Yesterday I returned from Worldcon to real life. Worldcon was more exciting.
Alysse and I drove home in about six hours. When we crossed the border from Canada to the United States, the experience was pretty much the same as crossing into Canada. Going in, we sat in Alysse's very low car. The customs/immigration official sat in a high, enclosed booth. I could not see him from the passenger seat, and he could not see me. I never spoke. We passed him both passports, which he glanced at and returned to Alysse. I suppose there might have been a surveillance camera I did not notice which looked into the car, but otherwise I could have been Osama bin Laden riding unobserved and silent in the passenger seat. Much the same thing happened coming back, although then at least the U.S. official could see me. One perfunctory question about what we were bringing back (one bottle of duty-free vanilla vodka and one literary award), and on we went.
The whole notion of passports to cross between Canada and the USA is wildly unpopular here. My congresswoman, Louise Slaughter, fought claw and incisor to derail it. For one thing, there are places in Minnesota, Montana, and Washington State where you can stroll across the border. The roads sometimes feature an unmanned kiosk where you're supposed to stop, call the nearest town, and scan in your passport -- something terrorists are probably not going to do. For another thing, the related changes in tariffs and taxes are not helping either economy. Several people told me that the reason the dealers' room in Montreal was so small was that American book sellers, jewelry artisans, etc. were required to deposit at the border the projected sales tax on all their goods before bringing them into Canada. The deposit on the unsold portion would of course be refunded, but small dealers operating on a narrow profit margin could not meet the requirement.
I grew up in Buffalo, NY. My family crossed the border constantly -- to go to Niagara Falls, to the Canadian beaches (cleaner then than ours), to go to the big amusement park called Crystal Beach, to see relatives. I can't think that the present system is better. It probably will not catch terrorists, and it's a pain in the ass.