‘Do you have any firearms in the van?’
JKutchma & The Five Fifths embarked on our first ‘international’ tour to Canada promoting our debut album Pastoral, traveling in Townes Van Vandt, my 1989 primer gray 15-seat passenger Dodge. The Five Fifths: Patrick O’Neill on keys, Steve Oliva on bass, Evan Rowe on drums and Elysse Thebner on guitar. We were attempting to enter Canada above Plattsburgh, NY to play a handful of dates from Montreal to Toronto. We planned to re-enter the states in Detroit to play four shows around Michigan.
I heard horror stories, we all heard horror stories, of trying to cross the Canadian border. It’s not as easy to cross as it used to be. We heard of bands forced to abandon all their merch at the border because of one missing piece of paperwork. Prior convictions of any member of the band could be suspect and they could be refused entry at the border. Imagine telling the lead singer or the rhythm section ‘Well, we’ll do these next few months in Canada. See you in Vancouver!’ It’s serious and I was nervous because I was the one in the driver seat.
‘Sir? Do you have any firearms in the van?’
‘Do you have any weapons?’
‘Any replicas of weapons?’
‘Sir, any rep…?’
‘Actually…I…I do have a knife’
Elysse conducted extensive research beforehand to make sure we had the appropriate tax, employment and, well, pardon paperwork properly filled out. All our T’s were crossed. All our I’s dotted. We stopped a few dozen miles before the border to inventory our merch and music gear. We dumped any questionable substances. I was driving the van and responsible for answering the border guard’s questions. I totally forgot about the knife. Shit. Shit!
‘It’s not even really a knife. It’s actually just as much a spoon as it is a knife’
The Five Fifths slap their foreheads.
‘I’m sorry. But I really forgot about it’
Well Canada, I wish we coulda spent a little bit more time together.
‘Sir what kind of knife is it?’
‘A hobo’s knife. I mean a boy scout knife. I mean a camping knife’
‘…with a spoon’
‘And a fork. And maybe a corkscrew…attached to it’
‘No other weapons?’
‘No. Absolutely not’
‘Are you sure?’
‘I am, yes’
‘I have a knife too…’ says someone from inside the van.
Blank stare. I adjust the imaginary rope around my neck.
‘Apparently we um, do have…a…another…knife…from the back of the…van’
‘What kind of knife is the other one?’
‘Pen knife’ Evan, flatly.
‘He has, ahem, a pen knife’
‘It’s just as much a pen as it a knife… It’s…’
‘What is the size of the knife?’
‘Less than six inches’
‘Just two knives?’
‘Yes. Just two knives’
‘And no other weapons?’
‘Anything that is a normal everyday object that could be concealing a weapon?’
‘Batons? Morning stars?’
‘Any costumes that may have any of these things attached to it?’
‘No spiked chains, belts, whips or brass knuckles that is part of your act?’
‘Any replica weapons?’
Blank stare. I gave her my papers.
‘Head to the next gate please’
I smiled to the border guard, we all smiled to the border guard and waved in a ‘THANKS BORDER PERSON’ happy-group-wave and rolled up our windows.
‘What the HELL dude?!?! Why did you tell them you had a knife?!?!?! You were in the clear, you were in the clear!’
“What? Did you expect me to lie about it? What if they found it?! Then what? Then you’d be blaming me…’
‘Calm down. Everything’s cool. We made it here’
‘We’re fine. We’ve done nothing wrong’
‘All our papers are in line’
I slowly drove to the next gate as we enjoyed a nice satisfied silence, until:
‘Don’t you think you should’ve told them about your spurs?’
‘What? No. Why?’
‘What she asked, about the costumes, that could be a weapon’
‘You should say something’
‘They might be illegal’
‘That’s true, they might be’
‘They are not illegal’
‘You should say something…’
‘You HAVE to say something…’
‘Jason, you have to tell them about your spurs’
I coast the van forward into the appropriate space and another border guard steps up to my window.
‘Just tell them’
‘I don’t think…’
The border guard mouths: roll down your window.
She motions ‘roll down the window’ and I do roll down the window and I get my tenth Blank Stare of this whole interaction.
If we were refused entry, we would have to drive over 700 miles along the US border to Michigan. At 10-12 mpg for Townes, that’s a lot of money to spend and nowhere along the way booked to earn. I take a deep breath.
‘I have…I have spurs’
‘Spurs. I thought I should let you know I have…spurs’
‘On your feet?’
‘Yes. I have spurs on my feet. On my boots. And…and…and she was asking me all these questions back there and yes they’re on my feet and I just thought…’
In an emergency situation, where I got boxed into a corner and didn’t know the answer I was supposed to just shrug my shoulders, smile, slowly chew a piece of imaginary bubble gum, wink and say ‘Whaddoo I know, I’m just the talent’…
…but I got nuttin’ for this conversation in my Rolodex of ‘moves’. My mouth is open as if some words are going to flow out guided by my hands pulling invisible strings from my throat, strings attached to nonexistent words that are there somewhere, somewhere hiding, somewhere as far away from Canada and this border and my shitty van as possible and I just move my mouth saying ‘gah’ then ‘gah’ then ‘gah’ again, one of those moments that I’m hoping, praying, someone from in the van will fill in the words for me and pull those strings that tell them I am heavily medicated or something and just take over the conversation and glide us into Northern North America. I’ve rehearsed many moments and situations in my mind, and in every one I am cool and calm. Not like this. Sweating and red faced. I can’t remember how they sounded but in my memory the two border guards sounded like Frances McDormand in Fargo.
She keeps her shoulders square, eyes on me as she’s turning her head.
‘He’s got spurs’
‘On his feet?’
‘So ‘ee sez’
‘Ar’ they illegal, doyakno?’
‘Jeez, I don’ know. That’s a goodun’ ‘
‘Ya’. A goodun’
‘Are they illegal? Hmmm…’
‘Well ar’ ya’ gonna throw ‘em at anybuddy?’
‘I don’t plan on it. I mean, I won’t, no.
They shrugged their shoulders, put on their plastic gloves searched our van then said:
‘Welcome to Canada’