A love story

USA border control. I'm going to come right out and say I don't like 'em.

We have a relationship that goes back some five and a half years (with one casual encounter prior to this). Some might even consider it semi-serious, especially if you view my move to Canada as a way of spending more time with them. They, however, have denial issues. No matter the frequency of my visits, they refuse to acknowledge that I have ever passed this way before and behave as a jilted lover with a vengeance fetish.

This time, our date took place at the Niagara border on the way to Buffalo airport. I had driven that way twice previously but, out of caution, had allowed an extra hour for bad traffic or a queue at the gate. However, once I had skirted the school buses piled up outside my house, neither of these concerns manifested themselves. The drive was easy and the bridge over to the USA entirely empty. Well, we had been winning the hockey; why would anyone go that way?

What I had not allowed for was the time required to get a visitor visa. The I-94 slip is valid for three months and the last two times I had driven over the border, I had one that was in date. But come on; it's a one page slip that they deal with in five minutes at the airport. How long could this seriously take at the much quieter land crossing?

The answer, it transpires, is 45 minutes.

It also costs $6 USD. I guess the cost is including in your plane ticket when you fly. While not exactly a substantial sum, the problem with requesting USD from people who are in Canada is .... Yeah. I had plenty of CAD but no USD. Well, OK, I had $1. It seems to me that it would make more sense to accept Canadian dollars at the Canadian border but no, apparently not. Fortunately, they do accept credit cards. I waved VISA then I left, now eying the clock.

Almost directly after the border is another bridge. It's a toll one. Did I mention I had no USD? It was possible that the amount they wanted was only $1, but there was no sign before the one and only turn-off before the toll booth, so I couldn't risk it. I pulled into a small gas station and ran my debit card through their ATM. Then I put my foot on the gas, staying slightly behind the guy who obviously was speeding and looking decidedly less innocent than a bright yellow VW beetle.

The bridge toll, incidentally, was $1.

I arrived at Buffalo airport exactly an hour before my flight. In theory, I was fine but I still had to park and I'd been caught out before by over zealous airport attendants. Not waiting for the shuttle bus, I cut across the grass to the terminal, rushing in to find it ... complete deserted. Like really, it was quite eerie. The check-in desk was devoid of human life, but I talked to a machine that printed me a boarding pass but refused to assign me a seat number. Ominous. Was departures empty because everyone was in fact flying to NYC and my flight was packed? I took my ticket and hurried to security.

.... it was also empty.

Seriously people, what do you know that I don't? Feeling like the lead in "28 days later", I pushed my bag through the x-ray machine (this was at least manned) and went and got a sandwich from the food court. Everyone smiled, everyone was nice and everyone was not a passenger. Hmm.

Arriving at my gate, I found three other people there. Somewhat reassuring. I passed my unassigned seat boarding pass to the airline steward at the desk. He frowned and went to his computer to print off a new one. It also had me on the reserve list. The steward raised his eyebrows and tried again. Same result. It appeared that despite this flight being seemingly empty, the computer was determined that I would stay behind. Perhaps it found an empty plane aesthetically pleasing. Perhaps it was in a love affair with the US border control too.

Two phone calls later and I do now have a seat. We will see if it's on the wing.