I Crossed the Border for Candy

An international smuggling mission of juvenile proportions.

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Nate Berg

Time spent abroad can leave one with certain habits, certain desires that lay unfulfilled once back home. After a few months in South Africa a few years back, I developed such a habit. Really, it was a full-fledged obsession. The withdrawal set in within a few days of being home. Innate patriotism turned steadily to disgust as the desire grew stronger but remained unsatisfied.

So it was a joyful moment when, two years later at a gas station stop traveling back to Detroit from Toronto, that buried desire was awoken and appeased. Hanging on the shelf – fortuitously, unexpectedly – there they were once again: Wine Gums.

For those unacquainted, you can't be blamed. Wine Gums are an oddly-named candy of British origin, chewy and kind of sweet, but not in the overly test-your-bloodsugar way that most gas station candy is today. Wine Gums were created back in 1909 by Maynards, a company now owned by the candy giant Cadbury, and are similar in taste and chewiness to a candy available in the U.S. called Jujubes. Many Cadbury's products aren't available in the U.S., but are in England and other countries within its sphere of political and economic influence over the past century – places like Ireland, South Africa, and, wonderfully, Canada.

There were three packages on the shelf at that gas station, one of the last we passed on a long trip back to America. After two years of wanting, three packages was a bit of a tease, but they were much, much better than nothing. Luckily, we would be spending a few more weeks in the Detroit area, where only a river lies in between the Wine Gummed and the Wine Gumless.

So, on the day of my flight back to California, there was one very important errand on my list. With two companions I set off, driving toward the sweet taste on the other side of the border between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario. As we got closer, I remembered that the authorities tend to ask questions at border crossings, even between the U.S. and Canada. What to say? Sightseeing sounded too suspicious, and saying brunch for a task requiring far less than a meal's worth of time would definitely raise some flags. So, reluctantly, I went with the truth.

"What brings you to Canada?" the stern Canadian border guard asked.

"We're here to buy some candy."

For a guy who probably hears a lot of crazy excuses, he looked genuinely puzzled. After a few follow-up questions confirming that, yes, the reason we were crossing an international border and paying a toll each way was to purchase candy, he admitted us into the country.

It took a few tries, but at the third convenience store we found them. A likely international credit card fee and $30 later, we walked out with a plastic bag bulging with Wine Gums. It was like a kid spending all his allowance in one sugary shot. Except that I am pretty much a grown adult, agewise at least. Regardless, I got what I wanted and we could head back to the U.S.

Facing a no-nonsense border patrolman for the second time in one hour, I was again tempted to lie about why were in Canada. But the truth – the silly, embarrassing truth – seemed like the best policy. So I told him about the candy. And, for the second time in one hour, his follow-up questioning confirmed that I am indeed dumb enough to drive across an international border for the sole purpose of acquiring candy.

"Anything to declare?" he asked. "Aside from Wine Gums?"

No, I said sheepishly.

But now that I'm back in America, with what could potentially be a months-long supply of Wine Gums, I will happily declare that the cross-border candy run was worth it. And I'd do it again. I may have to.

Photo credit: Nate Berg

About the Author

  • Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.