When I was a teenager the Miami airport was like that place near the Berlin wall where the prisoner exchanges took place. You know the image: a bedraggled figure walks alone in the moonlight across an imaginary line that represents the transition from one legal jurisdiction to another. Depending on which direction the prisoner is walking the line can also represent freedom or oppression. But either way, the prisoner walks alone. As a kid, that’s what I liked most about Miami.
I’d heard that a lot of drugs were smuggled through Miami, so whenever I was in the Customs area I’d try to find the likely suspects. I never could because, of course, the whole point of being a smuggler is to be inconspicuous. Except for the fact that I was too young I’d have been a great smuggler, mostly because I had great rapport with airport officials. Invariably, as I approached the U.S. Customs agent, with his crisp white shirt, he’d look me straight in the eye and say “welcome back to the United States, son.” His voice was filled with pride, and it made me feel proud too.
A lot of times he would ask why I’d been in Panama for so long. Then I’d have to explain that I lived there with my mother. Right away he’d understand that meant that my parents were divorced. The Customs guys were sharp; you didn’t have to explain things to them in laborious detail. “Okay son, just give the card to that man over there and you can be on your way,” and our eyes would linger for a sparkle of time. As I walked away I was glad for that human connection, even if it was with someone that had only met for about 30 seconds. It was moments like those that made me wish I could live in the Miami airport forever.