This week I’m once again on the road. This time, I’m off to Grand Island, NY. Usually, given the car-centric nature of the area, I pick up a rental car and drive down. This time, though, I was determined to try to find a better way. And, indeed, I found one. I took my bike.
Now originally I had big plans to ride all the way from Toronto but with heavy panniers, potentially bad weather, and the fact that it’s been a while since I’ve ridden more than 10-15km, it was probably an unwise choice. So instead, I pumped up the tires on the folding bike and headed out to the bus station. But as (good) luck would have it, my rear tire blew out rather spectacularly with a loud *BANG* a block away from the bus station – and, incidentally, about 20 feet from a Zipcar. Undaunted, though a bit crabby, I had Sage key in a reservation for me, folded the bike up and tossed it in the trunk and drove off to the bike shop. Turns out that a scrape I got when I almost fell on the streetcar tracks was just weak enough that the tire completely blew. Not, I might add, in a desolate industrial area outside of Buffalo with no bike shops around, but right next to a ride to the bikeshop.
So within a remarkably short time (Thanks, Urbane Cyclist! for fixing it right away) I was back at the bus terminal and was on my way to Niagara Falls within about 15 minutes.
Once I got to Niagara Falls, I was pleasantly surprised at the ride that waited for me. What I expected was a dismal ride through a post-industrial wasteland. What I got instead was a lovely ride on a dedicated trail next to the Niagara River all the way to Grand Island and then really nice roads for the rest of the way.
The biggest surprise, though, had to be my US Customs experience. Now let me preface this by saying that my experience with US Customs near Buffalo, NY has not been great. Other crossings in Michigan, Washington, and Vermont have been problem free, but NY is where I get the attitude. The most obnoxious was when I drove a rental car down a few trips ago. The guard asked: “Whose car is this?”
When I told him it was a rental he asked why I had a rental. “Because I don’t own a car.”
There was a pause.
And then a scowl.
And then: “You DON’T own a CAR?!?!” “No, my company pays for the car.”
“Your company PAYS for this? What do you do?
“I work in pharmaceutical regulatory compliance – I consult with companies to help them be ready for FDA inspections.” (It’s easier than trying to explain all this in a sentence or two).
“Yes, well what do you DO. Do you just stand around all day? What do you DO?”
Other crossings there have been varying degrees of the same. I expected much worse when crossing with a bike. If they were weirded out by my going on a business trip with a rental car they’d surely give me a body cavity search for daring to enter the United States of Automobiles without any motor vehicle at all.
But instead it went like this:
“Where are you coming from?”
“What did you do there?”
“I live there.”
“Where are you going, then?”
“Grand Island to work for the week.”
“OK – have a great day!”
And I headed out, shocked at how easy it was given my previous experiences. And then I realized today that from their point of view there was minimal risk. My panniers couldn’t hold much to smuggle, there certainly were no illegal immigrants stashed in my bike. I laughed, though, when I was reminded of the Mullah Nasrudin’s experiences as a smuggler:
Nasrudin the smuggler was riding a bike with panniers loaded full of clothing An experienced border inspector spotted Nasrudin coming to his border.
“Halt,” the inspector said. “What is your business here?”
“I am an honest smuggler!” replied Nasrudin.
“Oh, really?” said the inspector. “Well, let me search those panniers. If I find something in them, then you are required to pay a border fee!”
“Do as you wish, “Nasrudin replied, “but you will not find anything in those bags.”
The inspector intensively emptied and searched the bags but could not find a single thing in them. He turned to Nasrudin and said, “You have managed to get one by me today. You may pass the border.”
Nasrudin crossed the border with his bike while the annoyed inspector looked on. And then the very next week, Nasrudin once again came to the border with a pannier-carrying bike. The inspector saw Nasrudin coming and thought, “I’ll get him for sure this time.”
He checked the panniers again, and then searched through Nasrudin’s clothing, and even looked inside the seat tube. But once again he came up empty handed and had to let Nasrudin pass.
This same pattern continued every day for several years, and every day Nasrudin wore more and more extravagant clothing and jewelry that indicated he was getting wealthier. Eventually, the inspector retired from his longtime job, but even in retirement he still wondered about the man with the bike.
“I should have checked that bike’s frame more extensively,” he thought to himself. “Or maybe he hid something in its tires”
Then one day he spotted Nasrudin’s face in a crowd. “Hey,” the inspector said, “I know you! You are that man who came to my border everyday for all those years with a bike. Please, sir, I must talk to you.”
Nasrudin came towards him and the inspector continued talking. “My friend, I always wondered what you were smuggling past my border everyday. Just between you and me, you must tell me. I must know. What in the world were you smuggling for all those years? I must know!”
Nasrudin simply replied, “Bicycles.”