The Japanese Ambassador Story
A true story about my embarrassing encounter with the Japanese Ambassador in Haiti
Written 2010 and rewritten 02/2016 unedited
In 1967, I was working with my friend Lou Gladstein who had just been awarded the entire Haitian railroad. It was a railroad that had been built in 1908 and bankrupted by 1920.
My friend Lou had tried negotiating with the Haitian Minister of the Interior for more than five months, until he and his wife Gladys were totally disgusted with the corrupt politics in Haiti and they decided to depart the country.
Lou and Gladys were actually on the Air Haiti airplane leaving the country when the plane was stopped and they were summoned to the palace and awarded ownership of the railroad, and that was when they contacted me to come to Haiti and help them to find a customer to sell all the railroad track.
The railroad track that had originally gotten Lou’s attention, because there was more than ninety kilometers of it all along the Haitian highway from the city of Port Au Prince to the city of Saint-Marc. Quite a bit of the original track was buried or covered over by landslides. But Lou had known that each piece of track weighed around a thousand pounds and could be sold somewhere to reuse, reroll or scrap.
When I first got involved, Lou had told me that he heard rumors that years ago the railroad had a maintenance facility somewhere near the city of Saint-Marc, but its exact location had been buried in over fifty years of jungle growth, and everyone had forgotten about it.
So out of curiosity, we took a drive to the city of Saint-Marc, our intention was to try following the railroad tracks into the jungle until we found the facility.
In Saint-Marc we found remnants of the original railroad terminal building in town and from there we followed railroad tracks leading into the jungle. We used two Haitian boys with machetes as all the exposed tracks were covered with bushes and small trees. After about two hours of following the tracks, we heard the boys screaming for us, and we followed their pathway they had cut for us. There it was, it was a giant building all covered in vines, it was a very spooky looking thing.
There were two large 12 foot high corrugated metal doors that were locked by a chain and a very antique pad lock.
The railroad tracks we were following ran under the doors and right into the building, so Lou picked up a metal bar and wacked the padlock until it broke, then, he took one of the kid’s machetes and hacked away at all the remaining vines.
When we were able to pry the doors open, the two kids got real spooked and wouldn’t enter the building, so Lou gave each one of them the 10 cents he had promised and they both ran back to the city of Saint-Marc with their new found wealth.
Lou and I squeezed into the building and just stood there in awe as our eyes adjusted to the dim light. It was like entering into an Egyptian tomb. The huge building was like a football field and it was full of railroad repair equipment from one end to the other, including two diesel locomotives that were apart and being overhauled. Wherever I looked, everything had been neatly set down in its correct place. It was as if time had stopped 50 years ago and the people would all be back to work tomorrow.
We walked the length of the building and out the back into what was once their storage yard. The yard, now all overgrown, had piled up, steel bridges, steel trestles, giant car pulling winches, box car axles and steel train wheels, they were there by the hundreds.
As we drove home to Fermath Lou was thinking out loud, he said you know there are thousands of tons of iron and steel scrap back there, I wonder how I can turn it into real money.
The next morning, Lou said, “I have an idea, I always read in the papers that the Japanese are buying scrap steel everywhere, I wonder if they would be interested in buying all this stuff here in Haiti? Why don’t we go down to Port Au Prince and see the Japanese Ambassador. I bet he knows who the companies are in Japan are that would be interested in coming here to buy it.”
We went downstairs and got into Lou’s Toyota wagon and headed down the mountain to the capitol city of Port Au Prince.
Lou, who was now on a mission, scared me the way he was driving down the mountain, I wanted to tell him to slow down, but we got to Port Au Prince and Lou drove directly to the Japanese Embassy.
At the embassy the gate to the back yard was open and Lou drove right in, he was driving like a stock car driver, with the wheels screeching and all.
As he pulled in, the gardener who was trimming the flowers in a flower bed almost fell over, Lou had missed hitting him but he sure scared the hell out of him.
We parked and walked out the embassies yard gate and into the front door of the embassy. The Ambassadors secretary was there and Lou asked her for an appointment, and Lou explained what he wanted to ask the ambassador about. The girl got up and went into an office behind her. After a few minutes a young Japanese fellow came out. He had slicked back black hair and was wearing those little round glasses you always see the Japanese wearing in the movies. He said please come this way, and we followed him. He sat us down in a hallway which I assumed was the hallway right outside the Ambassadors office, and he said, “The Ambassador will be with you in a moment.”
As we quietly sat there, there was a doorway next to me and I heard a commotion going on, so I got up and looked around the open doorway. It was into another hallway that was leading to the rear door of the embassy. There both the Ambassador’s secretary and the young man were helping the gardener out of his jumpsuit and into the formal attire of the ambassador. The Ambassador was the guy Lou nearly knocked over in the flower bed in the embassy yard.