You know that feeling when you pull away from your house, drive down your street, and then you suddenly remember something you’re going to need real bad? So you turn around and pull back in the garage, dog wondering why you’re back so quickly because she barely had a chance to close her eyes, and then try the whole leaving thing again.
Well, this recently happened to me. But instead of being down the street, I was 30,000 feet in the air, and somewhere over New Mexico. I was on my way to Whistler, British Columbia. A beautiful mountain village about 1½ hour north of Vancouver—in metric that’s about 90 minutes.
But I wasn’t sure if I was even going to be let into the country, because it’s not like I forgot my contact case, or a hairbrush. I had forgotten my passport. Not usually one to panic, I waited until we landed in Las Vegas for a brief layover and then hit the internet to see if I could find out exact details about border crossing. The best information I could find was from the Canadian Border Patrol—sounded credible enough. They said, officially, you don’t need a passport to get into the country, but you do need one to get out. The catch is, you need to prove your U.S. citizenship. All I had was my driver’s license and my Starbucks card. Not quite enough.
We decided to give it a try—surely they’d have some kind of computer system that can look up citizenship, credit score, horoscope sign—it is 2010, for Pete’s sake. Not so fast, Yankee.
While most people simply flash their credentials and drive on through, we had to pull over, park, and go inside to meet with somebody official. I explained the problem, trying to appear willing to work with them on whatever they needed. The officer asked me what I did for a living (singer), and what was the purpose of the trip (fun). And then we waited as they walked away with my driver’s license and my friends’ passports. And waited.
We wondered if they were just watching us to see if we got squirmy. Perhaps I was, but it wasn’t anything a trip to the bathroom couldn’t take care of. We also figured they were wanting to make us feel as inconvenienced as possible, just so this wouldn’t ever happen again.
“Mark Smeby?” the Canadian patrol officer announced across the lobby. Of course, I didn’t hear it, because I was just finishing up in the bathroom. So she waited. As I jogged across the lobby, I thought, “This is just like at a restaurant, where you wait and wait for your food to come. And then you go to the bathroom, and the food comes. Cool.”
The officer asked, “So how much money do you have.” Do Canadians think all Americans are rich? I wondered.
I said, “On me?”
“No, how much money do you have access to.”
Ah, drugs. They’re concerned about me buying drugs. I answered, detailing my bank account contents.
She hemmed and hawed. Did she think I have too much or too little money? Then came the clincher.
“Ok, now sing the National Anthem.”
My mouth dropped open. “For real?” I asked.
“Yes, you said you’re a singer right?” She suddenly turned into Simon Cowell, in a weird nightmarish version of Canadian Idol.
And then I thought about baseball. How one of my dreams has always been to sing the National Anthem at baseball stadiums across the country. If I had to pick one, it would of course be in Minnesota before a Twins game. Joe Mauer would come up to me after and say, “Wow, I’ve never heard anyone sing the National Anthem that good. You wanna be friends?”
Next thought: “Really? My first time ever singing the National Anthem is going to be in this dumpy, DMV-like place, for this few people? And to top it off, Canadian people! Not like I had planned, God. Not like I had planned.” I sensed God chuckle ever so slightly.
I decided that if this was going to be my first time, I was going to sing my heart out—a sort of karmic audition for future sporting events. Could I be as awesome as I had pictured myself being?
Joe Mauer, if you can hear me, here goes.
Picking a note out of the air, I tried to remember the first word. And then the next word. This continued, wondering if the last word I sang would be the last one I remembered. I also kept wondering if I had started too high, cause, you know, this blasted song gets really high at the end. But I kept singing, scared to death. I’ve never sung for my life before, much less my vacation.
It was a bit like downhill skiing, where you start off at the top, knowing you’re going down the dang mountain, but you have no idea exactly where you’re going to go and what you’re going to encounter along the way. The same exhilaration, mixed with the same “I’m gonna crash and burn any second,” was exactly what I was feeling as I sang.
Singing mostly with my eyes closed, due to intense concentration, I would occasionally take a peek to see the reaction around me. The interrogating officer had a smile on her face, and had a friend come stand by her. Other officers came from around corners, also smiling. I’m so happy they were enjoying themselves. Even if this was some kind of sick joke, I was going to make the most of it, and sing at the top of my lungs. I wanted people in Nanaimo to hear me. They probably appreciated my chutzpah. I appreciated them appreciating my chutzpah.
My friends, as well as my new uniformed Canadian friends, met my big finish with great applause. They slid my driver’s license and my friends’ passports across the counter saying, “All Americans know the National Anthem.“ I smiled back and nodded, though it’s not true. "You’re never going to forget your passport again, will you?”
“Absolutely not.” I shook each of their hands, thanking them, just like I would as the players came out of the dugout, as I walked off their field. A strong performance from a rookie on foreign turf. I breathed sighs of relief for the next 30 minutes.
I have to believe there is security camera footage of this whole ordeal floating around somewhere on the Internet. A kind of Border Patrol Candid Camera—something created to pass time on cold snowy nights after the poutine has all run out.
If anyone does find this footage, please send it to Joe Mauer. I’m sure he and (Canadian) Justin Morneau would get a good laugh out of it.