Douglas Coupland decked out in his Canadian best. I photographed Douglas in his Vancouver BC studio for The New York Times Magazine just before the 2010 Winter Olympics. He was kind enough to give me a tour of his studio, and it, along with his art collection, is enough to make anyone jealous. Really impressive. New York Times Magazine Q&A with Douglas.
As I parted ways with Douglas, he said to give him a call if I ran into any trouble at the border. A kind gesture, but probably not necessary. For those of you who are not familiar with crossing the border between the US and Canada, it usually involves waiting in a short line and getting grilled with questions ranging from “Why are you visiting Canada (or the US)” to “When is the last time you got into a bar fight.” On occasion the officer will ask a series of questions, and loop back around and ask the same questions again, which I always find interesting. A good way to catch you if you are lying about something.
When I reached the border this time, I was greeted with a standard question, “What were you doing in Canada?” “Taking pictures,” I responded.
It’s important to understand the questions you are asked at the border are rapid. It is not a conversation, it’s question, answer, question, answer.
“What were you taking pictures of?”
“Douglas Coupland for New York Times Magazine.”
Up until this point it’s all pretty standard, but this next part threw me off. The officer turned from his computer screen and looked at me as he said, “Ohhhh, Generation X”. Douglas popularized the phrase “Generation X” with his best selling novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture. I wasn’t sure how to respond at this point. Was that a question, or was he simply stating a fact? Now there was a pause. This isn’t how it’s supposed to work. He is supposed to ask the questions and I give the answers. But it seemed he was waiting for some sort of response, so I said, “Oh, yeah, so you know who he is?” His demeanor instantly changed, and he responded in a harsh tone, “I said Generation X, didn’t I!?” I nodded my head in agreement, not wanting to get into it with him.
After another pause, the officer began to tell me about an article he had recently read by Douglas Coupland on how border officers are rude and difficult. He went on for what seemed like several minutes. His tone was a mix of amusement and disbelief. To summarize his main points: What!? Us, rude and difficult!? How could anyone think that?
Oh, this is bad I thought. I should have said I was photographing Céline Dion.
Once again, not knowing how to respond, I tried to be real. “To be honest, I have pulled up next to some gruff people working here and I can see how he would think that about some of the people who work here. But you definitely seem to be one of the the nice ones.”
With that, he snapped back into Mr. Man In Charge, and exclaimed. “Well, if you think I’m nice, it would interest you to know I have made more arrests at this station than any other officer.” He paused to let his accomplishments sink in before handed back my passport and I was on my way. Until next time.
Self portrait with Douglas Coupland.