The Salami Diversion

September 30th, 2007
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I’ve blogged here on the unsettlingly perfunctory process involved in returning to our homeland, and later commented in this published article on the dumbing down of Canada’s passport standards. Travel in the other direction is usually somewhat more arduous and time-consuming, but it’s a phenomenon receiving an avalanche of criticism and therefore amply covered. I weigh in now only because of the particular circumstances of our most recent land crossing into the U.S.

Knowing the dogmatic agricultural rules of our southern brethren and angling always to be as ingratiating as possible when venturing to the States, Mrs. K. and I know well enough to set out on our camping sojourns with an empty larder. Purchasing victuals and other consumables in the U.S. avoids seizure of perfectly good food items, and it’s a lot cheaper as well, so travelling in this manner reduces the confiscations to half-eaten roast beef sandwiches.

On this last trip we’d intended to spend a week fishing for the spectacular rainbow trout prowling the lakes of B.C.’s vast Chilcotin Plateau region, bailing at the last second due to a terrible weather forecast. Thus we found ourselves at Blaine, Washington with a fully stocked camper stuffed with everything from Stella Artois to Freybe wieners and, riskiest of all, a real Hungarian salami.

This declaration prompted immediate diversion into an inspection lane. We were ordered out of the vehicle, banished from its surroundings and forced into the border services building. A long wait ensued, surrounded by a motley but, given the time lag, surprisingly small collection of multi-ethnic “miscreants”.

It was a good chance to observe the studied randomness of the immigration agents’ methods, no doubt carefully developed to keep any genuine miscreants off-balance and defensive and unable to observe regular patterns and probe for weaknesses.

Part of it too was probably due to the simple vagaries of a vast and lethargic federal bureaucracy. Remember, this is a branch of the outfit that tried to deport at least one 9-11 widow (British-born, awaiting her Green card, with her late husband now vaporized) while joyously granting the late Mohammed Atta his visa extension.

Either way, the unpredictability certainly had the intended cowing effect on the apparently law-abiding people milling about in confusion. One agent would whisper a barely audible “next”, question one or two people with mannered haughtiness, then rise and shamble off, sending the next person scurrying back into line. A female agent at another desk would “process” one or two people, then snarl, “Get back into line” at the third. Another agent would come in from outside, toting his lunch-bucket-cooler, shuffling paper for 15 minutes without once glancing at the people cooling their heels, seeing the day ticking away and repeatedly recalculating their arrival time at their intended destination.

Finally it was our turn. The diminutive female agent was dogmatically thorough – for the agricultural challenge clearly animated her – but at least pleasant. She pored through our camper, examining every item and finally fixating on the Hungarian salami.

Virtually everything passed inspection, eventually, but the salami, though assembled from pork rather than beef (guaranteed to be confiscated), was at long last ruled inadmissible. It seems Hungarian pigs are subject to some obscure swine virus that could be transferred to American pigs should we prove agricultural saboteurs rather than sausage connoisseurs.

The oddest thing was that the gastronomic excitement caused all of the standard questions about alcohol, guns, drugs, criminal records and ties to any potentially bad people to be discarded. Finally, after 90 minutes, our journey towards the trout streams of Montana resumed.

So there you have it: The Salami Diversion. Somewhat like the title of every bad Robert Ludlum novel: contains three words, begins with “the”, has a middle noun doing double duty as an adjective, and ends with a verb that kind of describes the book (think The Ostermann Weekend or The Reinemann Exchange). Let’s just hope it’s never used for real.

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