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Commentary: Don't Drink Beer on Canadian Beaches

By Elena Cala Buscarino

Buffalo, NY – Oh, Canada. You taught me so much about stereotypes this past summer. When I think about you, I think of, among other things, hockey, black bear, colorful money (albeit less valuable), Mounties, and of course, beer. My recent experience involving the shattering of certain stereotypes lies in these last two things I have mentioned: namely, law enforcement and beer.

My objective was simply to spend a day at the beach in Canada with my daughters. A little clean family fun on the other side of the border, eh?

Our day started rather nicely. The girls and I packed a small cooler into which, amidst all of the girl's treats, I put my one, ice cold beer; to be enjoyed at a later sun-filled, hot, dry and thirsty moment. I considered this small allowance of pleasure to be rather disciplined and therefore, Zen-like. I mean it was 85 degrees out, and I was going to be with a nine-year-old and a thirteen-year-old who don't actually like each other. Does that sound like a day at the beach?

The girls behaved quite well on our way through customs. I had coached them about the fact that the agents at the Peace Bridge had ultimate authority over people crossing the border. Nine-year-old Bella, who has been interrogating me about everything for eight years wanted a "for instance." Well, for instance, they could, if they felt it was necessary, strip search suspicious people. When Bella asked why...I told her they might be looking for drugs. She then asked why they wouldn't just check pockets. The next somewhat graphic explanation I gave Olivia and Bella was the ticket to assuring that these two children would never do drugs. Bella became mum for a time, but now her favorite anti-drug slogan is, "Why do you think they call it crack?"

When the customs officer asked me whether I had anything to declare, I thought about it. I rationalized that it was a bit like asking someone, "How are you?" I mean, if I were to take this question at it's face value, there were many things I wanted to declare on this day, starting with the fact that I used to look much better in a bikini. But in the face of the daunting job these people perform in looking for terrorists and major threats to the public, I used an economy of words,and said... "no."

The next stop we made was at a little hardware store. Bella insisted that she needed a shovel for the beach. Olivia considered this to be a waste of time, silly, potentially embarrassing, in short, everything an older sibling feels about a younger one, never mind the shovel. Bella picked out a beauty; wood and metal and 3 feet tall.

The beach was wonderful. It was crowded, it was hot, and there were people there who had less business in a two piece than I did. And then the time had come. I reached into my cooler, grabbed my tall, cold friend, and poured it in a nice, red plastic cup. Just then, two fully uniformed policemen came walking down the beach. They had ticket books in their hand, and the fact that they were wearing black amid all the brightly colored Lycra made them look exceedingly grim.

Just as the officers cut a diagonal line past me, I saw an old acquaintance who summers on the beach. "What's with the police?" I asked.

"Oh, they ticket people for having beer. It's a hundred and fifty dollar fine," she answered.

"Canadian or American?" I asked, then quickly downed the evidence, confident that I would be safe as long as the carbonation didn't have it's way with me. Then, realizing I still had the bottle to deal with, I leaned over Olivia and whispered to Bella, "Dig Mommy a hole about the size of a beer bottle." She set to work immediately, and then was distracted by a bug. I watched the police pouring quart-sized bottles of beer out that they had confiscated from a party of four.

"Look at this bug," Bella squealed. Olivia went over immediately as I tucked the bottle into my magazine. I walked to the hole, saw it was deep enough, and holding the magazine over it, I let the bottle drop in. Bella, still engrossed with the bug, heard the unmistakable sound of hollow bottle hitting hard packed sand, swung around, and began back-filling the hole.

Olivia, who had actually been looking at the bug said, "What? Was 'look at the bug some kind of code word'?"

"Just be glad you've got a ride home, honey," I said.

In retrospect, making my youngest child an accessory to crime wasn't what I had planned for that day. Neither did I want my children to think that it was okay to practice deception toward authority figures--but which memory is most likely to find it's way to an analysts couch; burying something in the sand on the beach with a new shovel, or seeing black clad men write your very embarrassed mother a ticket while pouring out her solitary beer?

As for stereotypes, mine are as buried as that bottle on the beach. I love Canadian beaches and I'll go back next year, but maybe I'll quench my thirst on this side of the border from now on.

Listener-commentator Elena Cala Buscarino teaches writing.