Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I Am Not a Criminal

I have a job that demands I ship beer from point A to point B on a consistent basis, but laws and rules in the private sector don't allow shipment of beer for folks like me. In fact, as I learned today, they don't allow for shipment of beer by most anybody. Stay with me, this could be a rough ride.

Today I went to FedEx to ship beers to the office to be photographed. I brought in a single box to the office and began to fill the out the paperwork when I was asked what was inside the box. Knowing I can't ship beer I told the lady behind the counter I was shipping 'stuff', I can't really remember if I said "yeast samples" or "books" or "cds"... but it wasn't 'beer'. [The beers weren't rattling, there was nothing to provoke the following actions of the help.] She proceeded to open the box of beer, revealing the true contents for her and others to see. A gassed, she explained how what I was doing was against state and federal laws and could wind me in jail for 10 years or a fine of 25k dollars. I tried to explain that these weren't for consumption and that they weren't being illegally sold or moved. To no avail, I was busted, flagged and 'let off with a warning' (a phrase I remember a cop telling me in my adolescence).

To say I left there upset would be a gross understatement, I was embarrassed, mad and bordering on tears of frustration for the way they made me feel. Sadly, the more I thought about this the more angry I became, realizing that I had been made a criminal by laws that have little more purpose, rules that aren't for governing so much as they're for controlling. How is it that I can be of legal age and rightfully in possession of this product, yet unable to ship it to another individual who is of age and in all ways 'legal'? What gives?

In my steaming anger I called FedEx to figure out a few things. Now keep in mind here that I wasn't calling to complain, my call was to simply ask "how" I could send beer legally from point A to point B. According to these guys, I can't. "I can't ship alcohol in this country, legally?" I asked the help on the phone. "Rules state you can ship wine, but only from the winery to licensed vendor" was her answer, followed by "beer and other hard alcohol is not allowed". I quizzed bit at this point, blood boiling and mind collapsing. "So, can a winery ship sparkling wine", thinking perhaps they had fears of carbonated alcohol in bottles, thus the rules banning beer. "Yes, as long as it is wine", she replied. This next question was just me being a dick, I know. "What about champagne?" She answered, "No, I don't think that's allowed either."

Not even getting to the lack of help offered at this point, I'll just say that I find it hard to imagine that we can't ship beer legally in this country. I was, at this point, dumbfounded. I didn't know what to say, what I could do, so I just kept talking, trying to find a way to get my job - they way I make my living now - done.

As I type this, many hours later, I can't recall exactly how I got transferred to the Hazardous Materials Dept of FedEx, but I did. "If you really wanted to, you could burn beer" the new voice on the phone explained, telling me why exactly beer wasn't allowed. "Actually, no you can't. It's a different kind of alcohol." I replied, at this point quite calm and collected (I admit, at this point I knew I was getting nowhere and that I wasn't going to change anything - I just don't give up that easily). The guy seemed genuinely pleased to hear you can't burn beer, saying something along the lines of "then it isn't a hazardous material, let me transfer you to someone who can help you." Thus, he did.

"International Delivery, my name is [blank], how can I help you" was my greeting from helpful voice number three. Again, I told her that I had to ship beer from point A to point be, for work, and needed to figure out how I can legally do this. Clearly my brain's collapse was in full effect now because I don't even remember how this call ended, except that apparently shipping beer in the US is a cross between smuggling heroine and c4 explosives to toddlers. I know I have sputtered more swear words tonight than I have in a really long time, I simply cannot express in any better way the way I feel right now, except to say "fuck!".

How can this be? I know you know tips and tricks to get around this, but what does that say? We have rules in the books that make you, me and others like us (tens of thousands at least) criminals! I am not a drug dealer. I don't distribute child porn. I don't even sell cheap Viagra. So, why then do I need to sneak around like a common criminal to send a few beers to my office in Phoenix, just so they can be photographed? Why?!

Yes, there are bigger problems in the world today and in the whole big scheme of life, this is but a drop in a very large bucket. However, I feel ashamed, violated and uneasy about the next time I ship a beer to work - let alone the idea of trying to pass on to a friend across the country a gift of thanks or genuine appreciation. Congress, if you're worried about your tax revenue, I'll fill out a form and probably accept a tax for this privilege. There must be a way this can work, there's just no good reason it can't, right? Our current three-tier system won't really allow a compromise or deal with brewers around the country, so why not do SOMETHING that makes sense for all parties involved?

I ship a lot of beer, have for a while now. This is the second time a package has been opened and I've been made to feel this way. I can't help but wonder what would happen if some nimrod really had it out for folk like me, how far would they press and would they stop at anything less than the 10 year 25k punishment, or is this a perpetual slap on the wrist in a lame effort to enforce laws that simply don't make sense?