Originally, we were planning to begin our bike tour in Vancouver, BC, arriving the afternoon of Tuesday the 21st. After a few hours of hanging out with our couchsurfing hosts the night before and only about 4 hours sleep, we managed to wake up at 6:00AM and bike to the Amtrak on time for our 7:40AM departure, taking a much shorter, easier, downhill route than the confusing one the night before that ended up placing us at the base of the biggest hill we've yet to bike on, staring up Denny Way, exhausted and intimidated after a 30 hour ride from Seattle. Neither of us would make it to the top without walking on this day!
We arrived in Vancouver, and recovered our bikes and 3 suitcases worth of gear and got in line, finally to make our way through customs, passports in hand, excited that I for one would FINALLY get my first stamp, after waiting years to get a passport. With different stations we had passed through up to this point seemingly having different regulations, I was uncertain about the contents of our luggage being acceptable, but figured it was far more lenient than air travel, and our potentially-"hazardous" materials were stored separately from us for the duration of the trip after all, or so I thought. At the first checkpoint the officer seemed a little confused that we were each in "transitionary" stages in our lives, having no homes, no definitive place to stay in Canada (not really understanding my definition of couchsurfing) but let us pass through to the next section of the line for further inspection.
We were asked about Toprak's pepper spray, which she had not declared on the custom's form out of fear of having it taken away, being her only means of self-defense in a foreign country. However, as we would come to find out, pepper spray in Canada is apparently illegal, and with this red flag the officer informed us that that lie was grounds for them to disbelieve everything else we have told them. They asked us again about our intentions for our week-long stay in Canada, and if we had ever been convicted of any crimes, and told us to stand aside as they would now have to search the entire contents of our bags.
My excitement about our trip FINALLY beginning after nearly a week's delay at this point began to quietly slip out of me like a fart in an elevator, but I was sure that Toprak was smelling it too. I knew that neither of us had done anything wrong and I have for years had pleasant, confident interactions with the law by remaining calm and maintaining a naive, human composure despite all questions. I knew it was just a matter of time, and they would recognize us as the usual presumptuous, privileged Americans that they no doubt loved to hassle every day to make their lives more interesting and masturbate their powerful, uniformed egos. My fearless patience however, sunk deep into my stomach upon thinking of the customs officers' perceptions of us as I watched them remove a 2 month supply of Toprak's ambiguous medication from her bag, and though I can't recall, I am sure I illicited some sort of combination of a deep sigh, a closing of my eyes, and a hard swallow as I looked at Toprak.
"What's THIS?" they questioned. "Do you have a prescription for this? What is it for?"
Insert looks of "WeGotcha" skepticism around the room as they listened to Toprak's elaborate but entirely true answers of: "Well...I have a prescription but I don't have it on me...you wouldn't be able to read it though because it's in Turkish...it was prescribed to me in Turkey...the labels are in Turkish and Italian..."
"How do we know it's not a narcotic? Maybe you take these recreationally...you lied to us about the pepper spray, maybe you're lying about this too? Do you guys take drugs? Maybe smoke a little pot? I'm gonna ask you guys again, have you ever committed any felonies? What else are we gonna find if we search these bags?"
The next forty minutes became a nerve-wrackingly frustrating question and answer session as I took the lead in confidently answering, determined to prove my innocence, the competively eloquent poet PAUL JONES vs. the muthafuckin' CANADIAN POLICE as they asked no-brainer after no-brainer and a secret part of me laughed hysterically at the chore of them rifling through our over our meticulously planned and packed 200 items in preparation for seven weeks of living on bikes in any circumstances, nothing else.
"Do you have any other weapons or firearms we're going to find if we search your bags?"
"Only perhaps a multitool on my belt of bike tools if you want to count that as a knife."
"A tire pump."
"You guys said you didn't smoke, why do you have a lighter?"
"To light our camp stove you just asked about?"
"If you guys are biking, why do you need a computer?"
"To plan our route on googlemaps and search for places to stay on couchsurfing and campgrounds..."
"Salt." ("DUH! Duh, duh, duh, duh, DUH! Anything ELSE?")
"Can you X-ray this? And this too..."
Before we could eventually pass GO and proceed to the next round of questioning by the immigration officer, they would also open my peanut butter, flip through our books and journals, (perplexed at a folded piece of hand-dyed paper) scan some of the photos in my camera and search the majority of the contents of my wallet, pausing momentarily to skim part of my poetry manifesto card about "unplugging" from the internet, demanding that its recipients turn off their computers and ride a bike, plant a vegetable garden and talk to strangers. They told us we could repack our belongings on the lower part of the table in front of us, but leave the other stuff, including the meds on the higher countertop, as we waited in limbo another ten minutes wondering what they were going to do to us, trying to remember how the hell we managed to "tetris" all of this shit into our bags before at the last minute in a San Luis Obispo Goodwill parking lot two mostly-sleepless days ago. Shortly thereafter a different officer entered the room and I took the metaphorical baton from Toprak and proceeded to run the next lap of our seemingly perpetual bullshit marathon, as they separated us like some sort of bicyclist Bonnie and Clyde.
"Hi Paul. I want to thank you guys for your cooperation. We feel that the pepper spray was a misunderstanding, and we feel that you have been honest and forthcoming with everything since then. Just to be clear, you understand that those were the customs officers and they enforce what's brought into Canada over the border, right? I'm an immigration officer."
"Yes. I understand. Yes. Yes. Yes..." (FINALLY. Home free. We are not ILLEGAL, as Arizona law has attempted to brainwash into our heads for the past several years. We have our passports. We've committed no serious crimes. We are not drug-dealers. Can we GO? Can we enjoy your stupid country already and claim our thousand dollar bikes on the other side of the curtain, please?)
"Yes, I understand. Yes. Yes."
"...wait. WHAT? Can you repeat that, please?
"In Canada, the crime of DUI that you have committed in New York in 2002, even though it may be a misdemeanor where you come from, is a felony in Canada. This means you will not be entering Canada today."
I look nervously over at Toprak who is too far to hear, no doubt disassociating from the situation as she waits alone across the room for her own "sentencing."
"What do you mean? As a DWI it would have been a felony, but I went to court and got it reduced to a misdemeanor as a DUI. I went to a 7-week "Drinking Driver" program. I payed like a $500 fine. I even had to go be evaluated by a registered psychologist with my father as a witness to evaluate me to determine if I was an alcoholic or not."
"And what did they determine? WERE you an alcoholic?"
"No. I was more of a social drink-"
"Well in Canada the crime you have committed is a felony, and it remains on your record for ten years. So basically what this means is you have two options. You can come with me right now, and I'll escort you top jail for two days to serve time for the crime you have committed as restitution and your status here can be evaluated,"
(I thought of Toprak again, what she would do alone in Vancouver for two days, how on earth she could maneuver all of our stuff around--two bikes and 3 suitcases, 2 carry-on bags and helmets, and somehow get them to the house of our couchsurfing host Emily's alone. I thought of what would happen if they confiscated her medication, knowing all too well how terrible the side effects medications like hers can be if you don't maintain a consistent level of them in your body. I thought of both of our histories of struggling with abandonment issues. I thought of being led away from my best friend and traveling partner I have committed my life for the next two months to stand by, protect, love, support and empower, facing the day's challenges each day together, standing strong against the unknown...I thought of myself as a huge failure. A fuck-up. How on earth could I have foreseen a stupid mistake I learned my lesson from the hard way 8 years ago could have forced be to betray the person I care about most in the world because of some bizarro law in CANADA of all places and leave her alone, breaking my promise as I was led away in handcuffs...
I thought...what the fuck?? In Arizona I was still allowed to get a fingerprint clearance card and work with kids so long as the DUI occured over 3 years ago. I thought of how it doesn't even affect my driver's license or car insurance after 7 years. It basically may have never even happened in America. I don' t even own a car anymore, by choice. What the fuck, I'm only IN Canada to ride a fucking bicycle OUT of it as soon as possible. Am I going to get drunk and ride my bike into some endangered species of moose or something?? I mean, really...
I cursed the thought of a country that would not acknowledge me as a person due to a mistake I made 8 years ago and have not done since. The time after my arrest was the most alone, depressing, broke, stagnant and upsetting 6 months of my entire life. It's over! Surely you fine people who birthed the jovial John Candy who warmed the hearts of us proud and self-absorbed citizens in the 80s with movies like Stripes and Spaceballs have a sense of humor and can look at my experience and laugh? ("It was a long time ago! Canada forgives you! We all get a little too drunk sometimes!"Welcome to our wonderful biking city of Vancouver! Just remember, don't drink and BIKE!" Wink, wink.)
I thought, "Surely Officer, you have got a little too drunk to drive home before, maybe at a Toronto Mapleleafs game. Maybe drinking Molson CANADIAN. I thought you were a fucking nation of beer drinkers? Surely you have made a mistake, but if you wanted to come to my country to live one of your wildest dreams for a week, even our occasionally fascist Orwellian nightmare of a country would LET YOU THROUGH THE GATE." Sigh...
I looked at the ground. I thought of all the "illegal" immigrants being deported in Arizona, for even less "severe" crimes than my own. I looked over at Toprak, oblivious to how much my heart and excitement about our adventure sank in the past 30 seconds, how all I wanted to do was be with her, to keep her safe, to get the fuck out of the Amtrak station already, to let our tired bodies lie in the grass somewhere, to gaze up into blue skies and breathe in the fresh air of an outdoors that wasn't Phoenix. All I wanted to do was run to her side, give her a hug, tell her everything was going to be okay...
"or...you can leave this station immediately and go back to the United States."
The rest of this story is mostly unnecessary to tell you to me. The way I was given roughly 2 1/2 hours to somehow stretch and relax and find sustenance after two days of energy bars and trainseat torture, the only nearby place being a Starbucks. I also won't waste time telling you about the part about how if I did not return to check in with the officer by 4:00PM to confirm that I had arranged a way to leave Canada that I would be a fugitive and there would be a warrant issued for my arrest, and certainly not the part about how I arrived 40 minutes early just wanting to get it taken care of and get back on the fucking train again, out another $49 dwindling dollars, ready to leave Vancouver and offer Canada my scrawny white American ass to kiss on the way out from a bus window as soon as possible, but how there were no immigration officers around come 4:00 o'clock who had a flying fuck of a clue what the hell was going on or how I would "check in" with an officer who had left for the day, despite his multiple times of vehemently insisting that I would see him again BEFORE FOUR, RIGHT?
But I will tell you that the hug I shared with Toprak after he let me go, was one of the most comforting of my my life. And I will tell you that we are fine. We are safe. That they did unfortunately take her pepper spray, but there were no charges of any kind pressed against us. They also thankfully returned her medication. I will tell you that our bikes were okay. And I will tell you that at least for the next two years, Canada can go fuck itself. I will tell you that Seattle is awesome. And I will tell you that our plans have been slightly changed, but we are doing well, and though my passport I fought so hard to get has still not received its first stamp, and we did not get the chance to cross the border on our bikes, that they have not robbed us of our excitement, of our passionate will to proceed forward at all costs, making it up as we go, embracing the chaos one day at a time, as we pedal for the next seven weeks toward our dreams. I will tell you, that all in all, it feels like a pretty great time to be alive, and no immigration officer is ever going to rob us of our spirits.
To Astoria, backdrop of the movie Goonies, to Crescent City, home of Derrick Jensen, to the sea lions and all animals we will meet along the way. To San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge I've still yet to see, to a dozen different beaches along the coast, and the beauty of Big Sur as described by Toprak I've dreamed of relaxing in with her ever since she first described it to me. To the 1,200 miles of road that lie ahead of us between Seattle and San Luis Obispo. We will see you soon. We love you. And we are so very excited to say "Hello." I hope you will introduce yourselves with open arms, as we kiss the sky above each day, rain or shine, and pedal away into the sunset...