Warning: This is probably going to be a long post. Some of my post got messed with by spell checking, so if parts if it doesn't make sense. there's my excuse. I'll go back through and double check things as I find time.
After five months to the day I got my passport request. Joy! (BTW that was sarcasm to the English challenged out there.) I tried to borrow a car, but was stuck renting one. Whatever you do, try to avoid this route, as they will charge you almost a full days' charge is you are even one hour late. Also, if you are driving, don't let anyone mess with your schedule by making you worry you didn't allow enough time to drive. Waiting in your car for seven hours til CIC opens their doors because you drove into town too early and you don't want to spend $100 for a hotel room.. Nevermind, you know where I'm going with that.
Driving from Grand Rapids, MI to Buffalo, NY means driving through the US at over a 8 hour drive or through Canada for a 6.5 hour drive.. No brainer, right? BUT! I get to the border crossing near Sarnia, Ontario and the stupid questions begin. I tell the border crossing agent where I'm going and why. She says to me "Why are you going to the office in Buffalo to get your Visa. You know there is an office in Detroit right?" I told her it wasn't my choice, that was the office that processed my Visa. She continues for five minutes trying to talk me into, apparently, going to Detroit to get my Visa. Finally she releases me for the drive through Canada. Now I loose phone service for five minutes while my iPhone hands off from AT&T to Rogers. The only bright side to my trip, Rogers had five bars on my iphone the WHOLE trip through Ontario. I'm used to three to four bars on AT&T at home.
About Canadian drivers. WTH? I guess this is also about Canadian police. I saw ONE Canadian police car on the road (not including at weigh stations) both ways. The speed limit signs all over the place are for 80km/h, some (but not many) for 100km/h. There are signs saying if you drive 50 km/h faster than posted there is a $50,000 fine, roadside license suspension and roadside confiscation of your car. Ok? Think that might get people to drive the speed limit? Heck no! I'm driving with the cruise control set to 120km/h the entire way there. I'm being passed by little old men in lil Suzuki sub compact cars, big rigs and teens driving cars that should have been junked five years ago. Some little old lady in a mini cooper passed me like I was sitting still in a construction zone. She had to have been doing 150km/h where it was posted 60km/h in a construction zone. I also noticed lots of "speed patroled by aircraft" signs. Talk about cheating, but whatever, no one was going the speed limit anyway. Here in Michigan they passed a law that had the state police test roads for what people were really driving and raise the speed limits accordingly. Canada could learn a thing or two from us. 120km/h is what, 70mph? And they want to limit highway speeds to 80km/h? Say what? Ok, enough about that I guess.
I got to the American crossing, OMG. The guy totally made me feel like a terrorist. Why am I going there, for how long, where you from, what's your nationality, where were you born, let me see your papers, hail Hitler.... Ok, maybe I made up the last bit, maybe.. Anyways, handed over the car rental papers (the only stop that asked for them, btw). He even had me open the trunk, something I never did or knew how to, since it was a rental. Her tears apart the trunk, pounding on it looking for a false bottom, what an idiot. Eventually I'm allowed on.
Ok, now I'm in Buffalo. If you get there early, just get a hotel room. No place in the city feels safe to stay for long. I drove around for most of the night. Buffalo feels dirtier, more rundown than Detroit (for those of you that don't understand, it's bad.) I pulled up to the building and they had security outside. I got one to come to my car window and was nice enough to talk to me, after calling into central to tell them what he was doing (haha). He told me that there was really no place to park for the night, but that there were a lots around to park in starting around 6am. And to come on in after 6 to wait for the consolate to call you up. Great, more good news. Drove around, found a Dennys to eat at and a 24hour Walmart to window shop to kill some time. (You know you're bored when you wander Walmart to kill time).
6AM rolls around. I parked in the parking ramp across the street, apparently it's for sporting events, but open to the public during the day. The web site says no cell phones or computers, so I lock up my iPad and iPhone and my trusty Leatherman (in case they do security checks ala airport security). I kicked myself all morning for that. I get into the building and there is a Tim Horton's in the basement that was open WITH FREE WIFI! ARGH! No iPhone or iPad. ;( I got a breakfast sandwich, which by definition sucked. I go upstairs (err three story escalator) and talk to the nice lady at the desk. I was a total idiot, but eventually got out what I wanted to say. She told me to wait at the bottom of the escalator and they would send someone down to cattle call us up for our passes. Great. An hour and a half waiting around without my phone. Now I'm feeling bored and naked (I never go anywhere without my phone). Eventually we have a small line of people and down comes this security guard.... Anyone ever seen the Serpent and the Rainbow? About the guy who goes to find the powder to make zombies for the phama industry? The guard looks and sounds exactly like the leader of the secret police and voodoo master from that movie.. Kinda creepy, no? Anyway he brings us up the escalator, mind you, he doesn't wait at wall and basically runs up the escalator while everyone looks up like "What's his hurry?" He asks for your passport and scans it. Honestly, I think it was just a blacklight thingy to make sure it's not fake, but whatever. We get a temporary pass that we have to stick on our chests (left or right side please) and toss out the paper backing in front of the security guard. We are then directed towards the elevator and told to press the button with the Canadian flag (ie the 30th floor). (Funny no mention about cell phones yet.) I get up the elevator, apparently before the 30th floor is ready, because there is no one up there to direct me. Only two doors, one says immigration, so I go there. There are three "interview rooms" in this area with a bunch (but not enough it would appear) of red chairs. Can't remember what the first door said, guessing visitor visas, second one was permanent resident and the third was cashier. Sit down in the second one, being the first person upstairs. Give her my letter, my password and TWO pictures. She is apparently confused as to why the letter says three pictures. There are signs everywhere that say no cell phones, but no one has said anything up to this point. She takes my stuff, a lil chit chat and says that I should sit down and wait. She told me it would be between one and two hours (she said most likely only one hour, but she has to cover her bases). Finally after walking out of the interview room I hear "Make sure your cellphones are turned off." Doh! I could have been surfing the net or chatting on Yahoo with my wife this whole time!
Ok, I sit down and chat up a nice couple who lives in Ontario who's wife in from the US (well, originally from Argentina). She has her own issues, as she lost her passport 20 years ago and that apparently gets her flagged on any international crossing (and she does a lot of traveling). Anyways, since I didn't have my phone or ipad to kill time with, I chatted with her for the hour or so I waited. Yes, I only had to wait an hour. They called mine and her numbers at the same time. The lady in the center (permanent resident) window gave us back the letter, our passport and an envelope full of information for the landing. They said we are all set and to have a good day. Wow, simple huh? I head back to the elevators and get stopped by a guy who asked if I was done and if I would be coming back up. When I said no, he informed me that I had to remove and dispose of the temporary pass before I could leave the floor. Fine, just remember you're going to have to do the dame thing. Guess you don't have to worry about bring up your cell phone after all, just be nice enough to turn it off up there.
Great, drive back was pretty much the same as the drive up, just now it's day light and I'm tired to the point of passing out. I get into Canada, accidentally talked out of actually landing by my wife. Great, great, great, great, great. Anyways, more insane drivers. Speed limits seemed to unofficially go up by 10km/h due to no worry of crossing deer? I seriously considered stopping in Toronto to take a pick in front of Mike Holmes' construction company (huge fan, longer story). BUT. I decided to drive home ASAP because I have a sick kittie at home. US crossing gave attitude when he saw my Visa to move to Canada. Asked me even more questions, but didn't bother to check my car. I ended up pulling over at some point and caught a quick 40 winks. Funny thing, I was happy to be back in the US where people drove "close" to the speed limit and I actually saw cops again. Can't believe I just said that.
Well, that was my adventure. Guess the things to remember are:
1. Don't get there too early, there is nothing to do in Buffalo at night on a week day.
2. Wait at the bottom of the escalator (Tim Horton side) for the security guy to come get you.
3. Remember your visitor number, it's on the temp pass sticker, that's what they call you up by.
4. You can keep your cellphone, just turn it off on the 30th floor.
5. Expect a wait once you're up there.
6. The girls in the windows are quite funny as long as you are. Don't be ass-y with them if they ask something you weren't ready for. They can be ass-y back, and they have armed security to back them up.
7. Once you get there, it is pretty painless. Bring a book or magazine, because you will be waiting for a while.