Thursday, November 25, 2010
El Paso : May 2009. The Facts.
____ The trip had started with a run across Manitoba to the rural township of Rivers; where Pete and two other BFS trucks had loaded alfalfa hay for Hereford in Texas. It was at the border crossing where the first problem occurred. Dunseith, North Dakota is not a big busy crossing and three trucks with the wrong paperwork clogged the site. Pete also needed to renew his I94, the visa waiver all British drivers need for 90 days travel into the US. It was not out of date, but with a trip to Texas, it would be by the time he returned to Canada.
____In an effort to clear the crossing, the border officials refused Pete’s pleas for a new I94; ordering him to get on his way, saying it would not be a problem. Company guidelines on matters like this required drivers to obey customs officers and not to argue. Pete reluctantly drove south with only the knowledge that nobody ever asked to see your I94 as any comfort.
____Hereford, Tx. calls itself the Beef Capital of the World; the smell and the never ending stream of livestock trucks rolling into town make you think that maybe they are right. The alfalfa hay is a regular load to the feedlots that surround the town. All three BFS trucks are unloaded on the Thursday morning; two get reloads from Fort Worth to Quebec and Pete gets instructions to load Bentonite from the Cowboy Mining Company, situated fifty miles south of Alpine, close to the Mexican border.
____More than a full days running south; it is midday when BFS Volvo C626 and its 48 foot flat-deck trailer are loaded at the mine. A palletised load that needs tarping, 46,ooo lbs of granules in fifty pound sacks.
____Heading north, Pete’s main concern is where he can shower and eat before starting the long haul to Montreal, back in Canada. But being so close to the Mexican border; Pete does not realise that special checkpoints are on all northbound routes, checks to catch illegal aliens who do not have the correct papers to be in the USA! At one such semi-permanent establishment; the fact that Pete’s I94 is out of date is spotted.
____After spending millions of dollars on efforts to stop illegal immigration; it must be wonderful for the authorities to catch someone at their checkpoint; even it is only a British trucker with documents that are a couple of days out of date. Pete is arrested, the truck left at the side of the road, and he is ferried, by a series of prison vans, to a detention camp in El Paso.
____The holding cell is full of men with Oriental and Spanish origins. Pete immediately decides to opt for solitary confinement. Showered, dressed in prison clothes without belt or shoe-laces, he is then locked up. With his US dollars, he telephones BFS and his girlfriend, Carrie, to tell them what happened. Nothing more happens until Monday morning.
____There will be no court case or hearing; it’s a cut and dried situation; Pete will be deported for being in the US illegally. BFS accept this; finding that the deportation will take between two and four weeks. Carrie is understandably distraught and contacts various members of the British Ex-pat community in South-east Manitoba. Robert Menhenitt, a.k.a. Bobthedog contacts the British Embassy, finds details about immigration lawyers on the internet and starts the Facebook group, ”Free the Winnipeg One.”
____Meanwhile Chris Arbon is waiting for reload instructions at Trois Rivieres in the Province of Quebec. Instructions come to fly down to El Paso in order to collect C626 and return with it to Montreal. Leaving at 6 o’clock, Tuesday morning and flying via Philadelphia, Phoenix to El Paso, Chris books into a airport hotel and contacts Bobthedog who advises a visit is essential.
____BFS don’t want to employ a lawyer. Pete has run out of telephone money. The case officer in charge of Pete’s deportation refuses to discuss any details and give any idea of when he will be free. Carrie is getting more and more distraught. The British drivers at BFS are demanding that something gets done but the office are resigned to Pete doing the time.
____Pete is finding it difficult to cope with the solitary confinement and lack of progress in his predicament. A small 8 foot by 10 foot cell with just a bed, a toilet and picture on the wall of the Virgin of Guadalajara. However, he is surprised and delighted when he is told he has a visitor; Chris Arbon has come with some telephone money. The two drivers talk for twenty emotional minutes on the telephone at a glass-screened booth. Pete does say that a supervisor is sympathetic to his plight but he seems very depressed about getting out.
____Asking to speak to a supervisor turned out to be the turning point for Pete. Chris Arbon spoke to Mark Cowell and the supervisor took it upon himself to organise Pete’s release. Not justifying, or giving any reason, the supervisor just announced that Pete would be released at two o’clock that afternoon. All he needed was a fax from BFS; stating Pete’s average wage and length of service at BFS. This was to enable Pete to get a new I94 at the Mexican border so that he could carry on with the load to Montreal.
____Due to the constraints of the Data Information act, BFS said it was impossible to send such a fax. It took a 20 minute telephone call from the supervisor to BFS to convince them that their driver would not be free if they did not send the fax. Pete was pleasantly surprised to walk free at three o’clock; take a taxi down to the border, get a new I94 and book into a posh downtown hotel. It was the closest hotel to the Greyhound Bus terminal.
____The Greyhound from El Paso to Alpine had a connection at Fort Stockton but due to a DoT inspection on the bus during the first leg of the trip; the second bus had already left. As Pete sat on the bench, an old SUV drew up in a cloud of dust and the driver asked,
“ Looking for a ride to Alpine? Buddy.”
____Chris Arbon had agreed to $60 and a tank of fuel for the ride down to Alpine with Richie Sheehan, a local of Fort Stockton. It wasn’t until 10 miles down the road and Richie’s announcement that he shouldn’t really go to Alpine due to the conditions of his parole that the two Brits realised they were in for no ordinary ride. Their driver had been caught with half a ton of marijuana in the bed of his pick-up the last time he was this far south. The whole journey was passed with Richie giving details of his drug-running escapades.
____C626 had been towed and there was a bill to be paid but everything was sorted and the two drivers were on their way to Montreal that night. Arriving back in Canada in time to deliver on the Monday morning; team driving the Volvo non-stop.
____Overall Distance: 9426 kms.