Thursday, July 07, 2005

Your Nikes Could Be Pirate Booty

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Severe storms rolled through the town, cracking the night open with extreme thunder and flashes of lightning that seemed to be either directly overhead or driven like a nail into the ground next door.

It reminded me of a pre-dawn drive to Oklahoma City years ago as Michael and I prepared to go to Tucson to visit my sister. Lightning spidered across the sky, creating crazy electric webs for the fresh bolts of energy to climb.

The next morning, Dad and I walked to McDonald’s and noted the tree branches and leaves strewn on the ground in all the yards we passed. I wondered if a battery of small tornados passed through. At any rate, the front had moved in and the morning was cool and crisp. Ragged tangles of clouds were moving through. A crack of thunder emanated from a particularly dark shred.

I was glad I took Mother’s suggestion and decided to carry the black umbrella she had bought at Dollar General, even thought it had razor-sharp tines and resisted being opened.

“Only a dollar?” I asked, as I wrestled with the umbrella and tried to avoid cutting myself. I didn’t know if my tetanus vaccination was up to date.

“Yes. Everything at Dollar General is a dollar,” said Dad. “Pretty easy to remember.”

“Do you realize that the highly affordable goods you see on the shelves at Dollar General probably originated in Asia somewhere, with an intriguing journey of unexpected detours and cargo movements?” I asked.

Dad had leaned down to tie his shoelace.

“Yes. Thanks to the so-called “pinch-points” in the world’s seaways, it’s easy for pirates to operate.” This topic fascinated me.

“Pirates in the Strait of Malacca near Singapore ply the waters. They are very wily. They board ships, take control of the crew, repaint the ship, change the numbers and the markings, then haul the cargo to some pirate island that only flies a nation’s flag when it’s convenient to do so.

If you take a look at the containers, you’ll see everything from plastic sandals, Nikes, t-shirts, designer skirts, Louis Vuitton knock-offs, fake Rolexes and real Seikos. A wholesale “jobber” will bid on the container, sight unseen, for delivery FOB the port. The next step will be the warehouses of Dollar General or their equivalents – “Yankee Dollar” or “100 Yen.”

“Or Wal-Mart? Sam’s Wholesale Club?” asked Dad.

“Who knows. We could be looking at pirate booty on the shelves for all we know,” I said, darkly.

“Isn’t globalization an interesting thing?” commented Dad. “If you can’t get your goods for practically free, you can’t make enough money to keep the doors open.”

We continued to walk down the quiet residential street.

“Looks like they’re finally going to put a stop to teenagers who hot-rod at 100 miles an hour down this street,” he said.

“How will they do that? That’s what the kids live for – fixing up their cars and speeding down residential streets, even if they put young children, elderly people on walks, and family pets in mortal danger.”

“It’s called a ‘traffic circle,’” said Dad. He pointed to the circular raised platform of cement that rose like a weird desert island in the middle of the intersection. Instead of a lone palm tree was a metal pole festooned with cryptic instructions.

“That’s crazy. It’s a death trap,” I said.

“I guess that’s the principle. Kill them before they kill you,” he said.

“What a waste of energy. It’s so misdirected. Why not channel all that post-adolescent angst and craving for speed?” I asked.

“If you can harness that in a productive way, you’ll change the destiny of mankind,” he said. “For the better.”

We walked along, continuing to notice the shredded tree limbs and leaves in driveways and in yards. A few homeowners were cleaning up their sidewalks. Others were looking at the sky. A raindrop pelted my face.

“Well, there’s definitely food for thought,” I said. One of these days, I would get it right.