Arun is Bringing You...Your Daily Remedy

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Great Border Caper Part 4 - The Rise and Fall of the Partnership

Now with Raul in the country, he and Frederico could now begin building their car business.

Frederico's plan was to begin doing repairs for the cars of anyone he knew who needed them, as well as to buy old cars, fix them up, and resell them. Raul would be the expert mechanic (with Frederico's helping hand), and Frederico would handle all of the business aspects and front the money for all purchases (since Raul had essentially nothing).

The first thing they needed was to live in a place with space, so Frederico sold the sail boat he was living on, and they rented a house out in Chula Vista (or as Frederico called it, "Little Mexico").

Raul and Frederico were giddy with excitement. They now had a garage, ample space to begin their car business, as well as a couple of customers (acquaintances of Frederico's) already!

Frederico cut his regular hours (he is a diver and cleans boats) by more than half to dedicate time to the car business. The giddyness however was short lived. Once the short list of customers dried up, Frederico and Raul began to venture out and purchase cars that had problems to fix up.

Problems began immediately. First of all, it took days for them to find cars that were a worthy investment; many calls, driving all over the county to personally inspect the cars, and then only if it was a worthwhile investment, pulling the trigger and buying one.

After the first few cars were turned over, Frederico quickly realized that things were not going well. He was losing money. They were not making nearly enough profit on the vehicles based on the hours of work and expense going into fixing each one.

Raul needed to get a job.

He was resistant to try though. Raul insisted that everything was going to work out, and they just needed more time. Frederico however was the one losing money hand over fist, and could not afford more time. They argued about Raul finding a job until finally Frederico had to threaten him with cutting off his financial "loans" and leaving him on his own.

The next day Raul found a job. How much was he making? A whopping FIVE DOLLARS PER HOUR.

As an illegal immigrant, Raul didn't exactly have a lot of bargaining power. Minimum wage laws don't apply to him, but at least he wasn't paying taxes.

Meanwhile, they continued trying to turn over used cars, but Frederico soon realized that Raul's mechanical evaluations of the cars they were buying were not very good.

When questioned by Frederico about potential repairs needed on the cars before purchase, Raul would always reply, "I can Fix it!" But, once they bought the car, they would find new problems that Raul had overlooked, or more frustrating yet, problems they knew about that Raul couldn't really fix. He could however "cover up" the problem so that the car appeared to be fine for the time being only to later breakdown.

While this is common practice in Brazil and Mexico, Frederico, being an incredibly honest guy, wanted absolutely no part of this. Soon another argument spawned, but no resolution was definitively made.

The next night, Raul after having had several beers, left to go pick up a Mexican girl he was dating that he met in his English class. The next morning Frederico got a call from Prison. He had been arrested for DUI.

Goodbye Raul.

Frederico was initially furious, but soon began to sink into a mini-depression for a few weeks. He now had four cars that he didn't know what to do with, rent for a two bedroom place that he now had to pay entirely on his own, and an impounded car that would end up costing him an additional $600 to get out.

He was in a financial mess.

Soon the depression of the mess he felt he had caused wore off, and he got to work. He had get rid of these cars. The first two he sold for a few hundred dollars loss. The third car, an old BMW, proved a major problem though.

They had purchased the car for $8000, but there were NUMEROUS problems. The first guy who came to look at the car found dirt and water in the engine and refused to buy it. Fred subsequently cleaned out the "evidence" of dirt so that, by looking, the problem wasn't apparent.

In his desperation, Frederico realized that he was becoming a scammer!

The next guy came to look at the car, and after revving the engine quite a bit, opened up the hood for a look. While inspecting the radiator though, it literally BLEW UP in his face, and got gunk all over him!

Suffice to say, after some yelling, he didn't purchase the car.

The next day, while inspecting his posted ads on craigslist, Frederico found a new posting.

"Don't buy any cars from a guy named Fred!!! HE IS A SCAM ARTIST!!" The ad had all of his info. Suddenly, all calls about the car stopped and the people who had previously set up appointments to see the car were now "not interested."

Frederico then found another car website where you had to pay to post listings. He figured no one would pay to post a scam alert.

Eventually he set up an appointment with a young guy interested in the car. Frederico told him that the car had numerous problems but they were all fixable. The guy was in love with the car. He came back later that day with his mechanic friend to further inspect the car. The mechanic found every problem that the previous customers had found.

Mechanic: "Dude these repairs will cost another $4,000. Don't buy this car!"
Customer: "But it's sooo cool!"
Mechanic: "Dude it's a terrible investment! There's too many problems."
Customer: "Mmmmm, ok, you're right."
Frederico: "I'll knock off a thousand bucks and sell it for $7,000"
Customer: "Deal!"

Finally, Frederico had rid himself of the nightmare car...or so he thought. Two days later, the buyer called in a panic.

"I just took the car to the dealership to get inspected and they said it's not even safe to drive! They're saying the repairs will cost MORE than the price of the car itself! You gotta do something man! They didn't even want me to drive it off the lot for liability reasons!"

Frederico didn't know what to do, so he did nothing. These were problems he did not know about (since he is not a mechanic) AND the customer brought his own mechanic to inspect the car before purchasing it. Despite his mechanic friend's recommendation to leave the car, he bought it.

Frederico took over a $1500 loss on the car, but was happy to be rid of it.

A week later, he moved out of the place in Chula Vista and back onto a boat, now having a much emptier wallet, but happy that the whole mess was behind him.

Raul, after spending a month in detainment, is now back in Brazil. Frederico has only had brief and abrupt conversations with him. The last one ended with him saying, "Listen man, don't call me anymore. I'll see you in Brazil."

So what's Frederico's plan now? Well, he's going back to Brazil next month for a brief stop before heading to New Castle Australia to attend school for a nutrition degree. He knows Raul will never be able to repay the thousands of dollars he owes him, but he has forgiven the loan.

Frederico, being the ridiculously nice guy that he is does not want Raul to feel broken or defeated (despite the numerous TOTALLY irresponsible things he did), and plans on having a talk with him back in Brazil, basically "forgiving" the entire series of mishaps.

Things may not have worked out as planned, but at least it was a great adventure and a hell of a story.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Great Border Caper Part 3 - The Sailing Adventure

Now that Frederico had become comfortable with the mechanics of Sailing, it was time to step up to the plate and execute the plan.

Frederico discovered that there was a weekend sail boating race from San Diego to Mexico taking place soon. This was the perfect opportunity. With so many sailboats going over, and then coming back across, he could likely blend in to an extent (although his Sailboat is pretty rickety).

Frederico called Raul who had subsequently flown back to Mexico, and told him to go to Ensenada. He spared the details but simply said, "On X date, I will meet you at Y hotel in Ensenada."

The night of departure finally arrived. Frederico had to be extremely careful heading down to Mexico. While sailing down to Mexico is certainly not illegal, Frederico's Visa had since expired, thus any encounter with the border patrol would mean the end of his life in the US.

At the time, he spared me a lot of the details as well. He dropped off some of his valuables to me in case anything happened, but seemed pretty confident that everything would work out.

At about 10 O'clock at night, Frederico set sail. He left shore with a plan for every possible scenario. He had with him quite a few gallons of extra gas for the motor, he had mounted an outboard motor as a backup in case the primary died, night vision goggles, scuba gear in case water entry was needed, and a GPS tracking device for blind navigation.

He set off under the cover of night and headed toward the Coronado Islands about 8 miles off shore. His plan was to get far enough away from the border patrol coverage zones to pass through undetected. Sailing proved difficult as the winds that night were quite erratic, so he went on engine power. Furthermore, in was so dark this far away from shore that he was navigating solely with the GPS.

About an hour into the trip, the GPS indicated that he was at the islands, but there was absolutely no visual sign of anything. In order to go though the channel between the islands, he had to have SOME visual guidance, otherwise he would surely wreck. Suddenly, a towering black cliff appeared just a few feet away.

The Island.

He followed the cliff around through the channel and began heading south, now amply far away from the shore.

About fifteen minutes later though, a major problem reared its head. The primary engine began smoking, and died. Frederico inspected and found that the engine had guzzled nearly all of the gas in the tank!

He now had two options:

1) Go back to shore, fix everything, and try again later.


2) Take the risk and go the remainder of the trip (another 15 hours) on the back up engine and spare gas.

He chose option 2. But yet ANOTHER problem popped up. The outboard engine wasn't starting. He tried for quite a while and there was nothing doing. Finally, he got his flashlight out, and took apart the engine.

As he was consulting the user manual and engine interior, Frederico realized he had forgotten to do one important thing: take his sea-sick pills. The waters were rough and as he was focusing on the engine, he was getting sick. He'd spend a few seconds looking at the manual, then yack overboard. Then, a few more seconds looking at the engine, and yack overboard some more.

Things were not going well.

Finally, he realized a gear was stuck in between neutral and power, and after fixing it, the engine started up like a champ! Fred took his pills and was off to Mexico.

15 hours later, he arrived in Ensenada and met Raul. They rested the remainder of the day, and took off the next morning.

Again, they traveled far from shore, but there were still a few boats travelling in the same direction though much closer to shore, that they could "follow" into the states. About an hour from San Diego, Raul spotted a boarder patrol boat coming near and began to panic. He rushed inside the boat.

Frederico on the other hand was so supremely confident that he waved back to the coast guard and continued on his way.

Finally, some 50 hours after leaving San Diego, Frederico and Raul arrived and began planning the business venture that Frederico had been dreaming about the last two years.

But, they were in for some BIG, BIG surprises....(yes there's more!)

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Great Border Caper Part 2 - The Setup

May of last year rolled around and the lease at the place we were living was expiring. At the time, I was living with Frederico and another friend, Danny. During this time, Frederico had a falling out with his cousin as she strongly disapproved of what he was doing and threatened to tell his parents (They have since reconciled).

Danny moved in with his Grammy to save money, I moved into a Condo closer to the beach, and Frederico, well....he wanted to be closer to the ocean...nay...he wanted to be IN the ocean.

Yes, he bought an old Sailboat. This is also the same sailboat I showed off my amazing sailing skills on last summer.

Anyways, the reasons for the Sailboat purchase were two-fold: Frederico wanted to see what living on a boat was like (it didn't hurt that it was extremely cheap because the marina didn't know he was living there. Had they known, he and his boat would have been immediately evicted), AND he had a plan to bring Raul back over to the U.S.

At this point, Frederico didn't know how exactly he was going to accomplish this, but he now had a major asset that could help in the pending caper.

In order to prepare, Frederico began taking sailing lessons from everyone who knew how to sail. He knew he needed to have solid sailing skills in order to successfully make the journey down to Mexico and back. Along with that, he began helping out his friend who is a boat mechanic in order to learn all he could about engines and any repairs that may be fixed at sea.

He was arming himself with knowledge in preparation for the expedition.

Finally, Frederico reached a point of Sailing prowess and mechanical knowledge where he knew it was time to make a move. But, he couldn't just sail down to Mexico, pick up Raul, and sail back. The waters at the border are crawling with coast guard and border patrol.

Frederico is a thinker and meticulously developed a detailed plan.

He was going to risk the life he had built in America, all in one adventure, just for the chance to start a business in the U.S. with his friend. You'll have to come back next week to see how it turned out :)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Great Border Caper

"I've been roughed up, robbed, and now I'm in jail"

Last weekend my buddy Frederico, while having an awesome lunch at Souplantation, gave me a detailed account of "The Great Border Caper," the incredible aftermath, and where everything stands today. I had been aware of had been going on, but he finally spilled all of the details to me and Marianna.

I had been wanting to write a story about this a YEAR ago. Thank goodness I didn't because some seriously crazy stuff happened since that makes this even more entertaining. I just hope I can remember all the details.

Seriously, this story could be made into an amazing movie. Of course, I would play lead with Antonio Banderas playing my stunt double.

It all started a little over a year ago. Frederico is a very entrepreneurial-minded guy and has long wanted to start a business. Coincidentally, one of his best friends in Brazil, Raul, happens to be an expert mechanic and, according to Frederico, "knows EVERYTHING about cars."

For the past two years, Raul had been trying to get some sort of Visa to either the U.S., Canada, or Australia. None of them were taking. About a year ago, Raul became desperate, obtained his Mexican Visa, and flew to "the city of the future" - Tijuana. Lord help us if that's the state of our future cities.

At this point, Raul and Frederico were scheming ways to get Raul across as affordably as possible. Raul, coming from a lower class background, didn't have a lot of money and Frederico was basically paying for his living expenses. Mexican "Coyotes" apparently charge $5,000 to smuggle you across through the desert, and after meeting a few shady operators, Frederico decided to try his luck elsewhere.

They spent weeks trying to find affordable and "trustworthy" coyotes (ironic considering coyotes make a living by being dishonest), Frederico here in America, and Raul looking in Tijuana. Frederico was having no luck, and Raul was getting the run around. Guys would charge him for info and then just send him to someone else who would do the same thing. It was an expensive road to nowhere.

Somewhere along the way, a guy mugged Raul and took his money.

Raul: "This plan is not working. Everyone here is a lying bastard!"

Frederico, being a licensed diver, came up with a plan: wait until the tide is just right, drive down to Mexico, teach Raul to scuba, and swim back together underwater, under the cover of night. He was so serious about this idea that he bought a Sea-scooter and began doing training runs in Mission Bay to see how long and how far he could go on the Sea Scooter battery with varying numbers of oxygen tanks.

He was all set to pull the trigger, but at the last moment, this plan was scrapped. Scuba diving at night for such a distance was far too dangerous for Frederico, let alone a rookie scuba diver like Raul. Furthermore, the Sea-scooters wouldn't have enough juice to get them all the way, so they'd have to ditch it, as well as the empty oxygen tanks, in the ocean and snorkel the last leg.

Too risky.

Raul meanwhile had his money robbed from him again while returning from lunch the next day.

Fast forward a week, and Raul, having received money from Frederico, boarded up with an elderly woman who was extremely nice. She fed him, gave him a cheap room-rate, and promised to help find him someone reliable to get him across the border. Several days later, Raul returned home to a not-so-pleasant surprise:

Raul: "Where are all my things!?!"
Lady: "I don't know what you're talking about"
Raul: "My clothes! My money!"
Lady: "You have no business here, now leave!"

Raul was furious and began yelling. As he began his tirade however, five or six men walked in. Suffice to say, Raul was roughed up and thrown out as they kept all of his things.

According to Frederico, Raul called him in tears...a broken man. Thrice robbed, roughed up, and now homeless. All the while, he was too ashamed to tell his family back in Brazil that he was not yet in America but rather slumming in Mexico. So instead, he shared stories of how amazing and wonderful life in America is.

They had no idea.

A few days later, as luck would have it, Raul spots one of the thugs on the street. He immediately rushes him, pins him against a wall, and demands his things. Raul's a decent sized guy, so he can be pretty intimidating if he wants to. He manages to get only his clothes back, but predictably everything of value was gone.

At this level of desperation, there was no choice. They hired a decently honest Mexican Coyote who specializes in desert smuggling. A week later, Raul and the Coyotes left from Tecate under the cover of night and trekked through the dessert.

At the border, the six travellers began to make their way across. One at a time, they'd run across, diving behind bushes and rocks, and signaling the next when the coast was clear. After three of them made it across, Raul was set to go.

All of sudden, the three across the border began waving them away. Boarderpatrol was car was coming through the area.

The three on the Mexican side including Raul, had to abort! The next day they found out the border patrol had discovered this "route" and essentially closed it down.

A week later, the coyotes got a lead on a new plan. Apparently there was an open sewer pipe that allowed passage across. The next day they went. Raul entered, but problems appeared right away. He became stuck in the pipe!

Minor snafu.

After finally freeing him, this plan was abandoned as well.

Another week later, they found yet another desert crossing route. This time, finally, Raul made it across! Some 30 hours later, he called Frederico.

He was in America. Frederico was to drive and pick him up at the next phone call after he made it passed the border checkpoint.

The next day he gets the call.

Raul: "I'm in jail"
Fred: "What!?!"

Apparently as they made there way to civilization, an off duty CHP just happened to spot them. Busted. Interestingly, Raul enjoyed his stay in prison much more than his stay in Tijuana.

After all of this, Raul was deported back to Brazil...

But this is not even close to the end of the story. It gets better! You'll just have to wait until next post!