Eric, you mentioned that your Dad told a G-rated version about a trip I took to Mexico. I'm not sure what he "glossed-over", but I think it's a great example of what I was saying about my being oblivious to danger, kinda stupid and incredibly lucky all at once. It's one of my favorite stories, but to make it complete I have to admit to some things I'm not very proud of. I've always tried to live an honest life, but this story begins with me succumbing to temptation to commit an act which I believed to be very wrong.
Somewhere around 1988, I bought a house in partnership with Julie, who I fully intended to spend the rest of my life with. The housing market was going crazy here and all of my friends were making huge profits in very short periods of time. The plan was to buy this house, live in it for a couple of years, then sell it for a big profit which we would use to move to, and settle in Hawaii, where Julie was raised and where I very much wanted to live. Within a month of the purchase, the CA housing market took a nose-dive, leaving us upside-down to the tune of $20K or so. Shortly there after, I discovered that Julie was cheating on me. After unsuccessfully attempting to work out our problems, we split up, and I refinanced the house in my name only, adding a little more overhead to the deal. Although we were conservative and bought a house the "we" could easily afford, "I" found it difficult to keep up the payments. What's worse, the house was approaching 20 years old, meaning the roof was going bad and all the appliances, as well as the heat pump were going to need replacing soon. I was upside down and swimming upstream while the market was showing no sign of recovery. Be that as it may, it does not excuse my next step.
A friend, let's call him Z, approached me with a plan to make both of us some money. He would buy a car with good resale value, but one that was cheap for some reason. We would drive that car to Mexico where he would purchase full-coverage insurance, then we would drive into Tijuana, abandon the car on some remote street, spend the day checking out TJ, then report it stolen, collect the insurance money and fly home. He agreed to pay all expenses in exchange for my mechanical expertise and assistance in getting the car to Mexico. To sweeten the pot, I would take my tools and toolbox, that were at my house because I was working for Auto Critic instead of in a shop at the time, and hide them all in the crawlspace of my house. When we returned from Mexico, I would report a burglary and collect the insurance money, which I estimated would be about $5000. I hated the idea, but justified it by telling myself that I was desperate. The voice in my head kept saying "wrong is wrong, regardless of desperation", so I tried not to listen to that voice.
Z found and bought (cheap) a late model Mercedes diesel that had some minor damage and had been sitting in storage long enough that it wouldn't start, but inside of a few hours, I got it running. We pulled the front seats out and exchanged them for the Toyota seats that I had installed in my IH Scout. We didn't even bother to bolt them down, but piled stuff behind them to keep them in place. We packed some CDs and a player, some oranges, a few joints and, being a long road-trip, a little bit of "meth" to make the drive easier (alright, more fun too), then headed out for an all-night drive. We made it as far as San Diego by the next morning, and stayed for the day at the house of my oldest friend, _____, to prepare for the next day. Preparation included wrapping the drugs in multiple layers of baggies very carefully so that no smell would be detectable. Our intention was to smoke the 2 remaining joints while walking around TJ, then ingest the remaining (tiny amount of) meth prior to passing through the building and into the US, where we would immediately take the train to the SD airport and fly home.
I know what you're thinking. Of course I knew it was stupid to even think about transporting drugs across international borders. But as I've indicated, I am quite capable of performing incredibly stupid acts without being bothered by common sense or fear of being caught. I'm basically a good human being (most of the time) and don't deserve to spend my life behind bars (for the most part), so karma should take care of me (uh-huh). Besides, the plan seemed sound enough.
The first part went well. We stopped at the border and bought insurance on the car. They didn't even turn around to look out the window at the car they were insuring (being Mexico and all), but issued a full-coverage policy. Then we proceeded into TJ on a grey and overcast day. We wound around through the narrow streets for an hour or so until we found 'the perfect spot' to leave the car. We got out, being sure to take all evidence and possessions, left the keys in the ignition and the doors unlocked, and walked away. Someone probably made a helluva good tractor out of it eventually.
I hate Mexico. This was my second trip there and I quickly discovered that I still hated Mexico. There is nothing that I want in Mexico, no matter how cheap it is. I don't feel superior walking through poverty-stricken, third-world countries, I feel sick at seeing the living conditions. And it's not that this was all cast upon a poor unsuspecting people, in TJ at least, most of it is brought on by themselves. Garbage is everywhere, thrown out of glassless windows into the streets in front. The river is the sewerage system. Looking into the faces of people, I can see only sinister intentions and hatred. To make matters worse, it was now raining.
I convinced Z that it was time to go, NOW, and we headed for the bridge. Before reaching the building leading to the US, I took the tightly packaged drugs and placed them next to my skin at the belt line of my pants (I know, I know! You don't have to tell me. . . ), then started down the long hallway toward the turnstiles.
Proceeding down the hall, I noticed a man with a small dog walking toward us on the other side of the hallway that was probably 20 feet wide. To maximize the distance between us, I casually stepped to the right in full stride, putting me next to the opposite wall and never made eye contact with him. There were a dozen people between him and me as we passed. A moment later we reached the end of the line waiting to pass through the turnstiles and into the US. As we waited, suddenly that small dog and his master were beside me (this dog was GOOD!). The dog was friendly and came right up to me and sniffed my pants and shoes. I patted him and said to the man "He probably smells my dog". The man smiled and walked away for a moment, then came right back and asked me to walk forward, place my backpack on the floor and step back. The backpack was one that I had owned for many years. I had always used it to go swimming up on the American River, which generally included carrying a small bag of pot. All told, I had carried pounds of pot in the front pocket over the years. Only now was it occurring to me what a bad choice it might have been to bring this particular bag on this particular escapade. (I told you I'm pretty stupid at times) The dog walked up to the bag and sniffed it thoroughly, then turned and walked back and sniffed me. Then he again walked to the bag, then back to me, then back to the bag, then back to me, then he sat down at my feet. The man thanked me and said I could pick up my bag. As it turned out, I picked up the bag just as it was my turn to pass through the turnstile. I placed the bag on the belt to be scanned and stepped through the metal detector, no problem. I reached for my bag coming out the other side of the x-ray machine and just as I touched it, I felt a hand come up under each arm and a voice said quietly, but firmly, to walk straight ahead to that door. When I passed through the door, the man with the dog passed me, went around the counter and out the back door. The two men who still had me by the arm pits walked me toward the counter and told me to put the bag on the counter, put my hands on the counter and look only at the clock on the wall behind the counter. A woman stepped up to the other side of the counter and started asking me questions while gazing intently into my eyes In the mean time, one man began examining my backpack while the other man began to frisk me. She asked me why I had CDs, but no player and I explained that my friend had the player. She asked why I had only oranges and no clothes, toothbrush or any tourist-type things. I explained that it was only a day-trip and the oranges were so I didn't have to eat any food in Mexico, which surely would have made me sick. Another man came in and told me that my friend was across the street in McDonalds and I could find him there when I was done. It was all very courteous and polite, but all the time, the frisking was getting deeper. By this time, my backpack had been emptied and turned inside out and they asked me to remove my outer shirt, which they proceeded to examine closely. Now I was down to a t-shirt, that was not tucked in and, of course, my pants. At this point, the man frisking me put his thumbs inside the belt line at my spine and slowly slid them around my sides toward the front. "Here it comes", I thought, but I kept my eyes on the clock as instructed and tried to listen to the questions I was being asked.
In a situation such as this, crossing an international border, there are no misdemeanors. ANY amount of contraband found on me would make me a drug smuggler and could result in felony charges. But I tried not to think about that as I felt that man behind me sliding closer to my little drug packet. He continued to slide along, inside my beltline until the edge of his thumb actually touched the baggie and pushed it forward slightly. My stomach fell to my feet and I felt like I was going to get sick, but apparently I didn't flinch because the woman on the other side of the counter, who was staring straight into my eyes the whole time, didn't notice anything and continued her questioning as before. The man never felt the contact of his thumb against the baggie, and since he had completed the circle of my belt line, and in fact the whole frisking procedure, he stepped back and asked me to remove my shoes. I was told to sit on the bench behind me to remove them, which I did. As they examined my shoes, I was told once again that my friend was across the street and I should meet him there when I was finished. Finding nothing in the lining of my shoes or any secret compartments hollowed out in the soles, they handed everything back to me, thanked me for my co-operation, reminded me that I could find my friend across the street and opened the door to allow me to leave. When I entered the door of McDonalds, I saw Z wandering towards me with a vacant stare. When he saw me, his eyes got 'as big as saucers' (to use a well-worn cliche). He said he was trying to figure out how he was going to get the money to bail me out.
You know, later, that little dog just had to slap his trainer on the forehead and say "What the f___ is wrong with you guys? I practically pointed right at it and you let him go?"
See what I mean about dumb luck?
In the end, Z was unable to collect any insurance money, and of course, lost the car. I eventually had to claim bankruptcy and lost the house.
I've never again considered any type of fraudulent or illegal action in the interest of money, regardless of my situation.