Travel tips: Leave the bloody chain saw at home
June 8, 2005
We all have plenty to worry about in our own lives, so it’s a good thing we have paid professionals to worry about the things over which we have no control.
For example, I worry that the timer on my sprinkler system is set correctly so I don’t get a ticket from the Carson City water cops. I try not to worry about the security of our nation’s borders, because the government has spent billions to upgrade homeland security, passed laws to peek into our private lives and made it routine to search us like criminals whenever we want to fly home.
And yet, I can’t help but worry when I read an item like the Associated Press story of Gregory Despres.
In case you missed it (there was only a short item in the Appeal this week), Despres showed up April 25 at the U.S.-Canada border in Maine with a homemade sword, a hatchet, knife, brass knuckles and chain saw “stained with what appeared to be blood.”
Now, I know what you’re thinking. It’s the Mexican border we worry about all the time, with illegal aliens pouring across armed with – oh, I don’t know – the shirts on their backs. Canadians? Shucks. They’re just like Americans … well, North Dakotans, at least.
Anyway, U.S. Customs agents were pretty suspicious of the 22-year-old Despres, perhaps because of the bloody chain saw. So they questioned him for two hours, checked every agency they could think of for arrest warrants, and then let him into the country (minus the weapons).
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What did he do when he got here? Apparently not much, because he was arrested two days after entering the country.
It seems back in his hometown of Minto, New Brunswick, local authorities came across the decapitated body of 74-year-old country musician Frederick Fulton. His head, according to reports, was in a pillowcase under a kitchen table. His 70-year-old common-law wife was discovered stabbed to death in a bedroom.
I don’t know if Despres killed these people, but it looks kind of bad for the fellow known as the Chet Atkins of Minto.
It also looks kind of bad for U.S. Customs, the folks responsible for protecting our borders from terrorists.
In their defense, though, there is no indication Despres is a terrorist. A bit wacko, perhaps. Homicidal, it’s possible. But a terrorist? Heck, how many people could you actually take out with a homemade sword, hatchet, knife, brass knuckles and chain saw?
Here’s the funny thing. I’ve heard of Americans who were detained and questioned at the Canadian border because they own a gun. They didn’t have it on them, of course. The gun was back home in Nevada. But when they admitted to owning one, the Canadian authorities thought it was mighty suspicious they would want to enter the Great White North.
Next time, deny the gun. But brag about your chain saw.
As for Despres, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection explained that it did everything possible to investigate whether Despres was a criminal or just happened to be another fun-loving Canadian coming into the U.S. in order to bring back some firewood.
“Nobody asked us to detain him,” a spokesman told the Associated Press. “Being bizarre is not a reason to keep somebody out of this country or lock them up ….”
There you have it. I’d like to see that sentence emblazoned over the metal detectors at every airport in America. We might even want to add it to the base of the Statue of Liberty.
Because he’s right, you know. We let plenty of bizarre people into the country. You never know. They may grow up to become governor of California. And, believe it or not, there are some bizarre people born right here in the United States. The late Andy Kaufman, for example.
The problem I have is the illusion of safety created by the formation of the Homeland Security Administration, with its 186,000 government employees and $27 billion budget.
Before or after Sept. 11, 2001, I never felt there was much chance of me being a victim of a terrorist attack. Certainly there are greater odds of being killed in a car crash, which is a risk I can do something about.
Since all the security precautions went into place, though, the odds are pretty good that I’ll be searched and questioned at least once a year while traveling. And we all have friends who can tell a horror story about their experience with airport security.
The upshot of all this? I now can’t carry a lighter from Reno to Las Vegas.
Small price to pay, some would say, for protection against terrorism. After all, it isn’t Homeland Security’s job to protect me. It’s to protect the country from an attack that might kill hundreds or thousands of people.
Yet just this week a report from Homeland Security noted a couple of deficiencies in airport security: It probably couldn’t detect a suicide bomber who has explosives on his body, and security personnel at checkpoints aren’t trained, like a police officer would be, to actually disarm someone if they discover a gun.
Hmmm. Not much I can do about those possibilities, so I’ll try not to worry about them. But I am planning to fly next week. I’ll try to remember to wear shoes I can remove easily, take the lighter out of my pocket and leave my chain saw at home.
n Barry Smith is editor of the Nevada Appeal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1221.