Sunday, November 28, 2010

How I Broke a Customs Agent

Warning: This post may not be suitable for people with sensitive ears.

I love to have fun at work. Sure, there are a lot of times when flying airplanes is a pretty serious business, but there are also times when joking around with other pilots and flight attendants is the only way to stay sane.

The other night we had just flown over Cuba and off in the distance I saw the island of Grand Cayman. I was reminded of a time I had a customs agent laughing so hard, he was nearly in tears. Now, Customs and Border Protections agents are kind of like the guards at Buckingham Palace, they're tough to break. However, with all the passes I make through the customs hall...it's fun to try.

A few years ago, I had started a 4-day trip out of Houston with a flight to Grand Cayman and back. Often times, pilots and flight attendants use those trips south of the border to restock their liquor cabinet or replenish their cigar collection. This would be my first trip to Grand Cayman and before we left, one of the flight attendants told me there's a particular type of rum that's only available in Grand Cayman. I'm always a sucker for picking up things that are only available in certain locations, so when I heard about the rum that's only available in Grand Cayman, I had to get it.

After we touched down in the island paradise, I was hoping our plane would break down and we could stay for a few days. But alas, the ol' B-737 was operating like the finely tuned machine it is, and we only had an hour on the ground. I headed inside to the duty free store with a few other crew members. One of the flight attendants pointed out the rum that was only available on this pristine island. I examined the bottle; it wasn't expensive and I had heard that it isn't the best quality rum. So what makes it so special? The name; Big Black Dick.

I purchased the bottle and headed back to the airplane. On the flight back to Houston, I was filling out our customs declaration form, which is when I thought I'd have a little fun with the customs agents. On the form where it asks you to write what you've purchased abroad, I wrote, "1 - Big Black Dick - $12."

We landed back in Houston and headed to customs. I showed the first agent my passport and paperwork, neatly filled out and stating what I had purchased. He swiped my passport through his computer, stamped my declaration paperwork, and said, "Have a nice day." Well, that's not the reaction I was looking for but I still have to hand in the paperwork to another customs agent before I'm allowed to enter the United States.

I headed downstairs where the agent was collecting declaration forms from passengers and crew. The customs agent in my line looked a lot like the actor Michael Clarke Duncan. In other words, he looks like the kind of guy who eats people like me for breakfast. Uh-oh. I anxiously approached the agent and when I reached his post, he looked like any other customs agent; no smile, eying up every passenger like they're the next terrorist, ready to kill at any moment. I handed him my form, he looked down at the paperwork, then looked up at me. I just stood there like a goober, not sure if I should smile and praying I wasn't going to end up in a back room for a "special" inspection. He looked back at the paperwork, straight faced, looked back at me...and burst out laughing! I breathed a huge sigh of relief and started laughing along with him. He told me that a friend of his lives in Grand Cayman so he was familiar with what I was declaring, which is probably what kept me out of the interrogation room.

I brought the rum home and the reviews were right, it's not that great...but it makes for a good story about the day I broke a customs agent.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Flossing and Flying

I’ll be the first to admit I’m not good at flossing my teeth. As a matter of fact, usually when the dental hygienist asks me how often I floss, I like to joke by saying, “The last time I flossed, you did it.” She usually doesn’t find that as amusing as I do. It’s not quite that bad, but those cards the dentist office sends to remind me of my upcoming cleaning, are usually my reminder to start flossing. I’ve taken care of my teeth for the most part; I wore braces for a couple years, I paid big bucks to have them whitened, but if you were to give me a grade on flossing, I’d get a big fat F...as in Flunked Flossing. I know all the benefits to flossing; better looking teeth and gums, no gum cancer, a longer life span, and even weight loss. So why, you might ask yourself, would I not floss my teeth as much as I should when the benefits include looking better, living longer, and not getting mouth cancer?

My first excuse is that I have built in retainers. These metal fences on the back of my teeth make flossing more complicated than just pulling out some thread and going at it. It requires a flossing needle. I literally thread floss through the needle like I did in 8th grade home economics...which I also failed. The needle isn’t actually a needle as you might think of it, it’s more like a plastic lasso for floss. It doesn’t hurt, but it is a pain. The second reason I don’t floss like I should? Mostly laziness. Usually by the time I’m ready for bed, I’ve stayed up beyond most peoples bed times, and the last thing I want to do is spend an extra couple minutes in the bathroom before I stumble into bed.

The other day, a lightbulb went off in my head (which doesn’t happen very often, so I have to pay attention when it does). I was flying over to Europe, and somewhere over the North Atlantic, I looked at the clock and decided 20 hours awake was too long to go without brushing my teeth. Pilots are allowed to leave the cockpit inflight for physiological reasons, I figured bad breath is physiological, right? I opened my suitcase, grabbed my toiletry kit and headed out of the cockpit and to the lavatory. I also brought a bottle of water because I refuse to brush my teeth with airplane water.

As I pulled the toothbrush out of my toiletry kit, I saw my floss laying there. It was looking up at me, almost as if it were saying, “Hey Paul, wanna play?” So I grabbed the floss and floss threaders and went to work. As I was threading floss through my incisor, the lightbulb went off. I fly back and forth across the ocean at least four times a month, if I floss on every flight, that’s eight times per month. Now, I know that’s not nearly the number my dentist wants to see, but it’s better than zero times per month.

So that’s my plan; flying and flossing. They say pilots are good at multitasking, I don’t think this is quite what they mean, but if people are going to call me Smiling Paul, I better have a good smile to go with the nickname.