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Revisit: Captain, or engineer? Ship, or train? (via The King of Texas)

Captain, or engineer? Ship, or train? Some believe and some say, and some even teach, that each of us is the captain of our ship, steering it and our lives through the gentle swells of calm seas and crashing waves of gale-lashed waters across oceans, some dotted with tropical islands and others filled with icebergs. The analogy of our journey through life as the master and captain of our ship is exemplified by this poem: Invictus Out of the night that covers me, Black as the pit from … Read More

via The King of Texas

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2011 in death, Uncategorized

 

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A spider tattoo—a large spider . . .

On Monday, December 20, 1971 I reported for work as a United States Customs inspector at the international bridge at Progreso, Texas just across the Rio Grande River from the small town of Las Flores, Mexico, also known as Nuevo Progreso—as opposed to old Progreso, an even smaller town on the U.S. side of the river. The image at right shows the old bridge—a larger four-lane bridge now serves the public at Progreso.

I reported for work wearing civilian garb—official uniforms would come later, purchased at a clothing store in Brownsville, an international city at the southern tip of Texas, a city that combined with the city of Matamoros formed a significant metropolitan complex.

Following a welcome briefing by the U.S. Customs port director and introductions to fellow Customs officers and officers with U.S. Immigration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, I was assigned to work with the Customs officer that was checking incoming traffic. In those days Progreso had only one inbound lane, and the officer on duty there checked pedestrian traffic as well as vehicles arriving from Mexico. Vehicles were referred for secondary inspection as necessary, and pedestrians were referred to the offices of Agriculture, Immigration and Customs as circumstances dictated.

The long-time inspector I was working with—let’s call him Leo for the purpose of this posting—maintained a continuous dialogue with me, explaining all the ins and outs of the proper questioning techniques and various other requirements of a job that was completely foreign to me—no pun intended. An officer assigned to that position would work for one hour and then would be replaced, either by an Immigration officer or an inspector from the Agriculture office.

Just before our hour on the incoming lane was up, Leo referred a pedestrian to the office for a secondary inspection. He said he wanted to show me something associated with the man he referred for a personal search. We asked another inspector to take the line and we escorted the person to a room at the rear of the Customs office, a small area that provided privacy for strip searches and also boasted a barred cell for detention of suspects.

This suspect, dressed in sneakers, a T-shirt and slacks preceded us into the room, then turned and dropped his trousers as we closed the door behind us. He wore no undergarments and smilingly asked if he should “turn around and bend over.” The man was a long-time heroin addict and therefore was very familiar with personal searches. Leo replied in the negative, and asked him several questions concerning his drug habit.

When those trousers dropped I knew immediately why Leo had referred the man for a personal search. He had conducted numerous strip searches of the man in the past, and his sole reason for this search was so I could see the addict’s sole tattoo.

Yep, that was the only reason, and I saw the tattoo almost instantly as his trousers dropped to the floor. It was a tattoo of a large spider, a full-grown spider, a spider with all its limbs and antennae fully visible, a spider instantly identifiable as a spider, perched menacingly on the exposed glans of the suspect’s flaccid penis. Sorry, no penis pics in this posting—only a spider.

At this point I must apologize for the PG-14 rating I have given this story. I have a tale to tell, and I am striving desperately to maintain that rating and not let the story descend—or ascend as the case may be—into an X-rated tale. I also strove desperately during the inspection to restrict my imagination concerning the spider’s measurements should its owner become excited for one reason or another—unsuccessfully, of course—my imagination ran rampant—in fact it still does!

That’s it—that was my introduction to the process of conducting strip searches on our border with Mexico. Such searches were required because many seizures and arrests were made from strip searches. The order for a suspect to “turn around and bend over” sometimes showed a shiny substance in the anal area, indicating the use of vaseline or some other lubricant that may have been used to promote the insertion of illegal items such as pellets filled with heroin or cocaine. The contraband was first wrapped in aluminum foil, then packed into the reservoir tip of a condom. In some seizures those packets numbered one hundred and more.

Questioning of the person and search of personal articles would often show that the shiny substance was there for other reasons, thus erasing suspicions of smuggling—you can use your imagination to speculate on the nature of those other reasons.

Many such seizures have been made at ports of entry at airports, land border ports and seaports. If a traveler also possessed laxatives  and an item such as Immodium in a pocket or a purse or a suitcase, that traveler, whether male or female, was immediately a strong suspect for narcotics smuggling. Smugglers use the Immodium to restrict bowel movements until, and at the proper time, the laxatives  can be used to promote bowel movements to excrete the contraband.

Hey, it’s a nasty business, not only for the law enforcement officer but also for the smugglers themselves. Some have died because of such methods of concealment, both male and female smugglers—others have survived, but were severely damaged physically by the botched attempt to enter with the narcotics.

And as for how many people have successfully entered our country through airports, seaports and land border ports with contraband concealed in their bodies, and how many continue the practice and will continue to escape detection?

Quien sabe?

Who knows?

It’s anyone’s guess.

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

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2010 in bridge, law enforcement

 

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Most of the body is in the U.S. . . .

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!

 

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Four killed by an SUV? What make, what color, what model?

San Antonio’s only daily newspaper, the Express-News, is considered by conservatives to be liberal, and is considered by liberals to be conservative. I have my own opinion, but I’ll keep it in reserve for another posting, and I’ll let my viewers decide the paper’s political bent when more information is given on yesterday’s crash—Sunday, August 8, 2010—that killed four people. The front page article on the accident identified the dead, all occupants of a green Dodge Caravan, as an infant boy and an eleven-year-old girl in the rear seat, and two front-seat occupants, the driver and a passenger. The article stated that, “No names were released Sunday.”

The vehicle that crashed into the green Dodge Caravan while being chased by a San Antonio patrol officer was not identified by color or make or model, although it was readily available for identification—it landed upside down in a TV repair shop near the collision site. The article referred to the upside-down vehicle as an SUV, a term that was used nine times by the two female journalists that wrote the story.

Why? Why identify the minivan in such detail and no details on the SUV? Perhaps it was oversight on the part of the journalists, but that isn’t likely. I am of the opinion that the SUV is well-known by many citizens of San Antonio. Did it have bumper stickers or magnetic political signs on its doors? Was there some feature of the vehicle that would link it to one of San Antonio’s political personalities?

After causing the death of four people, the driver of the SUV suffered nothing more than a broken ankle. She is identified only as a female in her late 30s, and the article states that, The SUV’s driver  had warrants issued for her arrest on charges of theft, failure to produce proper identification and driving without a license, as well as several traffic citations, Benavides said.

The speaker was police Sgt. Chris Benavides.

I submit to you, my readers, that the SUV and its driver are connected in some way to a prominent person or organization in the city, and the editors of the Express-News are withholding identification pending a decision on what to release. If that seems to be a stretch, consider this:

Some years ago a woman was jogging while pushing her infant child in a stroller, and was attacked and killed, knifed to death. The woman lived long enough to identify her killer as a black male dressed in jogging clothing. An all-points bulletin was sent out for everyone to be on the lookout for a male dressed in jogging clothing—no mention of the killer being black, nor did the Express-News include that fact in its coverage of the incident.

That murder occurred in Olmos Park, one of the most up-scale areas in San Antonio. The odds of a black jogger being in that area were astronomical then, and are much on the same par today. I am certain that every non-black jogger encountered in that area on that day and on later days was stopped and questioned. I wonder how much time was spent on those stops that could have better been spent on looking for the black jogger.

In the case of the murdered woman, vital information was withheld for the purpose of political correctness. In the case of the four people killed by a woman in her late thirties driving an SUV, I consider the possibility that the public is being denied pertinent information for the same reason—political correctness, in this instance to protect some prominent person or persons or organizations.

I don’t know them personally, but I know of them because I am a resident of this city and I try to keep up with the times. I am aware of several prominent people in this city that are married to women that are in their late thirties. I await breathlessly for future facts on the incident.

I’ll get back to you with more details as they emerge—I promise!

I’m back, and with more details, just as I promised. The Express-News today identified the SUV and the driver and dashed all my suspicions and speculations that the driver may have been a well-known and well-connected person, eitherpolitically or otherwise. She is in fact very well-known, but known to the local police force—she has a rap sheet that includes other drunken driving charges, a jail sentence, several charges of prostitution and a host of other violations of city and state laws.

And the mystery of the SUV is no longer a mystery—the SUV that did all the damage, the vehicle that was identified nine times as an SUV in the original report, the SUV that landed upside down in a TV repair shop after broadsiding a green Dodge minivan and killing four people—the driver, her mother, the driver’s four-month old child and the driver’s eleven year old sister—yes, that SUV—was not an SUV.

It was a PT Cruiser.

You, the reader, may  wonder why I included the oddities of the initial report and my suspicions and speculations of the reasons why the so-called SUV was not identified color, make or model. The answer is simple—I worked too damned hard on those suspicions and speculations to toss them away, so I decided to let ’em ride and report the details that should have been printed in the original article. At the very least I should get credit for having a vivid imagination!

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

 

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Captain, or engineer? Ship, or train?

Some believe and some say, and some even teach, that each of us is the captain of our ship, steering it and our lives through the gentle swells of calm seas and crashing waves of gale-lashed waters across oceans, some dotted with tropical islands and others filled with icebergs. The analogy of our journey through life as the master and captain of our ship is exemplified by this poem:

Invictus

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance,
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
William Ernest Henley, 1849–1903

Rather than the captain of a ship, I consider myself to be the engineer of my train. I have no helpers—no switchman, brakeman, signalman, fireman, conductor, oilman and no mechanic. I am the sole occupant on the train, controlling its freight and its movements through life with the various switches and gauges and handles available to me—and trust me, they are many and varied.

My travel through life is not limited to any existing railroad lines or tracks. My train is capable of laying its own roadbed. No matter where I choose to go, the track will always be there and I travel on it at my own speed, without regard to other traffic or intersections or crossroads.

Rumbling and swaying behind me on the track is a string of railroad cars, a string that lengthens as life goes on. In that line are railroad cars of every description and function—coal tenders, box cars, flat cars, hopper cars, passenger cars, cars of every description and every color, cars capable of holding and hauling anything and everything ever owned, including businesses and cars and houses and pets and airplanes and even islands.

Those railroad cars hold everything ever taught, everything ever learned, every job, every action ever taken, every thought and every deed done, whether good or evil. They carry every love ever found and every love ever lost, whether love for a person or a place, or for an animal or an idea, and they carry every friend ever made and lost, every enemy ever made and every antagonist ever faced.

I’m reasonably sure that you, dear reader, have already deduced that my train is my brain. The cars that I haul are the compartments of my brain, and in those compartments repose every thought I have ever had—memories of everything that I have learned and done are being hauled by the railroad cars. They are always there, although sometimes some of them are not always available to me—that seems to be a condition that increases in direct proportion to age.

The poem that follows pertains to those that do not understand or are unwilling to accept the responsibilities of an engineer, believing that their own train is run—engineered, so to speak—by someone other than themselves. Since all life ultimately ends, those folks may possibly—with emphasis on possibly—be in for a surprise! The poem’s origin is unknown, at least to me, but it could well be titled:

Plaint of a Non-engineer

I’m not allowed to run the train,
The whistle I can’t blow . . .
I’m not allowed to say how far
The railroad cars may go.

I’m not allowed to let off steam,
Nor even clang the bell . . .
But let the damn thing jump the track
And see who catches hell!

After awhile—eventually, ultimately, inevitably, inexorably and conclusively, we will hand over the controls of our train and its cars, loaded with the thoughts and deeds of our lives, to the Central Dispatcher and we will arrive at our final destination—no, make that our penultimate stop, the one next to the last.

Our freight—our baggage, so to speak—accumulated over a lifetime will be off-loaded, weighed, categorized, tabulated and compared to established factors in order to determine our ultimate destination. Some of us may protest the final decision, but bear in mind that the deciding factors will have been available for consideration, beginning with our first breath and continuing to our last.

Enough said?

A brief postscript:

I have been criticized, constructively of course, for the length of my postings. Evidently some viewers are so busy loading their train and maneuvering it around various obstacles, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, that they have little time for reading. This posting is relatively short, so I’ll close it with a metaphor, an apology for the length of my stories.

In my writings I am somewhat similar to the drunk—similar to, mind you, but not the drunk—that made a bet with another drunk in the bar, with the loser agreeing to take a drink from one of the bar’s cuspidors, commonly called a spittoon.. The loser raised the spittoon to his lips and emptied it, and the shocked winner told him he didn’t have to do that. The loser replied that he had no choice because it was all in one piece—as are my postings.

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

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2010 in death, religion, ships, trains, Travel

 

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