How to charm a border guard

ALBANY, N.Y. – When I was 19, I got on a train to Dallas – and was tossed off at the border.

The excuse wasn’t that I was young and had a blue streak in my hair, but that I didn’t have enough cash on me. I had about a hundred bucks – the rest was in the bank – so I asked them how much I should have had. The answer: $5,000.

I’ve never spent $5,000 on a trip, let alone anywhere near that in 1990. Anyway, I was escorted off the train while passengers looked at me with pity, or didn’t look at me at all. The conductor tried to soothe me by saying this pair of guards were notoriously hard-ass.

That rather small moment in my life led to two important things: I’ve always wanted to go to Texas, and I have an unreasonable fear of border guards.

But there are really simple things you can do to make your trip across the border stress-free. Have your passports and any other documents (like approval to take children to another country if both legal guardians aren’t in the car) in your hand. Open the back window so the guard can see clearly into the whole car. Smile. The driver is the person who talks – everyone else must be quiet unless they’re spoken to. Answer just the questions you’re asked. Tell the truth.

* * *

This is our life for the next three weeks and we’re relearning the rhythm of motel living: How to organize the groceries just so, where to leave the car key, which bags can stay in the trunk overnight. I’d love to write a little guide on how to do it efficiently, but it’s different with each trip.

My shoulders ache after the longish drive through the mini-mountains yesterday and my neck’s all out of whack thanks to crappy motel pillows and a baby who came to bed before dawn and slept in the middle – sideways.

Time to get back in the car.

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