Monday, January 11, 2010

Travel: Coming Home

TORONTO, ONTARIO - "Where are you coming from today, sir?" the immigrations officer asked me as I handed him my customs form and citizenship documents. I suddenly didn't know what to say. This is always the first question asked as one enters Canada at Pearson International Airport in Toronto, but I hadn't thought about it this trip until that instant.

Was I coming from Cleveland, Ohio, where my last flight originated? Phoenix, Arizona, where I started the day? Sacramento, California, the farthest I had been from Toronto? Seattle, Washington, the area where I had spent the most time? After a long pause, I finally looked up at the officer and said, "I'm sorry. I've been so many places in the United States this trip that I barely remember where I was this morning."

While I had been dazed by his question, he had apparently seen enough of my declaration to realize that I had been out of the country for five weeks and that my home address was in Toronto, less than eight miles away. "That's okay, sir, you're almost home now. You can sleep in your own bed tonight."

That statement really stunned me. Entering Canada is normally a reasonably pleasant experience compared with entering the United States, if for no other reason than the polite language used even when being thoroughly questioned. A statement that could have come from my grandmother being voiced by a burly officer of African descent, though, was almost more than I could process. I thanked him, and he sent me off to collect my checked baggage with no further questioning.

It may have been snowing lightly outside, but it's supposed to be snowing in Toronto in January. Riding the subway for the first time in over a month was quite comforting. Once upon a time on a trip home from the airport, I had seen an inter-racial, teen-aged couple sharing headphones, a scene which has become a iconic vision of multi-ethnic Toronto to me. Today, there were just commuters heading home from work, but most of them struck me as in less of a hurry than the drivers on Arizona freeways over the weekend.

Soon, I was taking great pleasure in cooking in a kitchen where I knew the location of everything I needed, and in doing just my own dishes afterward. I had never been away from my legal domicile so long in my life, and it made everything about returning worth cherishing. Indeed, the immigration officer was correct--I suspect I will enjoy sleeping in my own bed tonight.

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