By definition, inner happiness is extremely personal, and therefore this story is very personal in its nature. I have given it serious thought before sharing this story. The reason? I believe that by sharing this story I may self-incriminate myself as “crazy”. I strongly believe that those which have not (yet) experienced something similar to what I am about to share with you may read this and think “geez, this dude has gone bat-shit crazy”, which is fair enough. I’d probably think the same thing if it hadn’t happened to me. The only rebuttal I have is this: Trust me, I haven’t. In fact, I feel I am saner than ever. So sane, that it is insane for me to think that I once considered myself sane … You know what I’m sane? (Get it? It’s a play on words…).
This story, as the title suggests, is all about the moment I felt like I discovered inner happiness. The hilarity lies in the fact that before I had a chance to comprehend my experience, someone tried to take it away from me! The story is relatively long and I wrote it two days after it happened (which was now roughly two and half months ago). The story is largely unedited from its original form. It is just a story. Interpret it however you want. The one thing that I hope everyone takes from it is a laugh.
- After working for four and a half years in offices, I decided it wasn’t working for me and I quit.
- My second long-term relationship ended literally at the same time as my employment. We had been together for five years, were living together and had talked about marriage.
- This was my life as I knew it. My life was in tatters. I decided I needed to pause to gather myself. I needed some time to re-evaluate.
- Being a dual US/NZ citizen I purchased a one-way ticket to the USA with the intention of purchasing a car and driving around the west coast before heading to Las Vegas for a month to play poker tournaments at the World Series of Poker (WSOP). I love the game of poker and played a lot at University. It was always a dream of mine to participate in the WSOP in Vegas. Now seemed like as good a time as any to fulfil that dream.
- This is as far as my plans were to take me.
Everything that follows happened after being on the road for two weeks. I am travelling alone. My 1999 Toyota Corolla is my only companion. Her name is Cassi (short for Cassandra). I bought her from her previous owner, Ted, for two thousand one hundred and fifty dollars. Ted seemed to be a nice man and I could tell he was sad to part with her. He tells me that he has always treated her with the utmost care and respect, and that he hopes that I will do the same. Despite being 11 years my junior, Cassi is very well travelled. Cassi is slender and her dark green complexion is similar to the colour of a deep ocean basking in sunlight. She has an almost metre-long scar that has turned white on her left side, as well as many bumps and other minor scars elsewhere that I can only assume she has picked up in her travels. I am hoping that all of her experience will help to guide me on my journey as this is my first time truly travelling. Although Cassi and I have only known each other for two weeks, this is all it has taken for us to fall in love. We began our journey together in San Francisco and have made it a long way north to Seattle. From here we are driving further north to Whistler, in Canada, to visit a friend. The rest of the story I will tell as it happened…
My friend has lived and worked in Whistler for almost three years. His name is Cocoa and he is a dentist. We have known each other for close to 15 years but have not seen each other since he moved to Whistler. A running joke we have is that he starred as Mr Miyagi in the Karate Kid movies as he has a similar physique and is Asian (Taiwanese), though you wouldn’t pick this if you spoke to him on the phone – he speaks with a New Zealand accent after being raised and schooled in New Zealand. Cocoa often wears odd or very colourful clothing and likes to shape his long black hair in crazy ways – man buns, pony tales, braids, Mohawks, you name it (I am a little jealous as my hair is falling out, though I would never admit this to him… Which I guess I just admitted. Oops.). Cocoa is often sarcastic, and loves to have a laugh. I have a lot of time for Cocoa, which is the greatest compliment I will give someone. I am looking forward to having a laugh with him again.
About 30 minutes into the journey north (the drive to Whistler takes about 4 hours total) I experience something that I have never experienced before. Justin Bieber’s relatively new banger, ‘What do you mean’, is bumping so loud through the auxiliary tape deck player plugged into my iPhone that Cassi’s body vibrates violently whenever the song plays a touch of base. I may or may not be (I am) singing along too. It is at this moment that I start to think about all the things that have happened in my life for me to find myself here in this very moment. Driving alone, but for Cassi’s company, to the Canadian border, singing along to Justin Bieber.
I think about the places I have been in my life. I think about the places I have been in just the past two weeks. I think about the things I have seen. I think about the things I have done. I think about the things I would still like to do. I think about the things I would still like to see. I think about all of the people that have influenced me in my life. I think about the ones that have helped me to get to this point. I think about the good ones. I think about the not-so-good ones. I think about the people I have met on the road – the people that have enriched my experience, and the ones who have not. I think about everything that I have experienced. I think about the fact that in three-and-a-half hours I will get to see my friend Cocoa. I get to see where he has been living for the past 3 years. I get to see his house. I get to see his town. I get to see him.
These thoughts overwhelm me. My mind is incapable of comprehending everything that I am trying to make it think about in this moment. A teethy smile cracks on my face. It is uncontrollable. My eyes begin to well. I am laughing. I am crying. What is going on? I’m not ashamed to admit that I have cried before in my life – at the end of my relationships, when I spoke at my Opa’s funeral, to name just a couple. This crying was different though. I had never experienced tears like these. These tears were different. I didn’t want to wipe these ones away. The tears, one after the other, roll down my face. I let them. The tears run down each of my cheeks to my chin and drip onto my shorts. By this point in time I start thinking that maybe I should exercise some control and compose myself – I am on the freeway with cars whizzing past either side of me (I drive slower than a 90-something-year-old without their glasses). What if people see me? Meh. Nope. I don’t care. I don’t give a fuck. It is incredible. I let it happen.
The tears continue intermittently for two hours, interrupting my Bieber-karaoke each time, all the way up to the Canadian border. Realising the incredible oddness of what I am experiencing I feel like I need to capture the moment and so I risk life and limb to take a selfie while driving. Here it is:
I make it to the Canadian border. At the border there is a line of cars waiting to cross over. Cassi and I join the line with the shortest queue. My attitude toward crossing the border into Canada is fairly positive. I don’t expect that Cassi and I should have any issues as I have a US passport and Cassi is car, albeit a dirty car from all her driving. I assume that the US and Canada have a similar understanding as NZ and Australia do – a big brother / little brother type relationship with border crossings a regular occurrence. A few Americans I have met along the road with experience crossing the border have insisted that crossing into Canada is typically not too troublesome. However, I have never driven across the border before and so have no idea what to expect. As such, I decide it is best to compose myself. Crossing over in tears is probably not a good look. I clear the tears and straighten up. Time to act normal.
The border crossing consists of a bunch of different lanes with manned booths. Very similar to booths on a toll bridge.
Cassi and I drive up to our booth. Cassi slowly comes to a stop and I hand the customs officer my US passport, greet him with a smile and say:
“Hey, how are you?”
The customs officer is a bald man. He is sitting down and I can’t see his legs from my vantage point. Judging from his upper body he looks like a relatively tall man, perhaps just over 6 foot. He has a large chest, and a small belly. His face is expressionless. He takes my US passport but doesn’t respond to my question asking how he is – I guess he’s not into small talk. Though his face is expressionless, his eyebrows are partially crossed, which gives away his attitude – this is serious business. As you will soon discover if you keep reading, this was not the only customs officer that I dealt with at the border and as such, I am giving him the very profound name of “Customs Officer 1”. Bet you that you can’t guess what name I am going to give the second customs officer that I dealt with…
After taking my passport Customs Officer 1 turns to his computer and appears to be doing something on it. A few seconds go by before he turns back to me:
Customs Officer 1: “How long are you intending to be in Canada for?”
Sensing that Customs Officer 1 means business, and given his abrupt non-response to my good natured greeting, I decide it is best to switch from fun-loving mode into serious mode. I respond:
Me: “About two weeks”
I say ‘about’ as I honestly don’t know exactly how long I will be in the country. Initially I intended to stay for 8 days. However, a US army officer that I met at a park in Seattle suggested that I drive east through Canada and then south into the USA. My plan was to drive south into the USA and then east through the USA. He tells me that driving through Canada would be far more picturesque. I haven’t yet decided if I will follow his suggestion and as I want to be conservative in my response I say two weeks rather than 8 days.
Customs Officer 1: “Have you been to Canada before?”
Me: “No. This is my first time”
Customs Officer 1: “Where do you live?”
Me: “Oakland, in California”
I don’t really have time to properly think through this response. I have family friends in Oakland, whom I stayed with when I arrived in San Francisco. I figure on the spot that it is easier to tell him this is where I live than to try to explain everything that has brought me to this point – at the Canadian border with a US passport but speaking with a New Zealand accent…
Customs Officer 1: “What do you do for work there?”
Me: “Ahh, well, I’m unemployed”
Customs Officer 1 pauses and turns his head away from his screen to look me in the eyes. He stares at me for maybe a second and a half, though this felt like a lot longer. He then directs his gaze back to his computer before continuing his questioning:
Customs Officer 1: “How long have you been unemployed for?”
Me: “About a month”
Customs Officer 1: “What did you used to do for work?”
Me: “I was working in an accounting firm”
Customs Officer 1: “Where are you staying in Canada?”
Customs Officer 1: “Where are you staying in Whistler?”
Me: “With a friend”
There is silence for a couple of seconds now. I don’t know whether he wants details or not, but I figure I might as well be totally transparent. I interrupt the silence by providing Customs Officer 1 with my friend’s address in Whistler. Customs Officer 1 then continues questioning me but on a different matter:
Customs Officer 1: “How much money do you have?”
I don’t know whether he means cash, or money in total. I have a debit card that links to an American bank account that has money in it. Does he want me to tell him about this too? I don’t know. Under pressure I decide to just tell him how much cash I have on me.
Me: “Five hundred dollars”
Following my answer there is silence for about 30 seconds. Customs Officer 1 is writing something in his booth, but I can’t see what he is doing. I look forward, thinking Canada is right there. I can see it. Just let me in already. Customs Officer 1 interrupts my thought.
Customs Officer 1: “Okay Mark”
He hands me a yellow piece of paper and then points out the booth window before continuing:
Customs Officer 1: “Pull over to the right there, park up and then take this slip inside the building to the right hand side.”
Weird. Everyone else is just driving through once they have finished at their booths. They don’t have to park up. Did I say something wrong? I don’t know. Maybe this is just standard procedure? I guess my US passport / NZ accent combination is slightly weird. Meh, I have nothing to hide so I am not too concerned. I follow Customs Officer 1’s directions. Cassi parks up, I leave her and walk into the building with my yellow piece of paper and my US passport.
There are three lines inside the building labelled A, B and C. There are a bunch of people in line B, and no one in lines A or C. I look at my piece of paper for guidance, but I don’t really understand what’s on it, so I just line up behind the other folks. They must know what they are doing. Mark, you sheep! After five minutes of waiting, a lady behind the desk at line C calls me to the front:
Line C lady: “Sir, come here please. I just want to check whether you are in the right line”.
I go up to her desk and hand her my yellow piece of paper.
Line C lady: “Sir, that is your line over there. Line A.”
I smile at her and laugh:
Me: “Oh crap, sorry. Thank you!”
There are two Asian people that have arrived and lined up in line A now. They are the only people in line A. They appear to be a father and son duo. They arrived inside the customs building after me, however the father has seen my mistake and gestures for me to go ahead of them in the line. I thank him for his offer, but gesture for him to go first and tell him “no, you go ahead – it’s fine”. I’m in no hurry, and it was my mistake to join the wrong line. The father and son walk the few steps distance from the beginning of Line A to the desk. The customs officer at desk A is named “Customs Officer 2” (did you guess that would be his name!?). I overhear what Customs Officer 2 is saying to the Asian father and son:
Customs Officer 2: “No, you are in the wrong line. You are meant to be in line B. Over there [he points].”
Hah! Guess I’m not the only one finding this confusing… Mind you, given that the Asian father was gesturing to me to go in front of him, as opposed to telling me to do so, he might have had a legitimate excuse – he might not speak English. Meh, whatever. I approach Customs Officer 2’s desk and hand him my yellow piece of paper and my US passport. Customs Officer 2 is Asian and maybe in his early 30s. He looks mighty official in his customs uniform. He speaks with a Canadian accent. I greet him with a half smile:
Customs Officer 2: “How long are you intending to be in Canada?”
Huh? Customs Officer 1 already asked me this? I guess they don’t communicate. I answer the question again.
Me: “Two weeks”
I don’t say ‘about’ this time as I sense the seriousness of the situation and figure it is better if I am direct.
Customs officer 2: “Where are you staying?”
Me: “Whistler, with a friend of mine. He lives there.”
Customs officer 2: “What is your friend’s name?”
Hmm, that is a weird question. Why does that matter? Now I am thinking to myself that I hope I don’t get Cocoa in trouble… I tell Customs Officer 2 Cocoa’s full name, however, he struggles to understand, so I spell it out for him. He doesn’t seem to be writing anything down though, which is even weirder.
Customs officer 2: “How do you know Cocoa?”
Me: “We went to school together. In New Zealand.”
Customs officer 2: “What are you planning to do in Canada?”
Me: “I’m doing a road trip. I started in San Francisco, and I am coming up here to visit Cocoa.”
Customs officer 2: “Have you been to Canada before?”
Customs officer 2: “Whose car is that?”
Customs officer 2: “How long have you owned it?”
Me: “Hmm, well I bought it around the start of this month, so what’s that – like two weeks I guess. Just over, maybe.”
Customs officer 2: “What do you do for work?”
Me: “I’m unemployed, I used to work in an accounting firm.”
Customs officer 2: “Where were you working?”
Me: “New Zealand.”
Customs officer 2: “You were working in New Zealand?”
Sensing that none of this seems to make a lot of sense, I take it upon myself to give Customs Officer 2 my life story (the one-minute version) – my parents worked in the USA for 15 years. I was born in the USA. I have lived in New Zealand for basically my whole life. My parents are Kiwis. I am a dual citizen. Blah. Blah. Customs Officer 2 didn’t seem to enjoy my life story as much as me, but he asks a few follow up questions to be polite. I answer these and then he changes his line of questioning:
Customs Officer 2: “Okay, do you have any drugs on you?”
Customs officer 2: “No marijuana at all?”
Customs officer 2: “Have you smoked marijuana?”
Me: “Yes, back in University. Maybe five years ago.”
Customs officer 2: “You haven’t smoked any in the United States?”
Customs officer 2: “The reason I ask is because we are going to search your vehicle and we have a swab that we will be using in the vehicle. The swab is very effective. The swab will pick up any traces of drugs, even if there are no drugs actually in the vehicle. It can pick up traces of drugs.”
Me: “Right, okay. No, I haven’t smoked in the US, and no one has smoked in my car either since I’ve owned it.”
Customs officer 2: “Mark, I am not saying that you smoke. I am not accusing you of that. I am simply asking you this now because when we search the car, if we swab the vehicle and the swab returns a positive result and you have told me that you haven’t been around any marijuana it wont be good. So I’ll ask you again, have you been around any marijuana recently?”
Right… I am thinking to myself that Customs Officer 2 never asked me that in the first place but whatever. I am also thinking to myself that I told him that Cassi and I have driven north from San Francisco. This means driving through Oregon and Washington – two states in which marijuana is legal and is prevalent (it is also prevalent in California, though it is only legal for medicinal purposes there). People smoke it on the street in Oregon and Washington. He must know I would have been around it. I respond:
Me: “Yeah, I mean I have been staying in hostels and campsites and all that. People have been smoking around me since it is legal in the places I’ve been. So yes, I have been around it.”
Customs officer 2: “Okay, what we are going to do is search your vehicle. Do you have the keys?”
Me: “Sure, here you go”
I place the keys on the desk and Customs Officer 2 grabs these before continuing:
Customs officer 2: “Okay. Is there anything else, anything at all, that you would like to tell us or disclose before we search your vehicle?”
Me: “Nope, I don’t think so.”
Customs officer 2: “Okay, take a seat over there, we will call you once we are ready for you.”
I take a seat. This has been a whirlwind experience. I haven’t had time to properly think about why this has happened. The people I met said I should have no issues getting into Canada. I start to ponder how I have found myself in this situation, reflecting on everything that has happened and trying to think as best I can from the perspectives of the Customs Officers that I have interacted with. Slowly, it all starts to make sense to me…
When I pull up to Customs Officer 1’s booth, these are the first things he sees:
- My eyes are slightly red, puffy and watery from all the crying.
- Cassi is filthy from all the miles she has done to get from San Francisco to this point (it is a long way!).
- There is a sleeping bag, pillow and mattress visible in the back seat, and Cassi is a bit messy inside as I haven’t had a chance to clean her out in a while.
- I am wearing a thin rope necklace that I bought at a market in Seattle two days earlier. Attached to the rope necklace is a wooden turtle pendant painted blue.
- I am wearing my bright orange Adelaide Hoopers basketball singlet, and short baby green coloured shorts.
- I greet him with a big smile and ask him how he is.
It starts to make sense to me… Based on this, his first impression is that I am stoned to the tits and might be trying to bring marijuana into the country. I smile to myself, and think, well yeah I would probably think that too based on the above. Fair enough. I continue thinking about what else Customs Officer 1 sees:
- I hand him a US passport, but speak to him with a thick New Zealand accent.
- I am not direct when I tell him how long I intend to be in Canada – “about two weeks”.
- I tell him I am unemployed.
- I tell him I have five hundred dollars.
Hah! Probably should have played this one slightly better in hindsight… This is fun to think about though, so I keep thinking… What does Customs Officer 2 think? He sees all the same things as Customs Officer 1 in terms of my appearance. He also sees Cassi as he was outside when Cassi and I were parking and he directed us into the correct parking bay. He probably thinks I am stoned too. He also saw me line up in the wrong line and then laugh when Line C Lady made me aware of my mistake. Yep, I must be stoned. I talk to him with a thick New Zealand accent and hand him a US passport too, but I explain the reason for this to him. There isn’t too much else though that would indicate I am stoned, but there is still enough.
I lean back in my chair thinking about the ridiculousness of the situation I have found myself in. During the drive up to the border I have had the most powerful experience of my life. I don’t say that lightly either. I have taken stimulant drugs (sorry Mum, sorry Dad). The experience that I have just had was SO VERY MUCH MORE powerful than the kick of these stimulants. Even now as I write about it my eyes become watery. It was truly breathtaking. Amazing. Incredible. POWERFUL. This experience was mine though and mine alone. It all happened from my perspective. From the Customs Officers’ perspective, I was stoned.
Customs Officer 2: “Mark”
Customs Officer 2 has walked back into the building through a back door. I turn in my chair to face him and stand and walk up to the desk – as I approach and get closer he continues:
Customs Officer 2: “You’re good to go. There were some apples in the trunk. You can’t bring these into the country. We’ve confiscated them.”
Oops, I totally forgot those were in there… They were a couple weeks old anyway…
I walk to Cassi and turn her on (she is pretty easy to get going). We begin to drive into Canada together. She is the strong silent type, so it gives me more time to think. I am unable to wipe the smile off my face at the absurdity of everything that has just happened. I start thinking about whether the same thing would have happened had I been wearing a suit, no necklace, driving a clean car without a bunch of sleeping gear in the back. Would Customs Officer 1 and Customs Officer 2 have treated me the same way? I suspect not…