I can't count the number of times where I have seen one of my favorite bands/artists in concert, only to have them complain about getting hassled and/or held up at the US/Canadian border by surly/grumpy Canadian customs and immigrations officers. I actually got to witness this "musician" vs. "THE MAN" interaction last Friday, and it was pretty entertaining. I use "musician" in quotes because these juvenile delinquents claimed to be rappers, and I use "THE MAN" in quotes as THE MAN was actually a woman.
Regular readers of this blog (all three of you) will know that je ne suis pas Canadienne, or something. I had serious immigration issues last week relating to my job. I won't bore you with the details, but suffice to say that my immigration lawyer suggested that I drive to the Ontario/New York border and talk directly to Customs and Immigration Canada (CIC). I put my Drive-By Truckers T-shirt in the laundry basket, put on a nice pair of pants, leather heals, and a cashmere sweater, and headed to the Niagara Falls CIC office with a tree's worth of legal documents.
While I was waiting in the tiny, crowded CIC office I saw a pack of five scruffy looking dudes approaching the office. These guys did not look good, in fact, you could see the stink lines emanating from their crusty clothing. I verified their stench when they walked by me, a mixture of B.O., cigarettes, stale cheap whiskey, and possibly malt liquor. And just to be clear, as I already mentioned that they claimed to be rappers, the pack was mixed racially: at least three of them were Caucasian, and the other two seemed to be bi-racial.
They handed over their documents to the CIC lady and waited with me and the other two dozen or so people in the waiting room (which had 6 chairs total). I noticed that some of them had New York driver's licenses. You can still drive across the US/Canada border without a passport. About ten minutes later an agent wearing black gloves carrying an armload of CDs entered the office. I bet he was searching their cars for drugs, which is ridiculous as everyone knows that you can get much better drugs for much more reasonable prices in Canada.
Anyway, the gloved man held up the CDs and said, "Are you going to sell these in Canada?"
Rapper Kid, "No, sir. We are giving those away for free."
Gloved Man, "Are you sure?"
Rapper Kid, "Yes sir. They are promotional material."
As if! I was pretending to read my newspaper and listen to Willie Nelson on my MP3 player, which was on mute, but actually I was giggling to myself.
Two of the dudes were cleared to leave, and one other was called up to the CIC agent, who I will refer to as IL (Immigration Lady). The dude in question had tattoos all over his arms, wore a button down short sleeve shirt, shorts, tube socks pulled up to his knees, and flip flops. I will call him Tat Rapper (TR). He made me look like a genius for dressing up professionally.
IL: "Have you ever been arrested?"
IL: "Yes you have. It's right here on my computer screen."
Aimz: (snickering under my breath)
IL: "Do you know that it is a serious crime to lie to a federal agent?"
IL: "Why don't you tell me what happened?"
I couldn't exactly hear the next part, but the IL essentially gave him a break and let him tell his story. Apparently he was arrested, but never charged with anything.
IL: "What do you do for a living?"
TR: "I'm a rapper!"
IL: "Ooooo kaaaayyy. How old are you?"
IL points at the other two guys (O2) and asks: "What do you do?"
O2: "We are the co-managers."
Aimz: Puuuullleaase. How can one 20-year-old rapper need two managers? Rolling my eyes behind my newspaper. But I could tell that these guys were actually scared shitless.
IL: "How old are you?"
O2: "I'm 20." "I'm 23."
IL glared at them, gave them another lecture on lying to federal agents, and eventually let them go. Shortly later on my case was settled and I was allowed to legally live and work in Canada again. I like to think that these idiots made me look like an outstanding, upstanding, model Canadian resident. So I say thank you to theses morons, and hope they didn't trash the Best Western on Carlton St. too badly.
After witnessing this debacle, here is my advice for US musicians traveling into Canada:
1. Try to shower before you hit the border. Or at least try not to smell really bad. And use some deodorant. And put on some clean clothes.
2. Leave your stash in the US.
3. Do a better job of hiding your "promotional material" in your car.
4. Don't lie to federal agents.
Here's an amazing song about crossing the border from New York into Ontario. It's from a trucker's perspective, but anyone who has done a lot of international driving, like me, can relate to it.
David Francey - Borderline.mp3
Buy: Torn Screen Door (1999)