Crossing the line - 2
The place where she had pointed me to park the car had a No Parking signboard. Now I dint know whether to obey her and park it there or try to search for another place. Another border security guy was just looking at us from the time we passed the checkpost. I looked at him, he nodded his approval for me parking there. I parked the car and the 3 of us (Rajendra, Raj Jain and myself) walked towards the building. There was a security guy at the door, who looked at the slip we were carrying and just said "Second Floor, Thank you"
There was an elevator with a door on both the sides, we took that to the second floor. As we got out in the 2nd floor, the scene I saw was something I thought I would not see in a country like US.
It was a pretty small room and had a few rows of chairs. It was filled with people of all races, castes and countries. Most of them trying to get a US Visa to get into USA. And a few of them like us, unfortunately caught. And probably a few illegal immigrants aswell. The room had a secure door leading to the main office. All the custom officers were in the main office, they would come out once a while, call a name and escort that person inside. There was no enquiry/help desk in the waiting room. So if you are stuck there, you will have no idea when your name will be called.
There were huge boards saying "Usage of cell phones is strictly prohibited". We dint know what had happened to the other 3, but we were sure that they would be caught too. We stood there for half an hour, waiting and just waiting. Finally I decided that I would give Bhargav(who had got down on the bridge) a call. There were security cameras around and I was unsure if someone would be monitoring those. So went to the restroom, saw that there were no cameras there and switched on the cell phone. (Had to camouflage the cell phone start up sound by flushing ). Bhargav's phone is switched off now!
We had to decide, if questioned should we tell that we were a group of 6 and 3 of them got down in no-man's land to take photos or should we tell that we were just 3 in the car. The first one would sound ridiculous and suspicious and the second option was untrue and risky. We toggled between both for a long time and finally decided to stick on to the truth. After all "Satyameva Jayate".
Now we had to let the other car guys know that we were stuck and I wanted to have my passport with me. So I decided to make another visit to the loo. I decided to call Bharat and ask him to get the passport. The last I heard from those guys was when they were in Niagara tourist centre.
I call up Bharat
Me: Hello, listen to me carefully and dont interrupt me
Me: We are in deep trouble, we are held up in the US customs office. Get my passport and come here. Bharat: We dont know where it is
Me: Come to Day's Inn. This office is very close to that. And dont call me back till I call you.
I cut the call and just hope that he doesnt think that I am playing a prank. I get back and tell these guys about the conversation. We are getting impatient now, it has been more than 1 and a half hour and we are still clueless. People are continuously pouring in and many seem to be as helpless as us. I hide behind a row of people and start messaging Chaitra (who again was in the other car). She tells me that Bhargav had called and he is coming to Day's Inn too.
The have no clue of where we were, actually they thought that we were outside waiting for them. It never struck to them that we might be caught too... This UCO was obliging in a way, he based on the state id of Mayur and Bhargav, pulled their I-94 records from the database and validated their Visas. But unfortunately he could not pull up on the information for Kavitha. Bhargav's cell was almost dead by now, so acting fast, they noted down all the numbers on a piece of paper.. The UCO asked Bhargav to go and get Kavitha's passport... Bhargav goes out and goes to a coin phone but he doesnt have quarters... So he starts asking people around for quarters. Finally he meets a fellow kannadiga who gives him the quarters... He tries to call me, but my phone is switched off.... He tries calling Akshay but it reaches a wrong number. He is now asking people for their cell phone, offering them $20 for the phone call.... Finally he was able to contact Akshay who explained to him that we were caught too... Bhargav told that he would come to Day's Inn and from there they will take it forward....
Back in the customs office, it was close to 2 n a half hours now. Finally a lady UCO came out and she looked patient enough to listen. We approached and I told her about the incident. She told she would have to see my passport and gave me the permission to make 1 phone call right in front of her and get the passport. I called up Bharat and he was given permission to enter the building to give my passport. I took the passport from him and gave him the car keys.
Kavitha and Mayur were waiting for more than an hour and there was no signs of Bhargav. The officer there was getting impatient too. After Bharat got the key, he went towards our car, but the security there did not allow him as it was not parked by him So he got back to Day's Inn without Kavitha's passport. Bhargav then took the key from Bharat, went to the Security checkpost and was escorted by a security officer till the car just to open the car and take the passport... Finally Kavitha got her passport and was allowed to get inside US!
Me, after giving the passport had to wait for half an hour more for my name to be called. I was summoned inside,
UCO: Hi, How come your name in the DL is different than the one in the passport.
Me: In my DL, my last name is indicated with initials, whereas in my passport it is expanded.
UCO: Oh ok, I get it. Thank you, you may leave now!
Saying this he returned back all the documents and put a stamp on the slip that was given to us. And I was just wondering is that it?
What a way to end 3 hours of misery.... Nevertheless it was a memorable experience.... Felt bad though for the guys in the other car, as they had to wait outside all the while.... Not knowing what was happening but just suffering outta boredom...
There were a lotta take aways from this experience....
1) Always carry your passport with you...
2) When in doubt ask someone and clarify instead of assuming and moving on....
3) carefully look for roadsigns :)
4) Never cross the border when you dont intend to :)
5) Dont jump down on no-man's land to take pics... :D
This is the signboard we missed - Canada Only :)
The beauty of Niagara was waiting for us, we had a wonderful time after that and also the 2 days in New York was great fun.