Monday, May 02, 2005

let me back into my country!

i'll explain the title momentarily.

we got a late start this morning- didn't leave the house until after 11:00. the de grazia museum is showing a special exhibition of the artist's "midnight sketches", and checking out the exhibit has been on my "to do" list since the invitation to the opening arrived last month. so, after lunch at arby's (the new reubens would be better on plain ol' rye bread, instead of whatever the swirled bread is that's currently holding the fillings together), we arrived at de grazia's gallery around 1:30 or so. admission to the museum is free, and well worth the drive. flash photography is not allowed in the studio, but i did just fine with my digital and my flashless pentax.

(pictures will be added later- be sure to check back.)

after we finished at the gallery, we figured "what the heck?" and drove the other hour or so down to nogales. from what i'm told (correct me if i'm wrong, mama), i went to mexico when i was about two years old and still content to sit in a stroller.

my, how things have changed.

let me preface today's big adventure by saying that when i leave the u.s., it's usually to drive into canada to pick up the essentials- odd flavored potato chips and allergy medications. crossing the border into canada is generally no big deal- except for the time i was on spring break my senior year of college and my friend tammy and i were detained because i was not yet eighteen and border patrol felt the need to call my dad and double check to make sure i wasn't being smuggled out of the country. aside from that incident, i don't think i've ever been stopped for more than the minute it takes to answer the usual questions:

~how long will you be in canada?
~where are you from?
~do you know how to say "eh?"

no big deal.

furthermore, there aren't any barbed wire fences separating the two countries. (perhaps the two nations are using those "invisible" electrical fences, like one might use to keep the dog in the yard. every time a canuck tries to cross into america, they get shocked.uhm....doubt it.)

when crossing back into the u.s., the questions run along the same lines:

~how long were you in canada?
~where are you from?
~did you purchase anything while in canada? any drugs, tobacco, liquor, firearms, or canadian children?

and off you go, on your merry way.

mexico is a whole other story.

entering mexico was a breeze- there weren't any folks manning the mexican side of the border- at all. so, in we drove. i snapped pictures on the digital, as well as my pentax, and after i finished a roll of film, we turned around and headed back to the u.s. that's when the problems started. first, the line to leave mexico was at least 15 cars long- across six lanes. while we waited, the locals fought over who would streak our windshield for us (despite my cries of "no mas! no, gracias!"), and several folks accosted us with sequined pictures of the disney princesses and the pope (separate pictures, though some combination will be created soon, i'm sure), as well as various mysterious foodstuffs and pinwheels with power rangers on them. i wanted to get some pesos while i was down in nogales, but it wasn't worth getting out of the car.

so, thirty minutes (at least!) and twenty hopeful street vendors later, we were at the head of the line.

"are you american citizens?"


"where did you come from today?"


"do you still live in south carolina?"


"then why are you in phoenix?"

"we're on vacation." (duh.)

"how long were you in mexico?"

"about fifteen minutes before we joined the line to come back, about half an hour ago."

"did you purchase any drugs/alcohol/medications/tobacco products/firearms while in nogales?"

"nope. all we did was take pictures."

"you drove two hours from phoenix just to take pictures?"

"actually, we drove to tucson first to visit the degrazia museum, and then we decided we'd drive the extra hour to nogales because neither of us had been here before." (apparently, no one road trips anymore. that saddens me.)

"so you just came across the border, parked your car, got out, took some pictures, and now you're coming back into the u.s.?"

"pretty much- except we stayed in the car the whole time."

"why didn't you park your car and then walk across the border? that's what most people do when they come here."

"we weren't planning on getting out of the car and buying anything. we just wanted to take pictures."

"what kind of pictures did you take?"......

"do you have any prescription drugs?"

"just the medications we came with." (protonix, aleve, and some altoids)

that one didn't go over well. we were informed that he'd give us a couple of minutes to figure out whether we were going to declare our (small baggy of) medications. we were warned that if we didn't declare them and prescription drugs were found, we'd be fined $5,000 and the car would be confiscated. i told him i didn't need time- i'd hand the next border agent the baggy myself. at this point, the border jerk returned my companion's license, but furiously scribbled a note, which he attached to mine and then stuck the whole wad under the windshield wiper and told us to pull ahead.


the next agent was far more reasonable. he checked i.d.s again, then instructed us to unlock all the doors and sit on a table, with a young mexican dude whose hoopty was being searched. right after we arrived at the table, another agent came up and told the young dude that while she couldn't arrest him this time because there weren't any extra bodies in his vehicle, border patrol would be keeping an eye on him to make sure he didn't pick up anyone in tucson. (it seems he'd "forgotten" he'd had border trouble before. oh. my.) maybe ten minutes later, after admiring the barbed wire fence that stretched up the hill, we were given the "all clear" and sent on our way.

so, no more nogales for me. it'd be just my luck to wind up with the same agent again and end up being strip searched. (let me tell you, he was no val kilmer, either.)

to top things off, when we finally made it home, we were met with

"i almost called you guys and told you to park your car on the american side and walk across to mexico. that's what everyone does."

so, from now on, if i'm driving out of the country, you can bet i'll be heading north.

good plan, eh?


Mama said...

Actually you were 18 months old at the time. I am remiss in your up-bringing: I thought you knew to park the car and walk. Taking a car into Mexico without extra insurance is risky....

By the way, glad you enjoyed the kayak, even if you didn't have the "inside" experience. Life is incomplete without a "Jesus ball"!

Yvonne said...

Yep, that sounds familiar. The last time I came back from visiting a friend in Canada, the US Customs Officer looked at my hair (shoulder length but neat at that time) and asked what I did for a living.


"They let you treat people looking like that?"

"I'm sorry. I don't know what you mean (smile)."

"With hair like a hippie?"

"Yes. With hair like this, yes, they do. Even longer, sometimes, but still they let me. Yes, officer."


Glad you got your photos, though, sweetie!

da sister said...

Then again, crossing back from Canada last summer was worse than any experience I had coming back from Mexico. Especially when Mom and I were sitting at the Customs Office thanks to Barney Fife at the border crossing who thought I was a terrorist and Mom a drug smuggler. I recall we both nearly crapped our pants when a woman who looked like she was a trucker in a prior profession came out and looked at us as if we were about the experience the rubber glove treatment.

Ah, Nogalas. You missed out on the taco stands. Granted, there are more out at night....and less dogs running in the streets. (I'm still telling myself to this day that I was eating steak meat.) Still the best tacos I've ever hand. The ones in TJ weren't as good, then again I made the mistake of asking what kind of meat was it and being told that I had just tried cow tongue. (Fear Factor here I come!) You also missed out on the "wonderfully rare handcrafted" items that are sold in every storefront and stall.....and can be found in TJ. Most importantly, going back through customs is a breeze in comparison to the version in the car. I learned after making that mistake once. However, congrats for getting back to Mexico. Sleezy Mexican border towns are great. Sometimes you can see the Mexicans getting caught in the barbed wire. (Invented by Joseph Glidden)