Have a nice day

We were saying goodbye to Alan and Peggy on New Year's Eve when Peggy mentioned driving across the California border. "Make sure you don't have any fruits, vegetables, or plants with you," she said. "They're really strict about that." I whipped my head around to scream at Matthew with my eyes, "The bonsais!" and right then had a faint memory from 1997.

I drove with Halle from Olympia to San Francisco that summer and I vaguely remembered large signs posted barring produce from entering the state. That wasn't a big deal then but now, in 2011, the bonsais are most definitely a big deal. Matthew has been raising his trees since he was in seventh grade and I'm only slightly exaggerating when I say he'd go all Sally Field in Not Without My Daughter if they tried to confiscate the trees at the border.

We read on a website about California rules and regulations that trees need paperwork to prove they are healthy in order to enter the state. It seemed like a long shot that we'd be able to get someone to inspect the trees on such short notice but it had to be easier than fleeing to Turkey and befriending smugglers so we gave it a shot. And surprise of all surprises, it was easy.

An entomologist from the University of Kentucky drove 100 miles up from Lexington to stand in our living room, glance at the bark and lift up the leaves to look for pests. Seemingly happy and free of charge! He was terribly good-natured about it. He seemed thrilled, in fact. He showed up early and pretty much talked my ear off. He either loves his job or was just psyched to have a field trip; either way I was grateful for the papers he filled out in triplicate and signed off on.

The other news we learned from the website about California was that animals are suspect. If we didn't want to risk Patsy being confiscated at the border, we needed a health certificate from our vet saying that she doesn't have rabies. Alright, I get it. These are agricultural and public health concerns but what about humans? What if I'm a sociopath and serial killer? California doesn't want a note from my therapist? A vial of saliva to run my DNA, check my police record? Sure?

A few miles out from the inspection station between Arizona and California, I rifled through my bag for the folder with the dog papers and plant papers and pulled them out. I actually felt nervous enough that when we stopped and the woman in a uniform asked us where we were from, I kind of forgot and my mind went blank. Matthew and Elise answered.


"Northern Kentucky."

"Have a nice day," she said and turned away.

So pleasant, that nice response. I was sorely disappointed.

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