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Burning Down The House

Have you ever witnessed a good friend or neighbor's house burning? Even if you haven't, just think about it for a moment? Now, if you happened to notice it and they didn't - would you tell them and lend your garden hose or just allow nature to take its course and let it burn to the ground? I had such an experience this past weekend, dear reader, the eerie feeling of witnessing my neighbor's house burning. I now feel compelled to at least sound an alarm before the whole neighborhood is reduced to ashes. I would be remiss if I didn't do at least that.

This past weekend was to be the 'fourth annual' in what had become a tradition for a tightly knit group of guys. What I am speaking of is our annual "boy's weekend" in upstate New York, taking in the American ritual of tailgating [barbecuing out of the trunk of your car] followed by attending a Buffalo Bills NFL football game. This once a year weekend had quickly become cherished by my brother, my uncle and brother in law - a Kiwi and Professional Engineer. Over the past four years this event had grown to include friends and become such a highlight on attendee's calendars, that we always purchased our Bill's tickets in August - to avoid the disappointment of availability in preparation for our rites of autumn.

This year's event saw two of our seven participants arrange flights and travel from Canada's east coast to make the special pilgrimage 90 miles down the QEW from Toronto, Ontario, Canada to Buffalo, New York. By this time, most of the folks on the east coast of Canada had surely heard tales, even if somewhat embellished, of the 'magic' that this weekend get away to the U.S.A. really was. This year's trip involved two vehicles to transport seven travelers and all the requisite tailgating provisions. Special arrangements had been made to stay at a fellow Canadian friend's vacation home close to the stadium in a small town named Ellicottville, in up state New York.

One of us, my cousin, had never been to Niagara Falls. To oblige him, we stopped there on our way to the border crossing at Fort Eerie and enjoyed an impromptu lunch. It's amazing how, after seeing it so many times, the allure of Niagara Falls seems to grow on one - not diminish. Also amazing was the camaraderie of this annual boy's weekend, regardless who the original four invited along for the ride. It was infectious and the kinship had always been its hallmark. The folks who came along on this outing just always seemed to get along so well! We left Niagara Falls and headed for the border where, to our surprise, the line up was much shorter than we had anticipated. There were only six or seven cars in front of us awaiting their turn at U.S. customs and immigration.

Entering the United States from Canada in the wake of 9-11 is different than in years gone by and for obvious and understandable reasons, which we all respect. This is and never was lost on any of us. This is why we all are so sure to bring appropriate identification. In the case of naturalized Canadian citizens, photo identification such as a valid driver's license accompanied by a birth certificate is currently the minimum acceptable standard. Six of the seven of us fell into that category. The seventh, my Kiwi brother in law is:

-a professional engineer

- a landed immigrant in Canada

-a 13 year resident of Canada with my sister and their family

-has met the requirements to become a Canadian citizen

-is awaiting his "in process" Canadian passport

-currently still traveling under his current New Zealand passport, which is valid for 3 more years

-had been in the U.S.A. three weeks prior on business and in the summer past on vacation with his family

As we approached the border station, the SUV my Kiwi brother in law was in was asked for the nationalities of the participants. His reply was 3 Canadian and 1 New Zealander. To our dismay, we all quickly learned that Kiwis are apparently persona-non-grata in the U.S. of A. The occupants were all asked to produce their identification for scrutiny. Upon viewing my brother in law's New Zealand passport - something was amiss. Their IDs were all immediately confiscated and the vehicle he was in was then routed to a fenced interrogation centre with a small building, a parking compound and armed guards.

My brother in law, the New Zealander, had a valid passport, but without a "bar code" affixed to it. A new regulation had come into effect three weeks prior to our visit, on the orders of America's Homeland Security, that all foreign nationals traveling under certain selective passports [of which New Zealand was one] be required to have computer readable barcodes on them. These bar codes are linked to a terrorism database, which now means that computers decide who's a terrorist and who enters the U.S. of A. Now dear reader, I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest to you all that the closest thing to a terrorist act ever committed by my professional engineer brother in law, was perhaps burning a couple of shrimps he threw on the barbee entertaining a couple of guests from America at our tail gate last fall.

Two hours later, after another upstanding, accomplished, elderly, citizen and businessman/occupant in the same vehicle was interrogated and fingerprinted because his name was apparently 'similar' to a known fugitive - my brother in law was refused admission to the once great United States of America - a computer had apparently made the decision. What a shame how the once mighty have fallen - pity?

I had already cleared customs and had been waiting outside in what amounted to an armed camp, but had been ushered inside by an armed guard. I was told they didn't like folks loitering around in the car park. I wasn't loitering, was in my car, was bothering no one and was now worried that our two vehicles might suddenly be confiscated and disappear - and we might all find ourselves behind bars?

The upshot of the whole mess, the customs folks told us that six of us could enter the United States and my brother in law could not. I guess they figured they could divide and conquer - that we would dessert him; leave him in the dark and rain to walk back across the bridge spanning the Niagara River by himself. Well, the mindless INS agents of the once great United States, who allow computers to think for them, ultimately refused entry to all seven of us that night. We all turned around and went home - back to Canada. We even went out for dinner to celebrate. We had a fantastic time at home in Canada - you see, a new tradition was born right then and there! I doubt we'll be back to do any more tailgating, but I'm sure America won't care - they've got too many fires of their own to put out.

So what has any of this got to do with the value of real estate you might ask? In a micro sense, the home where we have parked for the past four years to tailgate - outside Ralph Wilson Stadium; its value is in no small part driven by revenues from football tailgaters/attendees. Wonder if they missed us this year?

I heard on the news Sunday night that the Buffalo Bills won their NFL football encounter with the St. Louis Rams on Sunday afternoon by a lopsided score. In my books the score should have read U.S. customs 1, Canada 7. I've got to wonder if their owner, Ralph Wilson, has any idea what the final score really was?

Some parting advice to New Zealanders everywhere: You are welcome in Canada anytime!

Ole Bear Commentary

Mr. Kirby's account of his entry and exit from the US port of entry in New York at Niagara Falls with his friend and family entourage is most enlightening [and frightening!]. The Magnificent Seven's return to Maple Leaf Land for their Dinner speaks well of the entourage to make sport of Baby Bush's Patriot Acts I and II. Now we have Condi Rice as the suggested Secretary of State. She lies. She's been lying since 9/11/2001 and will continue to do so. New Zealand has been an ally of the USA for long time. I cannot fathom anyone in New Zealand being an enemy of the United States in America. Perhaps the Baby Bush Administration should have their eyeglass prescriptions checked for their obvious astigmatism and double vision. Our Homeland Security is insecurity at liberty and freedom for all in a true republic. It is also quite amusing that the united states has all sorts of illegals entering the country on both borders. These illegal aliens are being amalgamated into the social welfare state, yet honest folks are being detained at the borders. Where are your papers, amigos?

Ole Bear, proprietor

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