The Marine View Driver: Crossing the Border with the Datsun B-210


In which the author once again finds that the car does not make the man. (Or does it? Hmmm…)

by Mike Smith

When we had been married for a few years and had a new one-year old daughter, we needed a car that was more conducive to carting a baby. Our VW was a two-door beetle, of course. So we moved up to a two-door 1976 Datsun B-210. Quite a move up!

We bought it from Lori, my wife’s college roommate. Lori had gone back to Alaska after college. About a year later she got a job back in Seattle and she decided to simply drive the car back the 3500 miles of largely un-paved Al-Can Highway. When she pulled into our driveway on her arrival in Seattle, the car looked like a giant mound of mud with headlights. But it was our mound of mud with headlights.

Capture2This little motor car served us bravely for many years. It even survived a long-forgotten accident that destroyed the left front fender. (I think here might be a good place to add that all of our cars have been “brave.” We are unlucky in cars.) If I remember right, the Datsun spent most of its stay with us missing that fender. But this modification turned out to be a nice way to distinguish our car in the mall parking lot. And it was never stolen. So we could rely on it to stay home.

Despite missing a fender, it still had the plastic liner–the under-fender–so it did not throw up dirt and water onto the windshield. This qualified it as road-worthy in my book.

I used it for work, which included sales trips to Canada. I got some funny looks at the border crossing sometimes, but Canadians are a hearty bunch with a pragmatic view of the world. They appreciate someone making do. Good humor seemed to be the rule at the border crossing guard shack.

Border Guard: Where are you from?

Me: Seattle.

BG: Where are you going?

Me: Coquitlam (I like the way this one rolls off the tongue; helps me sound like a native).

BG: What happened to your car?

Me: Oh, I rear-ended a bus?

BG: (Quizzical look.) Are you transporting any firearms?

Me: No?!

BG: Okay. Welcome to Canada.

On one trip I pulled into a rest stop just south of the border. It was about 25 degrees outside. Minus 4 if you’re Canadian. There a father and his young son stood by their really new car. Well, they were actually sort of jumping up and down–presumably to stay warm. They had locked their keys in their car and could not get in for all their native land.

I tried to help, but since I was unaccustomed to cars that actually had lockable doors that stayed locked, I was no help.

Despite my inexperience I did hit upon an idea, though.

B31486I offered to take them back to their home in Richmond, which is not as far as Vancouver. I felt that they were not prepared to spend a lot of time in the cold weather. They were originally from Thailand. I thought it must be quite a bit warmer than this most of the time in Thailand. Apparently my instincts were correct as the decision was instant and unequivocal. We piled back into my car to repeat a border crossing.

BG: Where are you from?

Me: Seattle… oh, oh and Richmond for them.

BG: Who’s your father, son?

Boy: He is (pointing to my passenger).

BG: Where are you going?

Me: I met them at the rest stop 5 miles down the road. They had locked their keys in their car and I’m taking them back home to get the other set.

(Sound of quizzical look here followed by a softening of the eyes and a smile. Both father and son nodded in agreement with beautiful Thai smiles on their faces.)

BG: Are you transporting any firearms?

(Quizzical sound from the three in the car, then…)

All: No! (Note: BG did not participate in this short chorus).

BG: Okay, that is very nice of you. Thank you and Welcome to Canada.

76datsunb210When we arrived in Richmond I was invited in. I met the wife and daughter. It turns out the father was the concierge at the high-rise hotel called the Pacific Gateway Hotel, on the Frazier River. His wife made us dinner, which was wonderful, by the way, and we had some unknown beverage in a fancy bottle that looked like a possible ancestral hand-me-down. It tasted like nothing I’ve ever had before or since but had the effect of greatly enhancing the visit. I was treated royally with the hospitality of the grateful. He offered me free dinner any time I came back to the hotel. I stayed there a couple of times but never cashed in my good-will coupon. I’d been amply rewarded already.

Needless to elaborate, I got home pretty late. This was pre-cell phone days so my wife was a tad bit concerned that I was home hours later than I’d previously said during a phone call from the King of Siam’s house.

Sandy: You sounded pretty up-beat when you called to say what happened. You look a little tired now.

Me: We had quite a meal.

Another time I drove the B-210 seventy miles north of my house to retrieve my brother from Arlington. He had broken down there and had been towed to the nearest dealer. As I pulled in to the lot to meet him, the car lot sales guys appeared to have tears in their eyes.

Car lots have a name for the vultures salesmen waiting outside the showroom. They are not there just to smoke. They are standing “point.” They wait like watchmen on the city wall for a victim customer to roll into the lot. I actually did this type of work for a week. My hat is off to whoever can stomach the job of a car salesman.

These guys were just doing their jobs, and a ripe one rolls in: they visibly perked up when they saw me. Of course it is only common sense to assume that a guy driving into a Chevy dealership with a 14-year-old Datsun missing a fender might be looking for an upgrade. I know at least one guy was rubbing his palms together as though some tasty meal had just been set before him. You should have seen the looks on their faces when I told them I did not come to even look at cars. I was happy with my car the way it was.

Same quizzical look that I’d seen in Canada. Hmm.


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