I came back from holidays last week to discover I could be making comparable money slinging coffee at the hospital.
I wouldn’t have this treasured forum for expressing my views, mind you. But I also wouldn’t have the routine pleasure of being called a loser and a waste of space by anonymous online trolls.
Unless I spilled hot coffee over customers. And given my partial vision loss, chances are good that I would.
So, with little likelihood of becoming a licensed practical doughnut-peddler, I guess I’m stuck with this journalism gig.
I took a week off last month to travel to New York.
For most of that time, I followed 99 high school students and their chaperones as they took in the sights and sounds of Manhattan, and performed at the WorldStrides Heritage Music Festival.
It was an exciting experience.
Less exciting, however, were my travails crossing the border.
It was the first time I’d gone through customs by myself since losing some of my vision almost four years ago. I thought I could wing it. Bad thought.
Protocols seem to have changed.
I remember customs forms always being handed out on the plane. But that’s changed since the U.S. decided to park its customs booths in the country of origin.
In Montreal, I followed a series of highly visible “Connections” signs until I arrived at a big customs room. When I finally reached a booth, the officer asked for my claim form.
“What form?” I asked innocently.
“The customs form you were supposed to fill out,” he said impatiently.
“I didn’t get one. I thought they were given out on the plane.”
Clearly annoyed, the man pointed to what was apparently a big, white sign high up at the back of the room. I decided this was a good time to play the vision card.
“I don’t see very well,” I said.
That defused things a bit. He pointed, with dramatic gesture, towards a table off to the side.
“Go over there, fill out a form and come straight back to me.”
I walked in the direction he indicated until said table came into focus. There were plenty of forms. But no pen.
I walked to the back of the room and stepped over a rope barrier. Two security guards sat at a high desk, chatting away in French. I asked to borrow a pen and made my way to another nearby table.
By then, the room was packed with passengers. I held onto the promise of the customs officer that I could go straight back to his booth.
So I told the two guards that I’d be crossing the rope and skirting around the lineup — the unspoken understanding being that they not leap up, guns drawn, and tell me to hit the floor.
The female guard appeared a little grim, and barked something at me in a Quebecois accent. I feared my special permission to skip line may have just been revoked.
“I’m sorry?” I said.
“Where’s my pen?” she repeated. I’d left it on the table. I retrieved it sheepishly and proceeded around to the front of the line.
The customs agent spotted me and called out for me to approach. I handed him the form.
“Where’s your passport?” he asked.
“You held onto my passport, didn’t you?” I said meekly.
“No, I gave it back to you.” He sighed. My vision excuse was starting to wear thin. “You must have left it on the table.”
I turned to retrieve it, when he suddenly jumped out of his seat.
“No. You stay here. I’ll get it.”
He strode quickly over to the side of the room. Peering through the haze, I eventually saw him return, waving the passport in the air like a flagman at a race track.
“I’ve got it,” he shouted.
For once, I felt fortunate not to be able to make out facial expressions in the lineup behind me.
Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s
commentary editor. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.