One day in 2003,  I received a call from a sister representative (“rep”) in Washington State. They had been asked to perform some service work at a gold mine in Nevada, but all their technicians were at other locations and they couldn’t spring anyone. They called the Vancouver (BC) office, and their techs were out as well so they called Spartan. Since Spartan had the biggest or second biggest technical staff for Emerson products in North America, it made sense to contact us because we often had people available.

They asked for a quote from me after assuring me I would be able to work down there, and provided me with a letter from their lawyer stating no American was available to do the work at the time, i.e. I was not taking an American’s job. I didn’t WANT to go, so I priced it high, $250/hour, $1500 for first-class flight, accommodations and car. I think it came out to $7500 for 2 days because the $250/hour also applied to travel time. Damn it! They accepted it.

I quickly packed a bag including manuals, basic tools and data highway (coax cable) materials in case I had to fix communications wiring. Their problem was an HIghway Data Link (HDL) not communicating on the Provox control system data highway. I had offered to help them over the phone, but the boss-man at the mine said, no, they wanted an expert out there.

I got to the airport and because I had forgotten my watch and I couldn’t do anything without proper timing I bought another watch. Cost me $15! (I only mention this because that watch lasted me until retirement 5 years later!)

At the first USA customs interview where most people just get passed through after showing their passport, I was stopped and grilled. This is where I made my mistake, which I  realized later after talking to others at work: I told the customs guy the story about how I had to WORK in Nevada for one day. That was a swear word to customs, “WORK”, like I had told him, "Your mother wears horse-shoes.  Because of that I got to go to a room with another guy for another interview. I explained the situation, showed my letter from the rep stating I was the only available technician to do the job. Didn’t matter. After 10 minutes he directs me to ANOTHER customs guy, the head guy for USA customs in Calgary. Theoretically at that point, I was on USA soil.

He listened to my story, then said, “I’m sorry but I can’t allow you to enter the United States. I’ll walk you back to the Canadian side.” That was it. I was dumbfounded. What the hell? Of course I’m not going to argue with a guy from customs. Not only are custom agents the most powerful police force in ANY country, they all carry guns.

So I went back to Spartan and called the customer and the rep to tell them that THEIR government refused to let me help the company with their problem. Now THEY were dumbfounded and very, very, pissed off, but there was nothing they could do about it. I suggested I call the plant and speak to an engineer. They had no electrical engineer so I spoke to a mechanical or civil engineer who quickly described his job with a disclaimer regarding "electrical" work, but his willingness to try.

I asked him to give me the details, then get in front of a computer screen to do diagnostics. If I recall correctly, they had an HDL failure but had a replacement to put in, and it just needed configuration. So I talked him through the process and we had success. It took less than an hour!  I wasn't talking to a dummy at the other end, so we got the job done quickly and efficiently.

How much did I charge them? Nothing! Anything less than an hour on a phone I would generally not charge for because it wasn’t worth the paperwork and invoicing, especially across an international border with different monetary system. So they saved $7500 and I saved their day.  No Medal of Freedom or anything.

In retrospect when I was at the airport I was getting excited to go to Nevada because I had never been to a gold mine and that sounded interesting. I always got tours at the places I visited for service issues, for example the 4500 feet underground tour at a copper-zinc mine in New Brunswick.

I told my colleagues about this, Alex, a Vietnamese guy, and Oleg, a Russian, and they just shook their heads and told me, you NEVER say you are going to WORK. They went on to say that you LIE to the customs agent by telling them you’re going for holiday, visit a friend, or whatever, just NOT “work”. For the second time in under 2 hours I was once again dumbfounded (you know maybe there’s a pun in that word…considering my last name). LIE to a Customs Agent? You gotta be kidding.

I’m a crappy liar. If I had lied and they asked “what’s your friends name?” I would have panicked, started sweating, mumbling and stumbling over my words...and then they would have locked me up for sure.

Epilog:

Not once did any of the customs agents comment on the contents of my carry-on tools: screwdriver, side cutters, and lots of strong wire and cables.  Also, consider this...When I'm asked, "Have you ever been denied entry into the USA?", what do I say?  I know what I have to say if I want to continue on my journey.