A Humble Broke Tanner with Taped Glasses and X Ray Inspection in Cancun


Here on the inter web, I realize many of you may not know me, and I may not know you.  I am 53 years old, and started helping my father around his office on Farimont Ave in Milwaukee when I was 5.  He always worked, he loved and thrived to be working.  I would help him bring samples up from the basement in the building where he rented an office, he was an independent sales rep for local tanneries at that time.  I will be glad to post more over time and will, but for now, fast forward to 2009...

My father's company was weathering through onslaught of globalization and NAFTA, we had seen most of our customers pack up and look for bigger profits via cheaper labor overseas and south of the border.  Being strategically located on the border in El Paso, and speaking Spanish, I spent many years on the other side of the border and deep in the Mexican interior selling leathers to many Mexican factories.  It was an adventure, extremely hard work, lots of risk, and I met an array of interesting people in the process.  

One such character was a shark tanner and our supplier for shark leather at that time who had a small and "rustic" tannery outside of Guadalajara.  The tannery was open air, with a large drum, maybe two, very little machinery and a few guard dogs you did not want to get very close to.  The tanner was always dressed humbly, usually with clothes stained from chemicals and dyes, and glasses repaired with scotch tape.  That said, he had proven himself to be reliable, and shark leather was always a very popular for cowboy boots, belts and other items, it generally was sold before it arrived.  

León, Guanajuato is the shoe making capital of North America so our main office and warehouse was there, but we had a small office in Guadalajara where there were many ladies shoes factories and we also were fortunate to have a very honest, reliable, hard working agent / sales rep on our team.  I would drive or take a bus from León to Guadalajara once a month to work with our agent, visit customers and also visit the shark tannery.  Since the shark tanner was always short of financing and capital, we paid for everything in advance or there would be no supply.  A regular visit to have a look was in order.  

It was explained that If you wanted to have skins, you needed to be on the beaches with cash and deal with the fishermen directly or everything would be sold off someplace else, primarily for food/restaurants.  Finally one day after years of working with our supplier and seeing him constantly struggle, he explained his problems were solved.  He had a new business partner.  His business partner was from Central America and was in the food / meat business, so his partner would sell the shark meat, and the tannery would have all the skins to process.  It sounded like the perfect partnership, and supply went from being very limited and sporadic to plentiful and regular.   Only then one day our supplier called our office from a payphone...  The call was short and I was not the one that took the call, but something was wrong, very, very wrong...  

The Mexican Customs authorities had just installed new modern X-Ray machines in the port of Cancún to inspect all incoming cargo.  They questioned what all the rectangular or square images they were seeing inside the sharks.  Customs was told the "squares" were "preservatives" to keep the shark fresh.  On the 'squares' were actually vacuum packed bricks of cocaine...  Truth can be stranger than fiction, and sharks stuffed full of vacuum packed bricks of cocaine certainly qualifies for that, and it did make international news, as you can see in the link below.  

I don't know whatever happened to anyone involved and have had very limited interest in shark leather since.  

Do we sell shark?  No. No shark leather at this time. 

I have some other interesting stories from over the years, only I think this may top all of them.