Jack TenneyExtra Point

by Jack Tenney, Publisher

November 2007


We were sharing pizza with friends on Columbus Day when I wished our hosts a Happy Thanksgiving. It was quite appropriate; they live in Canada, and Columbus Day and Canada’s Thanksgiving both fell on Oct. 8 this year.

Ivo recalled a time when he was working in New Jersey and was traveling home to Montreal for Thanksgiving (Canada-style) when he encountered a wicked early snowstorm. We did have those, you may remember, in the days before Al Gore. 

Anyway, he found himself creeping up the Northway through the storm virtually alone. Upon arrival at the border in the darkest, snowiest, earliest time of the stormy morning, he discovered that he had somehow left his wallet behind (“top left-hand drawer of my desk!”) hundreds of miles to the south.

“Oh, no, what can I do?” he said to the border guard.

“You know your national security number?” 

“Of course,” said Ivo, rattling it off.

The guard typed the number into a fancy new computer terminal and waited. The monitor had a small screen that glowed green and displayed characters in yellow. This was well before the Internet and few computer networks were up and running: American Airlines, IRS and the RCMP, I guess.

“You’re not in here,” the guard said, nodding at the monitor, or perhaps he said it in French because, after all, this was Quebec, eh?

Ivo, by the way, is a fascinating guy. He and his wife, Zuzana (equally fascinating), grew up in Czechoslovakia where they survived the German invasion and World War II, only to end up living under a Communist dictatorship. In 1968, a new Communist leader introduced some democratic reforms, including eased travel restrictions (it was a brief time that came to be known as the Prague Spring). Ivo and Zuzana jumped at the chance to vacation in Paris, which is where they were when Soviet tanks rolled into Prague to end the reforms. Ivo, a young scientist with an international reputation, made a few calls to North America and took a job in Montreal rather than return to an even more repressive homeland.

Back at the snowy Canadian border: “What do you mean, I’m not in there? That’s my number, try it again,” Ivo said in accented English or French or Czech or Russian. No, he speaks Czech without an accent, I’m sure. The guard clicked away at his terminal, waited for a reply and then said, “Okay, you can go ahead — I’m not in here, either.”

Ahhh, the good old days of border crossings.