On the road again in America

March 25, 2013

When smuggling citrus and other threats to national security into the United States of America, it is best not to make eye contact and to lie through your teeth.

Remember, Americans are a funny people – as a general rule, they are deathly afraid of oranges from other countries and have no idea who Stompin’ Tom Connors was. Hard to believe, but true. Walk into one of their ice rinks, and you’re likely to hear something by One Direction over Tom’s classic, The Hockey Song.

They are our continental brothers, but there are different from you and me. They speak strangely. They eat unusual foods. They regard flannel as some kind of limited seasonal fashion that shouldn’t be worn on any occasion, any time of year.

But in the interest of international co-operation, a photographer from my newspaper and I were dispatched last week to travel from Ontario into Detroit and due south, through Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

Our assignment was to follow a Waterloo company making a pilgrimage to the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Tex., and to document what we saw.

Now breaking international import laws is not something to boast about, and I’m ashamed to admit we were so loaded to the gills with fruit that our car smelled a bit like the produce section at your local Zehrs as we pulled up to the Michigan border.

My travelling partner on this trip doesn’t like to be too far from produce at any given time, and worried there may be some kind of shortage in the U.S., decided it was best to carry everything with him. Kiwis, tangerines, bananas, apples, nectarines, oranges, strawberries. We had it all.

A pineapple was even buried deep inside his luggage, surrounded by fresh – I hope – underwear.

“No sir, nada. Zip. Not a one. Uh-uh, ” we said, shaking our heads, when asked by the border guard if we had any fruit on board with us.

Incredibly, he let us through.

The company we were following on this epic road trip was not so lucky. They were hauled out of their RV and lined up against the wall like common criminals, while Homeland Security officers scoured their rig. They seized a handful of oranges, and America was safe for another day.

We soon learned when travelling through the U.S. it’s sometimes best for foreigners to keep a low profile. We also learned most Americans don’t know the first thing about their northern neighbours – although one worldly clerk at a Louisville shop called us all hosers, which was kind of flattering.

Most Americans we encountered seemed to think of Canada as some kind of vague, frozen, fictional territory that was created for the Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV special in the 1960s.

At a gas station in New Orleans, the pump demanded I enter my ZIP code to complete the credit card transaction. Luckily, everything I need to know about America I learned from watching Beverly Hills: 90210 when I was a kid. So I calmly punched in ‘90210′ and tried to pretend I was a less handsome Jason Priestly, a Canadian expertly coached in acting like an American.

My ruse didn’t work. The gas pump told me the transaction was denied, and summoned me to speak with the clerk. When I explained to the woman inside there are no zip codes in Canada, she looked at me as if I had just told her we butter the undersides of our bread up here.

“How do y’all get your mail?” she asked, genuinely puzzled.

In Texas, we met an intellectual young woman from New York who claimed there were no pretty girls in Canada, a country she’d never visited. She’d also never heard the term tuque, and took it for some kind of insult. Needless to say, we told her anyone visiting Canada had to pay a $2,000 maple syrup head tax, so it was best she stayed home.

Anyhow, it’s a fine place, America. Just don’t bring any oranges.

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