It all started in December of 1998. I was vacationing in Curacao, Netherlands Antilles (Southern Caribbean) and while there decided to do some Holiday shopping. While in town I visited a cigar store. The nice man in the shop told me "Of course you can take Cuban cigars into the US!" I believed him because I knew we had relaxed the rules about travelling to Cuba recently. So, I bought a nice $35 cigar for my brother-in-law.
On the flight home they give us those nice customs cards where we are supposed to list our purchases. I filled mine out and it looked something like:
1 T-Shirt $15.00
1 T-Shirt $25.00
1 Necklace $40.00
1 T-Shirt $12.00
Before arriving at customs in Miami we circled the airport (with the seatbelt sign on) for about 1.5 hours, then circled the airport on the ground for :45 minutes. (No explanation for this, and it's the first time I've ever done a pattern on the ground.) Well, when I got to customs, the guy looked at my card, laughed in my face, and red-lined me. I won the "Idiot of the Day" award. Apparently it IS still illegal to smuggle Cuban cigars into the US. For those of you who haven't been red-lined, it's the inspection area. If necessary, they will search your luggage. The other people in line were smart enough not to write down everything they were bringing into the US on the customs cards; however the dogs decided that they needed to be red-lined.
After forty-five minutes in line, and 2:30 on the plane with the seatbelt sign on, and with no bathrooms available until after you clear customs, I was in bad shape. When it was my turn I tried desperately to find the single cigar somewhere in my luggage. I couldn't find it amongst the scuba gear and clothes and other junk!! I was nearly in tears when I said "I'm going to have to empty everything out - but I really need to go to the bathroom!"
Thankfully, the inspector took pity on me. She asked how many cigars, and I said just one. She told me to never do it again, and let me go. Thank goodness! I probably would have made a mess on the floor there if I'd had to stay a few more minutes. They've got to put bathrooms in the customs area!
Eight months later...
I'm down in Cayman Brac, on another dive vacation (in fact, this is the only reason I work... vacations and the job satisfaction). One of my coworkers has asked me to bring back a Cuban cigar for him.
This time I'm Smart. My customs form reads:
1 T-Shirt $15.00
1 Dress $28.00
I'm quite certain they won't catch me this time! Bwahahaha! Well, a smooth trip to Miami, and I'm green-lined through customs. No questions, nothing. I just waltz through. And I'm thrilled with myself! I've mastered the art of smuggling Cuban cigars into the country!
It had been a long day of travelling. The connecting flight was delayed in Atlanta, so my trip had started at 4:30 AM and I got home a little after midnight. I was in a bad mood when I caught my 6:30 AM flight for Chicago the next day. I was in the second-to-last row, window seat, next to two guys who were wearing fanny-packs.
I hate window seats; I get claustrophobic. So once the seatbelt sign is off I go back to the galley area and read. When it's time to descend I go back to my seat and find that one guy is now sitting by the window. So I take the middle seat. I decide I might as well be nice to these guys and talk to them, even though I think they are jerks because one of their fanny-packs is diging into my hip.
Turns out they are Federal Agents. They are out looking for smugglers. The things in their fanny-packs are guns. Yes, they even brought guns on the plane!!! And, just to make it exciting, the one guy is sitting with his feet touching my backpack that has the illegal Cuban cigar in it!
There are probably at least 4 million people flying in the US on a Monday morning, I ended up sitting between two Federal Agents on the one day I've got contraband on me!!! What are the odds???
They never found out about the cigar, but my heart didn't beat much during the descent and landing of that flight.
I swear that I will never bring another Cuban cigar into the Country again!!