If only…US border guards would swap jobs with park rangers

This is my proposal: US border guards and park rangers swap jobs for a week. Channel 4 should take this up as one of their quality fly-on-the-wall documentaries…

The border guards
United States border guards are mean. I understand that they have to be for their job and blah blah blah, but they relish inflicting that meanness far too much.

Take “Braun” for example. This oppressively muscly and thin-lipped border guard wore armoured neoprene gloves for stamping travellers into the US from Mexico. Completely unnecessary; intentionally intimidating.

My turn in the queue. Braun looked hard at my passport, found a problem and was predictably ungracious about it. I had failed to hand in my green Visa Waiver form when I left New York City in July 2008. Braun suspected I had refused to leave the US in the past. The Canadian entry stamp dated only five days after my US entry stamp meant nothing to him, and I was loathe to point out the obvious to the power-happy ego tripper.

I watched the cogs grind as he considered letting me through but ingrained malevolence got the better of him and he directed me to the Permits Building to get my “situation” fixed. “If there’s a line you’ll have to go to the back of it and wait,” he added, helpfully.

Obviously, there was a queue. I dutifully joined the back of it and watched an obese border guard patrol the line, directing us forward with a dismissive roll of his chubby wrist. Inside, a particularly nasty border guard with a buzz cut took my fingerprints and commented, as he flicked lazily through my passport, that I’d “done a lot of travelling, huh.”

“Yep,” I agreed.

“Now why would you want to do a thing like that?” he asked.

“Because I like to see other countries.”


I had to pay US$6 for the privilege of that particular encounter.

The park rangers
US park rangers, on the other hand, are some of the sweetest people on this Earth. Nothing is too much trouble for them.

We arrived at the entry gate to Yosemite National Park as the snow began to fall heavily. The ranger in the pokey roadside hut greeted us with a warm and spritely “Hello, how are you? I need to let you know that snow chains are compulsory today. As you can see we’ve had a large dump of snow. If you drive on through you can fit them in the parking area right over there.” She smiled as she waved us past.

Luckily, we had borrowed some chains from a friend in San Francisco. We spent half an hour in the wet snow trying to fit the damn things. They were too small. Shamefacedly and with frozen fingers I explained our fix to another female ranger parked up on the main road.

From the shelter of her park ranger hat she told me that a man with snow chains for sale should arrive soon. She even radioed to find out where he was and when he would be arriving. She also told us where else we could buy chains and recommended a nearby hotel for us to hole up in for the night if we decided to leave it until tomorrow; it was getting dark and we still had an hour drive to Camp Curry where we had a non-heated tent reserved.

I came dangerously close to swooning.

The documentary
The two different personalities required for each job would be fast-food fodder for a distinctly non-educational TV show.

Imagine a close up of a border guard’s face as he struggles to pronounce the words “thank you” for the first time, his grimace as he learns to smile. Likewise, the surprise on a traveller’s face as he’s told to “enjoy his stay” as he enters America, a terrorist’s bewilderment when he’s politely told, “this won’t hurt a bit” as he’s asked to “spread ‘em, please”.

The border guards undoubtedly would bring peace and wilderness back to the parks as the tourists abandon them in fearful droves. Those stepping off the designated paths would be threatened, in no uncertain terms, with eviction, prosecution and possibly a Taser. Wildlife would thrive. So long as it was native of course.

Those attempting to illegally enter the country would be greeted with a smile and gently but firmly told to try their luck elsewhere.

My suggestion for episode two? Aggressive Greyhound employees could learn a lot from the agreeable Amtrak staff…

See Yosemite National Park images…


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