Paul can be such a devil! Enjoy:
By: Paul Curran
“Thunderchicken, I think it’s the next left.” Loverboy’s Turn me Loose played in the background as I watched the back doors of Elroy’s trailer ahead of me.
In this time before GPS, navigating around North America was considerably more challenging than it is now. Elroy (known by his CB handle of “Thunderchicken”) with his green Kenworth tractor was ahead of me, and we were headed to Paris Foods on Highway 50 (Ocean Gateway) in Trappe, Maryland. We both had 40,000 pound loads of IQF baby carrots – that is Individually Quick Frozen baby carrots in 40 pound plastic bags in boxes on pallets. Paris Foods did packaging and distribution of commercial vegetables for shipment all over the US. We had loaded yesterday in a small town in Nova Scotia called Oxford and now, 900 miles later, were arriving for our 10 am unloading appointments.
Sure enough, there was the sign on the left, and we turned into the parking lot. Parking side by side, we both got out into the August heat and walked over to the dock entrance with our paperwork in hand. Elroy was a bit shorter and darker than me, thin with a black beard and mustache. He was the best friend I had and could be hilarious when in the mood. And he was in the mood today. As we started up the steps to the dock, one of the transport doors opened and a huge black man, standing easily 7 foot and dressed in a bulky freezer suit, hollered at us;
“Are you my carrots?”
Elroy nudged me with his elbow and whispered:
“Know what you call a man that big?”
I shook my head, afraid we’d be overheard, and he whispered;
Louder he replied: “Yes, sir!”
“Awright then back in side by side here and there,” he pointed at the next transport door over, “and bring your paperwork in.” Slamming the door down, he disappeared from sight.
Elroy and I did as we were told and with two crews working on our loads, we were soon empty. I called our American dispatch in Meddybemps, Maine, and asked for our next loads. Dale, the owner’s son, came on the phone:
“Are you and Elroy empty?” I assured him we were.
“Good, then I have a special load for each of you.” Oh Lord, this couldn’t be good – Dale was abrasive and whenever he prefaced his orders with a feel-good comment like that, he wanted a favor.
“What do you have Dale?”
“Well, I’ve got two trailer loads of liquor from Baltimore to the duty free stores at the Maine border in Calais [he pronounced this with the heavy Maine accent as “Kal-ous”] and Houlton.”
This was decidedly illegal and I reminded him so.
“Dale we’re Canadians and our trucks are Canadian, We can’t haul point to point in the US.” He new this, of course, for as abrasive as he was, he was no man’s fool. But he just wanted the loads hauled. His reply was disingenuous:
“Really? I thought that if the load was headed for the Canadian border you could haul it.” Yeah, bullshit he thought that.
“It was that way years ago Dale but no more – it has to cross the border for it to be legal for us.”
“Look I really need these loads hauled. If there’s any problem, I’ll take care of it.”
“Let me talk it over with Elroy and I’ll call you back.”
So, Elroy and I discussed it and decided that since the punishment for the illegal loads was only to unload and leave the country but then be permitted to re-enter (along with a hefty fine) we would do it for Dale provided he covered the fine. Calling him back we got the details and proceeded over to Baltimore to load.
Loading the duty free and bonded load was a pain in the derriere as each case had to be signed for individually in quintuplicate. I had 375 cases, and it literally took me over two hours of signing (1875 signatures) to be permitted to leave with the bonded load. The trailers were sealed with customs seals, which meant we had to report to customs to clear the loads at destination before unloading. This increased the chance of being caught.
So, I loaded for Calais, and Elroy loaded for Houlton and off we went. The loads paid well so I have to admit the temptation was part of the reason for taking them.
We stopped for supper at a Ponderosa Steak House and each had a steak to bolster our energy. Elroy was on a roll with the humor and as we were standing at the desk to pay there was an older couple – perhaps 70 – ahead of us. On the counter, there was a large bowl of dinner mints and a spoon so a customer could take one. The woman was dressed in her Sunday best and had her purse open sitting next to the bowl. Her companion gentleman had his wallet out and was paying for the meal. As he paid, the woman picked up the spoon and started spooning as many mints as she could into her open purse. Elroy watched this happening and again with the nudge to my ribs to get my attention, he walked to the side of the woman and grabbed the big bowl in both hands. Hoisting the bowl up and tilting it, he said in a very big voice that was audible through the restaurant:
“Here Lady, you hold your purse open and I’ll pour in as many mints as it will take!”
With an audible huff, the woman slammed her purse closed, and spinning on her heels she marched out of the restaurant indignantly. The gentleman blushed a deep red and muttering his apologies as he slunk out the door. Behind them echoed the laughter of about 50 people who had seen the incident, including the cashier. Travelling with Elroy often involved surprises.
Our bellies full, we headed up the highway. Twelve hours and 600 miles later, we pulled into Dysart’s Truck Stop off I-95 in Bangor Maine. At the time, there were no highway scales on that route, so we hadn’t been caught yet. We slept in our respective sleeper berths for a few hours and then rose for a bite to eat and a shower. Here we headed in separate directions – me down Hwy #9 to Calais and Elroy up I-95 to Houlton. It was a bit shorter time-wise for Elroy, about 1 ¾ hours total to his destination, than it was for me at about 2 hours.
So, I arrived at the Calais border and parked well back from customs in the yard of the duty free where I was scheduled to unload. I made sure the truck license plate couldn’t be seen (parked behind a phone booth), gathered up my paperwork and bond documents and walked up to the customs house. I went in the front door, walked up to the counter and, greeting the officer on duty, set my paperwork down. I didn’t even have time to explain the load when the station commander came out of the office area to the desk and as he walked up he pointed at me and said:
“Where do you live?” There was no doubt he had been waiting for me – and now he had asked the one question I dreaded. No use lying, as all my ID was Canadian. I was busted.
“Halifax, Nova Scotia, sir.”
“You’re under arrest. Follow me.” Drats, this wasn’t going well at all. The officer watched with wide eyes as I crossed behind the counter and followed his commander down the hallway. His gun swung against his leg as he walked. Trying to lighten things up a bit I asked: “I guess when the guy with the gun says to follow, everyone follows?”
There was no response. Oh well, I tried. We entered his office and he motioned that I was to sit in the chair in front of the desk.
During the ensuing conversation I pled that I had not understood the law clearly and was headed in the direction of home. He knew I knew better but clarified the law for me anyway. The fine was $10,000 USD. I contacted Dale and explained what had happened, and he arranged for the customs broker the company used to come down to the customs house and write a check for the full amount. After some discussion, the commander agreed to let me unload at my customer, as it was the closest and actually the only, warehouse but then, he said sternly, I had to leave the country immediately. Ha! This was not a huge deal as Canada was only 1,000 feet away. He seemed quite peeved when he realized that this had all been thought out carefully before hand – the immediate unloading and exit from the country along with the fine being the punishment for the crime. In my case that meant unloading at my customer and driving 1,000 feet, with the fine paid by the company. Basically no punishment at all for me. I asked when I could return to the States and he replied, in a pissy tone, that I could return as soon as reached Canada.
After unloading under the supervision of a customs officer, I drove to Canada, turned around and re-entered the States to drop off my paperwork at our office, which was only about a 15 minute drive from the border on the American side. As I was doing my trip report, Dale came out of his office quite sheepishly:
“Everything OK, Paul?”
“Sure Dale. I assume you will be covering the fine as we discussed?” He nodded. “I have to ask, how did customs know I was coming? As soon as I walked in, the commander came out and asked me where I was from.”
“One of the potato haulers in Houlton saw Elroy unloading at the duty free and realized that we were delivering the backhaul that he normally did from Baltimore. When he went to confront Elroy, he noticed the tractor was Canadian and he complained to customs that we were taking his regular load. Your load was listed on Elroy’s paperwork because the two duty free stores are owned by the same guy and both loads were billed to him. So customs in Houlton called Calais and they were waiting for you.”
Dale was quite humble as in his desperation to get the loads hauled, he had just cost the company $20,000. – $10,000 each for Elroy and me. I still got paid my full fee for the trip and although I now had a record at customs, I wouldn’t get banned unless I did it again, and that was not in the plans – at least getting caught again was not in the plans.
Meanwhile Dale owed me one and I would collect on that. And, in fact, although I did haul many loads point to point in the US after that, I never took another duty free load and I wasn’t caught.
Image credits are listed under each photo