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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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Mexico—Texas border relations . . .

In 1977 during my sixth year as a journeyman Customs inspector at the port of Progreso, Texas I was promoted to a first-level supervisory position at the port of Roma,Texas. Roma was a small port in terms of staffing, consisting of the port director, a first-level supervisor, the office manager and ten inspectors—one of the ten was a combination inspector and detector dog handler. The image at right shows the old international suspension bridge, built in 1927 and the new bridge completed in 1979. The old bridge remains as a historic structure and will only be used for pedestrian traffic.

A cursory review of enforcement records at the port presented a dismal picture of enforcement—either everyone that entered the port was scrupulously honest, or the inspection force was lax in its enforcement duties. The latter proved to be the case, and with the port director’s assistance and approval I developed and established procedures intended to improve the enforcement posture of the port. With only two exceptions the inspection staff was local, born and reared in the area with relatives on both sides of the international border. Complacency was the order of the day when I arrived, and I soon incurred the wrath of the inspectors and that of a goodly number of international travelers.

The seizures began to stack up—small amounts of various narcotics were intercepted by increasing the number of vehicles sent to the secondary inspection area, along with undeclared items such as alcoholic beverages, prohibited fruits, meats and plants. By checking vehicle serial numbers our interceptions of stolen vehicles began to rise, and Customs duties and fines collected on undeclared commercial importations and personal importations began to pour in to our cashier.

There was a new kid on the block, a supervisor that almost immediately incurred the displeasure of citizens of the local community, the inspection staff at the port, travelers from the interior of Mexico and local citizens from Miguel Aleman, Roma’s sister city on the other side of the Rio Grande River. I also incurred the wrath of our Mexican federal counterparts at the other end of the bridge spanning the river.

In the early days of my assignment at Roma, I frequently took the place of the officer at the primary inspection point, and in that position I checked vehicle interiors when traffic was light, and referred vehicles to the secondary inspection area when traffic increased. I also worked with inspectors in the secondary area, confirming declarations made at primary and searching travelers and their vehicle’s contents, and the seizures began to mount.

Miguel Aleman was the Mexican city at the other end of the suspension bridge spanning the Rio Grande River at Roma. The Mexican federal building housed a full staff of Customs, Immigration and Agriculture officers, all fully subject to United States laws when entering the country. Early one morning I checked a Mexican Customs officer and his vehicle, a Volkswagen bus, in the secondary area. The officer told the primary officer he was bringing nothing from Mexico, and repeated his declaration to me in secondary. I found two young boys hiding in the wagon, one behind the back seat and one hidden under the back seat.

The little fellow under the rear seat had crawled through a very small opening and the sliding panel was closed behind him. I slid the panel open, saw a pair of shoes and closed the panel. At that instant I realized that I had seen a pair of feet in that pair of shoes and I ordered the Mexican officer to extract his passenger—it wasn’t an easy task!

Questioning by U. S. Immigration officers determined that the boys were the officer’s nephews and neither boy had the documents necessary for entry in the United States, so the Mexican Customs officer hid them—he wanted to take them to the city of McAllen, Texas to purchase clothing and supplies for the coming school year—the small city of Roma offered very little in the way of shopping.

That stalwart representative of Mexico’s federal inspection force, regardless of his reasons, was guilty of breaking the laws of the United States. He could have easily secured a temporary pass from Immigration for the purpose, but he preferred to smuggle the boys in, just as he and others had done in the past, obviously feeling that no inspection would be made. That pretty well summarizes the enforcement posture that existed at the port of Roma prior to my assignment there. If two kids could be smuggled in without fear of detection, virtually any amount of illegal narcotics could pass with the same ease. I have no doubt that they did in the past, but I at least slowed them down during my tenure there, some two and one-half years.

The commander of Miguel Aleman’s federal Customs staff made a negative declaration to me at the primary point. I asked him to step out of the car—a late model Mark IV Lincoln—and open the trunk for inspection. With some hesitation but without protest, he opened the trunk and revealed a case of bottled alcoholic beverages purchased in Mexico. He said he was taking them to a friend in McAllen. I told him he was subject to a fine and forfeiture of the merchandise, and referred him to the Immigration office. He was allowed to continue with the importation after paying federal tax, Customs duties and Texas state tax on the liquor. The penalty in that instance should have been seizure and forfeiture of the merchandise and payment of a fine equal to the value of the merchandise. The decision to lessen the penalty was not mine—that was the decision of the Customs and Immigration chiefs—they felt that a more severe penalty would strain relations between U. S. and Mexican federal officers—go figure!

At that time I drove a Panama brown diesel Volkswagen Rabbit, and diesel in Mexico was only $.12 a gallon, a bargain that was not easily ignored. A few days after referring the Mexican commandante for possible seizure and forfeiture of the liquor I crossed the river for a diesel fill-up. I was in my official uniform, and prior to my encounter with the Mexican officer with the liquor I would have been passed with a friendly smile with no questions asked. Not this time—I was ordered to remain in line while the officer returned with the commandante. That worthy approached my car, stopped by the driver’s side and unsmilingly stared down at me—he was tall and my little Rabbit was not—with some trepidation I stared back at him. Neither of us spoke, and after an agonizingly long moment he motioned me to proceed. I continued to the gas station a few blocks from the bridge, filled up with diesel and returned to the United States without further incident.

That long silent moment before I was allowed to proceed was obviously meant to show me that he had the power to refer me for inspection, with or without a valid reason. His action was prompted by my referring him for questioning by Customs and Immigration officers. The obvious question to ask me at this point would be whether I was intimidated. The answer is a resounding yes—to use a time-worn analogy, my nerves were drawn so tight that my posterior was cutting washers out of the seat cover of that Rabbit.

Yes, I was intimidated—horror tales abound concerning detentions of Americans by Mexican officials, ranging from local police up to federal officers. In fact, a DEA officer, an official of our Drug Enforcement Administration, had recently been kidnapped and killed in Mexico. His murder was attributed to Mexico’s drug cartels rather than by Mexican federal officers but then, as now, the line between the two is often blurred.

Yes, I was intimidated, but it did not affect my duties as a supervisory U. S. Customs officer. I continued in the same vein for the rest of my stay at Roma, right up to the day that I transferred following my promotion to a second-level supervisory position at the international bridge at Brownsville, Texas. I continued to buy diesel for my Rabbit in Mexico, but I shunned Miguel Aleman’s theaters and restaurants—my diesel buying ended when the station pumped gasoline into the tank instead of diesel—they drained the tank and replaced the gasoline with diesel, explaining that a new employee made the mistake—yeah, right!

Suffice it to say that I made few friends and many enemies in the early days of my assignment to Roma, and that applied to our cadre of Customs, Immigration and Agriculture inspectors—they resented my treatment of their long-time friends and family members and their counterparts in Mexico. I accepted that as a hazard peculiar to my occupation—mine was a lonely job, but the pay was good and there was no heavy lifting, and I thrived on the rancor.

Speaking frankly, I didn’t like them any better than they liked me. Both I and they were pleased when two and one-half years later in 1980 I was promoted and transferred to the port of Brownsville, Texas. My promotion was based in large part on the improvements made in Roma’s enforcement posture—upper level management felt that a similar situation existed at Brownsville. In a meeting with an upper level official prior to the final selection to fill the vacancy at Brownsville, I was told that a strong enforcement-oriented supervisor was needed—actually the expression used was that a hard-ass supervisor was needed. Among other problems, enforcement was lax, and misuse of overtime was the order of the day. Evidently the selection board felt that I had the necessary qualifications including the hard-ass, because I was selected for the position. And yes, you guessed it—shortly after my arrival at Brownsville, with the assistance of the newly assigned chief inspector, inspection overtime was cut drastically and seizures and arrests rose dramatically. The majority of inspectors was not impressed, neither with me nor the chief inspector—they did not view the changes as improvements.

As the result of pressure from the ranks and from my supervisors, in the final few months at that station I stood alone against the cadre of five lower ranking supervisors, my equal rank counterpart, my immediate supervisor, the top level manager at the port and the National Treasury Employees Union. That pressure was terminated only following my promotion to U. S. Customs Headquarters in Washington, DC.

My contributions to the Customs mission during my three and one-half years at that station are well documented, as are my trials and tribulations. However, I can state honestly that I hold no animosity for the three officers that stood against me in the final months of my service there. To hold a grudge against dead people would be an exercise in futility. All three have since passed from this vale of tears, trials and tribulations, either to that shining international port of entry in the sky, or to a climate warmer even than that of South Texas. I cannot be certain, but I would suspect that some of the older inspectors have also dodged their last non-overtime job assignment. More than a few were at or past retirement age when I left the station 27 years ago. Whatever their official status now and their location, regardless of whatever sphere in which they dwell, I wish them well.

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

Postscript: I must acknowledge the fact that my immediate supervisor rated my final performance as outstanding, a rating that was reduced to just barely acceptable by his supervisor. That fact, however, cannot be confirmed. Shortly after the revised rating was submitted for entry into my records, I requested a copy—in the oft-used words by Gomer Pyle of Mayberry fame, surprise, surprise! The evaluation could not be located—it somehow had been lost between submission by the port and acceptance by Headquarters, either lost, misplaced or deliberately removed and destroyed. Who knows, and who cares? At this point in my life, not I!



 
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Posted by on October 4, 2010 in bridge, law enforcement

 

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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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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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Inside Edition interview . . .

A camera crew from Inside Edition appeared at the Customhouse at the Gateway Bridge in Brownsville, Texas one bright spring day in 1981 and requested permission from the port director to film from the bridge for a segment on that popular show. Because nobody else wanted to do it, I was asked—ordered, actually—to accompany the crew as they filmed, and provide information as requested by the crew, but to stay within the boundaries established by the Service.

There were two men, the reporter and the camera man. We went to the middle of the bridge and the camera panned 360 degrees, covering Matamoros on the Mexican side and downtown Brownsville on the US side, with closeups of vehicle and pedestrian traffic on the bridge, both outbound and inbound. Several minutes of that and the camera was focused to closeup on me, and a series of questions was asked by the reporter. I answered them as best I could—I don’t recollect having to say I don’t know to any of the questions. I believe the reporter had done his homework on Customs and Immigration operations, and most of his questions dealt with my opinions on the effectiveness of our enforcement operations and our control of illegal immigration. The image above is the Gateway Bridge in the early part of the 20th century—no, I’m don’t go back that far—I just thought it might be interesting to show how it was then. The image below shows Brownsville’s seaport—the waterway stretches inland to Brownsville from the Gulf of Mexico—it’s part of the 3,000 mile Intercoastal Waterway along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

I gave the authorized percentages, items such as “We probably intercept no more than ten percent of the narcotics entering the US,” and referred the reporter to the Immigration supervisor for immigration statistics. The interview was rather brief, considering how far the crew had traveled—all the way from New York to the tip of Texas. I remember that I was asked my opinion on illegal immigration—we were allowed to use the term illegal aliens in those days. In fact, many in law enforcement still used the term wetback, mindful of the audience, of course, because political correctness was becoming more and more the norm.

I discussed the mortality rate of children born in Mexico—the statistics in that era—the early eighties—showed that for every ten babies born in Mexico only six reached the age of five years—the other four died before that age, a mortality rate of forty percent. The opinion that I voiced to the reporter was that I placed no blame on families wanting to come to the United States.  I also told the reporter that I was familiar with the Mexican economy, both la frontera—the border—and the interior of the country, and if for some reason I were banished to Mexico I would be back in the US the same day by going over, under, around or through any barrier erected by law enforcement, just as illegals have always done, are doing today and probably  always  will—and I would repeat that entry as many times as necessary, just as they are doing today. The records show that individuals have been deported fourteen times and more—deportation is no more than a speed bump in the road. It simply slows an illegal immigrant down for a day or so.

I may as well voice my opinion on illegal immigration here and now—not that it will be noticed. Stop the hiring of illegal immigrants and they will stay in Mexico. They can’t find work there, and it’s useless—completely unproductive—to brave the Border Patrol to enter the US in order to not find work here either.

The reporter on the Inside Edition team dutifully took my name and mailing address and told me that a personal copy of the audited tape would be mailed to me and I would be informed of the date it would be aired. And I’ll bet that you, the reader, can guess the rest of that story.

You’re right—I never heard from anyone connected with Inside Edition. I have long suspected that if a copy were mailed, it went to the official address of the bridge and was intercepted by the port director, but of course I could be wrong, and I can’t ask him about it—he is no longer on active duty with Customs. In fact he is no longer on active duty anywhere, unless he has a position UP THERE, or DOWN THERE, as the case may be. He died several years later while on a Customs assignment in Puerto Rico—or maybe it was Guam—I’m unsure.

I am sure that at sometime after I left Brownsville the port director was charged with several deviations from acceptable procedures, including bringing in alcoholic beverages without having federal and state duties and tax collected and for having items imported and the proper declarations not being made—I believe he dodged a bullet on the charges, very similar to the investigations of improper actions of numerous members of our House of Representatives and the Senate, and similar to the completely inadequate resolutions thereof.

I am sure of the deviations because I have a copy of the article that appeared in the Brownsville paper.

Such a shame about my personal copy of that tape—my performance may have been good enough  to qualify me for a future in films!

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

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2010 in actor and acting, bridge, television

 

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I think she may be dead . . .

When I worked at the Port of Progreso in the Rio Grande Valley south of  Weslaco, Texas there was a large asphalt-paved parking lot directly behind the Customhouse, paved expressly for visitors that wanted to park and walk across the bridge connecting the United States and the town of Las Flores in Mexico. Most visitors to the Valley had heard some of the horror stories of driving in Mexico and many were reluctant to drive across—well, not just reluctant—they were afraid to drive across the bridge.

One afternoon while I was doing sidewalk duty—checking pedestrians returning from Mexico—an elderly gentleman, a winter tourist, approached me from the parking lot and asked me if I could go with him to check on his wife. He explained that his wife was sleepy and had stayed in the car while he walked across the bridge, and when he returned he could not awaken her. He said that he thought she might be dead.

I called for a relief at my position and asked another inspector to accompany me and the tourist to check on his wife. We found her sitting upright behind the wheel, but unmoving. The windows were down and there was a definite odor in the area. No, not the odor of death, but certain odors that are associated with death. When a person dies, any controls that the person may have had over body functions such as bowel movements and bladder contents are gone.

Normally when death occurs, the sphincter muscle relaxes and the contents of the lower bowel are expelled, and the bladder is emptied. The other inspector could not find a pulse at the carotid artery, and the woman’s skin already showed the evidences of death—no flow of blood and oxygen to the skin, especially to the upper extremities. When the elderly husband asked in a quavering voice if she was dead, the inspector replied that she was indeed dead. The husband seemed to be in control of his emotions, but I imagine that the full impact of his wife’s death had not yet struck him—the real emotions would probably come later.

We made the husband comfortable in the Customhouse and made the necessary phone calls to the proper authorities. I went off duty before they arrived, and I took my leave from the grieving husband with his thanks ringing in my ears.

This is only one brief instance of one busy day in the six years that I worked as a trainee and journeyman Customs inspector at the Port of Progreso, and there are many stories to follow, all true and I hope, interesting to a viewer—stay tuned!

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

 

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