Monday, May 16, 2011

Be Afraid...Be Very Afraid.

Last week I dropped off my car at a port in Florida to have it shipped to St. Thomas, and for any of you that have concerns about border protection and/or homeland security at our nation's sea ports, I can confirm with confidence that all of your concerns are legitimate. 

My experience began at the security entrance of the port, which resembled a toll booth.  I was greeted by a security guard that asked where I was headed.  When I gave him the address of our location, there was some confusion, and I was told to pull ahead, turn around and come back to the booth so the guy in the car behind me could pass through.  Once I moved ahead, I was immediately stopped by a different security guard that told me to simply pull aside and park while I reconfirmed my destination.  After telling the guard that my destination was to a company called Sea Star, the guard asked me for my drivers license.  In the meantime, another guard who I presumed to be this guy's boss walked by and berated the security guard by repeatedly telling him that, 'you don't ask the right questions, you don't ask the right questions, you aren't asking the right questions'.  The guard smiled at me with some embarrassment and walked away with my license.

When he returned, the guard handed me my license.  He then gave me a name tag that said 'Sae Star' and resembled something that you'd wear at a company cocktail party.  He then asked me if I had any weapons.  I responded by telling him 'no', which seemed sufficient enough to him, since he then told me that I was clear to move on.

Now, I'm aware that when racial profiling, I'm not at the top of the list of concerns from a terrorism perspective, but my car was loaded with sealed boxes and bags - none of which were inspected.  I find it confusing that I have to take off my flip flops to be scanned through security at the airport, but an entire SUV full of sealed boxes to be shipped to St. Thomas via Miami and San Juan were of no concern to the port security.  As far as this guard knew, I could have loaded up my car with enough ammo to blow Miami, San Juan and/or St. Thomas off the map, or more likely, that I had loaded my car up with enough cocaine to retire off of, but he simply let me move on.  I'm guessing that he was probably thankful to get rid of me, so his boss would get off his back.

I then met with a representative at Sea Star.  Once all the necessary documents were collected in their mobile home of an office, I was told that my car would be inspected for insurance, not security, purposes.  I met the inspector, who spoke no English, outside by my car.  He gestured for me to pull my car back into the middle of the parking lot.  When I struggled to understand exactly what he was asking, he got extremely frustrated and made the same jester in a more dramatic and angry sort of way.  I eventually caught on and did what he wanted.  He then proceeded to look my car over, documenting all dents, scratches, etc.  He also measured the car.  I wasn't sure if they were concerned that the car may not be the same size when it arrived in St. Thomas, or what, but this guy meant business.  After looking my car over, he slammed down his clipboard and pealed off a sticker to put on the windshield, meanwhile allowing the paper backing of the sticker to fly away in the wind.  After that, he picked up the clipboard and stammered inside without acknowledging me as he passed by.  I'm hoping that security has him on their radar. 

Eventually, the polite lady that originally took our documents told me that I needed to drop my car off at a different location and explained where I needed to go. 

This was the final destination, and when I got there, I realized that this was where the semi-trucks also go to deliver all their cargo.  Upon getting out of my car I couldn't help but notice that the entrance for the semi's was 'gated' by a rusty chain that a security guard dropped when allowing the next truck through to check some sort of tag on the back of the trucks and move them along.  Surely this chain was no match for a semi, but this was their process and by the looks of the chain, this had been the process for some time.

I was relieved to find the final part of the shipping experience to be rather easy.  I basically gave over my keys, and someone drove my car away.  However, I was surprised to find that the only documentation that was provided as a 'receipt' for the car and all the contents of the car was a green carbon copy piece of paper with some chicken scratch on it.  Did they not realize that I had just dropped off my car and all of my bare necessities to be handled by them?

Alas, the process was over and a cab was on it's way.  It didn't take too long for the cab to find me, but shortly after getting into the cab there was a sudden sort of semi-truck rush hour to get out of the port.  After approximately 60 seconds of waiting without moving and several sighs/grunts from the cab driver, he decided he couldn't take it and got out of the car to see what the problem was.  No doubt, this guy was a loose cannon.  He then got back in the car, complaining, and we continued to wait another 5 - 10 minutes.  He then decided to maneuver the car through the semis by driving along side them in another lane that opened up.  When the movement of that lane stopped, he pulled our car through another lane by squeezing the car in-between the front of one semi and the back of another semi.  I prayed that the driver of one of the semi's could see us and didn't move forward, which would have crushed our car.  Luckily, we made it through that lane and into another free lane, where we were able to move ahead and get out of the port.  We then got on the highway and moved along at a good pace, but that didn't stop our driver from continuing to complain about traffic.  At this point, I had had enough, I put on my headphones and continued listening to my audiobook until we reached our hotel.

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