Alternative Title: What the Inside of U.S. Customs Looks Like
Last year, I took my very first fam trip to St. Lucia with Ramona and Michael, my two bosses, and Frances, my coworker. We had an incredible time (stories to come later) touring hotels, being waited on hand and foot by our butlers, and sipping piña coladas on the beach. Apparently, I had such a good time sipping fruity drinks that I forgot I was underage. I mean, I literally just forgot that it would be illegal for me to bring back mini bottles of rum as souvenirs to my roommates. I was two months away from turning 21, had just been legal in the country I was visiting, and owned a fake ID to get into concerts in Athens. In my mind, it all made sense.
The heinously grumpy 93 year old policeman who stamped my passport just did not agree with this logic.
I’m going to be honest on a number of things here:
1) I’m a bit of a control freak…
2) …which is why I rarely drink. Even now that I am legal, I’m just not much of a party girl; I don’t do the whole “not being in control of everything including my own entity” thing well.
3) I’m generally very truthful…
4)… which is why I sealed my own fate by WRITING DOWN THE ALCOHOL on my imports form, or whatever you call that little paper you fill out when coming back into the country. When I was handed the document and asked to list my purchases, I wrote down “Four 3 oz bottles of Bounty Rum.” Pshhh. I’m such an idiot.
So, when I prance up to the policeman, who was just the bluebird of happiness to begin with, I eagerly hand him my passport and documents.
“How old are you?” he grutns at me. Sensing his hostility, I meekly answer, “20.”
“And what is the legal drinking age in this country?”
“Excuse me?” I say, still oblivious.
“It looks like you’re a minor bringing back illegal goods into the United States,” he informs me. Somewhere, in the dark recesses of my mind, a lightbulb goes off.
“Oh my God! I completely forgot about that – I’m actually with a group of adults,” I say, pointing behind me to Michael, Ramona, and Frances, “They should be able to take it if that’s a problem.”
His face sours like milk on a hot day. “The funniest part of this,” I say to him, trying to laugh it off, “I really don’t even drink!”
Please note that this is not the smartest thing to say to a policeman who already thinks you’re a bimbo for trying to illegally smuggle alcohol into the country. Please also note that assuming he’s letting you off with a minor slap on the wrist is a very wrong assumption.
After his gruff lecture, I skip away and complain to my coworkers about his old fart lecture series. “Give someone a little power and it goes straight to his wrinkled head,” I said, handing my customs form to a frumpy woman after claiming my bags.
“You’ll need to sit in this area while US Customs checks your bag,” she said to me, sternly.
Oh, what the?
Naively (that’s a theme here, isn’t it?), I roll my little suitcase into the waiting area, hearing Ramona’s frantic screaming in the background. “That is my daughter you’re taking in there, she is a minor and I need to accompany her,” she argued with the guard. I was so touched at Ramona’s desperate attempt to stay by my side and make sure I was alright. And then I looked around and realized just how bad things were.
I give up my passport and take a seat, noticing that I am surrounded by, well, let’s just say by people who are from an entirely different class of society than I. This is a snotty comment, but when I watch border patrol pull out entire ropes of sausage links and jars of pickled eggs from a man’s suitcase, I can’t help but feel a tad bit out of place. I wait for over an hour, shaking in my seat and texting friends who have dealt with Minor in Possession offenses. Reality is crashing down on my world of sunshine and butterflies and I just know that I’m going to walk away from my first fam trip in handcuffs.
I’m also extremely agitated that I’m coming back to the U.S. and being treated like an illegal alien in my own country. It’s the policeman’s job to identify threats to the U.S., and I’d suffice to say that a 5’3″ Southern Girl wearing an Express shirt and capris is not on the top of any stereotypical terrorist profile. This still miffs me to this day, even though I was doing something illegal, the steps that man took were just to teach me a lesson.
After an eternity of waiting, I’m called to the front of the room where an intimidatingly built guy with a shaved head holds my passport. Before he even speaks, I just lose it – I confess to my rum and my age and my lack of enjoying alcohol altogether and this guy just starts laughing at me.
That’s the moment where things can either go really well or really poorly. Is he laughing because I’m the most naive thing he’s ever seen, or because this is a huge waste of time?
“They sent you back here for that?” he said to me. Oh my God. It’s because it’s a huge waste of time!
I sniffle and shake my head. “Don’t you think this is ridiculous, too?” I say, which is a gutsy call but no one’s ever accused me of knowing how to keep my mouth shut. He actually pats me on the back and escorts me out of the area, carrying my suitcase for me (which he never even checked!) all the way to Ramona and Frances’ panicked faces and loving arms.
I wish I could end this story by saying I downed a bottle of rum before my drive back to Athens, celebrating my close call. Instead, I sniveled the whole way home and vowed to never, ever be fully honest on a customs form for the rest of my life.