Okay, listen up—I’m reblogging this posting because it has languished in Word Press for one year and has garnered only one comment and two votes, and both votes are mine. Yes, I vote excellent for my postings—hey, there’s a touch of the politician in each of us, and how many politicians vote for the other candidate? I worked pretty hard composing and posting some details of the visit my daughter and I made to the interior of Mexico, albeit in a much gentler and more pleasant time given the current drug cartel conflicts now spilling over into our country.
Tag Archives: U.S. Customs
Synopsis—A prequel to this posting:
In 1985 I traveled to Botswana under the auspices of the United States’ Department of State. At that time I was gainfully employed with the United States Customs Service, and the purpose of my travel was to represent our government and U.S. Customs in a law enforcement conference. The conference took place in Gaborone, the capital city of Botswana, at a complex that included a Holiday Inn, several restaurants and two Las Vegas-style casinos. Except for South Africa, every country in Africa was represented. That nation was not represented because it was not invited, ostensibly in criticism of its rule of apartheid.
This posting is intended to discuss other facets of that many-faceted trip. It is one of a series of discussions covering my travel to Botswana via New York City, England and South Africa, and my return therefrom via South Africa, Germany and New York City, and discussions on everything that occurred in between. For related postings, click on I married my barber, Sojourn to Botswana and Botswana’s urinals. My intentions are to narrate some of the details of my trip in the hope of entertaining visitors to my blogs, and perhaps even, to some small degree, educate visitors with those details. And now, on to the posting!
I downed a lion in South Africa . . .
After landing in Johannesburg, South Africa I spent several hours in the company of two agents of that nation Secret Service unit, an organization similar to our Central Intelligence Agency. I surrendered my U.S. State Department passport to an immigration officer at Johannesburg’s municipal airport. It would be returned to me on my return to Johannesburg from Botswana. I did not ask why my passport was held, nor was any reason given.
I would learn later that it was held to ensure that I came back through Johannesburg, rather than leaving Botswana for a different country. The two agents questioned me on the purpose of the conference and which countries would be represented, and questioned me on my return. I answered all their questions freely to the best of my ability, although my knowledge was rather limited. They seemed satisfied with my answers in the prebriefing as well as the debriefing following my return to Johannesburg after the conference.
We stopped at their office and I was asked to wait while they reported my arrival to their superiors, a report that was made behind closed doors and obviously without my presence. Left to my own devices I toured the hallways of the building, taking in views of the city through the windows and views of offices through open doors. In my wanderings I found restroom doors and drinking water fountains marked Whites only and Coloreds only. I also noted that in the wide hallways of the building, colored maintenance and cleaning people stepped well to one side as I neared, and made no direct eye contact, looking away or down as we met and passed.
Those obvious signs of the apartheid rule that still existed in South Africa—a system that would endure until 1994—turned my thoughts back 24 years, back from 1985 to 1961, to a time when racial segregation—our nation’s apartheid—ruled the South. In 1961 I left my assignment at Craig Air Force Base in Selma, Alabama to begin a two-year tour at Bitburg Air Base in Bitburg, Germany, a small town in Germany’s Eifel mountains (a definite subject for future postings!).
My tour of duty at Craig had been pleasant in every respect, both for me and for my family. That tour had lasted more than five years, and I was extremely reluctant to end it. However, my transfer was not an object for negotiation, not even for discussion, so I grudgingly and unwillingly accepted the new assignment. Bummer!
My newfound friends from South Africa’s Secret Service treated me with a tour of Pretoria, the capital city of the nation. Our tour of the city included a marketplace, monuments and various civic buildings. The most impressive part of the tour was the Voortrekker Monument, a massive granite structure built to honor the Voortrekkers, pioneers that left the Cape Colony in the thousands between 1835 and 1854 to explore and establish settlements. Click here for a digital tour of the monument.
We returned to Johannesburg shortly before my flight was scheduled for departure, and a suggestion was made to have a beer before the flight. I declined because the cuisine at the Holiday Inn had not been kind to my digestive system, particularly to the elimination apparatus of that system. However, under duress inflicted by their urging me to have a beer, I accepted a cold beer, attractively packaged in a can. Oddly, however, neither of my friends ordered a beer, explaining that they could not drink while on duty.
I noticed that they watched me intently while I downed the beer, rather quickly because boarding time was near. When I finished the beer, they both smiled broadly and told me that on my return to the States I could truthfully claim that I downed a lion in Africa. A quick glance at the can’s label confirmed the fact that I had indeed accomplished such an unlikely feat—pictured on the can’s label was a male lion with a huge mane and an open mouth featuring large fangs, obviously a roaring lion.
I made it safely home with the empty Lion beer can, and it became the nucleus for a rather extensive collection of beer cans. Several years later while converting our garage into a rec room, I bagged the cans into several black plastic trash bags, set them into a corner. The bags occupied that space for a considerable length of time, right up to the time my wife tossed them out with the other trash. She apologized profusely and claims to this day that it was an accident, absolutely unintentional, but I have some doubts. The cans must have clanged and rattled a bit en route to the trash, a sign that the bags contained something other than routine trash. Oh, well, easy come, easy go, right? Bummer!
I downed a lion in South Africa—I no longer have the evidence to prove it but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
Less than six months after I retired—for length of service with no disability—from the U.S. Air Force, I was offered and I accepted employment with the U.S. Customs Service as an inspector at Progreso, Texas, then (and now) one of the more obscure ports of entry on our 2000-mile border with Mexico. I retired from that employment 26 years later—again for length of service with no disability—having served in Texas at Progreso as an inspector trainee and journeyman Customs inspector, as a supervisory Customs inspector at Roma and Brownsville, as a program officer and program manager in Washington, D. C., as a program officer at Regional Headquarters in Houston and finally as the chief supervisory Customs inspector at San Antonio’s International Airport.
I spent an eternity at Customs Headquarters in Washington, D. C. over a period of three years, the first half as an operations officer, and the second half as a national program manager. I managed to escape Customs Headquarters by requesting an in-grade transfer to Customs’ Regional Headquarters in Houston, and six months later I left Houston in the rear-view mirror—I requested and received a reduction in grade in order to replace the retiring chief inspector at San Antonio’s International Airport.
A tale of U.S. Customs vs Axl Rose, as told by me:
Axl Rose, one of the world’s best known hard-rock stars—then and now—returned to the United States from Mexico early in the evening on a Mexicana Airlines flight from Mexico City to San Antonio, Texas. He and his group were given the same inspection everyone else on the flight was given—well, almost the same—with the band’s reputation, their inspections may have been a bit more thorough than those of other passengers, but were without incident until Axl Rose arrived at the exit point of the inspection area.
The female Customs Aide on duty at that point was responsible for receiving individual Customs declarations and collecting duty and taxes as necessary. She asked Axl for his autograph—he obliged, then as he exited the inspection area he used numerous expletives to complain about his treatment by U.S. Customs. His complaint, directed to nobody in particular but to the world in general, was something on the order of, “Can you *&%$%@# believe that? They dump my *&%$%@# baggage and then ask for my *&%&%@# autograph!”
I followed him through the exit doors and into the public waiting area where he continued to complain loudly about his treatment for the benefit of other people, a complaint generously sprinkled with expletives. I managed to get his attention and I told him, calmly but forcefully, that just as he had his gigs to perform for his audiences, we had our own gig—to inspect persons and their baggage on their arrival in the United States from foreign countries. I told him that we worked to protect our country from harm, and also to “put food on the table and shoes on the baby’s feet.”
I explained that the Customs aide’s request for an autograph was a compliment to his “art” and to his standing in the entertainment industry, and as such he should accept it a bit more gracefully. I’m reasonably certain that it was mostly for my benefit, but Axl Rose stopped his harangue and fell silent, appeared to listen intently to my spiel, and then apologized nicely for his conduct.
I, in turn, responded nicely to the outburst of applause from the folks waiting to greet friends and family members returning from Mexico.
That’s it. That’s the story of Axl Rose vs U.S. Customs, a very brief encounter that left both of us with an indelible memory—well, at least in my case the memory is indelible. I suspect his harangue started up again when he moved out of earshot.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Based on the following excerpt from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Axl_Rose, my chastisement of Axl had no deleterious effect on his career:
“The only original member still part of the band’s line-up, Rose still places high in numerous polls as one of hard rock’s all-time greatest frontmen, but is also infamous for his onstage antics and high-profile disputes with former bandmates and others in the entertainment business.”
And based on the retirement compensation I receive monthly as the result of combining 22 years of military service with 26 years of federal Civil Service law enforcement, I suffered no harm from having chastised William Bruce Bailey, AKA Axl Rose.
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.