In the corner of a large, dim warehouse inside the Port of Oakland, Edel Gaingalas swings a hammer into a piece of wood. She’s looking for larvae -- the wood, pried off a shipping crate, is riddled with holes bored by insects who chewed their way inside looking for a home, but every one she's found so far is dead -- killed by the mandatory fumigation at the port of origin. Before the day is out, she'll find a live longhorned beetle larva, and the whole shipment will be sent back to China.
Like many of the people in this warehouse, Gaingalas used to work at the airport, in the international terminal of San Francisco-Oakland (SFO). She went through people’s luggage all day. Now, as a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agricultural specialist, she mostly hunts for bugs, though she finds the occasional plant as well -- like the time she found two rare orchids hidden inside a piece of furniture being imported from Asia. But she and CBP chief supervisory officer and public relations liaison Edward Low aren't strangers to bizarre customs discoveries: Low rattles off a list of things found in SFO Airport luggage with the practiced air of a man who gets asked this question a great deal. “A cow intestine with the grass still in it,” says Low. “A human hand stuffed with straw. Penises galore. Pick an animal -- we’ve found its penis in someone’s luggage."