The New Face of Terrorism: Citrus Transporters

Among my more redeeming compulsions is my inability to throw away perfectly good food. Sure, I’ve tossed out my share of soggy bags of rotten lettuce… but I’ve done so with a heavy heart (and the memory of an elephant) such that when I got the chance to redeem myself later on down the road, no matter how much it made me that weird woman in the restaurant who just wrapped her uneaten tortillas in a napkin and shoved them in her purse, I’ve done it. CLH usually wants to slink under the table and disappear at times like these, but, to him I say: Look here, financial partner of mine! I have just saved us three perfectly good tortillas! That’s at least THIRTY whole cents of food we won’t have to buy this week!

Never mind that my fair city’s restaurants compost a good deal of their food waste and that anything I don’t eat gets turned into luscious, rich soil suitable for growing more food. No, even the most valiant efforts of our nation’s most forward thinking city planners cannot stop my Depression Era tendencies.

Which brings us to the lemons.

So, we went on a trip to Canada this weekend. The trip was sponsored by a generous client of mine; he hosted nearly thirty people for dinner, which was prepared from scratch by one of our mutual friends. Mutual friend bought enough to feed a small army. And there were leftovers enough to feed another small army the next day. The sight of these leftovers, filling up an entire dining room table top, lit up the non-food wasting/money saving part of my brain, which, conveniently, is located right next to the part of my brain that makes my arms want to take home uneaten tortillas. Now, we didn’t have a way to take home these particular leftovers… though, when we opened the ‘fridge to take out our snacks for the ride home, we did discover leftovers we COULD take home. Sitting inside the fridge were pounds and pounds of gorgeous heirloom tomatoes. They didn’t get used in the salad the night before and they were there for the taking. I couldn’t help myself. Tomatoes might be my favorite food on earth. I love to grow them, eat them, cook with them, and juice them, and I especially like them pulverized and poured over vodka with Tabasco sauce and cocktail onions, extra olives, please.

And what was there in the vegetable drawer right next to the tomatoes? Why, the lemons. And on the floor, still in its grocery bag? A watermelon. A veritable feast for god’s sake, all for free. We packed it in the car and headed home, my skin all a-tingle with the frugality of it all.

But guess what you can’t take over the Canadian/US border, Internets? Guess what the guys in the scary SWAT team uniforms will search your car for? Guess why I, the non-driver, all sweaty and bloaty with menstrual cramps, had to get out of the car ? And guess why I had to redeem my passport at a building off to the side of the road full of other sweaty, bloaty people?

It was the lemons.

CLH and I had a five second conversation about the fruit in the car as we pulled up to the border crossing. We’ve been to Canada dozens of times, and we know the routine with food. You’re not supposed to do it. If you’re going to do it, be discreet, don’t carry metric tons of it, and for god’s sake, DON’T TELL THE BORDER POLICE YOU HAVE CITRUS FRUIT IN THE CAR.

But, the wait was two hours long, and we decided, just to be transparent and not get hauled off for lying about it and then interrogated by angry men in itchy, hot jumpsuits, we’d better declare the stupid lemons. So we did. And the stern but friendly man in the booth slapped a giant sized orange Post-It onto the windshield and told us to pull off and go to some building to the left, where we would need to surrender our contraband TWO LEMONS and pick up our passports. At this point, I was nearly unconscious with the heat of sitting in a non-air conditioned car for two hours. (Did I mention we were nearly out of gas and didn’t have enough to be able to idle/run the A/C for two hours?) The heat, plus the ibuprofen I’d popped to relieve the cramps, makes this next part a little fuzzy. Apparently, we were given bad instructions to get to the nebulous “building to the left”, so CLH parked and walked into the building he thought was the leftmost one, the building marked “AGRICULTURE”. (Silly, silly man.) When he got inside, the officials were startled and suspicious and asked him how he’d gotten in the building. He explained he was just looking to hand over two lemons in exchange for our passports and had simply walked through the door. They got all edgy and explained that he needed to go to THAT leftmost building over there, the one NOT marked “Agriculture”. So, he headed off to the OTHER leftmost building. Once at the desk, the border police told CLH they needed ME to come in the building, along with the keys to the car. Perfectly logical. About as logical as walking into a building marked “agriculture” to hand in some lemons.

I staggered in to the building, my skin flushed and hot, my lower half full of retained water, my face a consummate grimace of hate for all things inefficient, and practically hissed and spat at the overweight lady behind the counter. At this point, I finally caught a glance of the two offending lemons. There were lying on a counter behind the desk, on top of the giant orange Post-It. They looked absolutely ridiculous back there, these two tiny pieces of bright yellow fruit on top of an imposing black counter top where guns and drugs had probably lain hours before. And here we were, stuck at the border, having brought in lemons. That we bought in Canada. That had probably been GROWN IN THE US. And SHIPPED TO CANADA. We told the officer that there were also a bunch of tomatoes and one whole watermelon in the car as well- just in case she was feeling snackish and wanted to speed up the process.

When the border control officer returned, she looked down her nose at us and said, “You know you have tomatoes in there, too, right?” And here is where I had to dig my fingernails into my palms to resist shouting: Ummm….. YES, LADY. REMEMBER HOW WE DECLARED THAT FIVE MINUTES AGO TO YOU? AND TEN MINUTES AGO TO THE OFFICER IN THE BOOTH?

Finally, she scribbled a big “S” on the back of the Post-It, and sent us on our way. And that was it. Our departure from Canada sponsored by the letter “S”.

So, the lesson here (and you knew there was lesson in this, didn’t you?) is this: You can mosey on in, unannounced and unassisted, to a border control building. You can tell two different Homeland Security Officers what’s in the car, but they won’t write it down or tell each other (or remember what you’ve said is in there, either). You can bring in a watermelon, which is large enough to house several pounds of whatever contraband you fancy. Tomatoes are cool, too. But don’t even THINK about, don’t even CONSIDER, taking TWO LOUSY LEMONS into the country. Lemons are the fruit of the enemy. If the lemons get in, the terrorists win.

I feel more secure already.