Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Being questioned at customs makes me feel guilty of something. Anyone else like that?

“Watch out for customs,” warned Michael. “The last time Christie and I came back from the Bahamas, I got pounded with some heavy questioning.”

Brian and I looked at his sister and she laughed. “Yup,” she agreed. “The guy just made some light small talk with me, asked me about the trip – ”

“And then he turns to me,” cut in Michael, “and goes, ‘What do you do for a living?’” As he imitated the customs agent, his eyebrows furred together and he put a scowl on his face. “And I was so caught off guard that I sort of blundered my way through the rest of the questions. So just be prepared.”

We laughed at the story, imagining a guy like Mike – as friendly and disarming as they come – being questioned so fiercely. We remembered it as we stood in the customs line at the Nassau airport, waiting for a pat-down and a bag search after the initial security scan. The queue for the customs procedures stretched endlessly and we wondered whether these were typical security measures or the Agency’s response to some morning alert. After the pat-down by grim-faced uniforms, we joined the crowd waiting to be questioned. Finally, the two of us were gestured over to a bushy-browed customs agent with dark stubble on his face.

I fumbled with the declaration form, boarding passes, and passports as I struggled to get the right papers into his hands, right-side up.

“You have a good time?” he asked brightly with an accent that reminded us of the Hopetown locals.

“Yes,” we both answered simultaneously, neither of us adding anything more. At moments like these, you second- and third-guess yourself: Is too much small talk bad? Do I look guilty of something? Don’t say too little! Or gee - don’t say too much. Is he going to take my beach glass? Please don’t confiscate all my food!

“You have apple or orange?”

I rummaged through my purse and pulled out a bag of baby-cut carrots and set them on the counter. “Just these,” I offered. “And some granola bars.” I held one up for him to see.

He scoffed. “Oh, I know granola bars, dey are fine.” His face scrunched. “And I tink carrots, dey are fine. Have to check.”

“Well I don’t have any other produce with me,” I assured him with a smile.

He grinned and hopped off his stool with the bag of carrots in his hand. “Barry,” he called to an invisible boss as he walked away, “carrots, are dey fine?”

In a moment he was back. He gave a great nod. “Yes, dose carrots are fine. Next time, you cannot bring an apple or orange. A banana, now dat would be okay.”

We nodded. “Got it,” I said.

“A banana is a good snack,” he encouraged. “You can definitely bring banana if you want.”

“Thank you,” I replied, bobbing my head so enthusiastically that Brian turned toward me and raised a concerned eyebrow. I was bracing myself, expecting the agent's friendly smile to disappear and give way to a sucker-punch interrogation.

But he handed me the bag of carrots and nodded cheerfully. “Have a good flight!”

We stood on the escalator up to the gates and looked at each other curiously. “Was that it?” I asked Brian.

“I guess.” He shrugged. “I guess we look pretty nice.”

Oh yeah.” I reached into my bag. “Carrots are a good snack too. You want?” He took one and we smiled.

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