Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Hello Customs? Here's a Few Ideas...

I have a 'guilt' issue. It has been passed down from mother to daughter all the way back to my grand grand mere in Paris, France. And thanks to this highly developed ability to feel as though everything is my fault, I am petrified of authority. Most recently Customs Agents.

Customs and I have a history:

The first time I went to Tijuana I was positive they wouldn't let me back into the United States. Never mind that we were walking across the border with nothing but the clothes on our backs. (Granted, the clothes on our backs were Cardinals shirts and they were playing the much beloved Dodgers that day.)

I routinely ship gifts to my brother in Germany. Every year we ship his family Christmas presents and every year they get hung up in Customs. I guess the children's toys and home baked cookies are just to hard to pass up. This year I pushed the boundaries and sent my favorite home blended spice mix for bbq. When the box went missing for nearly a month I didn't have the heart to tell my brother what I had done. I figured if there was any question he would be better off to be COMPLETELY innocent.

And then there is THE INCIDENT

So, with this impromptu trip to Mexico I figured what better to take two ex-pat semi-CoasterofIllinois-ers that coffee and spice blends from Soulard Market – the oldest farmers market that side of the Mississippi. (U.S.) I happily claimed my 'food' imports on the Customs form and after an excruciating wait in the immigration line (read that unattainable bathroom), was pulled aside for a bag search.


Yet, even with my poor grasp on Spanish and the Customs Agent's apparent mutism, I was able to communicate – with frantic hand gestures and much eye rolling on his part – that the coffee and spices in the GIFT BAG were indeed...gifts. He shook, sniffed and eyeballed the contents, especially the Orange Chipotle blend,which I explained was delicious on fish. In the end, seemingly not much of a foodie, he stuffed everything back in my bag and then looked perplexed when I tossed the tiny TSA lock into my pocket. What's the point of locking the bag now?

My little foray into near fugitive status freed my fellow travelers to pass through semi-unscathed. Harley Girl (explanation to follow) was also bag searched, But Birthday Girl (also to follow) – who, by the way had millions of dollars of camera equipment on her person – skipped on by.

Their fate was not so rosy on our return trip.

US Customs Agents covering return trips from Mexico are unfazed by declarations of liters of tequila and vanilla. They chuckle at silver charms and glass hearts. They do, however, have a penchant for motorcycle t-shirts. Evidenced by travel companion number one – who chose to wear her studded Harley t-shirt home. Not only did this warrant a pre-scan warning that 'you'll never get through with that on' but it won her a full pat-down.

My other co-hort, now known as Birthday Girl, also won a pat-down. Best we can figure it was because they couldn't fathom how anyone could return from a trip to Mexico so pale as to be considered transparent. Pat-down city sweetheart!

But, Birthday Girl didn't stop there. You see, we returned on February 13. Which happened to be Birthday Girl's...birthday. Our airplane seat row was 13. So, when the Customs Guy told Birthday Girl to go stand in line 13, how could she not react with surprise.

On retrospect, it probably wasn't such a good idea. Customs Agents do not like it when their people shreik, "WHAT LINE DID YOU SAY?!" It took a rapid explanation of the situation from my spot on line 11 for the poor agent to regain his composure and allow her to pass.

In the end, Harley Girl and Birthday Girl survived their first pat-down and we developed some undeniable truths about Customs:

It might take a while to move millions of dollars of the drug of the day in one pound of coffee and 8 ounces of spices but what drug lord would have the guts to disguise his haul in the very substances that the Customs people look for?

Harley t-shirts are subject to profiling.

Customs Agents have no respect for 'number significance'.

And lastly, we would like to propose Celebrity Pat-Down. Seriously, who could get upset if say, Brad Pit or Salma Hayek were to do your pat-down? Shoot, I might even go through twice, just to be safe.

*In a previous installment the term CrapMonkey was attributed to my sister. It is in fact a term coined by an artist/writer friend of mine Melissa Stevens. She is waiving all royalties for its use in this blog.

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