Smuggling Has It’s Perks, if You Don’t Mind (Occasionally) Looking Down the Barrel of a Beretta

At one time or another, everyone has a really bad day. You’re cut off in traffic by some cell phone jabbering idiot and go spinning across two lanes of interstate traffic, landing upside down on the median. Or you become a victim of identity theft and suddenly don’t have enough credit to buy a grilled cheese sandwich. Or you have an invective-spewing, words-that-can-never-be-taken-back, argument with your boss. God awful? No doubt about it.

But not even in my top 10.
Here’s a bad day for a drug smuggler:

hank in galilea
In The Galilee Israel

I’m in the Florida Keys. It’s 3:00 in the morning, and I’m sitting in a van, third in line, ready to back up to a private boat dock to load up with pot and then deliver it to a connection in Wisconsin. This is my first big-time experience with pot. I’m terrified, but if Albert Einstein is right and “the only source of knowledge is experience,” I figure I’m queuing up for a shitload of knowledge. I watch as the first two trucks back into position and quickly leave after getting something thrown into their vehicles. Now, it’s my turn.

I back in, and someone immediately opens the side door of my van and throws in what looks like a huge sack of ice. Ice? Are we smuggling to contraband Slurpee dealers? Once five vans are loaded, we’re told to head out, drive around for a while and come back, which I assume must be some kind of practice run.

The house is enormous, like a mansion, and is set way back at the end of a cul-de-sac, only accessed by entering through a gate with a large arch over it and then driving to the end of a long straight driveway. We start our vehicles and begin to head towards the arch, but get only 30 feet before gigantic bright lights blast down on us. A parade of at least a dozen law enforcement vehicles comes barreling down on us, like we’re part of a movie set.

The first vehicles through are army jeeps with men hanging from them, all wearing fatigues and with grenades on their hips. Any minute I expect someone to bellow into a megaphone, “Cue the Marines!” It’s a regular smorgasbord of law enforcement groups – Florida State Patrol, local police forces and some guys in plain clothes – all trying to call the shots.

If time seems to slow down in a crisis, I am definitely in a crisis. As if in slow motion, these hyped-up lawmen now seem to glide all over the place, screaming through bullhorns that this is a drug bust and that everyone has to stay exactly where they are. No problem. I ain’t going anywhere.

I stare dumbfounded as the guys in the vans ahead of me are pulled out of their vehicles and thrown to the ground by machine gun wielding cops. My turn’s next. I hope they’ll be more considerate to a nice Jewish Canadian boy like me. But it seems these are equal opportunity jackboots. My door is flung open, and I’m jerked out by one arm and whipped up against the side of the van head first, with a vice-like grip on the back of my neck and an automatic weapon pressed against my back.

“Do you have any guns, knives or bombs?” he asks, “No,” I reply. It turns out that this is a rhetorical question, because he checks anyway. When he doesn’t find guns, knives or bombs, he shoves me to the ground and says, “Stay right there and don’t move, or you’ll most likely be shot.” Compelling argument.

girl holding hank cooper paper

Whenever several different law enforcement agencies are involved at a crime scene, it can get very competitive, each of them vying for dominance. It can become a territorial thing, like dogs marking their territory by peeing. And we’re the territory they’re marking.

Usually the lawmen that have jurisdiction of the property associated with a crime have the lead role. In this case, it’s the local cops, led by a man who is by far the craziest of all the people I’ve known in the past two years. By comparison, he makes Officer Barbrady of South Park seem competent.

He has his 5-year-old boy with him on this major drug bust involving what was most likely assumed to be dangerous criminals (i.e. us). How screwed up is that? He immediately begins screaming his guts out at us, calling us scumbags and every other vile thing he can think of, seeming to put on a show for his son. He jams his gun to each of our heads, yelling that he will blow us away if we so much as scratch.

Meanwhile, the men in plain clothes, DEA I figure, are huddled off to the side, furiously talking. Within moments, they tell Officer Barbrady that the vans are filled with nothing but ice, and there isn’t a trace of pot in the house, not even a rolling paper.

He goes nuts, whipping his gun out and screaming at us again. Then, like a scene from the movie Deliverance, he thrusts his weapon into the hands of his 5-year-old kid and tells him to keep all of us scumbags who are sprawled on the ground covered and, if we move, to shoot us.

Welcome to Pot Smuggling 101.
But what can I say? It was a bad day.

Montserrat Island Photo Of Paul

Here’s another one:
I’m 23 years old, living in Toronto. I’m visiting my ex-wife Brenda, who’s now living with her new boyfriend, a guy she describes as a cross between a teddy bear and Paul McCartney. After seeing the guy, I’m not sure who should feel more insulted – the Beatle or the stuffed animal. It’s probably just stupid jealousy on my part, because once I got to know him. I actually liked him. We’re best buddies to this day.

When he was younger, his family was rich and lived in a large, fancy house. All the local hoods who did the same drugs that he did took advantage of him, stealing from him and his mother as much as possible. Maybe he’d said something to them that he shouldn’t have, or perhaps what was about to happen on this day was sheer coincidence.

In any case, an hour after I arrive, unknown to any of us, three of the most ferocious and crazy of those hoods are outside on the porch, and, after guzzling down a large bottle of whiskey, kick in the door.

Back in 12th Century Europe, the use of surnames first became popular, and was often a way to identify what a father did for a living, like “Baker, “Cook” or “Hunter.” That tradition is obviously alive and well because two of these three maniacs are the Pushey brothers, who make a habit of pushing people around for money. The third idiot is named Larry. The fact that this is also the name of one of the Three Stooges isn’t lost on me.

The Pushey brothers and Larry are notorious for getting wildly drunk and then beating the shit out of all the rich kids with drugs. I’m not sure who’s in charge of this little home invasion, but I assume it’s the Pushey brother with the knife to my throat, demanding cocaine. I realize I can probably give in and say, “Okay, I’ll give you some coke. Just don’t kill me. “Then they might just take the stuff and let us go. But the coke’s not mine to give. It belongs to my boss, Bernie, who’ll definitely be pissed if I give it up, and might even fire me. If that’s not being a model employee, what is?

So I’m left with hoping the Pushey brother won’t actually slit my throat in front of so many people, even though Larry is yelling for him to do it. I just keep saying, as meekly as possible, that I don’t know what he’s talking about. I try to give him the impression that, if I knew where to find a large stash of cocaine, I’d definitely give it to him. But I’m starting to lose my cool.

Amazon Paperback Cover

Just as my knees are giving way and I’m about to crack, lunatic Larry starts eying the latest model Zenith TV that was Brenda’s and my wedding gift from her grandmother.
Larry sneers, “Is that a rental TV?” Being lowlife hoods from the wrong side of the tracks, Larry and the Pushey brothers automatically assume it’s a rented TV.

“No,” says Brenda. “My Booby bought it for me.” This is all these maniacs need to hear. They’d been stealing from Jews long enough to know that the term “Booby” means a Jewish grandmother. So the TV was ripe for the picking.

In the blink of an eye, the Pushey brother’s knife comes away from the side of my neck, and he shoves me aside. Like punks with Attention Deficit Disorder, their attention is suddenly diverted to grabbing the TV and taking it out to their car, forgetting all about the cocaine. They come back in long enough for the obligatory warning not to call the cops or, of course, they’ll kill us. We assure them that’s the last thing we’d ever do, and they leave.

Another bad day come and gone.

But smuggling wasn’t all bad days. If it were, I wouldn’t have lasted for fifteen years. Over that time, I traveled all over the world, to some of the most exotic spots on earth as well as to some of the most primitive.

I was a friend and associate of one of the most fascinating people I’ve ever known.
I met rock stars and celebrities. I’ve had adrenaline rushes that lasted for days.
And best of all, I’ve lived to tell about it.

The upshot? – I’ve had amazing experiences and enjoyed incredible luck in one of the most dangerous professions out there. Sometimes I think it was almost as if some invisible benefactor were traveling beside me, watching over me, keeping me safe.

Like providence. Or a guardian angel. Or maybe even Jesus.

machu pichu
hank in amsterdam
World’s Largest Polaroid Camera

Let’s be clear. Drugs are bad for you. Depending upon what you’re taking, you’ll either be up all night for a week, or happy like a hummingbird in a barrel of honey one minute and angry like a black bear with a tack in its paw the next, or horny like a three-peckered goat, or desperately scraping at your flesh to get rid of all those hermit crabs that are crawling all over your anatomy.

Let’s be clearer: If you’re going to be into drugs, you’ll be a lot better off smuggling them.

How do we know? Because G. Gordon Liddy was ultimately right, at least where former drug smuggler turned author, Hank Cooper, is concerned: “Of course crime pays…otherwise there would be no crime.”

For Canadian Hank Cooper, drugs paid off BIG. No, not monetarily. Sure there were days he was packing wads of rubber-banded hundreds into suitcases. For Hank, drugs let him see (and party with and travel with and pose in photos with and occasionally wind up in jail with)…God. Or at least the Son of God. No, no, no. He didn’t see God like, “Oh…wow…man, this is some bad sh–. I think I see God.” Remember: Hank was a smuggler, not so much a
user. No. Hank – and we’re inclined to believe him – met Jesus.

WAIT. STOP. This isn’t the story about how a young Jewish guy in Vancouver in the 70s found salvation through a born again transformative experience. (Though the jury is still out on whether that might actually happen.) The Son of God that Hank met, well, his name is, or rather was, Bernie. And Bernie was a drug smuggler, too. But Hank is sure that Bernie must be or have been God’s son. Everywhere Hank and Bernie went, doors opened. And not just shiny black ones on limousines. Bernie was like diamond coating applied to Teflon. Nuthin’ stuck to him. Well, 350,000 volts passed through him once, from that accidental encounter with a power line outside the balcony of the small hotel in La Paz where he was hiding out until things cooled off a bit, and that sent him on a one-way trip
back home (somewhere beyond the Stratosphere, we presume). But beyond that, Bernie was invincible. And funny. And often all business. But always an all-around-nice guy. (No one we know ever said that smugglers had to be assholes.)

But wait a minute. Isn’t this Hank Cooper’s life story? Well, yeah, but for Hank to tell his story, you have to factor in Bernie. Because, see, Bernie and Hank, after one chance meeting at a party in Vancouver in ’75, became inseparable. Where Bernie went, Hank followed. When international borders needed crossing, while carrying 8 kilos of cocaine, Bernie was right by Hank’s side. Whenever the Mounties or the US Customs Service tried to rattle Hank, Bernie provided all the right words to massage Hank back to fearless. When Hank wondered what he’d gotten himself into and where his life was going, like the father Hank never had, Bernie set him straight, if not narrow.

In Smuggling With Jesus, Hank Cooper reflects on a life that few of us would dare attempt even as we privately marvel at all the cool stuff that comes with it — if you don’t mind the occasional switchblade pressed into your neck, a phalanx of black sedans screeching to a halt on your front lawn as men brandishing badges on some days and wielding baseball bats on others run for your front door, and the moments of paranoia that are the natural extension of a life on the edge.

It’s time for you to slide to the edge, of your seat. If you should slip off, don’t hesitate to drop to your knees. God knows that that’s the fastest way to reach him. Sweet Jesus! After reading Hank’s miraculous story, you’ll probably want to…

afghan woman
Jan. 2002 Afghan Refugee Camp During USA War With Taliban