‘I can’t go into Canada — I’ve got felonies’

It wasn’t exactly the welcome we expected when we crossed the border.

We drove to Michigan last weekend, cutting across Ontario, Canada from western New York to save a couple of hours.

After crossing into the U.S., we pulled into a “welcome center” to stretch our legs. A few other vehicles came and went while we took a bathroom break, raided our cooler for sandwiches and walked the dog.

We had the entire parking area to ourselves, and started getting organized to get back on the road.

“Sir! Sir! Can you help me out?”

I turned around to see a large man who must have emerged from the welcome center.

“With what?” I called back. My “spidey sense” kicked in. There were no other vehicles in the lot, although there was another parking area for trucks out back.

“Directions!” he called out.

“I’m from upstate New York, so I don’t know how much I can help!” I replied. I kept a distance between us as I sized up the situation. I’ve been told I think like a cop, which can be good and bad, I suppose.

“Let me get a map,” I called out, trying to sound annoyed or at least aloof, and walked back to the car. At this point, Michelle was getting her phone out.

I strolled back to the man, who stayed where he was, about half the distance between the building and our car. Not another person or vehicle in sight.

I unfolded the map as I walked over to him. He outweighed me by about 100 pounds, but for whatever reason I wasn’t scared. Wary, certainly, but calm.

The man had a piece of paper with directions and addresses scrawled on it, and said he didn’t know how to get to Detroit. I showed him where we were, and that he needed to take I-94 westbound.

He seemed confused by the map, and I was waiting for the request for a ride, which would have been denied. The whole thing seemed “off,” not quite right.

That’s when he said, “I can’t go into Canada. I’ve got felonies.”


OK, so this was a little awkward. But I didn’t react, and just reiterated the route he needed to go, even pointing toward the highway ramp and adding that Canada was in the opposite direction.

I folded up the map and may have wished him good luck as I walked back to our car. End of story.

But we wondered if it could have ended differently. Badly.

As the man and I parted, Michelle was standing outside our car, phone in hand. If he noticed her, did he think she was looking up a Google map to help him? Or was she ready to call 911 if needed? (It was the latter, as things didn’t seem right to her, either).

Where was his vehicle? Maybe it was on the other side of the building, where several truckers had parked. Had he asked anyone over there for directions?

I had been close enough to him that I could tell that he had recently washed up, maybe even showered. If that were the case, how long had he been driving? Had he been driving at all?

And why, since we were already in Michigan and he needed to go to Detroit, did he mention he couldn’t go into Canada? And why volunteer that he’s a felon?

The most nagging questions: Was this an innocent encounter with a directionally challenged person, and we were overthinking it, overreacting? Or was he up to no good, and thought better of it when he saw Michelle with her phone at the ready?

We’ll never know, of course. But too many things just didn’t add up.

The only certainty is that we’re forced to balance our desire to help others with our personal safety. It’s not cynicism. It’s common sense with a little “spidey sense” added for good measure.


About Jim McKeever

Writer, father, runner, advocate based in Central New York.
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21 Responses to ‘I can’t go into Canada — I’ve got felonies’

  1. It’s our fault Jim. We made him grumpy. We don’t like folks with felonies, one felony we might let slip in every now and then, but multiple, yeah we’re not fans of that. 😉

    On a serious note, glad you’re ok and you… well you, we’ll let in any time. ❤
    Diana xo


  2. markbialczak says:

    He was up to something but thought better of it when you weren’t an easy touch, Jim. Keep using your intuition, my friend. And Michelle’s, too, and the dog and the cell phone and every other tool at hand. Too much wrong can happen even when you’re trying to do good and hoping for the best, I agree.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Its good to have that extra sense when travelling. I have it when I travel, I would rather be suspicious of everyone and be safe than sorry. Most people are okay but you never know. Safe travels Jim.


  4. ALWAYS trust that sense. Even if it doesn’t ‘make’ sense. Our gut reaction is always something to pay attention to. I like the way you think. Safety first. You tried to help the best you could. Sadly our desire to ‘help’ one another these days has to be like this.


    • Jim McKeever says:

      Thank you, Colleen … we’ve thought about some of the “what-ifs,” and they’re not pleasant.


      • I play the “what if game” ( I really call it that) to try and be prepared. When I did self defense and safety trainings I told people to play the ‘what if game’ for every situation they could think of. Keeps you on your toes and alert. I’m glad you were both safe.


  5. You were completely justified to feel wary. I am always on alert with situations like this. Maybe I read too much crime fiction but I’d rather be safe than sorry.


    • Jim McKeever says:

      Agreed, John … you just never know. You reminded me of a great bumper sticker: “Be alert. The world needs more lerts.” (and in reference to your post, auto-correct just tried to make it “more lefts” … which, in another sense, I agree with most of the time.) 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Dennis Harrod says:

    It sounds like you did the right thing, but you never know, do you? Here’s a short piece by Jesús Colón, who, in addition to being the most magnanimous writer I’ve ever read, had some wonderful perspective on human and race relations.

    By Jesus Colon.

    “I’ve been thinking; you know, sometimes one thing happens to change your life, how you look at things, how you look at yourself. I remember one particular event. It was when? 1955 or ’56…a long time ago. Anyway, I had been working at night. I wrote for the newspaper and, you know, we had deadlines. It was late after midnight on the night before Memorial Day. I had to catch the train back to Brooklyn; the West side IRT. This lady got on to the subway at 34th and Penn Station, a nice looking white lady in her early twenties. Somehow she managed to push herself in with a baby on her right arm and a big suitcase in her left hand. Two children, a boy and a girl about three and five years old trailed after her.

    Anyway, at Nevins Street I saw her preparing to get off at the next station, Atlantic Avenue. That’s where I was getting off too. It was going to be a problem for her to get off; two small children, a baby in her arm, and a suitcase in her hand. And there I was also preparing to get off at Atlantic Avenue. I couldn’t help but imagine the steep, long concrete stairs going down to the Long Island Railroad and up to the street. Should I offer my help? Should I take care of the girl and the boy, take them by their hands until they reach the end of that steep long concrete stairs?

    Courtesy is important to us Puerto Ricans. And here I was, hours past midnight, and the white lady with the baby in her arm, a suitcase and two white children badly needing someone to help her.

    I remember thinking; I’m a *Negro and a Puerto Rican. Suppose I approach this white lady in this deserted subway station late at night? What would she say? What would be the first reaction of this white American woman? Would she say: ‘Yes, of course you may help me,’ or would she think I was trying to get too familiar or would she think worse? What do I do if she screamed when I went to offer my help? I hesitated. And then I pushed by her like I saw nothing as if I were insensitive to her needs. I was like a rude animal walking on two legs just moving on, half running along the long the subway platform, leaving the children and the suitcase and the woman with the baby in her arms. I ran up the steps of that long concrete stairs in twos and when I reached the street, the cold air slapped my warm face.

    Perhaps the lady was not prejudiced after all. If you were not that prejudiced, I failed you, dear lady. If you were not that prejudiced I failed you; I failed you too, children. I failed myself. I buried my courtesy early on Memorial Day morning.

    So, here is the promise I made to myself back then: if I am ever faced with an occasion like that again, I am going to offer my help regardless of how the offer is going to be received. Then I will have my courtesy with me again.”

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I’d say your sixth-sense, your reporter’s gut instinct, was working just fine. Possibly that, Michelle’s phone, the dog, your aloofness encouraged the man to look for someone else to scam … or whatever he was up to. You’re right. He did give too much information – or just enough to get you to be wary.

    When I was a reporter, I was going door-to-door in an apartment building looking to talk to someone about either a murder suspect or someone who was murdered. Details escape me right now. One neighbor invited me in to talk. He was pleasant, seemed OK. At one point, he said that he was bipolar and he could kill someone one moment … and not realize it the next. I had a Zen calmness and my poker face on (got this from my Mom and Grammy), and said nothing. Then, he said, “don’t worry. I haven’t killed anyone.” I reached over, instinctively, patted him on the arm and said “Keep up the good work.” That probably threw him off his game. We returned to talking of pleasanter things and then I went on my merry way.

    Crazy life. Glad you got thru your encounter OK 😉


    • Jim McKeever says:

      Keep up the good work, indeed! Zen or ice water in the veins, it worked for you. 🙂 Another reader’s theory about the felon: he was with a group going into Canada, got flagged and was not allowed in. He needed to get back to Detroit. Plausible.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. From the New Oxford American Dictionary:
    “the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning : we shall allow our intuition to guide us.
    • a thing that one knows or considers likely from instinctive feeling rather than conscious reasoning : your insights and intuitions as a native speaker are positively sought.

    ORIGIN late Middle English (denoting spiritual insight or immediate spiritual communication): from late Latin intuitio(n-), from Latin intueri ‘consider’ (see intuit )”

    Great post and right choice, Jim.


    • Jim McKeever says:

      Thanks, JoHanna. It’s one of those “we’ll never know for sure” moments, but it’s good to be wary.

      Liked by 1 person

      • There was a boy that used to accompany his mother to my Grandmothers farm across the street from my growing up home. She was always so gentle with me except when it came to this little boy. She harshly let it be known I was to have nothing to do with this seemingly innocent child and to never come across the street if I saw their vehicle in the drive.

        “I feel it in here.” she would say, pointing to her stomach. “No good is coming out of him.”

        That child is now an old man who continues to serve a life without parole sentence in a maximum security prison for the brutal murder of a teenage girl.

        My Grandmother had ‘felt’ this tragedy coming through her intuition.


      • Jim McKeever says:

        Wise woman. That’s so awful. I wonder what he did or said (if indeed anything) to give her that feeling.

        Liked by 1 person

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