Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Adventures in Smuggling

For some strange reason, maybe it's the weather, I have been in a very reflective mood. I keep thinking back to many years ago when my old gang of friends and I did a number of stupid and wonderful things. Today's memory was triggered by some woman on CBC radio who was relaying some story of some woman she knows who wore nothing but a slip across the border so she could buy an outfit and wear it back without paying duty. Apparently she stopped for lunch somewhere, and took off her coat in the restaurant, forgetting that she was only wearing a slip. At least that's what I pieced together from her somewhat incoherent telling of the events. The way this woman told a story made Grandpa Simpson seem downright introspective.
"Back in them days we tied an onion around our belt. Not the regular kind, but the ones that brought a tear to your eye. And we called nickles 'bees'. 'Gimme five bees for a quarter', we'd say."

But I digress.

I recall a couple of visits "across the river" to Buffalo or Niagara Falls to do a bit of shopping. Why did we do it? It certainly wasn't because we got great deals. The value of the Canadian dollar was in the crapper, so anything we saw that appeared to be a deal had to be converted, and more often than not, it wound up being more expensive than we could have bought it here in Canada. Oh yeah! That's why we went! Because there was a ton of stuff there that we simply couldn't find up here. We would visit the Top's supermarket to buy new and novel snacks and things that weren't available up here yet. Don't even get me started on the Helluva Good Clam Dip! We still can't get it here. Just the onion dip. Sad, truly sad.

I was introduced to that clam dip by my old pal Pat. She was (I'm sure still is...just haven't seen her in a long time) a hilarious waifish woman who was involved in the theatre group I was involved in. Pat was a mid 30's married mother of two young boys, and we spent a fair bit of time together along with my old friend and one-time room-mate, Tim.

One day the three of us made a border run, and did a fair bit of shopping. Being a plus size guy, and not being able to find much in the line of plus size fashionable clothing here in Canada, I made the discovery of Casual Male Big & Tall at the Factory Outlet Mall in Niagara Falls and was in my glory. It was pretty expensive, but I occasionally bought a few pair of pants and a few shirts, as was the case this particular day.

We then headed over to Top's for some unique grocery items to bring home. Pat was feeling a bit anxious because the day was flying by and she had to be home before her kids got there from school to let them in. She knew that we weren't going to make it in time, so she was trying to make some calls, but wasn't able to get a hold of anyone. Not her husband, not her neighbour. Nobody. She told us she had to use the bathroom, and she headed for the public washrooms. Quite some time later, Pat finally returned with a look that could only be described as defeated and shameful.

"Did you make it in time?" I asked her.
"No, I didn't," she quietly replied.
"Oh no! You didn't pee your pants, did you?"
"Worse," she said.
"What happened?" Tim asked.
"When I got there, the door was locked, so I waited and waited. Finally I had to run into the men's room, but it was too late. I had to throw my underpants out."

The three of us stood there in the grocery store and laughed our asses off. I felt so bad for her, but the situation was so absurd we couldn't help ourselves.

We bought our groceries and headed out to the car where we began our usual routine. We took all of the new clothing out of the trunk, and we began to layer. Now that I look back on it, I wonder...just how stupid were we? It struck me as being quite funny that there were probably hundreds of people a day doing the exact thing we were doing. At that time, there was a popular commercial for Molson Canadian beer that used the slogan "I AM CANADIAN". I chuckled at the thought that this is the type of thing that should be shown in that commercial, followed by that famous tagline. Honestly, how many Canadians haven't done the exact thing we were doing?

I was now wearing two pair of jeans, about three shirts, and I was also sporting shoes so white that they nearly glowed in my darkened car interior. After throwing all the packaging, bags, and our old shoes into the dumpster, we headed for the border.

"No, really Mr. Border Guard, I've had these shoes for months! And yes, as a matter of fact, I DO always wear two pair of jeans and three shirts!"

I found it quite amusing that Tim, who was several sizes smaller than I was, was wearing a couple pair of my new jeans over his own pants. Honestly, it looked like he was wearing diapers. So I drove on toward the border, hoping to God we wouldn't get busted and have to pay duty on all the stuff we bought.

We reached the border, and were asked our citizenship and asked how much we spent. We each stated that we just had $40 or $50 in groceries, and then it happened.
"Pull over to the side to the inspection station, sir."
Oh God. I thought I was going to have to throw out my underpants too.

We stepped out of the car and walked into the Customs office where we were asked to provide our receipts for our purchases while they ripped my car apart outside. I pulled my wallet from my coat pocket, Pat reached into her purse, and Tim looked at me like a deer in headlights. His receipt was in his wallet. In his pocket. In his pants. Beneath two layers of MY pants. How he managed to get that wallet out without rousing suspicion is beyond me, but he did.

Each of us paid our minimal duty charge, were wished a good evening, and were sent on our way. We got back in the car and I drove home. First order of business was to get Pat home. As it turns out, her kids just hung out at the neighbour's place until she got home. Then I dropped Tim off at his place. I went in to visit with his mother while he removed the layers of my clothes he was wearing, and his mother told us of the times she's crossed over and came back wearing three bras.

See what I mean? This is just a part of our culture.

LOL!! All Detroiters knew back then that when going over to Windsor not to get behind a bunch of Ontario license plates because they were going to be held up for a while. They should have had lanes for just Michiganders and just Ontarions. Or for your side of Ontario, New Yorkers.
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