Less than six months after I retired—for length of service with no disability—from the U.S. Air Force, I was offered and I accepted employment with the U.S. Customs Service as an inspector at Progreso, Texas, then (and now) one of the more obscure ports of entry on our 2000-mile border with Mexico. I retired from that employment 26 years later—again for length of service with no disability—having served in Texas at Progreso as an inspector trainee and journeyman Customs inspector, as a supervisory Customs inspector at Roma and Brownsville, as a program officer and program manager in Washington, D. C., as a program officer at Regional Headquarters in Houston and finally as the chief supervisory Customs inspector at San Antonio’s International Airport.
I spent an eternity at Customs Headquarters in Washington, D. C. over a period of three years, the first half as an operations officer, and the second half as a national program manager. I managed to escape Customs Headquarters by requesting an in-grade transfer to Customs’ Regional Headquarters in Houston, and six months later I left Houston in the rear-view mirror—I requested and received a reduction in grade in order to replace the retiring chief inspector at San Antonio’s International Airport.
A tale of U.S. Customs vs Axl Rose, as told by me:
Axl Rose, one of the world’s best known hard-rock stars—then and now—returned to the United States from Mexico early in the evening on a Mexicana Airlines flight from Mexico City to San Antonio, Texas. He and his group were given the same inspection everyone else on the flight was given—well, almost the same—with the band’s reputation, their inspections may have been a bit more thorough than those of other passengers, but were without incident until Axl Rose arrived at the exit point of the inspection area.
The female Customs Aide on duty at that point was responsible for receiving individual Customs declarations and collecting duty and taxes as necessary. She asked Axl for his autograph—he obliged, then as he exited the inspection area he used numerous expletives to complain about his treatment by U.S. Customs. His complaint, directed to nobody in particular but to the world in general, was something on the order of, “Can you *&%$%@# believe that? They dump my *&%$%@# baggage and then ask for my *&%&%@# autograph!”
I followed him through the exit doors and into the public waiting area where he continued to complain loudly about his treatment for the benefit of other people, a complaint generously sprinkled with expletives. I managed to get his attention and I told him, calmly but forcefully, that just as he had his gigs to perform for his audiences, we had our own gig—to inspect persons and their baggage on their arrival in the United States from foreign countries. I told him that we worked to protect our country from harm, and also to “put food on the table and shoes on the baby’s feet.”
I explained that the Customs aide’s request for an autograph was a compliment to his “art” and to his standing in the entertainment industry, and as such he should accept it a bit more gracefully. I’m reasonably certain that it was mostly for my benefit, but Axl Rose stopped his harangue and fell silent, appeared to listen intently to my spiel, and then apologized nicely for his conduct.
I, in turn, responded nicely to the outburst of applause from the folks waiting to greet friends and family members returning from Mexico.
That’s it. That’s the story of Axl Rose vs U.S. Customs, a very brief encounter that left both of us with an indelible memory—well, at least in my case the memory is indelible. I suspect his harangue started up again when he moved out of earshot.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Based on the following excerpt from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Axl_Rose, my chastisement of Axl had no deleterious effect on his career:
“The only original member still part of the band’s line-up, Rose still places high in numerous polls as one of hard rock’s all-time greatest frontmen, but is also infamous for his onstage antics and high-profile disputes with former bandmates and others in the entertainment business.”
And based on the retirement compensation I receive monthly as the result of combining 22 years of military service with 26 years of federal Civil Service law enforcement, I suffered no harm from having chastised William Bruce Bailey, AKA Axl Rose.
July 3, 2009 at 9:20 pm
Sometimes, especially for rock stars, reality is hard to define.
I liked that story.
July 6, 2009 at 12:25 am
Thanks—in looking back over the incident I realized that the flight landed in the wee small hours of the morning—not a good time for conducting inspections or being inspected. Some of the rock star’s irritation may have been caused by the lateness of the hour.