Declare: (v) to make known or state clearly
Rolling up to the border crossing in Detroit, between Canada and the United States, the agent behind the glass window said:
“Anything to declare?”
I didn’t know what he meant.
I was twenty-one years old, driving a beat-up brown van, with long hair laying on my shoulders. I felt completely normal. I think he feared I was less-than-average.
I said, “What do you mean?”
The simple asking of that question caused him to leave his booth, come out and demand that I open the rear end of my van.
I innocently thought, “What’s the big deal?”
But what he saw, as a Canadian official, were two young girls, resting in sleeping bags, some electronic equipment, and brown boxes. He was suspicious.
I think he thought I was hauling the trifecta: kidnapping women, stealing stereos, and shipping drugs.
We were required to open everything.
When it was discovered there was nothing of interest, he found a reason to object. You see, in the boxes were the record albums we sold at our gigs. I was ignorant of the fact that Canada wanted to put a surcharge on any record album coming across their border, that was going to be sold at a live concert.
Worse was the fact that the surcharge for each album was $2.85.
Not only did we not have the money for the surcharge, but none of us had seen that sum of money for a long time.
I gave my full lineage and testimony.
I even tried to declare things he didn’t ask me to declare.
He was not interested.
We were rejected at the Canadian border.
Yet we were supposed to do a Canadian tour.
Leaving that station, we stopped at a coffee shop about two miles down the road, still itchy and bitchy from our encounter. Our waiter explained that the Detroit crossing was very difficult—asking you to declare every little thing. But if we drove up the road about eighty miles, there was a crossing that was much easier.
I thanked him.
We got in the van and decided to take the chance that our food-getter knew what he was talking about.
Arriving at the gate, we pulled up slowly. There was nobody around. It was just a little building—big enough to hold ten toy soldiers.
When we stopped the van, though, a man came running up from a nearby grove of trees with his dog in tow.
“Ay!” he said. “Sorry I wasn’t at my post. Had to go take a piss.”
He looked at me. I looked at him.
I was waiting for him to ask me to declare.
I got out, petted his dog, told him I was a musician—and he said he was a budding songwriter himself.
He patted me on the shoulder, I got back in the van, he waved his hand, and said, “Go on through—hope you enjoy us.”
Now, I have two thoughts about this story:
Sometimes a music group is just a music group and you should leave them the hell alone.
But sometimes people in vans in the middle of the night need to do more than just pet your dog.