Rock the GazBar

Estcourt Station is the northernmost town in Maine but, beyond that technicality, might properly be considered part of Canada. The town, home to only four people, has a Canadian telephone area code (418 and its overlay, 581, both which are otherwise reserved for parts of Quebec). All of the public roadways leading out of Estcourt Station lead into Canada. It receives its power from Hydro-Quebec and its water from the neighboring municipality of Pohénégamook — which, unsurprisingly, is in Quebec, not Maine. The international border’s official placement post-dates some of the buildings in the town — rumor has it that, in one case, there’s a home whose kitchen is partially in the U.S. and partially in Canada.

But Estcourt Station has a gas station which is technically — and entirely — in the United States. And in 2002, a man named Michel Jalbert learned that sometimes, technicalities trump cheap gas.

Jalbert, at the time, was a resident of Pohénégamook. He wanted to fill up his truck and made his way to that gas station, known as GazBar. Because GazBar was technically across the border, though, Jalbert and the other 3,000 or so residents of Pohénégamook had to do the motorist’s equivalent of the hokey pokey. The Telegraph explained:

To obey the law, villagers must drive to the edge of the woods on the American side, and tell the United States Customs post – in a lay-by with no exit to the United States – that they plan to fill up with petrol.

They then turn round, immediately leaving America, and drive three quarters of a mile through Canada to the junction for the petrol station.

After nipping into America to buy fuel, they must drive back out – there is no road further into the United States – and report to a Canadian customs post 100 yards away.

And that’s typically what happened. But in Jalbert’s case, he couldn’t go to the U.S. customs post — it had closed for the day at two o’clock that afternoon. Rather than wait until the next day, he decided to throw caution to the wind and fuel up anyway. Unfortunately for him, a few months earlier, Jalbert had tried to cross into the U.S. only to be turned back by border agents. Apparently, in 1990 (at age 19), Jalbert was convicted by a Canadian court of receiving stolen property as well as breaking and entering. This conviction made him ineligible to enter the U.S. and, when he tried to in June of 2001, was turned back and warned not to try to re-enter. According to then-U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, this one of two times (prior to October 2002) that Jalbert was stopped at the border with instructions to stay out of the United States. And, perhaps because of this history, Jalbert was being watched by a border patrol agent on that October 2002 day. He was arrested and placed in custody before he was able to top off his gas tank.

And to make matters worse, he had a weapon in his truck — an unregistered shotgun. Sure, it was to hunt pheasant, but that hardly mattered to the U.S. border agents. U.S. prosecutors charged him with two crimes: “entry into the United States without inspection ” and ”possession of a firearm by an illegal alien,” as recapped by a court decision. Jalbert was detained in the United States and was indicted by a grand jury, much to the chagrin of the Canadian population. Even after his father posted bail, the U.S. authorities wished to detain him further, arguing that he posed a flight risk (he’d return to Canada and wouldn’t show up for his court date), but thankfully, the court decided enough was enough. By then, though, Jalbert had been detained for over a month.

Ultimately, after 32 days in detention, the U.S. freed Jalbert. But the harm had been done. The U.S. looked ridiculous and, perhaps more importantly, business at the GazBar dropped 50%, as many Pohénégamook residents did not want to risk losing a month of their lives in order to save a few cents on a gallon of gas.

Bonus Fact: Cape Canaveral, Florida — the site from which the U.S. launches all manned spaceflights — is home to area code 321. (Think about it.)

Double bonus!: In the United Kingdom, the hokey pokey is called the hokey cokey — and it may be a reference to Canadian coal miners taking cocaine to relax from harsh prospecting conditions. Wikipedia explains, here.

From the ArchivesInvading Canada: The U.S. had a plan.

RelatedSome sort of U.S./Canada friendship flag. It’s both hideous and brilliant.