Saturday, May 14, 2011

“I do not believe you are here on holiday, I think you are here to work, sir.”

Since I have always traveled a great deal, I have run into customs and immigration guys all over the world.

Usually there is not any great problem. In the old days you could even be a wise guy with them without any great fear of being arrested or worse.

I remember once returning to England from a couple of days in Paris and being asked at customs if I had anything to declare. He could not believe that I had not bought anything, cigarettes, lighters, booze, perfume, nada, nothing, I had not bought a damn thing!

Finally in desperation, he seriously asked me “what is that bulge under your jacket?”

You guessed it; I said with a smirk that it was a gun then quickly said it was a joke; after all it was the UK in the 60’s when the police did not even carry guns.

He said,” I know sir, please go into that room to be searched.”

If you say something like that today chances are a search is the least of what will happen.

A friend was returning from Tokyo to New York via Fairbanks Alaska, it was the early 70’s and there were no scanning machines at that time yet. He was being padded down by a State Trooper, arms around him checking for anything behind his back, Harry has a bigger mouth than I do, he asks. “Do you get kissed often doing this?” Try that today and you will not make the flight to N Y, or any other one.

When I was transferred to London in 1965, it was the year our son Paul was born; the situation was a bit complicated….the company had wanted us in London 4 months before but I kept stalling, we wanted our son born in Chicago. Eventually, they insisted I go before our son was born. They would have all my documents, working papers, etc. ready for me by the time we were ready to move. Sounded good. I went for a month before all the documents were ready as a tourist, found an apartment, organized everything or so I thought and returned for the birth and baptism of our son.

My wife was incredible, our son was 30 days old and we are going to live in a foreign country, not many women would do that.

We arrive in London ready for the new adventure. The first person we meet in England is the immigration guy, a little short guy wearing, if I remember correctly, a brown shirt. That should have tipped me off.

He looks at our passports and asks what we are doing there; I say, “We are on holiday.” Remember, I returned for a second time after just a month. He looks at us, me, my wife and our 30-day-old son. He stands up as tall as he can and asks,

“Are you here to work?”

I like the idiot I am, stand up taller than him, and say, “We are on holiday.”

“I do not believe you sir, I think you are here to work.”

At this point we are put in a waiting room, with a bunch of people from all kinds of countries in ethnic dress, to be sent back on the next plane, I am insisting on first class tickets.

Lots of luck on that one.

I get to a phone and call our office and speak to the company lawyer.

“If you do not get me in before they throw me out, forget the damn job.” I yell at him.

One hour later the little guy in the brown shirt comes in and says, “Have you changed your story?”
He also asks me if I am sorry to put my wife through this. Jeannine jumps to my defense and tells him, while waving our son around, that we are detained in this room with all these poor, pathetic people because of him, not me.
Go get him Jeannine.

I tell him that he knows that I am legal. He only wants me to apologize and tell him the truth, which I am not about to do. Finally, one hour later he lets us out of the room and into the country. The lawyer is outside with the correct papers; I am pissed off at him as well.

I really handled that one wrong, for years in my mind I have been blaming the agent, maybe I should have just told the truth, or the company lawyer should have told me about my papers being OK.

Today things are different…do not come up with smart-ass comments, no matter the temptation.

Beware of short guys with brown shirts in airports.


  1. I remember only too well that incident...Somethings you never forget...Still we had our great adventure and it hasn't stopped since!

  2. That little immigration guy in the brown shirt was right. You are a very suspicious looking guy. Would I buy a used car from you? Probably not.
    Good story.