Visas, Vancouver and Very Large Suitcases

With the Winnipeg Folk Festival all done and dusted, we had a few days off with nothing much to do except chill at the hotel room, explore the fruits of Winnipeg and sort out some business. One great thing about being a touring musician, is that every little mundane thing that you do, becomes interesting if done on the road. Nobody cares how we wash our undies at home, but life on the road still holds a certain mystique. Take this faux vintage photo of Laundry Man Lear for example:


Aren’t you dying to know what odorous but incredibly exotic and fashionable items may be concealed within those laundry bags?

While Lear and Eileen were off doing the washing, Camilla and I decided to explore the fruits of Winnipeg. All the locals we spoke to consistently recommended The Forks as well as the the newly built Museum of Human Rights, so we dutifully put on our tourist hats and went for a stroll. The Forks was a little underwhelming – just a fork in the river with a tacky food court that looked like it belonged in the early 90s (actually nearly everything in Winnipeg looked like it belonged in the early 90s). Then we decided to check out the Museum of Human Rights – a colossal and architecturally ostentatious $350,000,000 building situated right next to The Forks, but were turned off when we realised that it cost all of $15 to enter – what about the right to free museum entry? Outraged, we returned to our plush hotel room and exercised our right to be cynical and self indulgent musicians.

With our laundry all clean and crispy our next logistical problem was the fact that we had to get all our 18 bags to Vancouver, preferably without paying the $875 baggage fees we would be up against. The stripey bag system was out, but – never ones to give up – we had a brand new plan. We located a nearby hockey supplies shop and purchased two massive goalie bags – each one big enough to hold a whole bunch of guitars, drums, CD boxes, trombones etc…

goalie bags

Behold the goalie bags! They weren’t cheap, but in one flight they saved us about $700!

After touching down and disembarking in Vancouver with a satisfied feeling in our hip pockets, we were struck with the smell of clean ocean air. In direct contrast with Winnipeg, Vancouver was ultra modern, trendy, and incredibly scenic. The scenery reminded us of Hobart, but times ten. Huge mountains, beautiful bays and literally 10 times the population of little old Hobart. Our accommodation was at the UBC campus, which is like a small city in itself, and like most of Vancouver, has beautiful mountain and ocean views. It was fairly far out of town, but by happy coincidence turned out to be just a 10 minute walk to the UBC radio station where we had an interview booked.

I know we talked about taking care of business in Winnipeg – doing the laundry and buying sports bags etc – important things, yes, but in Vancouver we had some real business. Some of you may be aware that we have a couple of shows booked in the States. Some of you may not have been aware that with only two weeks before our US shows we still didn’t have any US visas! Let’s backtrack a little, back to the Perch Creek headquarters in Melbourne during the wintry weeks leading up to our departure…

Everyone knows that getting US visas can be a tricky business – that’s why we allowed heaps of time. The details are mind-numbingly boring, but let me say that allowing “heaps of time” is not nearly enough. Especially when you log onto the US government travel site and find out the US government is unable to print any visas for anyone, anywhere for an indefinite period of time…

visa gov

The visa type we were applying for was called P1 “Internationally Recognized Alien” – they didn’t ask us anything about what we got up to on Mars, but they did ask some very direct questions about our activities on Earth, including whether or not we had ever forcibly sterilised anyone, stolen any organs from anybody or ever committed genocide. I can’t reveal what our answers to those questions were, but you’ll just have to trust us, OK?

Fast forward many thousands of dollars in fees etc, many late nights trying to get through to overseas consulates, and several weeks of accelerated ageing, and we had to accept that we did not have enough time to book an appointment in Melbourne and would have to try for Vancouver against the advice of our hired independent visa application agent, and despite the fact that Canadian consulates had been known to refuse to process non-Canadians. I won’t tell you exactly what we had to say in order to secure timely appointments in the Vancouver US consulate, but I will say that we fully expected to be cross questioned and subsequently turned away when the truth of our residential status was revealed.

Fast forward again to Vancouver and we are joining the long queue outside the US consulate to receive the first of many security checks. They confiscated our phones and other “suspicious” items to store in a little locker, but the lockers were tiny and our confiscated laptop wasn’t going to fit. The security officer refused to take the laptop, refused to let us in with it, and firmly declined to offer any suggestions as to what we should do with our cumbersome piece of security-compromising technology. After running up and down the street asking all the nearby cafes if they would hold on to our laptop for us (we promise it’s not a bomb!) and being denied, we were beginning to worry that we’d miss our appointment. Eventually we found a sandwich bar called Quizno’s Subs who were obviously in the habit of making a few bucks on the side from this exact situation, charging us $10 to mind the laptop, which we gladly paid before running back to join the security line once again. After making it past that checkpoint we then went through another round of airport style security checks before lining up for document stamps, finger prints and questions at line A, then line B, then line C, then finally line D, which was labelled simply and starkly “20th Floor”, which to our eyes had an ominous ring to it, reminiscent of something from Orwell’s 1984.

Once on The 20th Floor, we sat in a crowded waiting room listening to the many voices that were emanating from behind the booths stretching along the halls on both sides of the waiting room. The atmosphere was tense. We sat there listening to rejection after rejection and emotionally charged pleas from desperate interviewees. We overheard far fetched stories about long lost American relatives, we overheard desperate people getting caught out giving false answers, and we overheard someone being told the exact words that we were dreading, “I’m sorry, Ma’am, you’ll have to come back when you can prove that you are a permanent resident of Canada and not just some tourist”. Whatever sense of hopefulness all the document stamping had given us down on the second floor evaporated at the sound of those words, and we were left with a dull sense of the acceptance of the inevitable, grateful at least for the fact that we weren’t in as dire a situation as the other rejectees. When our number was called we trudged up to the counter to go through the motions. I was deemed the head talker because, despite my long and fluid blogging style (if I do say so myself), those of you who’ve heard me on radio interviews know that my verbal style is flat, short and concise – just the qualities needed for a successful bureaucratic interview! The consular agent was friendly and seemed convinced that we were legitimate muso’s (sometimes all that long hair comes in handy), and that we were in Canada for legitimate work. Then after a few more questions he handed us a green slip and told us we were all good to go, to which we responded by standing dumbstruck, fighting back grins and trying not to act too surprised.


Celebrating our visa approval after retrieving our laptop from our good buddies, Quizno’s Subs.

To unwind after a tense morning, we hired bikes and rode around Vancouver’s iconic and ultra scenic Stanley Park – a forested peninsula adjoined to the CBD. It was so beautiful!

stanley park bridge

You have no idea how many shots it took to perfect the uber trendy “awkward look”.

stanley park bikes

Looking cool in our matching electric blue helmets.

stanley beach

The beaches in Vancouver come with evenly placed logs for sitting on, which miraculously don’t get swept away by the tides.

Stay tuned to hear about our gigs at the Vancouver Folk Festival and more!

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