Portal, North Dakota

Nikki Everts

(c) Copyright 2021 by Nikki Everts

Photo by the author.
                                        Photo by the author.

'So, do you have a gun?' The young US customs official asked me as I stood across the counter from him and his two colleagues.

'No!' I replied. His question made me feel cranky and offended. I was a middle aged, verging on old, woman tired from a week of driving in the summer heat without air conditioning. Raised in the US, I had moved to Canada in my twenties and fully accepted my adopted country’s persona of non-violent civility. Couldn’t the young man see that I was a Canadian and therefore unlikely to be carrying a firearm? Was my assimilation incomplete? Did he suspect that underneath the veneer of niceness beat a heart still yearning after the comfort of hard steel holstered at my side?

Disappointed, my inquisitor asked peevishly, 'Not even a little one?'

I shook my head as visions of pearl-handled Derringers sprang to mind, no doubt dredged up from the hours I spent watching TV episodes of Gunsmoke and Maverick with my father as a child. Wild women of the west carried these handsome little guns in their bosoms and pulled them out in times of dire need. I almost wished I had one, despite my non-gun-toting Canadian facade.

It was 2007; my adult son and I were driving back to Ontario. We’d camped our way out to California and up the coast to Vancouver, then through the Rockies to Edmonton. We’d been driving through Saskatchewan and realized that lovely as this province was with its waving fields of grain as far as the eye could see we hadn’t found any really great campsites. In fact the camp grounds were usually privately owned, largely treeless and just off the side of the road.

The evening before, lulled by the sound of traffic a few yards away from our campfire, my son and I reminisced about the wonderful US State campgrounds we’d visited on the way out to the coast and decided to take the southern route through America back to Ontario.

That’s how we ended up getting interrogated by the customs officials in North Dakota. Pulling in to North Portal, Saskatchewan a half hour earlier we’d congratulated ourselves on the fact that there were no line-ups at this border crossing. Portal, North Dakota is such a small town, we were sure we’d be through in a jiffy.

I wondered if my son’s mirrored sunglasses had raised the suspicions of the US officials, or maybe it was the fuchsia tie-dyed duvet covering our camping gear in the back of the Honda Civic Hatchback. Regardless, we’d been asked to vacate our vehicle and step into the office, please. At least it was air conditioned. We waited, and as I read the list of most wanted criminals posted on the wall, an unreasoning fear suggested that if we didn’t watch out our faces would join those on the cork board.

I was processed first. It looked like they were expecting trouble since three officers faced off against me – all of them tall, young, gun toting, blonde, and uniformed. After the questions about the gun they proceeded to ask me to empty my pockets and my purse. Imagine their delight when amongst the wadded Kleenex, car keys, grocery store receipts and other miscellany they found a small, foil-wrapped block of something that looked like it just might be some sort of illegal drug substance.

We all stared at it for a few seconds, thinking the obvious, until one of them cleared his throat and asked, 'What’s this?'

'Oh, that,' I responded, ' It’s my chocolate flavoured chewable calcium supplement.'

They looked at one another for a few seconds, considering this new bit of information. Finally, as if they’d come to some joint conclusion via telepathy, one of the officers said with a smirk, 'The butterscotch ones are better.'

If I were them, I’d have opened it up just to make sure it wasn’t a block of hashish. Perhaps I’d convinced them of my essential innocence. More likely, I thought, they simply saw in me an elderly woman whose grey hair intimated impending senility and made drug smuggling an unlikely venture. Far from placating me, I found their unreserved trust insulting.

'Not if you’re a chocaholic.' I retorted flippantly. I began to suspect that this whole episode had nothing to do with due diligence and more to do with their boredom fuelling a desire to have a little bit of fun at my son’s and my expense.

Confirming my suspicions, the third official piped up, 'Well, you should’ve been here an hour ago when a whole truckload of chocolate came through.'

'Really, why’s that?' I shovelled my belongings back into my pockets and purse, convinced now that they were toying with me which did nothing to improve my mood.

'You could’ve hijacked it.' The three laughed as they escorted me out of the room, highly amused at their own wit.

'I couldn’t have,' I said with a deadpan expression then added, 'I don’t have a gun,' and shrugged in what I hoped was a Gallic manner.

'Ha, ha, ha,' they replied, glad to see I was in on their little joke.

But I was not amused. Now that I was sure we wouldn’t be imprisoned, I wanted to have a jab or two back at them, so I blithely declared, 'Besides, the weapons I do have are all out-dated.'

They all stopped walking at once and looked at each other nervously.

'What weapons?' one of them hazarded, and I hoped that for at least a few seconds they regretted their cavalier assumptions about my innocence and diminished capacities.

'Oh,' I said cruelly, 'you know - my feminine beauty and charm.'

They stood rooted to the ground, speechless for a change. They couldn’t laugh in agreement – to concede that I was unattractive would be rude and offensive. And they couldn’t disagree with me – I might get the idea they were flirting with me.

I left them without a second glance, smirking to myself at their expense, feeling that in some very small way I’d gotten them back for the inconvenience and anxiety they’d caused us.

                                      Photo owned by the author.
As we drove away my son told me that they had asked him if there were rocket launchers tucked away under the duvet in the back of the car. Ha, ha, ha. What next, we wondered. Well, we found out at the gas station a block from the border crossing. When I went to pay for the fuel, there, right beside the cash register, was a glass case full of the biggest knives you ever will see – all of them for sale! So much for protecting America from weaponized Canadians!

The shop keeper hastened over with a hopeful expression. Would we like to purchase any of these fine items? No thank you we say, politely. Now, if there’d been a pearl handled Derringer…

After graduating in 1969 from the University of California, Berkeley, Nikki travelled for several months in Europe, arriving in Montréal in April, 1970 where she lived until 1992. Nikki has four adult children and eight grandchildren. She lives and writes in Guelph, Ontario. She has self-published a book of poetry and a mystery novel. During the summer of 2007 she and her son Gabriel car camped from Ontario to California and back. This story relates an incident at a border crossing on their return trip.

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