thought I would go up and see, uh, like a park or something. I’d intended to go to Vancouver, but then I saw this ferry came here.”

He kept my passport, stuck a piece of paper under my wiper and told me to park in space number three. I did as requested. The van in space one was backed in, so I followed suit.

A while later a woman came over and asked me to go stand by the fence while they searched the camper. I stood by the fence.

“It says here that you’re a motivational speaker. Do you plan to do any speaking here in Canada?”

“What? No.”

“Do you have any motivational materials like pamphlets or CDs?”

“No, not at all.”

“I see that you’re selling t-shirts. How many of those do you have?”

“About forty, I think.” I didn’t say “I started with fifty, and I have forty left. It’s pretty damn clear that I’m not going to be making a big impact on your economy selling t-shirts.”

“What do you do? Do you have a job?

“Well, I was a university professor until recently. I’m not currently employed.”

“What did you teach?”

“Education. I teach teachers how to use computers in classrooms.”

“What do you plan to do next?”

“If I knew that, do you think I’d be living in a fucking van?!” I thought, but instead said “Well, I’m not really sure. I guess I’ll find another professor job starting next fall.”

“Fall of 2012?”

“Right. You see, my house burned down last September, and I lost my job, so I’m taking some time to travel.

For a moment, she expressed some sympathy that my house had burned down. It didn’t last long. “What plans to you have to return to the US?”

“I told a friend that I would be at his place in Washington next Monday or so.”

“Where did you meet this friend?”

“We went to high school together.” I didn’t mention that I haven’t seen him since 1982.

“How much money do you have in your savings account?”

“What? In my savings account?”

“Yes. How much money do you have access to.”

“About $150,000.”

All of this conversation took place as she was poking around and taking stuff out of the back of Walden. At one point she excused herself to go get a table, as there was a bunch of stuff to go through and she removed things as she dug deeper and deeper. Meanwhile, another guy was going through stuff up in the front section of Walden.

She explained that since I have no job, no house, and no family back in Knoxville, there’s a risk that I’d just stay in Canada. The fact that I had enough cash to fund a considerable stay without needing a job helped. She also asked if I had family anywhere in the states. I quickly enumerated family members in Birmingham, and that I had a sister in San Francisco, and that I was going to a family wedding the first of October.

“Do you have any computers?”

“Yes. I have a couple of laptops.”

“You have two laptops? Why do you have two?”

“Well, one doesn’t have a hard drive, so it makes it difficult to manage photographs.”

“Has anyone else been using your laptop?”

“Uh, a friend used one of them a week or so ago.” I didn’t tell her that the friend’s name was “Little Bird.”

“Do you have any adult content on your laptop?”

“I don’t know, does that video of the two girls with the cup count as ‘adult?’ Haha, just kidding. I haven’t downloaded any porn since I got divorced,” is what I might have said, but instead I said “I don’t think so.” I should have sounded more certain.

“Do you know what I mean by adult content?” she asked pointedly.


About that time, the guy up front asked for my password. Not only was I reluctant to give the guy my password, I wasn’t sure that I could speak it, as at this point it’s mostly in muscle memory and I generally have trouble typing it on my phone or trying to do it with one finger. I went over to the laptop and typed the password.

Then she picked up the box that my new laptop had come in.

“Oh, there’s another laptop in there.”

“You have three laptops?”

“Yes, well, you see, the screen on that one broke, so I bought another one. I haven’t had a chance to get rid of that one yet.”

“The screen is broken? How did it get broken?”

“I don’t really know. I opened it up to use it and the display was cracked.”

“What about the hard drive?” she asked.

“I have every reason to believe that the hard drive is working just fine.”

“What about the data on that hard drive?”

“Well, I don’t really care, it’s all backed up,” said I.

“Where is it backed up?”

“Online, mostly.”

“Can you tell me why you think it’s better to have your data backed up online instead of on the external hard drive you mentioned?”

The notion of how and why and when and where to back stuff up is actually something that I spend a fair amount of time teaching in my class. Did she really want me to explain everything that there was to know about backups? I didn’t think so. “That way,” I said slowly, “if my van burns down, I’ll still have my data,” (Editors Note: Yes, I really did say that, word for word.)

“Fair enough.”

And on it went. And on. And on. And on.

Finally, she had pulled all of the stuff out of the back of Walden and, to my great relief, she said that she’d let me put it back in. I hadn’t done that in a while, and I was actually quite happy to be able to go through it again and see that everything was in place.

She thanked me for my patience and walked off.

I spent the next fifteen minutes or so reorganizing Walden and trying to calm down. The boat arrived at 4:45. By the time I sat down in Walden, it was 5:55. I was tired and in a foreign land with no local currency. I had no idea where I might stay. I drove on toward town. There was a sign suggesting that tourist info was available, but it was nearly 6PM; it seemed improbable that I’d find anything there.

I drove on into town. I saw a couple of hotels on the water that would clearly be expensive. I did a little tour around the downtown. I pulled into a hotel to see what it’d cost to stay there. It looked fairly expensive, but at least it wasn’t on the water. A bed and access to wifi would probably be pretty good. I pulled in to a parking space that said “registration.”

As I was on my way to the door, a guy with an accent that I couldn’t quite place said “Do you really live in your van?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“So do I!”

So we started talking. He was from Boston, fifty years old, and was living out of a minivan of some sort. He offered to show me his setup. He had a queen sized bed, with a bunch of stuff stored under it. He’d been traveling for just about a month. He asked where I was from, I told him Tennessee, and he tried to claim that he was from further away. He was from Boston. How did I not recognize that accent?

He’d been in the area for several weeks. He told me that this hotel was like $120 a night, explaining that his girlfriend was now with him. There were some cheaper places just up the road. We talked for at least ten minutes. He told me where to find an inexpensive and scenic campground, that I could find WIFI almost anywhere in town, and where I could get a shower for $2. I was quite relieved. I was starting to calm down a bit. He gave me a lot of other info too, but just knowing that I could find a campground on the edge of town was all that I really needed, and all that I could process, really.

I found the campground, went back into town to get cash and ice. What I really wanted was a friendly comfy bar with WIFI. I stopped in a liquor store to buy ice and see if I could get any suggestions there. The woman seemed to have no idea where I might find wifi. She was in her twenties, but acted as if she had never heard of this WIFI thing of which I spoke. She directed me to a grocery store a block up that had an ATM.

The ATM said that both of the cards I tried were denied. I went to the WIFI-less bar, made sure that they took Visa, ordered a beer, and called my bank. I had arranged with my cell phone company to change my plan so that I could call and text from Canada without great expense. The calling seemed to work. (The texts I tried to send were unsuccessful.) I got the bank and figured that the ATM just wasn’t on the right network. I ordered food that I didn’t want and another beer so I could just sit there a while longer. I paid with the visa and headed back out.

I managed to find an actual bank, my card was accepted. I got money. I stopped at a convenience store and bought a kitkat (Little Bird’s favorite), so that I’d have change for the envelope at the campground.

I pulled into the campground, decided on space #8, drove back to the entrance, filled out the paperwork and drove back into the campsite.

It was a long day.

This entry was posted in All, Best, iLiveInMyVan and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to In which I go to another country

  1. Noelle says:

    Holy hell that’s annoying.

  2. dtrauner says:

    I am just laughing thinking about the converstation with the border control – hilarious! I think you did quite well considering what you could have siad. I guess they really don’t want you to stay in Canada – huh?

  3. Ken says:

    Sound like Canada is trying to get a handle on the serious American imigrant  problem. We’re going to Canada next week, and I’m not looking forward to it, especially after reading this!

  4. alex says:

    I had to laugh at reading your border crossing experience…  pretty much the same thing happened to me – except “in reverse” – I’m Canadian and was going into the U.S. for a few days. 

    I had 3 laptops, a tablet and my smartphone and they wanted to see everything running.    I was a bit frustrated with the process too, but hey, I’ve been in the “business” (law enforcement) so I’m a bit more tolerant to the process.

    Don’t let the experience spoil and future visits into Canada, though!

  5. Inquirer says:

    Just moved to Canada two months ago (with work visa so our border crossing was easy coming into this country).   But you think getting into Canda was frustrating?  Just wait until you try to get back into the US.

  6. Ev says:

    Holy cow,

    many moons ago I drove from California to northern Washington where family lived.  I decided to take the ferry to Victoria for the day.  Once I landed in Victoria I was grilled by the Canadian Customs.  A 20 something year old visiting for a very bbrief amount of time was far too suspicious for them. I was held for 3 hours as they grilled the folks in front of me.  By the time they gto me, I had no fear.  I had travelled in Easter Europe when it was still communist, the Canadians offered no fear for my heart.   I had only a sandwich in my backpack- they took my backpack apart to the bare bones.  Same with my jacket and camera gear.  They finally let me go and be a tourist for the 1 hour before the damn ferry took me back to Washington.  That was the last visit.   We hope to go back this next summer, with our vintage Airstream. I’d love to see them try to unpack that one… holy cow, they’d need a month.


    Thanks for sharing your stories.  

    E in Eugene, OR

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