Chocolate, traffic and visas

My car was full of chocolate aero bars. I'd stuffed three in the glove compartment, two in the cup holders and now I was trying to find homes for another five. Clearly, some rearranging was required.

I was parked at the duty free store by the US-Canada land border near Niagara. While this leg of the journey should have taken only an hour, I had left home at 9:30 am and it was now 2 pm. The heavy snow the night before had taken not only me by surprise, but caused a tractor trailer to jack-knife on the highway, blocking all three lanes and resulting in near-stationary traffic for hours. This had led to repeated texts to my friend providing ever longer estimated arrival times.

I supposed I should count myself lucky. As I had sat there flicking through the radio stations and failing to find any traffic news, a car carrier truck had drawn up beside me loaded with three mashed-up vehicles. I suppressed the temptation that had been growing within me to start ramming the car in front.

Despite the fact I was anticipating spending at least another hour at the border office getting a tourist visa, I had pulled into the duty free to use the bathroom. Feeling that someone should benefit from this chaos, I had bought another US residing (a.k.a. the country without aeros) friend more of her favourite chocolate while in the store. Well, it was better than the other (rather tempting but probably regrettable) option of accepting the free samples of ice wine.

For reasons designed to vex me, the US air and land ports have different policies regarding entry visas. The airports have moved over to the electronic ESTA applications and consider these so shiny and superior that they confiscate the old green paper visas on sight. The land border, by contrast, has rejected this crazy modern technology and wants you to have the green slip in your passport. The upshot of this is that I am either sulking in the land border office waiting to be called to the counter or watching sadly as the airport guy destroys my paper visa like a mother weaning a child off a pacifier.

Before pulling onto the bridge, I called my friend and told her I should be in Buffalo in about two hours, depending on the queues and busyness of the border office. I hoped for once that I wouldn't have send the follow up text telling her to double that estimate. Then I stuffed the chocolate into my bag and slid onto the road.

"Reason for coming to the USA?" The border control guard took my passport and flicked through its pages.

"I'm meeting a friend."

"How to you know them?"

I'd long ago learned to outright lie to this question. The friend I normally met when driving over the border I knew from an internet fan group for Japanese anime. If that didn't sound like something for which I should be detained and questioned for 6 weeks, I don't know what does.

"College," I said, my face bland. I watched the guard examine my collection of visas and took a long shot. "I've entered the US recently," I explained. "Less than a month ago through Atlanta airport. There's a stamp in the back."

A visitor visa to the USA lasts three months before you have to renew it. Every other time I had passed through though, the lack of the green paper slip has meant that I have to get a new pass done. Still, I'd never explicitly tried pointing out that this should be unnecessary.

The guard examined the stamp. "Okay, carry on."

....Seriously? I was so surprised, I nearly forgot to put my car back in gear. It was a good job I'd stopped to use the bathroom at the duty free. I drove slowly through the gates, reaching for my phone to text:

"25 minutes."