Rum Runners.

Posted by admin on December 11, 2012 in Pirate Adventures |
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A week or so ago, I heard that a fellow pirate had passed away. It seems to be happening with greater frequency. Though I have tried to fill my life with people younger than I to stem the tide of the dying, there are some who have slipped through the cracks anyway.

Butch and I never really got along. But that doesn’t really matter when you’re in a small, tight knit group like I was. There is a certain level of respect that goes with the territory.

It was with this measure of respect that I cracked open the last bottle of Sangster’s Old Jamaica Rum. I’ve covered its magical properties elsewhere, so I won’t recount its wonderfully smooth flavor here. Suffice it to say, it’s a rarity and I am lucky enough to have a full bottle.

Well, it was full. On the occasion of Butch’s passing, I opened the bottle and drank a toast to a fellow adventurer. There are few of us left.

As I relished in its syrupy, delightful character, I thought back to the days when we drank the stuff like pop. Though it was something like $12 in the Caymans, it was half that price when you brought it back home.

I know, a great deal. It was even back in the 1980s when I discovered this rum. I was only making $5 an hour in the mailroom at the time, so each bottle on the island cost me 2 1/2 hours of labor. But on the way back, I could have a bottle for an hour, as long as we didn’t get tagged for all the duty back in the states.

We were rum runners. No doubt about it. As most of you know you’re usually only allowed to take two bottles of booze back from any destination. If you go to the Virgin Islands or another U.S. territory, the terms are a bit more liberal. From Cayman, however, it was 1.5 liters per person.

For civilians maybe. We were pirates. Two bottles wouldn’t last a couple weeks back home, even if we carefully rationed it and kept it away from our rum swilling pirate friends. And it was so cheap, who could resist bringing a few extra bottles back and paying the duty.

Well, I for one couldn’t afford the duty. I knew too that the Customs folks wouldn’t necessarily take too kindly to a 144 bottles of rum coming back into the country, carried by 12 festooned, costumed pirates. Yes, each of us carried back a case of rum back with us. We filled the plane’s overheads with it, mind you, not wanting to risk a single bottle breaking.

This had happened to Butch one time. As I rolled a little more rum around my mouth, I thought back to the day that Butch had checked his rum. It made the trip to Miami fine. We were still on the plane when the boxes of rum were coming down the luggage ramp. Just before the box made its way to the handler, he got caught up with a bag that didn’t make it into the cart. A box fell to the ground, and we collectively let out a shriek of horror, watching the ground become wet with golden brown gold.

Now you know why we hand carried the rum. It was packaged neatly into two six packs, making for easy and balanced load carrying. The circus came to town every time the plane landed in the states.

We would grab our boxes of rum and wait to deplane. I made it a practice to always be first off the aircraft. Once free of the confines of the cabin, I would use my advantageous youth to get to Customs first.

I would present my Customs form. Inevitably the guy would ask about the 12 bottles of rum, telling me that I was allowed two. I would tell him that pirates weren’t good at counting, that 10 of the bottles had been intended to be consumed on the two hour flight to Miami, or some such nonsense.  The Customs person would smile and wave me through.

I knew that he wouldn’t be so charitable by the time the one hundredth bottle had come through. Eventually they’d figure out that there was a lot of rum coming into the country and most of it duty free, thanks to a pirate costume and some light hearted mea culpas.

This happened year in and year out. The Miami airport was a pretty breezy stop. If your pants weren’t bulging with ganja they didn’t much care. Their operation was set up to stop drugs, not rum soaked pirates.

Then there was the year we went through Memphis. Tennessee was an entirely different experience. It’s a place with dry counties. I figured carting cases of rum into Tennessee may be a bigger deal. I was right. It’s the only time I got tagged for duty on the rum. I think I got away with $1 per bottle. I gladly and hurriedly paid it as I could see the other pirates lining up behind me.

I knew that they were going to get hit with a bigger duty. I had seen the numbers in the guy’s book. Thankfully, my seeming obsession with getting through the line first worked like magic and $12 lighter, I made my way to the connecting flight.

The other pirates weren’t so lucky. It probably didn’t help that I had taken the time to set up one of them. I pointed to the one particularly hairy pirate near the back of the line.

“I think he might have some ganja on him,” I said. “I think it’s down his pants.”

The Customs man looked down the line. “Hhm,” he said smiling. “He certainly fits our profile. Thanks for the tip. We’ll have to check it out.”

I quickly moved on, gleeful in my new cache of rum and laughing under my breath that my pirate buddy was about to get a once over that a proctologist would envy.

In the Emerald City, the land of legalized ganja and a dwindling supply of Old Jamaica,

– Robb

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