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NEXUS interview trip to Canada

Posted by John Reed on

Coast Starlight Amtrak train

I rode the Coast Starlight to Vancouver, BC. I had previously gone south on that train to visit my son, Steve, who lives in LA.

Amtrak is a pleasant, metabolism-slowing interlude. I was scared about my trip taking place on Saturday night and all day Sunday during summer vacation. My first Amtrak trip was spoiled to an extent by bored children using the train and observation car as a playground. But the Coast Starlight is a bit different. The sleeping cars are behind the baggage car which is behind the locomotives. Then comes the dining car, then the observation car, then the coach cars with just seats. The misbehaving children are typically in coach and the observation car.

But Coast Starlight also has a parlor car, in between the dining car and sleeper cars, which is off-limits to the peons from coach. Very nice. Essentially, it’s a nicer observation car with a bar and dining section as well and a theater downstairs. Also, I tried the observation car for a while and it was actually quiet and had seats and tables available. The main feature of these Amtrak trains is supposed to be scenery, and that was nice, but I generally find myself getting into more interesting conversations at the meals where you sit four to a table with strangers.

Interesting people and conversations

Sunday breakfast was with three female friends who each work in some sort of fraud investigation for the state of CA. Lunch was with a mennonite couple from Ohio and a retired CA teacher. Supper was a mom and her 5-year old daughter plus a woman who works in a pre--school that mainly serves the kids of Amazon execs.

No, I did not mention my feelings about Amazon’s business model or ethics.

In the parlor car I got into a great long conversation with a retired British Foreign service guy about my novel. He was traveling back to Seattle after having biked from Tacoma WA to San Diego! In the same conversation was a retired Dreamworks animation editor, who, it emerged during the conversation, had bought and read my Succeeding book! On my prior Coast Starlight trip to LA, a stranger at lunch figured out that I was the author of football coaching books he had read. I sometimes describe myself as “mildly famous.” There you have some typical evidence of that.

Bus to Canada

There is an Amtrak train from Seattle to Vancouver BC Canada, but it leaves around breakfast time. The Coast Starlight arrives around 8:30 PM, so they bus you the rest of the way. Bummer after the comfort of the train.

The good news is the bus gets a special lane at the border, where the non-Nexus cars had a 40-minute-long line (typical of Sunday night). The bad news is many Canadians cheat by going into the bus lane on the right pretending they are going into the half-dozen duty-free stores on the right, but then just drive through their parking lot and use that to cut into the line of non-Nexus cars. So we were constantly stopped for a about 15 minutes waiting for the line cutters to be allowed into the car line. We had to get off the bus with our luggage and talk to a border guard about why we were going to Canada. No big deal.

Arriving at a small hotel at 1 AM

Unfortunately, we arrived in Vancouver about a half hour late at 1AM. I quickly got a cab to my hotel, the Vancouver Club, a nice, old, extremely well-located aristocrat’s club that I can stay at because I am a member of the Marine Memorial Club in San Francisco. But it’s somewhat small. So no one answering the door bell or my knocking at 1 AM. Finally, as I was about to go to the nearby Hyatt Regency instead, the night guard came strolling down the stairs and let me in and gave me my room key. Lesson: call repeatedly as you approach such a hotel late at night to warn them you are coming and that you will be late. I had told them months ago when I made the reservation, but it was not communicated to the night guy.

NEXUS interview

After my free continental breakfast in the club’s elegant dining room, I took the subway to my NEXUS interview. (http://www.cbp.gov/travel/trusted-traveler-programs/nexus) Actually, it was more of a fingerprinting, photographing, and retina-scanning exercise than an interview. I arrived a bit early and was out the door slightly before my actual scheduled interview start time.

One overlooked benefit of being a NEXUS member—in my thus far very limited experience—is that the border guards have a friendly, collegial, relationship with you rather than the borderline rude, hostile, “what are you trying to pull?” manner with which they sometimes approach you when you are one of the unwashed masses. That is a really nice benefit.

The other side of that is the NEXUS pamphlet makes it quite clear that if you try to pull anything like not declaring something you should have, you are instantly out of the “club” and will probably have a “smuggler” note in your record in their border computer forever after.

Ten miles of walking!

I wear a pedometer and try to hit 10,000 steps a day. Normally, I log about 5,000. I hit 10,000 on the days when I do 32 minutes on the elliptical machine at the gym. At the end of 7/7/14, I had logged 20,000! One Internet site said that is 10 miles! Since I was wearing dress shoes and socks instead of my normal sneakers and athletic socks, I’m lucky I did not get any blisters.

Why all the walking? My appointments with NEXUS and BMO (to convert my .25%-interest savings account to a 1.05% Smart Saver account) ended faster than I expected. It was a beautiful blue-sky, high 70s day. Those are a dime a dozen in California where I live but not in the Northwest US or Southwest Canada (Vancouver). And Vancouver is a great walking town especially along the water at Coal Harbor.

You know those artists renderings you see of proposed new developments—the ones the actually development never really looks like when it’s actually built? Vancouver Canada looks like the artists renderings—only better—after it’s built—at least on a clear, blue-sky day.

I wandered the downtown business district and Coal Harbor areas looking for a nice place on the water to eat. Settled on Mahony & Sons overlooking the sea plane port. The view, in part was of the Disney cruise ship Wonder. Norwegian Sun was on the other side of the cruise ship pier. I was scouting a bit for my readers and myself as to whether I could live there while taking refuge from possible future USD hyperinflation. It’s a bit too expensive—about $1,700 a month CAD for a tiny apartment. I thought of what my late mom would have said had she been with me, “I wonder what the poor people are doing.”

No more Air Canada

Having learned to leave YVR airport later to avoid the crowds, my departing flight was Air Canada at 1854. What a disaster! Apparently you have to leave later than that—and on another airline.

Middle seat. I have not been in a middle seat in memory. A helpful ground attendant offering to upgrade me—for $49-to another middle seat that was closer to the middle of the plane instead of in the back! I had to check my carry-on after getting on the plane. And still got home at midnight. The “Air Canada” plane had United painted on it. Maybe taking the train out of Vancouver to Seattle then flying from there would be the right formula.
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I generally assume my plane seat mates do not want to be bothered with conversation but one of them struck up a conversation with me near the end of the flight. He is a doctor from South Africa married to one of his medical school classmates. He visited San Diego once and decided that was a better place to live than South Africa—many decades ago. I learned a bit about South Africa that collected my slightly off prior information.

Dieting beats exercising

Regarding exercise causing you to lose weight: I gained 3.4 pounds on the trip, even though I was trying to hold down the food intake. You want to hold your weight down, don’t eat the food to begin with. Even walking 10 miles takes next to nothing off.

John T. Reed


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