Paul has eagerly volunteered to help me fill up my new Monday guest post slots. Here are two great stories in one post. Enjoy!
BUREAUCRATS, BANANAS & BLUEBERRIES
By: Paul Curran
I exited Sealand’s huge Port Elizabeth container and break bulk terminal in Newark with an empty 40-foot refrigerated container. This was a very special container – I was to load the very first overseas shipment of IQF blueberries to be shipped by Sealand from a co-operative grower in eastern New Brunswick. But first I had to get the container to New Brunswick, so I headed north to Albany, NY to load bananas for Moncton. A banana boat from South America navigated the Hudson River each week and unloaded bananas for the eastern US and Canada from the central location of Albany.
Typically we hauled 1,100 cases of bananas per load, but our trailers were 45 feet long and the container was only 40 feet long, as well as being narrower and not as tall. As we were paid by the case, the smaller load would hurt my revenue but the guaranteed backhaul not an hour’s drive from the delivery point more than made up for the difference.
The banana loading went routinely, except they called me to the rear of the trailer just before they were done. To load the number of cases I wanted, they would have to have cases protruding about ½ inch beyond the door sill. To leave that row off would mean a smaller load and less pay. I told them to load it. The cardboard cases were quite flexible and I figured I could get the doors closed by compressing them.
Once the truck was loaded, I enlisted the help of two fellow drivers and found a 6 x6x4-foot piece of wood on the dock. We closed the trailer doors as far as they would go – about 8 inches short of being latched, and then backed the trailer up to a concrete wall with the 6×6 braced between the wall and the door. Once the wood was jammed in between the doors and the wall, I used the engine power to back the truck up, compressing the cases until each door closed and latched. This would make opening the doors at the delivery problematic, but I had a plan for that.
At the border, the bananas were put in customs bond – which just meant Customs putting a seal on the trailer for inspection at the delivery rather than at the border. This is done, usually at the customer request, for different reasons – but in this case it was just a matter of having the paperwork processed at the delivery point so the customer could better control it. I called ahead with my ETA and arrived at 8 pm the following night, as arranged. Customs seals can only be broken by Customs Officers, so not long after my arrival, a Customs vehicle pulled up and I gave the paperwork to the officer. At this point the truck was parked in the lot while I awaited an unloading dock. I explained to the Officer what I had done to get the doors shut and told him they would pop open violently when unlatched. I wanted him to wait for 10 minutes until I could back into a dock and release the door latches while the dock pads restrained the doors. Then the truck could be pulled slowly away from the dock until the doors could be opened all the way.
The Customs Officer was in a rush and he told me he would not wait. I told him he was free to open the doors at his own risk. He accused me of wanting him to remove the seal without inspecting the load – and that he suspected that I was smuggling something in the load. This just pissed me off (we did occasionally smuggle small stuff like a bottle of liquor, but never in the load as the company could lose their bond privileges) so I told him that it was entirely up to him. He cut the seal with a pocket knife and grabbed the first door latch. I stood way back.
As soon as the handle cleared the latch, there was a “Whoosh, Bang!” as the door flew open, knocking over the Officer and hitting the side of the trailer. With a loud rumbling, about 15 cases of bananas burst from the open doorway and fell on the Officer who was lying dazed on the ground behind the trailer. I rushed over and cleared the cases off the Officer and helped him up. He was scraped, but thankfully not seriously injured. He said nothing – just picked up the paperwork, signed and separated it, gave me my copies, limped to his car and drove away. I cleaned up the bananas, carefully opened the other door and got unloaded without further incident.
I found my reload facility at about 1 am and backed into the single dock. Stripping down to my underwear, I climbed into bed and the next thing I heard was a banging at the door at 6 am. Getting up and leaning out into the cab I looked out the driver’s side window and there stood a slick looking young man with a suit and a big smile – almost eager looking.
The young man had polished black dress shoes, and you could shave with the crease in his pants. This was a rather odd sight to see standing in a dirt parking lot full of potholes, in a rural New Brunswick town. I slipped into the driver’s seat, and pressed the air powered window down button. With a whoosh and clunk, the window disappeared from the frame. The young man jumped back startled and stepped in a mud puddle. As I peered bleary eyed out the window in my underwear, he extricated himself from the puddle and introduced himself as Barry, the Sealand representative. Apparently he was there to make sure the very first load of frozen blueberries got loaded properly for overseas shipment. And he was going to instruct us on how to do that.
Always up for a lesson, I dressed and joined him in the parking lot. He had a folder full of paperwork and started rambling on in an excited tone about how we were at the beginning of a new era of shipping and this load was going to show how it was done. To me, it was a load of IQF (Individually Quick Frozen) blueberries in 40-pound cases. We walked up the stairs onto the concrete dock, where the warehouse supervisor was waiting. He told me the number of cases and weight and asked how I wanted it loaded. After a bit of discussion, he opened a large steel freezer door covered with hoar frost on the inside. His men started pulling out pallets of cases and wheeling them into the trailer as two other men were stacking the cases on the trailer floor.
I grabbed one of the cases randomly and stuck my stainless steel temperature probe into the carton about ½ way down so it went into the product. Barry asked what I was doing and I explained that I was taking the temperature of the blueberries. He objected that this was not the proper way to take the temperature, that I was only measuring the temperature between the berries, and said he would show me how to do it properly.
Opening the case, Barry parted the plastic bag in which the blueberries were held and picked up one small blueberry with his bare fingers. I didn’t say anything but just picking up the berry would change its temperature. Barry asked for my temperature probe – a stainless pen-like device with a sharp tip on one end and a temperature dial on the other end.
As the warehouse supervisor and I looked on in amazement, he held the little berry between his left thumb and forefinger and attempted to jab the probe in. The berry wasn’t much bigger than the tip of the probe, and the probe tip kept slipping off the blue frozen orb. Getting frustrated, Barry then cupped the berry in the palm of his left hand while pressing the pointed probe tip harder and harder against its skin. His face was compressed into a look of concentration as he focused on the tiny berry. Suddenly, he let out a yelp as the probe tip slipped off the berry, the berry shot from his hand and the probe tip buried itself in his palm. Throwing down the probe he cradled his left hand in his right and moaned as blood dripped from his punctured palm.
The supervisor led Barry off to find a first aid kit. That was the last I saw of him as we finished loading the container, sealed it up and I headed back to Newark, where it would head by ship overseas.
Image links are included with photos for this post (click on picture)