There's something about a border crossing that raises your pulse. Even if you've done nothing wrong, approaching an international checkpoint makes you sit up and take notice.
Exactly how nervous you are depends on the number of firearms displayed at the fence. When my wife and I crossed the border into Canada last week, we didn't see a single gun.
The Canadian customs officer stayed in his booth, asked some desultory questions and then let us in. The most intrusive moment came when he told us to take off our sunglasses. Delay: two minutes, tops.
Compare that to a border I crossed in South America 40 years ago where there were not only machine guns, but also cannons. My luggage was ransacked and my person thoroughly rubbed before I was shoved out of one country and into the next. Delay: hours.
In the years I've been crossing borders, nothing really bad has ever happened. I've lost fruit, reading material, a little bit of money and once even a gun.
In the pre-terrorism years of the '70s, my fiancée and I went north to meet her family. It was my first trip to Canada and my fiancée's first border crossing with an American. We both had a lot to learn.
Before agreeing to marry me, my future wife had never even seen an actual gun. Conversely, since getting my first gun at age 10, I had never gone anywhere without one.
When the Canadian customs official at the Sweetgrass crossing in Montana asked if I had any firearms, I almost laughed. Hell, yeah, I had a gun. I was American. Why wouldn't I have one?
The customs officer said, "Then you can't come in, eh?"
I had to drive back to America (40 yards away) and give the U.S. customs agent there a free pistol.
I didn't take guns to Canada anymore, but that didn't stop them from causing me trouble at the border. Years later, when I was a cop, my wife and I took our young daughters north to see the in-laws.
At the same border crossing in Montana, a Canadian customs official again asked if I had any firearms in the vehicle.
Me (honestly) • "No, sir."
Daughter #1 • "He has a big police gun!"
Daughter #2 • "It's in a safe place under the front seat!"
Daughter #3 • "And we aren't supposed to ever touch it!"
The next two hours were unpleasant. Three customs agents couldn't find a gun because there wasn't one, and my daughters got a long lecture about their rights to remain silent the next time they thought they were being helpful.
All of that has changed. I've given up gun-running. Today, as I prepare to cross the U.S. border for home, I'm going to smuggle drugs.
As soon as word spread last week that we were going to Canada, friends began calling to ask us to smuggle home some "magic aspirin."
More properly known as 222s, Canadian "magic aspirin" is 375 milligrams of acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin), 15 milligrams of caffeine, and here's the nice part 8 milligrams of codeine phosphate.
Magic aspirin works great on headaches, fevers and minor pain, but you can't get it in the U.S. without a prescription.
Unfortunately, Canada will only sell one bottle of magic aspirin per person. I had to round up 15 people to buy the amount I needed to satisfy the demand at home. I have an entire suitcase of illegal drugs to smuggle into the U.S.
I hope I don't get searched at the border tomorrow. Given the general mood of U.S. Customs today, they'll probably shoot me. And with my luck, it will be with my own gun.
Robert Kirby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.