Baseball Fans, Athens, Ohio © Jim Korpi
“They…brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bells. They willingly traded everything they owned…They were well built, with good bodies and handsome features…They do not bear arms and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane…They would make fine servants…With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”
Christopher Columbus’ Logbook, Quoted from A People’s History of the United States
Miles’ eight-hour shift can get boring. Telling people what they can and can’t bring into his country only has moments of thrill followed by hours of monotony. It’s like life, he believes, and all those Hollywood movies from the United States, with their 90 minutes of action, were not going to convince him otherwise.
Miles found Americans a peculiar bunch. It wasn’t the way they looked, although he admitted they have a strange grasp on fashion and a heavier than the average tourist body type. But he conceded, in his self-deprecating British way, that his fellow Brits we just as poorly dressed and hefty. It was more what they carried in their bags.
“In order to get reimbursed for the taxes paid on goods brought into a country,” Miles explained, “I have to see the goods before I stamp anyone’s claim form.” Miles clarified this with the confidence anyone would with 20 years of paychecks from the same employer.
An American mother and daughter were traveling together through London on to their eventual destination of Italy. Miles had seen just about everything in his years in the Customs Division at Heathrow Airport, including cocaine-filled condoms piled up at the bottom of a bucket that a “swallower” from the Carribean had just shite. But when the declaration of this heavy-set mother and daughter duo from the States was handed to him, he was once again surprised. “It made my week,” he laughed. “Heck, it made my month.”
“Ok,” he said to the duo. “But I have to see these first.” The mother and daughter dragged over the three suitcases and zipped the open. Each piece of luggage was of the large sort you check in and not the type passengers attempt to stuff into the overhead compartment.
On top of the goods rested a thin layer of clothing. The mother took the initiative to move aside the clothing to display the items on the form. Over eighty percent of each suitcase was filled with small boxes of popped popcorn.
“This made me curious,” he conceded. Even a customs agent about to retire is stumped now and then. “What were they going to do with all that popcorn?”
“I must confess,” he started at the mother. “You say you are en route to Italy, a place renowned for its cuisine all over the world, and so…I’m curious…what are you going to do with all this popcorn?”
“We only eat popcorn,” she declared.