I’ve written about performing Customs duties on the Mexican border, but I have not gone into the specifics of individual actions. The work was very exciting and educational to me, especially in the early days of my Customs career, and I’ve decided to share some of those events with my viewers, and trust me, the posts will be considerably briefer than I am accustomed to writing—and as Martha Stewart would say, that’s a good thing!
On a busy winter day at the Port of Progreso in South Texas, a man died on the inbound sidewalk in the middle of the bridge, the victim of a massive heart attack. There was only one bridge in those years (the seventies), with only one vehicle lane in each direction. There have been lots of changes since then. The image at right shows the old bridge. Click here to see the old and the new.
It was late in the afternoon on a wintry Saturday. Traffic was fairly light outbound to Mexico, but the line of vehicles inbound stretched across the bridge, through the city of Las Flores, Mexico and a mile or so farther in, according to inbound travelers. Millions of winter visitors—snow birds—were in the Rio Grande Valley, and they and locals were returning from Mexico after shopping and visiting friends and relatives. Saturdays were always busy, but this one appeared to be a record breaker.
I was working vehicle traffic at the primary inspection point, and a lady driver told me there was a man lying on the bridge near the international marker. She said she believed he was dead. She told me that he was lying on his back and his eyes were open and he was not moving. When I was relieved from my duties I walked out to the center of the bridge to see for myself.
The man, an Anglo that appeared to be well past middle age, was lying just as the woman had said. He was dressed casually, as most winter tourists are dressed, and was lying near the international marker. His eyes were open and his face had begun to darken from the lack of blood and oxygen. I could not detect a pulse in his carotid artery.
I returned to the Customhouse and told the supervisor, who in turn called the police in Weslaco some ten miles away, the closest place that could send an ambulance and medical technicians. He told them of my findings, and they asked whether the body was lying in Mexico or on the United States side of the international marker. I told the supervisor that he was lying across the line, partially in the U.S. and partially in Mexico.
Several hours passed before an ambulance arrived from Weslaco. It seems that officials in that city had called federal officials on the Mexican side of the bridge to determine which country was responsible for the dead man. The Mexicans said that they had viewed the body and they agreed that the body was lying on the international boundary, but they argued that more of the body was in the United States than in Mexico. They therefore declined any responsibility, and eventually medics and police from Weslaco arrived, stopped traffic on the bridge, recovered the body and things at the Port of Progreso returned to normal.
That was just one incident that occurred on one day in the six years that I worked at the Progreso bridge. A work shift rarely passed without at least one untoward event taking place. The image at right shows the new four-lane bridge with its covered walkways, completed in 2003. I began my Customs career at Progreso in 1971 and transferred six years later in 1977 to a supervisory position at the Port of Roma, almost 80 miles upstream on the Rio Grande River. In future posts I will detail some of the incidents that transpired at that port also, so stay tuned.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!