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essentials, credentials

I’d like to step up the pace, if you don’t mind.

Tourists in plastic blue rain slickers were lined up on both sides of the falls, waiting for their ride on a Maid of the Mist, and it wasn’t even noon yet. Crossing the border at Niagara is so much nicer than crossing through Buffalo, and not only for the view from the Rainbow Bridge. The Homeland Security folks here are so much gentler than their Peace Bridge counterparts, probably softened from years of dealing with day-trippers and blue slicker-clad families. Our entire bus was in and out, passports stamped, in about five minutes. I stuck behind a minute longer to have my papers signed and answer the standard questions.

“Where you going?”
New York.

It was the close to a refreshing, ful-filling week in Toronto. I biked for days. Bumped into familiar faces. Picked up some magazines, some music, some stories. Caught up on the Globe and Mail, and I don’t think I’d ever noticed so many American references in their pages before. The Walrus and Maisonneuve are one thing — they’ve always been in love with New York and DC stories — but the last thing I wanted to do was read a New Yorker’s perspective on Toronto in a Canadian newspaper. Really now? I haven’t been paying close attention, but I’m certainly not the only person rolling their eyes at the Globe’s behavio(u)r. I’m far better versed on this sin of Watching The Elephant As It Sleeps as manifested in the arts, and it is no less wack in a rap song.

But, back to the border.

While officer Cavelli processed my visa documents, I seized a rare opportunity to actually have a conversation with Homeland Security.

“Have you heard of a show called ‘Border Security USA’?”
Yeah, he knew it. ABC was behind it.
“Have they ever filmed here?”

I was expecting a no, but it turned out that a camera crew had come around twice already, in February and again during Memorial weekend. I read about the new reality show just last week, and was secretly hoping to cross paths with them when I hit the border. Here’s a whet:

The security agents depicted in the show stop a wide range of criminal behavior. In one episode, customs finds a human skull shipped through the mail. In another, a Coast Guard boat chases cocaine smugglers.

Yet it’s the show’s depiction of the government’s post-9/11 antiterrorism efforts that’s bound to draw the most attention. In one story, two young men of Iranian descent are denied entry into the country when one is found to have relatives with ties to a terrorist organization and the other carries a fake ID.

“That’s (the agents’) No. 1 mission: to protect the country from terrorists and from terrorist materials, such as bombs,” Shapiro said. “We haven’t been there with a camera when an actual terrorist has been caught, but we’ve seen a few people not admitted because they’re on watch lists. Nobody wants to be the officer who lets in the next terrorist.”


Shapiro said “Border” will tell “the other side of the story.”

“I love investigative journalism, but that’s not what we’re doing,” he said. “This show is heartening. It makes you feel good about these people who are doing their best to protect us.”

I can’t imagine that the Rainbow Bridge, locale of cascading waterfalls and funnel cakes, will get much screen time on this feel-good, head-knocking reality series. I’ll have to wait to watch the show myself, but I’m willing to bet that Border Security USA’s camera crews are more keen on shooting Suspicious-Looking Brown Folks, especially Brown Folks Who Look Like They Might Possibly Once Have Met Someone With Ties To Terrorist Organizations. I wonder who is supposed to feel good about this, and why it makes them feel good. Is it different from the feeling you get when you help someone? Or when you bake a really amazing cake? Or when the new Pharaoh Monch record finally comes out and it doesn’t suck?

I wonder, too, how the timing of this show — set to air in the fall — will interact with the presidential campaign. Immigration, terrorism, the culture of fear, the myth of The Enemy, and the protection of the empire are all very big, enormously sensitive elements in this game.

Cavelli didn’t mention that the camera crews would be back, and I didn’t ask. He wasn’t around on the days they were shooting anyway, he said, but I couldn’t tell if he was lying. He shuffled a few more papers, looked me in the eye, and said,

“Sorry, we can’t admit you today, you’re not authorized to cross.”

Then he cracked a smile, laughed the way Homeland Security officers always laugh when they make their favo(u)rite joke, and told me to be on my way.

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