Home, Sweet Home!
The river in question is the Niagara River. In this area, within fifteen minutes of an international bridge, that’s the expression used when you say you are going shopping in the US.
“‘What are you doing this afternoon?”
“I’m going across the river.”
Or… “Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are on special, $2.40 a pound.”
“No, across the river.”
Though many years ago, I have lived in this area before, so know my way around “across the river.” I have hesitated in going because of my situation. I drive a vehicle with Florida license plates, have a Florida driver’s license but just want to take a day trip from Canada into the US…. and back, hopefully.
I had hoped to have a Utility Bill to show that I have a Canadian residence but ’twas never thus. I do have a receipt from the Post Office showing that I have a PO Box here in town. Yippee skippee, might say the Customs man, anyone can rent a PO Box. Quite true, but my PO Box rental contract is ‘no charge’, as this condo building gets neither mail delivery or a Canada Post Superbox. We have to go to the Post Office to collect our bills.
However I decided to give it a shot. I was in Costco recently taking advantage of their hot-dog-and-a-coke deal for $1.60 (including HST). It was busy, tables were at a premium, so I asked if I might join a man, his wife and their buggy-load. Our conversation got around to cross-border shopping. He claimed that they do it all the time, telling Customs on the way back that they have $200 worth of groceries.
“Any alcohol?” asks the Customs man.
“Have a nice day.”
Customs never asks about the full tank of gas, 40% cheaper than in Canada.
The trick is, you have to live close to the border. If the Customs Agent asks where you live and you say, Toronto, some ninety miles away, then all you claim to have acquired is $200 in groceries, no alcohol and no tobacco, plan on spending twenty minutes reassembling your emptied vehicle after paying the duties, taxes and fines on undeclared goods.
I set off this morning at a at around 9:30am and joined the line-up at US Customs by 9:40. It was busier than I had expected. There is a website run by the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission that has a more-or-less Live Cam shot of the bridge. But it doesn’t take as much traffic as it used to to back things up.
When I was crossing the river years ago – long before 9/11 – we used to slow down to 25 miles per hour and wave at the Customs Agent on the way by. Okay, a slight exaggeration. Back then, passports weren’t required, terrorism hadn’t been invented, nor had computers. Each vehicle might average thirty seconds of ‘inspection’ to get into the US.
Not so these days. I was the fourteenth car in line and it took thirty minutes. I have dual citizenship – American/Canadian – and I have a passport from each country. I handed the Officer both my passports. He pushed them back at me and said I could only show him one passport. Okay, I handed the US one back to him as…
- I’m trying to get into the US.
- I have a US driver’s license.
- I have a vehicle registered and insured in the US.
He wanted to know where I lived. I told him that I winter at home in Florida but spend the summer in a condo in Niagara-on-the-Lake. He asked me where the vehicle spent most of the time. I told him in the US. He let me go.
Yay!! Let the reminiscing and the grocery shopping begin.
Tops Friendly Markets in Lewiston New York is but a few minutes from the bridge, in a very pretty location. The first thing I did on entering the store was to sign up for a Tops Plus shoppers card. I saved so much money I’m nearly broke. I saved $13.59 by being a Tops Plus shopper according to my receipt, but the most exciting saving was at the check out.
Tops ‘gave’ me – as in free – eight plastic grocery bags. Eight! Free! They didn’t ask me if I wanted to buy any at a nickle each (plus HST – sales tax)… I got them free. Only in Canada can retailers and the government turn an expense into a revenue stream by charging for a plastic grocery bag.
The store was very nice, clean, open with wide aisles, friendly staff and even a Tim Horton’s Coffee Express, no doubt due to the fact that a large percentage of their shoppers are Canadians. Canada seems to have two styles of grocery store. You have a choice of getting better prices in a grocery store with the ambience of a haberdashery and open cartons loaded onto a shelf, or a pleasant shopping experience where you pay through the nose for your groceries. But both charge a nickle (plus HST) each for a grocery bag.
From Tops Friendly Markets, I drove across the street to the Sunoco station and paid $2.37 per gallon for gas. Now, I figure that gas in Canada is $3.85 per US gallon. But that’s before taking exchange into consideration. My Costco dining partner figured that he saves twenty cents per liter, which would include exchange. My tank is 100 liters, so it would appear that apples to apples I am saving $20 Canadian per tank.
Lewiston New York, though nowhere near as famous as the Old Towne of Niagara on the Lake, is still a pretty, quaint old town that is kept up very nicely.
It was now close enough to lunch time that a trip to Apple Granny’s restaurant was in order. I was surprised that Apple Granny was still there. Many of the old haunts from decades ago when I was last frequenting the area are now long gone. Apple Granny was established in 1975 and is still going strong.
Beef on a Weck, though not as internationally renowned as Buffalo chicken wings, is a Western New York staple. It’s like a French Dip – sliced roast beef served with au jus – but served on a kimmelweck roll. I’ve had many of these in my previous life and never gave them much thought. Now in my advanced years and watching my blood pressure and salt intake, I noticed how salty the sandwich was. I asked the waitress about the bun, and sure enough, all the little specks sprinkled on top are caraway seeds and kosher salt.
Delicious though perhaps my last one for a long time to come. As pleasant as the day was, it was time to return. I had cleared Customs one way with nominal difficulty, now to see if I could get back into Canada.
After a twenty minute wait in line, I handed the Canadian Customs Officer just one passport this time – again, my American one… US license, US license plate. He asked me where I lived and I told him Niagara-on-the-Lake during the summer and Florida during the winter. He asked me what was my profession and what allowed me to live the way I did. I told him I was retired and that I was a Canadian citizen also.
“If you can show me proof of Canadian citizenship that will answer a lot of my questions.” he said. A little hesitantly, I handed him my Canadian passport. He looked at it, scanned it, gave it back and told me to have a nice day.
Success with minimal difficulty!! Next week… look out Niagara Falls NY. It will be Wegman’s for groceries and another old haunt, Judy’s Lounge for lunch.