A stray tale from the great Alaska adventure that I thought I had posted long ago but actually did not.
My idea of vacation is to load a rental vehicle with camping gear and drive for weeks on end. For all practical purposes I live out of the car for that time. In short order it is full of dirty clothes, camping equipment saturated in various savory odors, half-finished or empty food containers, and anywhere from 50-100 cans of NOS depending on how long it has been since I departed. This is indescribably fun but results in certain negative externalities. One is that any police stop or border crossing becomes a very lengthy process, the latter especially. Think about it. You have a single male traveling alone in a rented vehicle with a disheveled interior and no discernible itinerary. I fit every characteristic (except for whatever variety of unofficial racial profiling is in vogue at the moment) of someone driving around in a vehicle full of drugs. Accordingly when I cross into or out of Canada I budget about 60-90 minutes for it. Even though I know that I have nothing illegal in the car, I understand and recognize why they have reason to think I might. It would do me no good whatsoever to pitch a fit. I just sit in the austere holding area (which always includes a compass…you know, to find Mecca. Because justice is colorblind.) and wait while they rifle through my possessions and check every panel on the vehicle for false compartments. It's just part of the cost of doing business.
In Denali I met an older volunteer park employee – white haired and presumably about 70 – who got to ranting about how difficult it is for him to get across the border when he makes his annual pilgrimage from Texas to Alaska for seasonal volunteer work. Since this happens to me and I hadn't spoken to another human for a few days at the time, I engaged him in conversation. It turns out, as he explained in unwarranted detail, that he is, uh, a firearms enthusiast. The kind who spends every spare dime buying, in many cases from overseas, antique guns. He explained that since he is punctilious in following the rules of "the goddamn ATF" and "the fucking FBI" during these transactions, his fondness for firearms is a matter of record when his passport is scanned at a border crossing. I don't know if you've ever tried to drive into Canada as an American, but they *really* don't want you to bring a gun into the country. Like, they will ask you if you have any guns in the car so many times that you will begin to think it's a joke. So unsurprisingly the many foreign gun purchases that this old guy has made turned his border crossings, like mine, into long ordeals involving thorough vehicle searches.
What I could not figure is why this surprised him or felt justified in getting so angry about it. Is it not bleedingly, even painfully obvious that his history would be cause for reasonable suspicion that he had bought a gun while in another country? He repeated over and over the point that all of his purchases were 100% legal. Well, everything I do on vacation is legal as well. But a pattern of legal actions can sometimes raise eyebrows about illegal ones. It's not illegal to travel alone, to rent a car, to camp, or to cross the border in the goddamn middle of nowhere at 2:15 AM. But when all of those are combined, a border agent who is doing his or her job will look at me and think something might be up. If I were on the other side of the bulletproof glass, I would be suspicious of me too. Yet apparently when the 2nd Amendment is involved, individuals (especially when we factor in Whiteness and Maleness) apparently expect to be above suspicion. It is somehow offensive, bordering on rage-inducing, that border officers might think that a man who owns more than a hundred guns might have guns on him or be buying or selling guns. It seems obvious to me; then again, I am not the kind of person who would be surprised that other people find me suspicious if I chose to own and talk about guns constantly.