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Katy Burns: The effects of Sept. 11 continue

  • It’s hardly an iron gate, but a row of well-placed flower planters shown this summer in front of the Haskell Free Library and Opera House in Derby Line, Vt., serve as the U.S. and Canadian border. AP



Monitor columnist
Saturday, October 07, 2017

Last week we spent two nights in a charming inn in Derby Line on the Canadian border in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom while we sampled some of the beautiful early autumn scenery, including the lovely Lake Willoughby, in this northern U. S. outpost.

The Derby Line Village Inn has five sumptuous – but surprisingly reasonable, no doubt because of its remoteness – rooms. Its restaurant, which has been called a “destination” eatery in some reviews on Trip Advisor, stresses fresh local ingredients with an emphasis on Austrian/German cuisine. And a room there includes a scrumptious multi-course breakfast, cooked to order.

It was a welcome and relaxing respite from what seems to be a grim time in these United States – particularly since, in the wake of yet another unspeakably terrible mass gun murder, we have been admonished by our leaders up to and including the current bunch in the White House that, once again, “this is not the time” to discuss gun control and increased regulation. So why not just give up and take a pleasant ride in the country?

Interestingly, our mini-vacation came about as a result of another tragedy – the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001.Those attacks gave rise to a vast host of 21st century national security measures affecting American citizens and how we live, travel and communicate. Not the least of these was the massive Department of Homeland Security with its Transportation Security Administration, which in turn developed increased airline passenger security screening measures.

It then ended up fashioning an alphabet soup of programs to help some passengers, particularly those who travel regularly, bypass the most annoying of TSA screening measures.

In short, to ensure, among other things, that some airline passengers don’t have to take off their shoes.

These are known as Trusted Traveler programs, administered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. One is the Global Entry program, designed to allow those who qualify and apply for it to be granted admission to special streamlined TSA lines in airports both here and abroad. It involves, among other things, an in-person interview and fingerprinting.

Global Entry costs $100 for five years of freedom from many TSA demands. And we decided to go for it. While we are not frequent flyers, we are getting older, creakier and crankier. Just avoiding the shoe hassles seemed worth it.

One of the relatively few Customs offices in the country offering the necessary in-person interview – and the only one in the three northern New England states – is at a border crossing in remote little Derby Line, Vermont. The Derby Line Village Inn is maybe 1,000 feet down Main Street from the Customs office, in an elegant old mansion, built shortly after the turn of the last century and set on spacious landscaped grounds.

What is more appealing? Wait for an appointment – which may well take up to a year – and fight our way through endless traffic to Logan airport for 15-minute interviews? Or – we have the time – opt for Derby Line (where appointments can be scheduled in a month or less) and take a leisurely drive to northern Vermont – in foliage season yet! – and spend a couple of nights in a lovely inn?

We’re not the only ones deciding on a scenic micro-vacation. The inn – which opened about four years ago – has benefited from the growing interest in the Trusted Travelers programs, so far drawing about 300 guests who may well never otherwise have come to Derby Line. The restaurant has undoubtedly drawn hundreds more staying at one of the town’s two more modest hostelries.

But if the Customs station is increasingly drawing people – and potential inn guests – to Derby Line, it’s inconveniencing regular residents of the town, which before 9/11 seemed to have an almost laissez-faire approach to the border, or so it seemed to us when we spent a couple of hours there more than 20 years ago and barely were aware of the border.

That’s no longer the case, with the border strengthened and more closely scrutinized, and it’s startling to see and read of some of the changes – not necessarily for the better – that 9/11 brought to this tiny town so far from New York City or Washington.

There was a human interest story making national news this summer, for example, about trouble someone was having trying to sell his Derby Line house – deliberately built on the border 230 years ago to function as a general store for residents from both countries. The entry was in the U.S., the backyard in Canada. Which wasn’t a problem for the current owner, who held dual citizenship, but the odd setup didn’t appeal much to prospective buyers, who – not surprisingly – wanted to use both doors.

Other stories tell of gated street, residents stopped, fined and even briefly detained for, as an example, trying to carry a Canadian pizza home to the U.S. on what used to be an often-traveled street. Some people have to go be cleared by customs to visit neighbors.

And – coincidentally? – the population has dropped from 776 souls in 2000 to only 629 last year.

Perhaps the most symbolic change has been to the charming 1901 Haskell Free Library and Opera House, built to straddle the border of Derby Line and its Canadian counterpart, Stanstead, Quebec, by philanthropist Martha Stewart Haskell to celebrate the mixed culture of the town to provide, as the website has it, “a centre for learning and cultural enrichment.”

When we were there before 9/11, patrons went freely in and out of either door, one in each country. Aside from a stripe of black paint down the main floor marking the national boundary, we remember no signs – other than dividing lines painted on street pavement – indicating separate countries. Inside that’s still the case, which is good. Turns out most of the books are on the Canadian side. And in the elegant upstairs opera house, the stage is in Canada, the seats in the U.S.

Outside, though, things are different, according to a Toronto Star story a few years ago. While a massive protest from citizens of both countries stopped a proposed large gate – instead there is a line of big clay flowerpots across the road – there’s an obtrusive and ugly “Do Not Enter” sign at the border next to the library, and Canadians wanting to use the library parking lot (in the U.S.) must first visit a U. S. Customs station.

According to the newspaper, one Canadian resident – who, as it happened, ran the library for 24 years – tried to walk from her home to the library for a “dance for international peace,” of all things, and was stopped by a U.S. border agent and told to line up and walk in through customs with the cars. Indignant, she turned and walked home.

“That was the end of any sense of community here. The way we’re treated is really insulting lots of the time. The questions are degrading. They insinuate you have an ulterior motive even if you’re going to go get gas,” she told the paper. “But this is our community for God’s sake, founded on goodwill, intimately woven together.

“It’s just not fun anymore.”

Sept. 11, 2001, claims yet another victim.

“Monitor” columnist Katy Burns lives in Bow.