12 December 2011

Minority Report at US Border

A very good friend of mine sent me this description of a journey he took from Vancouver to Seattle. He had to clear US Customs and Immigration at the train station in Vancouver, before boarding the train.

At the Amtrak train station in Vancouver, I was passing through the US border inspection with my bike.

At the lineup control:

Guard 1: "Where's your helmet?"
Me: "It's at home."
G1: "Why don't you have it?"
Me: "I won't be needing it on this trip."
G1: "Why not?"
Me: "Because it won't be necessary for my type of biking."
G1: "So, you plan on breaking the law?"
Me: "Ummm... what law?"

... then I'm waved over the inspection desk ...

Guard 2: "Where are you going?"
Me: "Seattle"
G2: "Where's your helmet?"
Me: "I didn't bring it."
G2: "You ride without one?"
Me: "Depends on the situation."
G2: "Are you aware that it's the law in the state of Washington?" (Ed: It's not, he's wrong)
Me: "I wasn't aware of this."
G2: "So, you were planning to break the law on purpose?"
Me: "I had no intention of doing so."
G2: "Do you think I should let you in to my country knowing that you intend on breaking the law?"
Me: "Ummm... I assume 'no?'"
G2: "Don't assume; the answer is NO. How do I know you aren't going to commit other crimes?"
Me: "I understand. So what is your decision?"
G2: "I'm going to let you thorough on the condition that upon arrival you purchase a helmet. If you are cited for biking without a helmet, I will know because I'm going to check your file later today. If that's the case, you will have trouble entering the US again."
Me: "Thank you, I'll buy a helmet."

So, all in all, I boarded the train scared, rattled and angry. I didn't know how to handle myself and I never expected anything like it. I wondered if he was bluffing, but I wasn't going to risk anything seeing as I need to re-enter the US on other business throughout the year. Upon arrival, I went to a LBS to consider a helmet and the store guy said at least half of his friends have been cited for not having a helmet--but he doesn't use one if he can help it. There are plenty of painted bike lanes everywhere. I bought a helmet. But I felt more than ever that my side of the planet needs serious help.

So. It begs the question. Do US Border Police harass every motorist entering the country?

"I can see on your speedometer than your car is capable of exceeding US and State speed limits."
"Um. Yes."
"Are you aware that exceeding the speed limit is the law?"
"Do you think I should let you in to my country knowing that you are driving a car capable of breaking the speed limit?"

Do they check their files later in the day? Nah.

This is police stupidity. Ignoring the Bull so blatantly that it hurts. On their website the tagline is "Securing America's Borders..." Yeah, right.

Together with Chicago's ridiculous new pedestrian flags this week, I too, wonder how liveable cities free of automotive tyranny will ever gain purchase in some regions. Sigh.