I'm going to take you back to Oct. 2nd, 2001 and experience a trip that had been planned 2 months prior. The timing was definitely wrong due to the destruction of the World Trade Center Twin Towers, but I had committed myself to three individuals and as a Canadian, I was not going to let them down. My story is true and self explanatory.
As a photographer and photojournalist, my assignments may require my crossing a border or flying into another country, so my documentation must not only be up to date but in accordance with that country's visitor status requirements. My most recent assignment of Oct. 2nd, took me to Tucson, Arizona and Nogales, Mexico, via Greyhound Bus Lines, to help improve the skills of three American photographers. At that point in time, I was, understandably in no mood to fly and land travel gave me the opportunity to view and film the passing landscape.
The first stage of my trip ended at the Detroit border at 3:30 A.M. Here, I was subjected to the most thorough interrogation and physical body search imaginable by U. S. Custom Agents and the National Guard in dark green fatigues shouldering and aiming M-16 semi-automatic rifles at me. For the most Hurculean individual, this was "Heart Attack Alley" to say the least. I was told to stand with my back to a blank wall while I and my luggage, was sniffed by dogs and rummaged through by an agent, then questioned from "Nationality?" to "How much money are you carrying with you?". I was then asked to present my current travel fare and the return ticket, upon which I unfolded a 9 foot perforated ticket resembling a roll of toilet tissue. This presentation raised the agents eyebrows but presence of mind said this was not the time for levity. After being questioned, searched, prodded and electronically wanded, the Customs Official made his final point. "Are you carrying any sharp objects, guns, drugs or explosives?" I was, oh so tempted, to respond with our great Canadian idiom "Dah", but decided "No, Sir." was more liking to the situation. I was then instructed to gather up my belongings and equipment and directly return to the bus. It was at this point I started to feel a sense of trepidation as to what else was in store for me as my trip progressed. That sensation was not unfounded.
Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, 42 hours later. My third bus change and a new chapter in travelling. Standing on the bus platform with re-boarding pass in hand, the gentleman in front of me was searched and found to have a large carving knife on him; he said it was used in his line of business. Why anyone would carry a 6 inch carving knife with him on a public transportation system, especially in light of the security alerts, was beyond my comprehension. The Texas State Police were not very convinced of his explanation whereupon a raucous exchange and violent scuffle ensued terminating with the individual being escorted to a police cruiser and very unceremoniously deposited inside. This prompted additional agents and law enforcement officers to stand guard while we were questioned and searched for the second time before being allowed to board our bus.
Presence of mind will dictate to any traveller to constantly watch their luggage. We were informed, prior to our arrival at the Dallas/Fort Worth depot, that our luggage would also be inspected before departing west and care would be taken to deposit same in the correct bus hold. I observed one cart being moved from our buses location to another platform with luggage on it resembling my own. It "Was" my luggage. Upon questioning the Platform Manager as to "That" carts destination, his response was, "Oh, not to worry. This luggage is correctly going to New York." In very short order I informed him that it was "Not" going to New York City because all the luggage was from "That" bus destined for Tucson, Arizona and "My bags are on that cart!" My cloths, film and camera equipment; I could see a disaster in the making. The Manager randomly inspected several pieces of the carts contents, which confirmed my conviction and with the shrug of both shoulders, turned the cart around and put it beside our bus for depositing. Disaster averted.
2:15 A.M. Lordsburg, New Mexico. 66 hours into my trip and still no sleep. Large red pylons had been placed on the highway diverting traffic in both directions into a single lane leading to a makeshift inspection point resembling a cross between a weigh station and a prison. Massive arc floodlights lite the area like a football stadium. Here, we were boarded by Naturalization and Immigration Officials checking documents for illegal aliens and correct travel itineraries. When asked my nationality, I responded "Canadian" whereas further questioning ceased. Later, it was explained to me, that we "Canucks " have a definite accent which the F.B.I. and N.I.A. immediately recognize and for some apparent reason, is difficult to mimic. As most of those travelling with me were of either Latino or Black descent, questioning at times became rampant and at times heated which became an atmosphere of disquiet for most of us. With everything in order (no more knives were discovered), we were allowed to proceed and I reached my Arizona destination 12 hour later at 4:30 A.M. and still no sleep. I truly looked forward to some R & R with the students and a three week basic vacation of teaching. Little did I suspect, that Mr. Murphy was going to show me laws in his little book of surprises that I was totally unaware of and how dangerous some of them could be. My journey was about to become more adventurous, interesting and dangerous as those three weeks passed.
Part "2" tomorrow.....