I’m an accomplished, open smuggler. No undercover panga boat for me. With my swag stashed in a briefcase, I brazenly avoided detection on a commercial flight to San Luis Obispo.
My crime spree started at a Walgreens in Lincoln, Neb. Entering to buy a newspaper, I witnessed shameless shoppers toting those instruments of the devil, aka plastic bags. Shocked by such wanton, criminal behavior, I approached the cashier, a redheaded young man with a burr cut.
“Have you called 911?” I asked.
“Why?” he responded. “Did someone fall or something?”
“Worse than that! A flock of people are walking out of your store with plastic bags.”
“Was someone shoplifting?”
“Not that I know of. Don’t you understand? The problem isn’t what’s in the bag. The problem is the bag.”
The young clerk reached under the counter, pulled out a fistful of plastic bags, and held them high. “You mean these things?” he asked.
“Be careful, my friend, where I come from those are against the law, just like heroin.”
“You mean nothing comes in a plastic bag?”
“Actually, it’s something like the tax code. There are more exceptions than rules. You can’t carry items out of a grocery store in a plastic bag, but inside apples and potatoes come in ’em, and others are available for customers to sack produce and meats. Heck, even my newspaper comes in one of those things.”
“So how do people carry purchases?”
“Every which way. I saw an elderly lady clenching a box of toothpaste in her teeth and stuffing eggs in her coat pocket. It was almost like a circus act.”
As I spoke, a wicked impulse seized me. “Could you sell me a few of your bags?” I asked. “My wife and I find ’em awfully handy.”
He wrinkled his brow.
“If they’re against the law, wouldn’t that make me an accessory or something if I sell ’em to you?
“I’m sympathetic, man. Maybe I should just give you some. I don’t wanna be a bag launderer, or whatever you might call it.”
“Gotcha. Just slip me a few bags and I’m outta here. And don’t worry, I’ll turn ’em inside out so no one will know they came from Walgreens.”
The young man looked both directions, slipped his hand slyly under the counter, and handed me a wad of the illegal bags. I shoved the loot into an inside pocket of my trench coat and walked double-time to my hotel, where I stashed the contraband in a room safe.
I worried that the X-ray machine at the airport would detect my loot, but had no problem. And, thank goodness, I didn’t have to go through customs when I reached California.
I made it back to San Luis Obispo with relief that California voters modified our three-strikes law in November to eliminate nonviolent crimes as the third strike. With previous convictions for the indecent exposure of a garbage can and a parking ticket, my plastic bag booty might have sent me to San Quentin for the rest of my days.
Carroll R. McKibben is a former Cal Poly dean and professor.