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AL GILKES: Mad as hell with US Customs


AL GILKES: Mad as hell with US Customs

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TODAY I AM SEEING RED. Not red as in Plastic Bag or at Mia’s meeting tonight. Rather, it’s the red of blue vex, of mad as hell, of red-dy to blow a fuse.

It’s because my well-known cool has been disturbed by somebody in the US Customs and Border Protection and I hope the ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, Mr Larry Palmer, reads this because I would like an explanation for the pain that agency has caused me.

Here is my problem. I own two cars. The one in which I am most seen is an oldish blue Suzuki Vitara, my workhorse. The other, which I mainly use for cruising on weekends and attending functions, is also oldish but it’s a treasured Benz, which I call the Silver Bullet, because of its colour, sleekness and speed.

A few weeks ago, the normal quiet ride of the Benz unexpectedly turned into an ugly noise and fearing the worst I took it to my mechanic, who relieved my anxiety with the news that the exhaust system/muffler needed to be replaced.

The local agents had none in stock and would have had to import one, which could have taken a few weeks to reach Barbados. So I called one of my boys in your country and within a week he had bought and air-shipped one and it was in the mechanic’s hands.

However, two days later, to my shock and horror, the mechanic called to ask if I had bought a second-hand muffler and in response to why he had that opinion, he told me, “Man, this thing cut up real bad.”

I: “How you mean it cut up?” He: “Cut up.” I: “Cut up how.” He: “Cut up like with a saw.” I: “I don’t understand what you telling me.” He: “Come and see.”

At the shop, he handed me a large piece made up of several strips of green adhesive plastic plastered with the words ‘EXAMINED BY US Customs and Border Protection’. I saw nothing wrong. People doing their job.

It was only when he raised the car above my head on an electric jack and showed me what he had found concealed by the swathe of adhesive that I felt the rage of a bull cow as the matador plunges the sword into its brain.

One of the large baffles to which the exhaust pipes are connected to minimise the sound from the vehicle, was crisscrossed with cuts right through the metal apparently made with a rotary electric saw so that the person/s could bend back the strips of metal to “examine” the inside for anything hidden there.

Mr Ambassador, I understand the reason why those responsible might have wanted to examine the inside. What I don’t understand is why they had to cut up my muffler to do so when, especially since 9/11, they have an array of scanning equipment that could have easily been used for the purpose.

These days persons travelling from your country are often made to stand in front of controversial new-age scanners with legs apart and hands over their heads, allowing every inch of nakedness under their clothing to be examined.

So if they can scan through my clothing and probably see the balls in their bearings, why couldn’t they have scanned through the covering of the baffles if they wanted to see that they might have been bearing balled up inside.

I now have to look for new money to have the baffle welded and repaired and if that is not possible, even more money to buy another new one, which I cannot have sent from your country for fear that it could also arrive in the same condition.

Al Gilkes heads a public relations firm. Email [email protected]