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MARTHA SEZ: Questions for Border Patrol

May 9, 2011
My trip to California began just as a trip to California should, amid snow flurries and cold, gusting winds. I arrived in San Francisco to see the Bay area decked out in flowers of all kinds, from native California wildflowers to the kind we think of as spring bloomers, like apple blossoms, to those that can only be coaxed into bloom here in zones 3 to 4 from mid to late summer, like cosmos and correopsis. I saw orchids and all kinds of succulents flowering profusely, and rosemary and lavender plants as tall as I am.

What is more important, though, I also saw my daughter, Molly, and her husband, Jim. They showed me a wonderful time.

I returned to the North Country in a shower of rain, to crocus and budding daffodils and bloodroot. The weather is balmy. Perfect.

All in all, it was a great trip, but it began rather strangely.

Just after exit 30, as I entered the North Way, I saw signs directing traffic to be prepared to stop. This has happened before. It was the Border Patrol, outiside their jurisdiction by about 100 miles, I would say, spurred on by their zealous desire to curb those Canadians in case they should try to step over the line without first obtaining a valid passport or whatever it is they have to show these days.

Why they can’t settle these questions right there at the border, I have never understood. OK, you Canadians, keep on your own side, or we’ll be forced to build a giant wall to keep you outside of Upstate New York! that’s if and when we can get the funding.

So I slow down and roll to a stop, and this beefy but not too tall Border Patrol officer says to me, “What’s in that bag, ma’am?” gesturing to my overstuffed cloth suitcase visible in the back seat. Even though he calls me “ma’am,” he sounds like a bully rather than sounding respectful. I’m just saying.

“My clothes,” I tell him.

Meanwhile, I see a dog that looks like a German shepherd with a crewcut, if such a thing is possible, bounding happily around and wagging his tail in a big circle. I have heard that working dogs love to work, and this canine was no exception. He was bouncing around a white car, from which a young man, probably in his late teens or early twenties, was emerging, helped by two more officers. The dog leaped all around him as the officers frisked him. Then the dog was allowed to jump inside his car.

“All right, you can go,” the man who stopped me said. Another Border Patrol guy came up behind him, walking toward the youth whose car was being searched, singing — I swear to God — the classic playground version of ha ha ha ha ha, or Nanny nanny nanny goat, or nyah nyah na nyah nyah—I can’t find the proper spelling in any of my dictionaries.

“What is the dog looking for?” I asked before taking off.

“Drugs,” replied the officer outside my window.

I wanted to ask him whether Canandian Green dealers are a big problem right now in New York, or if Canada is supplying drugs to New York City on a major scale. Because, I might have said, the state of New York, as well as the federal government, is cutting funds to education and all, so if the problem isn’t major, why spend money on Bummer, the drug-sniffing canine, here in the Adirondacks? I mean, just how porous is the Canadian border? I thought we were worried about terrorists, not a little Canadian Green...

Just in time, luckily, I figured I’d better keep my mouth shut, even though I knew myself to be clean as far as drugs are concerned. The guy standing next to my car didn’t appear to have much sense of humor, unlike his ha-ha partner.

I didn’t call him a narc or ask him what he and his gang were doing so far from the border, or question what constitutes reasonable cause for searching a car. I wanted to get to California, and I didn’t have any extra time before my flight.

Besides, I was kind of scared of him. I could imagine a lot of people would also be scared of Bummer, were he to come and bounce around their vehicle.

I’ve mentioned this search to several people, and all of them seemed to think that either the Border Police are 1) legally sanctioned to do whatever they want or 2) not necessarily legally sanctioned but might as well be, since they are not prevented from doing whatever they want.

This wasn’t just some spontaneous field trip, though, a company picnic with somebody’s family dog. Bummer, for one, is clearly a trained professional, glad to be doing his job. Those canines are probably trained better than anybody else in government work. Bummer wouldn’t be doing that job unless he knew he was doing the Right Thing.

I have no problem with Bummer, the drug-sniffing canine, although a dog that is trained to sniff out plastic explosives or other bombs — terrorist hardware — might seem more to the point. Not that I beleive our neighbors to the north to be terrorists any more than I believe them to be drug lords. Or drug kingpins, or whatever the term is. I’m just wondering what we’re spending our tax money on, during these perilous economic times.

If you know the answers, I’d appreciate your feedback.

Have a good week.



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