Yes, the contracting company gave me money to expedite my passport approval. But I still wound up going out-of-pocket about 100 bucks on the deal. For example, the expediter in Chicago I was working with insisted that I had to send my materials to her using Fedex’s “it will absolutely be there first thing tomorrow morning, no really, we pinky-swear” level of service, which cost me 60 bucks, all by itself. And the passport was far from the biggest expense I’ve incurred so far. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Many years ago, I was working at a company in Miami. They wanted to send me on a month-long business trip to London. It is all but impossible to get a temporary work permit in that scenario. The U.K. puts many ridiculous roadblocks in your path, all designed to get you to give up and just give the job to a U.K. resident already. So the company instructed me to say that I was on vacation. I was “visiting a friend” who was actually a coworker. I stayed in that coworker’s apartment, which the company was paying for. So it looked like we really were friends. Apart from hearing enough to establish this pseudo-friend relationship, the customs officials in London did not ask me any significant questions. It all went fine, and I very much enjoyed my first trip outside the country.
Fast-forward to now. I am once again “visiting a friend” in Canada, the guy who is my new boss. He was in fact picking me up at the airport. Alas, he decided to put me up in a hotel in downtown Calgary, so it looked a lot less like we are actual friends. This made the customs officials suspicious. They asked me what I planned to do in the two weeks I was going to be in the country, and all I had for an answer was a couple of touristy things I had googled up an hour before on my phone. They did not believe my story, and began the process of kicking me out of the country.
If that was all that happened, I think I’d be okay with it. All right Canada, you caught me breaking the rules, now you’re going to escort me out, fine. But that’s not how it went down.
The customs official I was assigned to who made this decision decided that he was good cop, bad cop, and outraged rogue cop, all rolled into one. Here’s an example. Not content to merely browbeat me for my indiscretions, he wanted to call my boss and browbeat him as well. I dutifully found the number and placed my phone on the desk, so he could copy it down. He took down the number, then he put my phone in a drawer in his desk, saying nothing. It didn’t seem like a good time to question him about it, what with him having already pounded on his desk several times in anger. So at this point I’m thinking: Great, on top of everything else, I just lost my phone. Good thing I recently synced all my contacts to my Mac, or I’d be stuck in this godforsaken place forever. The rogue customs official did indeed call my boss, and tried to get him to show up in person at customs, so he could abuse him face-to-face. My boss wisely declined.
God, this story makes me sick to my stomach. So I’m going to cut it short by saying that this guy also threatened to send me to jail for the night, and leave it at that. He kept my passport and demanded that I report back to their office at 11:00am the next day, so they could officially throw me out. I did get my phone back, at least.
I finally got out of the airport and into my new boss’ car. He is not exactly what you’d call sociable even in the best of circumstances, which this definitely was not. Conversation was strained, to say the least.
As he is trying to pay his way out of the parking lot, something went wrong. The automatic ticket-taker thing wouldn’t let us out. He tried pressing the call button. We could hear a phone ringing somewhere, futilely. He quickly backed out of the automatic pay lane and got into one with a real live attendant. Then we learned why the ticket machine had failed: his credit card was declined. Whoops! He had to pay cash to get us out of the parking lot.
He took us to some clichéd sports bar to eat. He vacillated between showing signs that said he was sorry for having put me through this and acting like it was my fault for not having a more convincing story. As if! We hadn’t talked about this at ALL beforehand. In fact, I only remembered to ask if I was “on vacation” mere hours before I got to customs. If I hadn’t brought it up, he would not have said a word about it. And it’s my fault? I THINK NOT.
As we were getting ready to leave, he gave our waitress his credit card to pay for dinner. Declined again! He paid in cash, and we left.
Next he took me to the hotel that had aroused the customs officials’ suspicions. I was originally supposed to stay two weeks, now reduced to a single night. The boss was worried that the hotel might try to charge him for a broken reservation. But they didn’t have a problem with that.
The desk clerk asked me for a credit card. “Just for incidentals?” I asked. Actually, no. Nobody had bothered to pay for the room yet. My boss reached into his wallet, produced his card, and stopped. We looked at each other. We both knew what would happen if he gave her that card.
And this is how I managed to go 300 bucks out-of-pocket for the hotel bill, Dear Reader. For a project I had yet to make a dime on. A project in which I was already 100 bucks out-of-pocket due to the expedited passport stuff.
The next day, I was escorted around the airport by a Canada customs official. Thankfully, I didn’t get the same abusive asshole I got the day before. This guy turned out to be very polite. I was cooperative to the point of embarrassment. He needn’t have worried about me trying to “escape.” At that point, I could not WAIT to get out of that wacky place.
For once in my life, this story has a happy ending! Yesterday I got paid for my first full two weeks of work. The contracting company stuffed the money directly into my account via wire transfer. I get reamed in fees for that, so I’m trying to get them to send checks in the mail from now on, the old-fashioned way. I haven’t yet gotten reimbursed for the hotel room, but I’m told that they’ve sent the money.
I am only making 40 bucks an hour for this. It’s a regular 40-hour-a-week thing, so I get paid the same no matter how many hours I work. For the first two weeks, it has been quite a lot of hours indeed. I get no paid vacation and no sick days. No health insurance. All of that makes this easily the lowest-paid full-time job I’ve taken in 15 years, at least.
But I don’t care! The up-sides FAR outweigh the down-sides. I get to work right where I’m sitting now, in front of my huge Apple monitor, streaming my favorite jazz stations. If I need to take an hour or two off in the afternoon to run errands, nobody has anything to say about that. There is no commute. I don’t have to sit in a low-walled cube and ignore nearby idiots. I can stay in Nashville, and help my little girl get through college. I can take long working vacations to any part of the world that has innertubes. I could be making ten grand a year less than this and I’d still be a lot happier than I was in my last full-time job.
I am finally on track to solve “the money problem” in my life in a way that won’t kill me. I am so happy that I could spit.