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The Golden Toilet Seat Award

On detail in Nogales, Arizona I was quick to make a reputation.  In this case it was pretty unique. 

We received breaks from our pre-assigned “X”s which we used to go to the restroom and buy a quick lunch at a fast food establishment.  One day, I was assigned to work the pedestrian crossing near the POE(Port of Entry) where many EWI’s(illegal aliens) would wait in line and then, as they approached the POE, jump the fence and run into the United States.  Sometimes they would make it through the thin green line of Border Patrol Agents and sometimes they wouldn’t.  It was my job to make sure they didn’t make it past us at this location. 

Nogales, at that time, had a brand new Port of Entry which wasn’t more than a couple of weeks old.  The Border Patrol and Customs didn’t really get along but we, at times, visited their office, mainly to use their facilities rather than driving all the way back to the station. 

On this day, it was well over 100 degrees and even with the AC on in the car, I was still hot.  I was wearing a bullet proof vest and truly, every day was a challenge because of the vest and the heat.  About half way through my shift, I needed to use the restroom.  I was assigned next to the POE and advised dispatch that I would be “preoccupied” for a while.  What I didn’t expect was that I would be pretty much AWOL for more than the next couple of hours.

The bathroom at the new Customs Office was huge, immaculate and even clean!   It was well air-conditioned and as I used it, I was happy I had this break from the heat of the car.  The room had several stalls along with urinals and the like. 

After I was finished with my business which I elongated for at least ten minutes, I was washing my hands and face when someone began knocking on the door.

“Unlock the door!”  Came the voice from outside. 

I walked over to the door thinking that maybe I had locked it by accident.  As I examined the door it had absolutely NO LOCK to lock on the inside.  I advised that to the knocker of this fact which he didn’t seem to believe. 

But there was NO lock on the inside and no matter how hard I looked, it wasn’t me that was locking it! 

Soon a man from Customs came to the door and, after identifying himself, demanded that I unlock the door!

I IDENTIFIED MYSELF and said that I DID NOT LOCK THE DOOR and there WAS NOT ANY LOCKS on the door!

This perplexed him. 

He left and soon returned with another Customs Officer who, after asking me the exact same questions, left returning quickly with the actual Port Director. She was a woman who sounded like she was in her forties, but maybe older, 

I remember perfectly her exasperation, “You didn’t lock the door?”

“No!  There’s not even a lock on the inside!”  I was as frustrated as she was.

“Then how is it locked?”  She asked, probably still thinking that I was the one that was playing with their minds.

I heard her talking with some of the other employees—I had no idea who was outside and soon another female came back and advised that there wasn’t a lock on the inside of the women’s restroom…Hmm.

After a few minutes of mumbled conversations, the Port Director told me that she wasn’t sure what had happened but for me to just sit tight and they were calling a locksmith and it would be about twenty minutes or so.  I remember perfectly her sudden sense of caring for my well-being, “Are you okay in there?”  She asked.

I laughed.  I guess she was worried about me being Closter phobic but that never even crossed my mind. Truly being locked in the bathroom didn’t bother me in the least as it was over 100 degrees outside and the inside of the bathroom, which was surprisingly clean, was air-conditioned and refreshing. 

I decided to get comfortable and removed my uniform shirt and pulled off the bullet proof vest.  Soon, the Port Director passed several magazines under the door and advised for me not to worry.  Help was on its way.

Within a few minutes a knock sounded on the door.  “What the hell are you doing in there, Bob?”  I recognized the Border Patrol supervisor’s voice.  I had chatted with him and he too was on detail to Nogales.  What an impression I must be making. 

I tried explaining that I hadn’t locked the door then I heard echos of laughter.  At least two or more agents were outside laughing at the predicament.  Hmm.

“Hey, called your PAIC(Patrol Agent In Charge), Fred Ewalt and he wants to know why you have barricaded yourself in the bathroom?”  Again chortles of laughter coming from the agents.  Truly this was a worthy diversion from the normal line-watch duties! 

Slightly embarrassed I ignored them and  took the magazines and sat down on the floor near the door as there weren’t any chairs in the bathroom and relaxed.  This was actually a nice diversion for me too.  I could hear the chuckles and mumbled conversation coming from outside.  Every few minutes the Border Patrol Supervisor would ask me something and laugh. 

The Customs Port Director, who was taking this much more seriously than my boss, returned a few minutes later and reassured me that help would be there momentarily.  She seemed truly worried for my well-being much in direct opposition as to my supervisor who couldn’t find anything in the world funnier than to have a detailer locked in the bathroom of the customs office!

After what was probably much closer to forty-five minutes, a very young sounding man with a heavy Hispanic accent knocked on the door advising he was a locksmith and would have me out in just a few minutes.  I didn’t even get up off the floor as I was enjoying reading the magazines in the cool, air-conditioned room. 

I listened to him working on the outside of the door.  He asked me if I could turn anything to open the door.  I got up, reexamined the heavy steel door which had a metal plate over the locking mechanism of the door and told him that.  He mumbled and  continued to work.  Then, some ten or more minutes later it was silent.  Again laughter could be heard from outside from the Border Patrol supervisor. 

But soon the female Port Director’s voice was at the door.  “Agent Wilson,” she began and I could hear the worry in her voice.  “The locksmith can’t get the door open.”  She stated.  “We are going to call the fire department and they will have to use the Jaws of Life to open the door.” 

This comment scared me.  I wasn’t worried about being the object of the other Border Patrol Agents laughter but now she was calling the fire department. 

“Can I break the plate from the inside?”  I asked her permission to use my Leatherman to try to remove the heavy plate. 

“Yes.  If you think you can, go ahead.”  She surely didn’t want the fire department to be called and I surely was worried I would be in the news tomorrow. 

I called the locksmith and told him that I was going to try and rip off the security plate.  I asked him if he could or already had done the same thing. 

I quickly put my outer belt and shirt back on and began to pry on the plate-not being careful in the least.  It began to peal up and with a desperate effort I was able to rip the plate up enough to expose the security innards of the door.  The locksmith was having similar success and quickly we were able to manually remove the bolt that was locking the bathroom door.  I was free!!!!

When I exited the bathroom, I received a round of applause and, being more than just a bit embarrassed at my predicament, I hoped they would just allow me to disappear back to my car.  But no, the supervisor patted me on the back and asked me with more than a chuckle if I was traumatized from the event.  Then he told me that if I needed another bathroom break on this detail he would hold the door for me! 

Although I’ve only chatted with this man before, he is now my friend.  He walked me back towards the car and stops for a second to use his cellphone.  He hands it to me and says “Here!”  

It was my boss, Fred Ewalt, back in Spokane.  He laughed for a moment and then told me that I had truly made the Spokane Sector of the Border Patrol infamous.  Hmm!

I worried that I had really caused waves but, when I returned home from the detail, Don Holguin and the rest of the Pasco Office had a surprise for me.  I received a Golden Toilet Award with a spray painted golden toilet seat and a faux write up in the local paper about being traumatized due to my lockup in the bathroom. 

It was nice and to this day I still have the golden toilet seat!

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