Friday, January 20, 2012

The Great Bargain Caper

Living in Vancouver makes it easy to take a little trips to the U.S. once in while given we live so close to the border. My Mom and I have a history of having a good time together when take road trips and this one was no different.
The goal was shopping specifically at the Seattle Premium Outlets, which incidentally is just north of Seattle. Being the fashionista that I am, I had just finished the most extremely difficult task of consigning about half my wardrobe, shoes, and handbags, finally moving out the "this will fit someday" and the "I might just use this again" phrases from my vocabulary and my closet. Of course, that gave me a green light to have a few new things, the key word being "few". I have recently resigned myself to not making my wardrobe management a full time job, so that is the motto I went shopping with--less is best...right.
The only thing about going down to the U.S. for the day that makes me feel a lump in the back of my throat, is crossing the border. Here's a little back ground: when I was a kid, we went to Bellingham all the time. Aside from visiting family, friends and picking up some groceries, we would also do back to school shopping, big ticket item shopping, and every other type of shopping you can think of. You have to and always have had to declare what you have purchased in the U.S. to the Canadian Customs when you cross back into Canada. This was indeed a foreign concept for my family. Aside from declaring anything but $40 worth of groceries, we would declare nothing. My brother and I were instantly 30 lbs. heavier than when we left Canada because we were forced to wear every stitch of clothing bought--the clothing that was meant to be worn over the coming school year, versus all at once for example. The border guards would look in the back seat, see these two fat kids, and just shake their heads. Little did they know that we were also sitting on VCRs and camera equipment.
We made it to the Outlet Mall in record time, and what was even better, there was hardly anyone there! We were able to divide and conquer at times, and even squeezed in a Subway sandwich too. All in all, we did quite well--tons of bargains--U.S. is indeed on sale! And so, with one last glance at the coupon book we had been using all day, and our sweet tooth calling out to each of us, we had a final stop to make--the Fudge Place. I thought it would be nice to have just a little bit, after all, the Americans seem to do a great job of making fudge. Thanks to how the coupon worked and the glutinous U.S. way, we walked away with I believe it was three pounds of fudge--not sure how, but we did. The funny thing was, to them, it was perfectly normal that we took what we thought would be a life-time supply of this stuff home--but they were serious when they said come back again next week! Yikes!
One of the neatest places to go for dinner across the border is the Olive Garden--an American attempt of re-creating a little bit of Italy. With all you can eat salad, soup and bread sticks, and delicious pasta dishes to boot, you can't go wrong and you'll leave feeling like you want to explode (enter U.S. obesity problem). It was also our place to regroup, and discuss our crossing the border strategy. After the last time I had crossed, where I paid full duty on everything, there was no way that was happening again…yes, I was turning into my parents. So we came up with the idea that we were sightseeing and just made a quick stop at the outlet mall. Now, it happened to be pouring rain that day, but you can still see sights in the rain, right? My Mom thought they would never ask specifics, but I begged to differ, and so we ran through a very limited list of things to see just south of the border, along with what we would declare, etc.
After dinner, out to the car we went, to remove tags and start consolidating. Most people coming and going didn't even notice us sitting in the car, my Mom in the front and me and the back, with the lights out shuffling things around. We thought Cost Cutter was the perfect place to ditch all the bags given they now have cameras at the rest stops. It was like planning a covert operation--up to the garbage bin we drove. But they're a little smarter now--they make the entrance hole so small, so watching my Mom bear down and stuff the hell out of the garbage can was priceless…we were in hysterics, laughing out loud while “shushing” each other and trying to not look suspicious.
We did have to stop at the rest stop anyway, one for obvious reasons, and the other to have me become the passenger now. Again, I don't do well at the borders--as noted earlier, thanks to being scared to death as a child, I tend to behave like a criminal in these situations--I get nervous, twitching, start lying, and even start stuttering at times.
We came back at night, and the lead up to the border was all re-done--the lines on the road were different and instead of slowing down, my Mom, who was starting to get nervous, was racing through the weaving lines. We couldn't see the speed bumps, so we hit them full on, almost doing a Dukes of Hazard-style jump over each and every one. By the time we reach the customs agent, we just finished crying we were laughing so hard. And wouldn't you know, we got a woman. That can go either way--either she has empathy for you with the shopping, or she hates you for going shopping. Now, at this point, I'm already sweating and clearly uncomfortable, but manage to hand over my passport while clenching my two (there should have been about twelve) receipts in my hand. And, as I thought, she asked how long we had been away immediately (it was ten hours), and what we did. My Mom was great as she belted out "sightseeing!" joyously, and when asked, "where did you go", she froze, completely froze--I couldn't believe it! We had practiced and everything! I panicked, but jumped in right away with some dribble about Old Fairhaven and Chuckanut Drive--who does that in the pouring rain--who? She just looked at us blankly, then asked how much we spent. My vague answer wasn't good enough (this is where panic set in), and she asked me for a specific amount. I'm a Financial Advisor and proud of it--I calculate mortgage payments and tons of complicated math daily, but you think I could add together two receipts--no way. This is where things could have gone really badly--I was about to say we went to the Olive Garden for dinner--my leftovers are in the trunk--and immediately rescinded that idea given EVERYTHING was in the trunk--drawing her attention to the trunk would have been a HUGE mistake. The thought of bribing her with fudge also crossed my mind.
Then, I don't know if it was because she just felt sorry for me, seeing the frightened and confused look on my face as I was still trying to add two numbers together while sweat was pouring off my forehead--but she just said, "go ahead"--two simple, yet beautiful words to hear when you think you're about to go to jail. And as we slowly drove away, I reminded my Mom not to high five me just yet--they have cameras and people watching you leave in case of situations like this, you know, where you've scammed them somehow. Once we got safely onto the highway, we let loose--it was awesome! What a great victory for two Canadian women, who just wanted a few bargains, a bit of fudge, and no duty!! It was a great day indeed--thanks Mom!

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