North of the Rio Grande River is a huge expanse of North America divided up into 49 states, 10 provinces, 3 territories, and 1 district. Just about everywhere, the dividing lines are sleepy affairs. No fences to block your way. With a flashlight, you might find a surveyor’s marker under a bush assuming you knew where to look. Typically, a sign is erected on the “border” welcoming you to the new jurisdiction. Some places have signs to serve the opposite purpose, that is to say farewell to the hapless traveler. In the Southern United States, it is possible to see a sign with the information “You are now leaving Bucksnort, Hurry Back!”
Technically, the most severe crossing is the one between the United States and Canada. When Mrs. Findlay F. Traveler from the US drives over that line, she can expect to be interrogated by overly inquisitive Canadian custom agents eager to ascertain just exactly how many bottles of liquor and cartons of cigarettes are stashed in the trunk. Any kind of vague answer will trigger an immediate request to pop that puppy open. A precise inventory will be taken and the requisite CDN $38.50 levy lifted from the traveler’s credit card. This interrogation is also offered in French as a sucker ploy. If Mrs. Traveler chooses (poorly) to respond to any question using her middle school French, the agent’s eyes will harden with suspicion and the customs’ duty tagged with a 12% nuisance surcharge. It has nothing to do with us in the US; it’s related to some kind of internal trauma up there. It’s best to answer everything in English taking care to ask if the border station has a gift shop where you can buy the moose tee shirt. Knowing the system thusly, you can be waved through in under 60 seconds.
Driving back into the US on the other hand is a quick passport sniff to insure that you are really from one of the 63 entities mentioned above (or Hawaii and a few other scattered islands).
All of this is relevant to The Bernard Olcott Story because of one peculiar exception to this peaceful patchwork littering the landscape from the Atlantic to the Pacific. One border where the crossing is associated with profundity from a logistical, emotional, and psychic (perhaps even psychotic) point of view.