City Paper is not for tourists
We drive more than six hours from Vienna to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia and the only stop on our tour outside the European Union. Booking Agent A., who’s planned this part of the trip, warns me that Croatian border police may prevent us from entering their country without an “auto carnet”—-a list of our gear that, somehow, proves we aren’t going to sell it in Croatia. According to legend, this document costs about 200 euros and must be secured from a labyrinthine, Soviet-ish bureaucracy in either Slovenia, which borders Croatia; in Prague, where Booking Agent A. is based; in Croatia itself, leading me to wonder how I can secure a document in a country if I can’t enter the country without the document; or on “the Internet” by mysterious means. Meanwhile, Driver D., a veteran of Croatian border crossings, does not think we will need the document since we have secured an invitation letter from Promoter M. in Zagreb.
At the Croatian border, Border Patrol Agent XXX., who looks more than a little like Jean Reno in The Professional, immediately asks for the auto carnet. I show him the invitation letter from Promoter M. “I think it is not enough,” he says, unwittingly providing the title of my future memoir.
ASIDE DEALING WITH UNFRIENDLY BORDER PATROL AGENTS: ONE APPROACH
There is much debate in the punk rock community over how to address unfriendly border patrol agents. Some say it is best to speak only when spoken to, offering information about one’s destination and luggage only in answer to direct questions [(Q: “Are you in a band?” A: (Frown.) Sometimes. (Frown.)]. Others attempt to overwhelm officers with sheer cluelessness. (“Is this the border?”)
I am 34 and have been negotiating with unfriendly border patrol agents since 1994, when I was detained by American agents at the Canadian border because, for reasons beyond the scope of this blog post, my party possessed a glass bowl which could possibly, but not probably, be used for smoking marijuana. I have successfully stared down officers in Canada, the U.K., Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, Serbia and Japan. My method: smother officers with information, preferably using the following phrases:
“We are a small band, and a poor one.” “That drug paraphernalia is not mine.” “Yes, these girls are in the band.” “My mother gave me this guitar. She was Croatian/Canadian/Japanese/etc.” “The name of our band is ‘OK GO.’” “We would never sell any guitars in Zagreb/Vancouver/Tokyo/etc.” “We play rock and roll.” “Why are the Greeks so lazy?” (Note: For use in Northern Europe only.) “We sound like Oasis/The Decemberists/Dave Matthews/Ted Leo/etc.” “I am not a Jew.” [Note: Especially effective in Eastern Europe.] “Yes, the black girl is the singer.” “We don’t have any CDs for sale.” “We have CDs. Do you want one?” “I play the guitar like Jimi Hendrix.” “The Vietnamese girl plays bass.” “NATO is good.” [Note: Do not use in Serbia.] “Do you like President Obama?” “Will 500 dollars/euro solve this problem?”
END OF ASIDE
In the end, Agent XXX lets us through. I ask him where I can get on auto carnet in the future. “I don’t know,” he says. “On the Internet?”
The show in Zagreb is good—-if not the best show of the tour, at least the most pleasant surprise. We make 300 euro and sell about 50 euro in merchandise. After the show, Bassist K. hatches a plan to play roulette in a Croatian casino that includes a credit card cash advance. The less said about this, the better.