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Category Archives: bridges

Revisit: Ancient bridges in France . . .

I posted this classic presentation of classic French architecture some eight months ago in August of 2010. During that eight months the posting has garnered a total of zero comments. Less than one minute of online research reveals that in the United States there are approximately 120,000 professional architects, yet apparently not even one has seen this posting. Click here for demographic data on American architects.

I am bringing this posting up from and out of the Stygian darkness of prior efforts, exposing its prose and its images of classic architecture to the bright light of today. I find it difficult to believe that any architect could have seen the images and read the text, then failed to comment on the posting, no matter whether pro or con. In fact, I am related to a very successful architect that lives, loves and labors in his chosen profession in the great state of Mississippi and follows my feeble efforts to contribute in some small way to civilization’s accumulation of writings and even he, the nephew of his only extant maternal uncle, either has not seen the posting or else felt that it deserved no comment. Bummer!

Ancient bridges in France

There are many antique bridges in France, some dating back to the days of the Roman empire. This posting will show some of the best preserved structures in France, images that were sent to me several years ago by an online friend, and I felt that they were worth passing on to my viewers. I am posting the images as I received them, without any effort to change them in any way. I could easily have taken the first image into Photoshop and removed the drifts of wood against the bridge, but I chose to post the image exactly as I received it. I applied that same rationale to the second image also.

Judging by the driftwood piled up against the supports, there has been a lot of water under this bridge. If the driftwood is allowed to collect there the bridge could easily be damaged by the weight of the limbs—it deserves better care than it is receiving.

This bridge is a beautiful example of French construction. Note the gracefully rounded arches, masterfully designed and beautifully buttressed to support traffic. Note the clean graceful lines of the structure, all its components combined to form an outstanding example of French architecture. In this image as in the first image, I chose to not remove any material that might possibly block a viewer’s line of sight or detract from the study of this magnificent structure. This is a classical example of French architecture, construction at its pinnacle. I trust that this structure will be better cared for than the bridge shown in the first image.

A special note: The image can be enlarged with a click of the mouse, allowing a greater appreciation of this classic example of French architecture. The enlargement makes the image appear more three-dimensional and better reveals the graceful, even sinuous symmetry of the forms. Wikipedia defines the axis of symmetry of a two-dimensional figure as a line such that, if a perpendicular is constructed, any two points lying on the perpendicular at equal distances from the axis of symmetry are identical. Another way to think about it is that if the shape were to be folded in half over the axis, the two halves would be identical: the two halves are each other’s mirror image. If the scene could be viewed in true 3-D or even better, observed on-site, one can only imagine how spectacular that would be. Just think about it!

Vive la France!

FYIThis posting is in honor of a dear friend that recently died, a cheeky lady from England that lived and loved and birthed five children while living and loving in Great Britain with her US military husband, then lived and loved with her family in San Antonio for another 45 years or so. Knowing that I was an aficionado of ancient bridges, she e-mailed the lower image to me several years ago in a message titled Ancient Bridge in France, and I carefully filed it away with similar images of ancient bridges.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

Postscript: In revisiting this posting I noticed something that I overlooked in the original. Six arches, each of 180 degrees can be seen in the second image, but only now I note at least five additional arches lending support to the crossing, the round dark holes between each pair of the arches extending down to the water, each consisting of a full 360 degrees. Each group of three arches seem to conjure up thoughts of giant birds in flight, or gargantuan spiders waiting to pounce, and without arduous strain on one’s imagination, even concupiscent images when combined with the flora and fauna visible in the foreground.

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Posted by on May 21, 2011 in bridge, bridges, Family, friends, Humor, marriage

 

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Revisit to: Long, long ago in Mexico . . .

While browsing recently among past postings that are available on Twitter, hoping to find fodder for additional postings, I returned to this one. It is so beautifully composed and presented, and I enjoyed reading it so much, that I decided to bring it up from the depths of the Stygian darkness where it has stagnated for eighteen months—since June of 2009—and into the bright light of today.

Please note that I praise this posting with all modesty cast aside, just as I am wont to do with all my literary efforts. Please note also that the lawless situation that exists in Mexico today is not new—it was just as prevalent and just as brutal eighteen months ago as it is now. Click here to read the original post.

If you doubt my statement that the lawless situation in Mexico is not new , read the introductory paragraph below carefully, keeping in mind that it was written in June of 2009. I firmly believe that these conditions will prevail unless—and until—Mexico is annexed by the United States and our military forces are put into action in the newly acquired territory, but only after they are withdrawn from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan and rested a bit. The sovereign nations of Mexico and the United States need to acknowledge that the drug cartels—the insurgents—are in charge, and are just as dangerous—nay, more dangerous—to the United States than the insurgents in the Middle East.

That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it!

Long, long ago in Mexico

Long, long ago in Mexico, in a time when drug lords were not spraying the streets with bullets from rapid-fire weapons purchased illegally in the United States and exported illegally to Mexico, and were not murdering Mexican police chiefs and news reporters and anyone else that might be expected to hamper their efforts to maintain control of Mexico and its citizens—long, long ago when roving gangs were not kidnapping U. S. citizens on both sides of the Mexican border and holding them for ransom and various other reasons—a time when the streets in Mexican border towns were as safe or safer than streets in our border cities—and a time when I was the supervisory Customs inspector at the Port of Roma, in the sleepy town of Roma, Texas, high on a bluff (the town was high, not I) overlooking the Rio Grande river, across from the even sleepier town of Miguel Aleman, Mexico—this was the time in which I and one of my three princesses (the one in Virginia that takes all the pretty pictures) took a brief trip to Mexico during her spring break from studies at Pan-American University in Edinburg, Texas.

In the spring of 1979, our father-and-daughter team (a college student of 18 tender years and a military-retiree father of 47 not-so-tender years) embarked on a memorable sojourn into the wilds of Mexico. We traveled in a 1978 Volkswagen diesel Rabbit, a small 4-door vehicle labeled “Panama Brown” by its maker, but its color could better be described as bright orange. It was a very small people carrier—to illustrate its smallness, I can tell you that somewhere between Monterrey, Mexico and Saltillo, Mexico, we strayed off-road into a canyon where it was necessary to navigate our auto around huge rocks, some much larger than the Rabbit. After circumventing several such rocks, with the paved highway receding in the distance and a line spoken by a Mexican bandit in a Hollywood western film ringing in our ears, reason prevailed and we returned to the pavement. That memorable line was, “We don’ take no stinkin’ prisoners!”

We began our adventure in Reynosa, Mexico, a metropolitan city on the Rio Grande river. The river marks the boundary between the U. S. and Mexico—its name in Spanish is Rio Bravo, a more appropriate and more appealing term than grand—I suppose it can be considered brave, but at no point can it be considered grand—at least not, for example, in comparison with our Mississippi river. Reynosa is directly opposite Hidalgo, Texas, a small city a few miles from McAllen, Texas.

Our first stop in Mexico was at the Office of Immigration to secure “permisos,” official documents that would authorize us to travel past the 15-kilometer check point, a distance of some 9-10 miles, beyond which is considered Mexico’s interior. Our treatment by Immigration officers began routinely, but progressed into a “situation.” The first officer we met took our vitals (name, citizenship, destination, purpose of visit, etc.), and leered knowingly when I said we were father and daughter—his thoughts were printed all over his face. He was thinking, “Yeah, sure, you are father and daughter, heh, heh, heh.” My daughter looked younger than her 18 years, and I grudgingly admit that I may have appeared a year or two older than my 47 years. After some copious stamping of various documents (our permits), the officer passed them to another officer that was apparently guarding the exit to the vehicle parking area.

The second officer gave our permits a cursory inspection, stuffed them into an envelope, laid them on the table in front of us and said in English, “Senor, anything you may wish to give.” This was a request for mordida, a very expressive Spanish noun derived from the Spanish verb “morder,” which means “to bite.” Mordida, a diminutive of that verb, is used to describe  “a little bite.” Mexican officials take “a little bite” out of everything which moves across the Mexican border, in both directions, including merchandise, produce and people. Mordida is a way of life in Mexico, so ingrained in the economy and in daily life that people expect the demand, and would be very surprised if it were not made.

The Mexico of today is a far cry from the Mexico of 1979. My response then would not be my response today, not in these trying times. This was 30 years ago, way back in 1979—times were different. I showed the officer my official identification and said, “Senor, no deseo dar. Soy el supervisor de las aduanas en el puerto de Roma, Tejas, y amplío cada cortesía a cualquier oficial del gobierno mexicano que entra en nuestro país.” What I said was, in fairly lucid Spanish, “Sir, I do not wish to give. I am the Customs supervisor at the port of Roma, Texas, and I extend every courtesy to any Mexican government official entering my country.”

The situation changed, abruptly and for the better. The officer stood, shook hands with us and escorted us to his commander. He introduced me to his commander as the Customs jefe at Roma, and introduced my daughter as my daughter. The comandante enthusiastically welcomed us into Mexico, and offered to accompany us to our vehicle and place official seals on our luggage—with those seals we would not be burdened with inspections at the 15-kilometer check point. Having nothing to hide and not wishing to call undue attention to ourselves, I politely declined the offer. We were, however, accompanied to our vehicle and were sent on our way with a hearty “Vaya con dios,” the Spanish version of “God speed.” And we sped away, at least as well as we could in a 4-cylinder diesel Volkswagen.

At the check point we barely slowed down—the officials there made us welcome and expressed their hopes that we would enjoy our visit to their country. We were reasonably certain that the station had been notified, whether by phone, radio, smoke signals or passenger pigeon, that our arrival at the check point was imminent, and that we could be identified from a distance because we would arrive in a little-bitty bright orange (Panama brown) car.

In our family we have always numbered our adventures, but the numbers are never in sequence and we never record them—someone simply picks a number and off we go. This adventure encompasses many scenarios, some foolish, some frightening, all memorable and well worth the telling. After passing the check point we took in the cities of Monterrey and Saltillo and a visit to and into Garcia’s Cave, a visit that was both foolish and frightening.

I’ll get back to you later with more details.

 

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Breakfast in Mexico . . .

The first paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens, English novelist (1812 – 1870):

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

I began this posting with Dickens’ work to emphasize and compare some of the differences in two sovereign nations, two states of those nations and the towns on their borders. This is not an invitation for my readers to travel in Mexico to observe the differences, not in these troubled times—travel to Mexico is fraught with danger, and as a long-time observer I would suggest that until the Mexican government eliminates the drug cartels, with or without the help of the United States government, all travel to that country should be forbidden, including trips to the interior of Mexico. Twenty Mexican tourists on a commercial bus were recently kidnapped in one of Mexico’s most popular resort cities—no place in the nation is safe from the murderous drug cartels.

I will also add that no place along the Texas border with Mexico is completely safe on either side of the Rio Grande River, but especially en la frontera—on the frontier, the Mexican side of the border. People in Mexico’s border cities are being kidnapped and held for ransom, women are being kidnapped, raped and murdered, and blockades manned by heavily armed bands are being erected along main highways by criminal elements to enable them to exact tribute from travelers driving to and from vacation spots in Mexico.

This is my advice to anyone contemplating visiting or vacationing in Mexico, given in words of one syllable:

It is not safe. Do not go there—not in a plane, on a boat, in a car, on a bus or on foot. You could lose your cash and your life—stay home.

Breakfast in Mexico. . .

The United States Air Force and I entered into a sometimes tumultuous relationship on March 7, 1949 and we parted company on July 1, 1971. Before ending my 22-year-plus career with the Air Force I studied for and took the test for employment with our federal work force, and spent the first five months following retirement waiting for a suitable offer of employment from our government.

Offers were plentiful, ranging from military units to the Veterans Administration to the U.S. Treasury Department, for locations all over the southeastern quadrant of the United States. I finally responded to an offer of employment with the United States Custom Service in the lower Rio Grande Valley at the international bridge at Hidalgo, Texas, a few miles from McAllen across the river from Reynosa, Mexico.

I accepted the offer and waited for a call to arms, but when the call came I was asked if I was familiar with Progreso. I replied that I didn’t know what a Progreso was, and the caller said it was a small town downriver from Hidalgo, that it had just been declared a separate port from Hidalgo, that it needed to be staffed, that my offer of employment was now for that location, and that should I decline the change the offer for employment would be withdrawn.

Having felt then, as I do now, that I am a very slight cut above the average retired military person, I wisely accepted the change in assignment and reported for duty at the port of Progreso, Texas on Monday, December 21, 1971 to begin a tour of duty that lasted almost six years, ending with my promotion to a supervisory position at Roma, Texas.

My memories of those six years are legion and as the saying goes, would fill a book, an enterprise that one day may come to fruition with the assistance of my daughter, the one that lives, loves, labors and languishes in Northern Virginia. Click here for her blog, an adventure that will take a reader worldwide on subjects ranging from agapanthus (lily of the Nile) to zinnias, from Alaska to Antarctica and from aardvarks to porpoises to zebras. This daughter is the middle one in age of three daughters—she is a world traveler, a professional and ardent photographer, a desktop publisher, a skilled artist, a graphic designer, etc., etc., etc. I hasten to add that she is not a chip off the old block—I admit unashamedly that I possess none of her talents and very few of my own.

But I digress—as the title promises, this posting is a tale of breakfast in Mexico, of two barrels and of sewage in the drinking water in a small town  known as Nuevo Progreso—New Progreso, in reference to its sister city across the Rio Grande River in Texas. Originally known as Las Flores—Spanish for the flowers—this is probably one of the most contradictory names of any town—ever.

When I came to work at the port of Progreso, one of Las Flores’ most memorable and most photographed scenes could be observed from the U.S. side of the river. One could watch the town’s water hauler as he rumbled down the slope to the river’s edge, perched high on a wooden bench seat on a two-wheeled cart drawn by a lone burro. In addition to the driver, the cart boasted a huge wooden metal-ringed barrel. The driver filled the barrel by wading into the river and dipping two buckets into the Rio Grande, then emptying them into the barrel, a system that required many trips to fill the barrel before heading back to town for locations that used his services, locations that included small eating places and private homes.

I soon learned how the freshwater system worked. At the end of my first 4 pm to midnight shift at the port of Progreso, the toll collector for outbound traffic, a bridge employee that would become a close friend, suggested that we cross the river and have breakfast at a small café that stayed open well after other eateries had closed for the night. I agreed, and we were soon seated at a table in a small, dimly lighted room with no more than six or seven tables. In addition to the front unscreened door the room had two doors to the rear, one closed and the other open to show the kitchen area. I noticed that there were two large wooden barrels in the kitchen.

Following a short wait, the closed door opened and a woman dressed in a chenille house robe with her hair up in curlers entered the dining area, apparently coming from a sleeping area. I say this because of the robe and the hair up in curlers and because she was yawning—she was also scratching her crotch, a motion that could have meant, but did not necessarily mean, that she had been sleeping.

While we awaited her arrival I asked my friend about the two barrels in the kitchen and he readily explained their purpose. I had suspected the worst, and he confirmed my fears. He told me that the barrels were filled from the burro-drawn cart bearing the giant barrel filled from the Rio Grande River. Two barrels were needed in the cafe—one to provide water for cooking and drinking and diverse other purposes while the sediments in the recently filled barrel were settling to the bottom, and at the appropriate time the proprietor would switch barrels.

My friend ordered blanquillos con chorizo y tortillas de harina—eggs with sausage and flour tortillas—but I stated that I had suddenly been afflicted with a stomach ache and a slight bout of nausea, and felt that I shouldn’t eat at such a late hour. He accepted my declination without comment, and consumed his breakfast with obvious gusto. Our friendship blossomed over the following years, but that was the only time we went across the river for breakfast. Other invitations followed, but I always managed to decline them.

In all the years that I worked on and lived in proximity to the border Texas shares with the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico, raw sewage flowed into the Rio Grande River at points all along its length, conditions that probably still exist. The little town of Las Flores sported open sewers that meandered their way through the town and spewed their contents into the river’s murky waters. That was then and this is now, and I cannot speak for the town’s sewage disposal system now—I haven’t been there for more than twenty-five years, but I can assure the reader that raw untreated sewage is still pouring into the river at various points along our border with Mexico.

Just as an afterthought—I lived with my family in Donna, Texas for twelve years before moving out of and far away from that city. Donna’s water supply came from the Rio Grande, pumped from there to an uncovered reservoir referred to locally as a settling pond, then from that point to a water-treatment plant before going into homes and restaurants in the city of Donna. As far as I know, that is still the system used in Donna. Let’s face it—Donna’s settling pond is the equivalent of the second barrel in that little café in Las Flores.

During the years I worked at the port of Progreso, the city of Nuevo Progreso just across the river in Mexico had several nice restaurants  with international cuisine, served on linen-covered tables with all the dishes and fine wines found in upscale restaurants across our nation. I am reasonably certain that their water supply came from some source other than a barrel on a donkey cart. Arturo’s Restaurant was one of the best, and my family and friends dined there frequently. I recommended it then and I would recommend it now were it not for the difficult times and dangers posed by the turmoil existing in Mexico, specifically the drug cartel wars and the government’s inability to control them and their murderous activities.

And now, at the risk of repeating myself, I will repeat myself: This is my advice to anyone contemplating visiting or vacationing in Mexico, given in words of one syllable:

It is not safe. Do not go there—not in a plane, on a boat, in a car, by bus or on foot. You could lose your cash and your life—stay home.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

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The Chesapeake Bay ferry . . .

The Chesapeake Bay ferry . . .

This is a story of beagles, a bachelor and a bridge, a Crosely convertible auto, Chesapeake Bay, a ferryboat and deep sand. It’s a story of an overnight business trip my brother and I took to Salisbury, Maryland in 1947—yes, that’s some 63 years ago but I remember many of the details, and I promise to tell the story with no embellishments.

My brother was in the trucking business in the Washington, D.C. area in those years. He returned from overseas duty in World War II, acquired two 1946 two-ton dump trucks—a Ford and a Chevrolet—signed up several other independent truck owners and secured various contracts for hauling. One contract was for hauling coal to federal buildings in DC, buildings that were steam-heated in those days. Other contracts included hauling sand, gravel and asphalt for road construction in the Washington/Baltimore area. I acquired my first traffic ticket at the University of Maryland while driving one of his trucks loaded with ten tons of hot asphalt—I was fourteen years old, and the fine was $17.95, immediately paid in cash to a sharp-eyed Maryland state trooper. I’ll hold the other details for a future posting. Stay tuned!

The trip to Salisbury was to discuss a possible contract, and I went along on the trip from Suitland, Maryland to Salisbury near the tip of the Chesapeake peninsula. There was no Chesapeake Bay bridge then—that bridge was completed in 1952—in 1947 a ferryboat provided access to the peninsula. We made the trip in a 1941 Crosely convertible—yes, an auto made by the same people that made refrigerators and radios, autos that initially were sold through hardware store outlets.

Our Crosely was a two-door, four passenger convertible with an air-cooled two cylinder engine that moved the car 50-60 miles on one gallon of gasoline. It was lightweight, about 1000 pounds. I remember us changing the left front tire by loosening the lug nuts, then my brother holding up the left corner of the car until I could remove and replace the wheel and tighten up the lug nuts.

We were the first in line to board the ferry, and we were the first to debark. We had a problem because the rise from the ferryboat floor was too high for us to climb without making a running start, and we were jammed between the incline and the car behind us. After several tries, the driver behind gave us a not-so-gentle bump and bounced us up onto the dock. Our trusty transportation would face another problem late in the evening that day.

My brother’s business was completed late in the evening and we were traveling through dense fog trying to return to the ferry dock for a return the next morning. We made a couple of wrong turns and wound up in deep sand on an unpaved road out in the boondocks. Our Crosely tried mightily to best the sand but finally gave up the effort. We abandoned the car and trudged through the sand towards lights in the distance.

The lights turned out to be the home of an aged life-long bachelor, one that sported a bald head and a full beard and raised beagles—a bearded bald beagle-raising bachelor—just a little alliteration there. Our host was a gentle and talkative soul that bade us welcome, served sandwiches and milk soon after we knocked on his door and invited us to spend the night, saying that at daylight he would use his tractor to haul our car out of the deep sand and on to a paved road.

Whether the beagles were raised for commercial purposes or show was never made clear, but please know that there were lots and lots—and lots—of beagles there. They seemed to come and go, so a true count was impossible because they all looked alike. They had the run of the house, and shared the dining table with us as we supped—every chair around the large dining table was occupied by at least two beagles, all quiet, well mannered  and evidently well-fed because there was no begging. They simply sat and watched us in silence, obviously and politely acknowledging us as guests.

They also shared our sleeping quarters. The single bedroom had a standard-size bed and a cot—I slept on the cot and my brother shared the bed with our host. I had several beagles at the foot of the cot, and several more shared the bed with the bachelor and my brother.

Our Crosely was extracted from the sand with the tractor without mishap, and we were hauled a short distance to a paved road, with our benefactor of the previous night giving instructions to the ferry landing. I don’t recall whether  my brother offered to compensate him for the food and lodging, but I don’t believe the offer would have been accepted—of course I could be wrong about that.

Just one more memory of our trip:

Have you seen the mud flaps on commercial trucks with the name Fruehauf? I met the man—he was elderly, he drove a 1942 Lincoln Continental with a 12-cylinder inline engine and he wore long-handle underwear, the type with the flap in back. How do I know that? There was snow on the ground and I was in my shirt sleeves and complaining about the cold. He first turned up his sleeve then pulled up his trouser leg to show the underwear and said, “Thon, you thud wear thith, and don’t give a thart about how you look.” Yes, he spoke with a lisp.

And that reminds me of an incident involving a girl with a lisp and a request for Super Suds washing powder—I’ll get back to you later with the details. Stay tuned!

Hey, here’s a boat joke: Have you heard about the little tugboat that was unhappy because his mother was a tramp and his daddy was a ferry? Think about it—the joke is there—it’s politically incorrect but it’s there!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2010 in bridge, bridges, drivers, driving, Travel

 

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My first port director—my friend and my mentor . . .

I began my career with U.S. Customs as a GS-7 trainee at the port of Progreso, Texas and I was upgraded to the GS-9 journeyman position after one year. During that year I learned more from one officer at the port than from all the others combined. Not that they didn’t help me learn the ins and outs of the job—they were very helpful, but the port director and I became a team, both professionally and personally. Almost from the beginning we were like brothers, respectful of each other and each always looking out for the other’s back.

As a measure of how well the port director taught me, I was awarded an in-grade pay increase in my second year and another in my third year, both based on my duty performance, particularly on my arrest and seizure record. An in-grade pay increase is a pay raise given for outstanding performance, and is in addition to the normal longevity raises given to federal employees based purely on successful duty performances. In-grade pay increases are the gifts that keep on giving!

Some ten years older than I, the port director took me under his wing like a mother hen protects a chick—figuratively, of course. He placed me on the right path for success in my new profession and set me straight when I strayed from that path. He raised hell when I made mistakes, and he lauded me when I managed to do something right, such as making seizures and accurately documenting our various Customs activities. I also was brash enough to submit several suggestions that I felt would improve port operations, and upper headquarters felt impelled to implement my suggestions and provide remuneration for my ideas. How about that!

His most recent assignment was at the port of Eagle Pass, almost 300 miles upriver from Progreso. In the latter part of 1971 Progreso became a separate port from the port of Hidalgo, and he was promoted to the position of port director for the new port. His name was Paul, and he died at Christmas time in 1973. His cancer disease was diagnosed in mid-1972 and a scant eighteen months later he was dead.

Paul, my first port director and supervisor in Customs—my friend and my mentor—was buried in Brownsville, Texas some fifty miles distant from Progreso. I was unavoidably delayed at the port and the casket was closed when I arrived at the funeral home. The funeral director offered to open the casket for my viewing but I declined the offer. I figured that Paul had once again been promoted and was already on the way to his next assignment, that shining port in the hereafter, and I was reluctant to slow him down.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

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425 pounds of marijuana—my first seizure . . .



My first seizure—425 pounds of marijuana . . .

I made my first significant seizure early in my first year as a Customs inspector working on the international border between Texas and Mexico. The port was Progreso, Texas, the day was Saturday, the month was February and the year was 1972. The marijuana was in a pickup truck driven by a Mexican national with a tarjeta, a local border crossing card, an official Immigration document that allowed him to enter the US and travel no more than 25 miles from the border and remain in the U.S. for no more than three days.

To my question as to citizenship, he replied Mexican and displayed the tarjeta. To my question of what, if anything, he was bringing to the US he replied Nada—nothing. There was nothing visible in the front seat or floorboard and a quick glance into the bed of the truck through a side window of the camper showed nothing. And to my question of the purpose of his trip, he said a comprar cosas—to buy things—in other words, to go shopping.

I stopped asking questions and told him to park the truck and lift the hood for me. Not that I expected to find anything under the hood—I expected to find something in the roof of the camper. My quick look into the rear should have shown me metal, but I noticed that the roof of the camper was paneled, indicating possibly that the ceiling was fitted with insulation. I needed to see what kind of insulation had been installed, so the order to park and lift the hood was an attempt to allay any suspicion he might have concerning his referral for a secondary inspection.

He was driving a late model Ford pickup truck with a camper shell installed. The truck had a manual gearshift, and while he talked he kept the truck in gear and the clutch depressed with his left foot. On the surface he seemed calm and at ease, but the clutch on that Ford was apparently very stiff—he was having a hard time keeping the clutch down and disengaged, so hard that his leg was shaking from the effort and I could hear coins jingling in his pocket, and the rest is history.

He parked the truck, killed the engine, stepped out and raised the hood. A brief glance and my suspicions were confirmed—nothing there. I took the driver by the arm and told him we needed to talk inside. He went with me without protest, and I turned him over to the inspectors inside and told them that I believed he was loaded.

Subsequent inspection of the camper’s roof revealed 425 pounds of marijuana in small plastic–wrapped packages. The camper’s roof was fitted with 2x4s on edge along its length, with stiffening blocks running from side to side. The packages were placed in the spaces provided and the paneling added by screwing it to the 2x4s. This was the first of many that would be intercepted following dissemination of the method of concealment Service-wide, but seizures dropped when the smugglers learned of our findings and went to other methods.

I am convinced, and I am honest enough to admit it, that had I not heard the coins jingling in the driver’s pocket I probably would have released him without any inspection beyond the primary questions.

I learned a lot about making enforcement that day, the day of my first significant seizure. I learned that the smallest, most seemingly unimportant action of a person could be very important, and I learned that just because someone is a fellow inspector it doesn’t mean he can be trusted.

One of my fellow inspectors, an old-time Border Patrol officer that transferred to the more leisurely life of an inspector, obligingly helped me open the ceiling of the camper and extract, count and weigh its contents.

When the time came to document the enforcement action, I was ordered to share the action with the old fart—I can call him that without fear of repercussions—he is long retired and long dead. The port director apologized for the order, explaining that was how the system worked and he had no choice. Had I told the other inspector to keep his hands and his distance away from my seizure, I would have not been required to share it.

The result was that he shared equally in the citations that the Service provided in recognition of our enforcement efforts. He knew full well what he was doing and why, and capitalized on my ignorance of seizure procedures. Another factor was that Customs  wants as few inspectors involved in individual seizures as possible—should such cases go to court, the fewer inspectors involved in the seizure the better, because of the drain on personnel resources on court days.

I made many more mistakes in my 26-year career in federal enforcement, but this was the first and the only mistake I made of this nature. We live and learn by our mistakes, so I always make a determined effort to not repeat any mistake I’ve made.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on September 12, 2010 in bridge, bridges, camping, drivers, law enforcement

 

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Fred Siemens, a Missing Person find . . .

During the early 1980s I was one of two second-level Customs supervisors in the inspection force at the port of Brownsville, Texas and on a very special evening I was performing my supervisory duties on the swing shift—4 pm to 12 midnight—at the Gateway Bridge. At some time near the middle of the shift, a pedestrian of a different kind walked in from Mexico and the officer on sidewalk duty referred him to my office.

The pedestrian was an elderly Anglo male, probably in his sixties, wearing slacks and a white shirt, his tie still knotted but hanging loosely. There was blood on his face and his shirt was stained with blood, apparently from a nosebleed. He walked erratically and seemed oblivious of his surroundings. My first thoughts were that he was either drunk or under the influence of drugs, but his answers to my first questions were always the same—I don’t know. My most pertinent question was Do you know where you are? His answer was simply No.

I asked him for his name and he said Fred Siemens. I asked him where he lived and he said San Antonio, and my next question was Are you an attorney? He said Yes and I realized that he was Fred Siemens, a prominent attorney in San Antonio, nationally and internationally known for his work in criminal law. Because of him and an article on him that appeared in one of San Antonio’s local newspapers, I became a devotee of Henry David Thoreau’s writings, specifically Walden or, Life in the Woods and On the Duty of Civil Disobedience. The image on the right is my well-thumbed copy of the work on which Mahatma Ghandi based his passive resistance movements. Click here for an explanation of how, when, where and why I first met Thoreau and his writings.

I suspected that he could be the subject of a missing person alert, and I immediately called the Brownsville Police Department and asked for an officer to come to the Gateway Bridge. Two officers arrived in record time, and I told them that they should contact the San Antonio Police Department and would probably find a missing person lookout on the man. They thanked me and gently escorted the attorney to their vehicle.

Now read about the non-existent grateful appreciation expressed by the Brownsville police for giving them a well-known missing person and the opportunity to shine a bright light on the coordination between local and federal law enforcement in the city of Brownsville. I never heard from the Police Department—I called the Department the next day and the people on duty claimed to have no knowledge of the incident.

However, several days later a lengthy article appeared in the local daily newspaper detailing the fine work done by Brownsville’s police in returning a missing person to his home in San Antonio. The article stated that in the early evening on a certain day Mr. Siemens was found wandering around in the vicinity of the Gateway Bridge, apparently unaware of his surroundings, and an investigation determined that a missing person lookout for him had been made by San Antonio police. Obviously there were some really ambitious officers on Brownsville’s police force!

I should have known what was going to happen, because the two officers that took custody of the missing person neglected to ask for my name or for my position in the Customs hierarchy. If I gave that any thought at the time, it would probably have been that they would return for the specifics of the interdiction, and also to tender the thanks of the local department to the Customs officers on duty that evening, specifically to the inspector on pedestrian traffic duty and to the supervisory officer on the shift, the person that recognized the missing person and initiated the investigation. I mean, like hey, everybody likes to shine!

So I can only offer kudos to the local police for their fine work in solving a missing person lookout and returning a brilliant and nationally-known criminal law attorney to his home and to his loved ones. Good work, guys!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
 

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