Run for the Border

Mindcamp Random

from Zachary Towne-Smith: “Here’s a little story about my trip from Mindcamp on my way to see my family.”

“How long were you in Canada?” – He hides a weariness behind a border patrol uniform and a cold hard stare.

“A week.” – I manage from within my midnight Megabus haze.

“Why were you in Canada?” He’s paying more attention now, wondering at my scraggles, contrasting against his blonde crew.

“For a conference” – but I shouldn’t have gone there. Not here, not now.

“What kind of conference?” His eyes accuse my very soul yet still I can’t stop the flow.

“Creativity” A pause.

“What does that mean?” Now he’s downright derisive, though it’s unclear if he really thinks me a threat or if he’s just pushing his power.

“Creativity is bringing together multiple…”

“What are you, a musician?” He’s got no patience for my playful preaching.

“Not really…” But I could have just said yes. I’m really not sure why I kept going.

“A painter?” His eyes narrow, all semblance of respect gone.

“No, creati…” What a stubborn prick I am once weariness widens my filters. Luckily he interrupts me.

“Software. You make software.” He’s got it now. In his eyes I might as well be a terrorist.

“No, I’m…” By now I’m not even sure myself what the hell I do.

“You gonna keep me guessing?” It’s a clash of titans. He can’t fit me into his box, and I won’t let myself be stuffed in. But why? Why bother?

“I’m a consultant.” I push some more. What does that even mean anyway?

“Who do you work for?” He’s through with me. Wants me out of his sight, but can’t let me go without checking a box.

“Sometimes with teachers, businesses…” He didn’t give the Nigerian man or the elderly Chinese couple or even the extended Pakistani family ahead of me nearly as much grief. Part of me can’t help but be pleased by this reverse racial profiling.

“Do you work for a firm?” His final attempt to straighten my squiggles.

“No, I’m independent.” He’s had enough. His eyes glaze over as he waves me on.

“Window number five.”

I’m not sure what we achieved there in that exchange. Next time I’ll probably – hopefully – just say the other half of the truth: I was visiting friends. No need to mention the 200 new ones I just made at Mindcamp. I carry them deep within. No need to struggle against his boxes. They’re not gonna get any bigger through my impudent honesty.

Or did they? What if they flexed just a bit? Even if they didn’t, or if they stiffened up immediately afterwards, why should I hide my profession in order to enter my country? Are the hearts and minds of the border patrol in my jurisdiction?

Comments 9

  1. Hi Zach,

    Thanks for sharing your border story. As a frequent Canadian border crosser and creativity conference attendee – I have found myself in exactly your place – maybe even with the same border patrol officer. And like you I often can’t help succumbing to the teachable moment. Must say that for each time I’ve gotten the surly stare – I’ve also gotten smiles and curious, friendly questions – it’s even better when you say Mindcamp… cause of course they think you’ve said……


  2. Hi Zach,

    It’s sounds like you’re not too worse for wear. Thanks for sharing. You had me on the edge of my seat. 😉

    It was great to meet you and I include you as one of the new friends I met this year too! Cheers my friend!


  3. Hi Zach,
    I got the same treatment on the way from the US to Canada. As soon as I proudly said, ” I am going to creativity conference” it totally confused them and after seemingly satisfying one person with my own definition of creativity, I was sent to another line for additional questioning. I knew they would ultimately let me go. I just didn’t want to be the last person back on my train to Toronto.
    I only wish that we didn’t have to avoid the whole questioning issue by saying that we are going to conference on business innovation, or something benign as that. I am proud of the label “creativity” and only wish that as soon as I said “creativity”, I would be put on the train first and give a free meal!
    And I agree with Kristen, avoid the word Mindcamp. If I am forced to say it, I say it reaaaaaly slowly, and make sure that I pronounce the D!

  4. Well told Zach and ditto to Kristen + Steve… my sister and I deemed this particular Canadian / US border exchange “Freaks to the Right” because when the first level guards can’t make sense of my honest explanations and adventures, rather than taking a moment to understand they just look at you like “freak” and send you on to the next guard, haha!

    It’s happened countless times going both into Canada AND returning to the US whether for Mindcamp or just passing through (ps. having a pre-printed Mindcamp invitation letter from Tim + Franca helps!)… having California plates also throws them… and personally I get a thrill out of the fact that every adventure that makes total sense to me is entirely suspicious to them, hahaha!

    Such rebels we are with our renegade ideas!


  5. thanks Steve and Veta too – just read your comments. sometimes i love saying i work in creativity and the conversation that then unfolds. sometimes i just say i train teachers. Usually crossing borders though i just say photographer. you gotta pick and choose…

  6. Hi Zach

    I just read the thread…and cannot sit back and say nothing…As this brings back a similar story going to CPSI (when it was still in Buffalo – probably around 2002 or 2003)…so crossing from Canada by car was not fun at that time (I do not think I need to explain why).

    Of course I was also asked the purpose of my trip. Here is how I remember the exchange:

    So where were you born, etc.
    ….where are you going? To Buffalo.
    What are you going to do there? I am attending a conference.
    What kind of conference? (I did not know if I should be flattered by his interest….) A creativity conference, I said.

    So what kind of creativity? ….How to build better guns or make bombs?


    At that point my heart went up to my throat and my blood left my head!..Well NO I said!
    So, what kind he said?

    I replied: The kind we use in organisations to solve problems….It is taking place at the University – it is really like improving the design of bathtubs and stuff!! (thank God I remembered that silly excersise! ….Only then did he sort of gave up….and let me through.

    Learning! When I go to the US for work or a conference…guess what! I never talk about Creativity…. Just got back from New York today…Guess what, I was on holidays! :o)

    Keep well…..

  7. Hi Zack

    Glad I said just having fun with friends at Geneva Park.

    Also glad to add you to my growing list of “creativity friends”.


  8. Hello Zach,
    I had a similar experience… and since I continued on to Montreal… I choose to keep it a bit simplier… seeing family and conference….. they wished to know more. I told less and simply said for fun, he stamped my card!

    Often simple is best for me! It was great reliving and represencing the experience once more here with you all. I had a great time and would love to keep the connect going!

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