Bureaucracy (bu-reauc-ra-cy): A system of government in which most of the important decisions are made by state officials.

I believe in following the rules in life and in most cases that is the logical and the safest course. The operative word here is most and that means not always. I offer the following as an example.

I recently visited the North Channel at the top of Lake Huron for three days with my friend Brian in my 22 ft lobster boat. Since we were travelling in Canadian waters and our first stop was Meldrum Bay on Manatoulin Island which is Canadian territory we checked in with customs. This consisted of a conversation using a specially provided phone. We answered a few questions about ourselves and the purpose of our visit with a pleasant officer and were welcomed to the country. The whole process took less than five minutes.

Three days later after spending a second night on St. Joseph Island at Hilton Beach Marina we returned to our starting point at Detour Village, the eastern most point of the Michigan Upper Peninsula.

After returning the boat to its trailer for the two-hour trip on land to Harbor Springs we headed to the municipal marina to complete the ritual “checking in” with U.S. Customs.

The Harbor Master directed us to a kiosk that would use screen prompts to guide us in the process of checking in online. This started with me as the owner typing in my name, address, email, telephone, boat name length name and manufacturer and pressing “submit”.

Within seconds a screen appeared thanking me for the submission that was received successfully. I was then prompted to select the option for a brief face time interview. I complied, expecting this efficient process to be over quickly and marveling at the wonders of modern communication.

After five minutes I asked the attendant how long it took to receive a response. She said, “maybe fifteen minutes, but sometimes it takes as long as forty-five.” Resigned to a delay, but not in a big hurry, Brian and I sat down to wait.

After forty-five minutes of inaction Brian called the number on the screen that was there in case of difficulty and he spoke to an agent in Sault St. Marie Michigan. The agent told Brian that they were having some difficulties with the local kiosks and to ask the Harbor Master to troubleshoot. Brian did so and her reply was, “Ed usually fixes these problems, but he doesn’t work here regularly, and I don’t know where to find him.”

This meant a second call to the main customs office. Their solution was to have the Harbor Master verify that we were who our passports said we were and to give him our passport numbers. After we did this the customs officer thanked us but said that would not be sufficient. He did not say why he changed his mind. Instead he told us we would have to present personally to his office at the Sault St. Marie, Mackinac Island Marina or Drummond Island Marina to officially check in.

Two of these options required re-launching the boat and travelling several hours over the water because the offices were on islands or driving two hours to Sault St. Marie. None of these options was acceptable.

I made the next phone call and spoke with the head customs officer. In very stern terms he told me that this was not his problem, it was a matter of technology and that he had no other options beyond what we had already been told. I then shared my opinion that this was an unreasonable position for him to make and that I had done everything in my power to comply and that I would do no more about this, get in the car and drive back to Harbor Springs towing the boat and trailer. The officer’s reply was, “that action will make you subject to a $5,000 dollar fine”. I said I understood, and the conversation ended.

Minutes later Brian received a call from the same customs officer who said without further explanation, “you and the other guy can go” and that was it.

After more than two hours of fussing and fuming this ordeal was over, but the scary realities of power without common sense or understanding remained with us. I suspect that most if not all of us have had an experience when arbitrary rules are applied without reason or logic. If I learned anything from this experience it was to “keep your cool” and it will be OK in the end. Brian did that better than me. That is why the agent asked to speak with him and not the “other guy”.

By Savvy Senior

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1 thought on “Follow the Rules

  1. I hear you and I understand. It may give you a bit of comfort to know that if that episode had happened in a Mexican custom’s office, they would have likely demanded a birth certificate just to make sure that you are who you say. Not always, but likely!

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