The Diaries: Story of a Border Town
The audio of Chapter 14 Road Reel has been disabled on YouTube. It will be posted shortly.
A cold one in Mexico. At the Negro Durazo, a colorful family restaurant, singing band.
Semi rough start after crossing the border, walking straight ahead and crossing the irrigation ditch, on an unused bridge in construction, to Tijuana.
A bunch of lurkers here and there, the homeless misers. Nice view of the city though. I then walked along some sort of highway, heart and mind alert to treachery.
I jumped across the speeding traffic and found the Avenida de Independencia: clean, wide, modern.
Have suddenly and harshly realized that it might be difficult to learn Spanish on the fly during future trips…
Over the last few days, I could not overcome laziness and had failed to stumble upon a convenient setting to work and write. Here’s an attempt to gather the evanescent recollections of late:
Memory is like fish and unlike good wine: it stinks when it’s served after more than a day. And metaphor is like honey iron: it melts sweet when it’s hot.
For my first attempt at a Vegas poker table, I ended up being kicked out of it! I was playing with such seriousness and deliberate slowness, giving people death-kiss staredowns, that I pissed almost everybody off, till I was categorically asked to leave (“This is your last hand,” said the casino’s poker supervisor, placing my box of chips on my lap.) So I left – but not before have nearly tripled my initial buy-in, thanks in good part to hitting four of a kind aces, against a full house (I know, it sounds and statistically is, improbable).
The next day, got some of the shots I needed, made my best efforts not to gamble away my gains. Moved out of the hotel and spent the night out with a friend and her colleagues, waiters at a restaurant, stories that evaporated into the night.
So all in all, I gambled very little and am one of the lucky few who left having earned more than I gambled. An example certainly not to be followed: one is more likely to get a full house than 4 of a kind…
On Friday I left to make it to LA that evening and catch a friend. The car stalled after only 60 miles, the fuel pump blown to incandescence by the ridge of mountains that surrounds Vegas. I glided downhill on neutral, pulled out at the nearest exit, which luckily had a gas station. After resting the car a few hours, and napping in the heat, I was off again!
Made it to what looks like the town center after walking through some empty streets. The streets are livelier here although most restaurants look empty, metallic shutters drawn down. Walked past a street of prostitutes; many signs here of another world, including the profusion of street vendors, the smell of grilled meat and vegetables smoking up in the air, the cracked tar of roads, but also the chatter of friends stopping on their way back from work, a street orchestra irrigating the walk with its blood…
I made it to California and LA with no further trouble. As I had expected, driving down the green hills and into Bernardino and LA’s first burbs, I was overcome – felt – a wave of satisfaction, a certain sense of accomplishment, a measure of relief, not entirely unlike what settlers and travelers must have felt, since the beginning of time, when coming to the end of their journey to the West.
After more than three months of trials and tribulations, of joys and challenges, of inspiring encounters and awing sights, of ‘Ahhhs’ and ‘Ohhhs,’ I had crossed the US (longitudinally, but also from North to South).
I reminisced that day, stranded in Delaware, two days after having first left with my newly acquired car, hearing from the guy at the dealership who had just repaired it:
“I wouldn’t take it cross-country.”
It felt good. And yet.
There is so much left to see, there is so much left unseen. I have not yet covered half of the minimum necessary to complete this project.
I awoke the next day, still drunk from the Gentleman Jack and Green Jack that I had ingurgitated with my friend upon arrival in Los Angeles, and drove to Santa Monica’s beaches. I found I was in possession of a local specialty, handed over by my friend the previous night. It’s brown, square, and has the name of a pastry. And the effects of a bottle of Jack, or a horse sedative, depending on the dosage. The label indicates it is intended for medical use only. I munched about half, despite my friend’s recommendation of a quarter.
Strolled around the beaches, increasingly dazed. I then slept till past seven.
Caught a few shots of Venice Beach, but overall a waste of day.
Visited the star walk and hiked up to near the Hollywood sign, and got pictures of the Paramount Studio entrance and Hollywood Walk, as well as the Universal Studio theme park. On my way to Warner Bros, night had settled in, and I entered a karaoke bar. I met three girls, one of whom was French.
The waitress poured sturdy whisky cokes and I slept like a petrified log.
Tried going to Starbucks to work the next morning. I didn’t succeed and called an aunt whom I learned lived in LA (was to find out later that several of my cousins were also in the area). She suggested I come right by. Had dinner with her and her husband and spent the night there. Had interesting conversations but don’t remember them well now.
“People our age don’t want to grow anymore,” said my aunt.
The next day she kindly offered to walk me around downtown. Glad I got this perspective which gives me a slightly fuller view of the city, past beaches and Hollywood-related elements. We had breakfast at a local diner with sawdust on the floor; 10 cent coffee and French-dipped sandwiches.
Left for San Diego through six-laned dizzying traffic, went South of City by mistake, no beautiful beaches in sight. Grey and chilly day. Played some beach volley near Point Loma.
Had lunch the next day with family friends in La Jolla – made a cashier’s day by asking directions and ignorantly pronouncing it la-joe-la, instead of ‘La Hoya’. Was blessed with the sight of pelicans gliding in V or diagonal formations over the flattish waters; lone cormorants setting wing to hunt the horizons. Seals and sea-lions sunbathing, just feet away from swimmers and enthused onlookers.
Now having my first meal in Mexico… at a Chinese restaurant!
The only other customer is a mid-aged man reading The Bonfire of the Vanities. He looks up and I commend the book he’s reading.
“Nothing like good literature and good music,” he says.
“And good food, good women… but there’s nothing like good literature and good music. Women: there’s no substance. Well… maybe for short periods of time.”
“Yeah, like stretches of fifteen minutes.” I play into his game.
He chuckles. “Well, sometimes a little longer, throw in a couple beers, maybe 45. I tell you, nothing like good literature and good music.”
“Yeah, good music especially.”
He thinks about it.
“I gotta give you that. Because when you watch a movie, it can have the best director, screenwriting, the best actor… but if it doesn’t have good music, you’ll come out thinking it was a bad movie.”
“But if a movie has so-so shots, bad writing, and bad acting, you’ll still come out thinking it wasn’t that bad.”
This leads to self-derisive self-pity. “Sounds like my life. Shitty writing, shitty actor. Good music.”
“At least you got the best part.”
“Yeah, then again, I’m the one who wrote it.”
Finally, past 10pm, I set out to find a place to sleep. I found the Tapioca inn (or something to that effect), a crumby motel near the prostitutes and gents’ clubs. What looks like blood stains on the pillow and backboard (but turned out to be dry paint). I left the sizzling neon lights on while I slept nervously.
In the morning I walk and have albondigas at the Reso el Farolita, overlooking the Mercada Hidalgo. I’ve felt excruciatingly tired as of late. Walked in a loop, up and down the Avenida de Consitucion, and Revolucion. Finally came back to Independencia, where I had fortuitously ended up after crossing into town yesterday.
Story of a border town
Some stands sell cactus food but I don’t try it. The tourist shops on Revolucion look awkwardly closed – I would guess the contrast between San Diego and Tijuana is starker than that between El Paso and Juarez. I wonder if this is due (it is) to the reputation of violence and insecurity that now surrounds Mexico’s border towns. I’ve seen extremely few Caucasians or Americans, the tourism industry is flailing. This is just another example of how the drug-related wars hinder the economy and local businesses as a whole.
There are quite a few older Volkswagen vehicles on the streets, relatively to the US – either because they’re cheaper, or maybe this has something to do with Mexico’s political past.
Have two fish tacos and beer at the shop downtown. I had returned in the US early afternoon to get my camera battery charger. Managed to cut through to the front of the desperately long line and laughed it off with the Mexican cops who tried explaining I couldn’t do that. A US customs dog sniffed my bag to no avail. So I’ve technically been to Mexico twice.
Two cops sit at the counter. They look in no rush to return to work. Mariachis stroll around the streets, with banjo, mustache and plaited jackets. As if often the case, I have seen none of the threats publicized by foreigners. I believe one should know how far off to wander, and keep a healthy dose of awareness.
A kid walks in. Tito throws a coin into a gumball machine eagerly. The ball descends into a kid’s flipper (had never seen this particular device). After a few swats, up and down the gumball, Tito extracts the orange prize with a big priceless grin.
- shoe polishers (roughly the tenth oldest profession in the world)
- street vendors: nuts, bolts, some can write your name on a grain of rice. The charlatans sell potions, some of which are effective in undesirable ways.
- The border: the clerk at the Tapioca inn says he tried crossing four times already, but it’s hard. He doesn’t have the papers, and it costs money.
- Many people here don a generous sheath of skin. Unlike the US (this may be my idealization though), the hefty average weight seems to be the byproduct of traditional diet and way of life, instead of resulting from the abuse of synthetic processed nutrition. In any case, people seem comfortable with their plumpness.
- Also quite a few people with acne, or acne stars, possibly due to genetics and spicy foods.
Behind the counter, on a sign separate from the other menu items:
Viagra Soup – It works!
I ventured slightly further, extending the perimeter, till some youths took insistent interest in my camera, which I carried around my shoulder, but slightly dissimulated by a sweatshirt. I returned to the more crowded downtown – I’ve been more comfortable today with taking pictures, but my stay in Tijuana will be too short to produce anything good.
After quite some debate, I entered one of the widespread bar-clubs, albeit in one of the more tourist-geared streets (again, none to be seen). I nurse a liter-sized Tecate, doused with baby green limes, the standard side dish for all drinks and food.
Not sure how these bars work, whether the women are entertainers, prostitutes, geishas, alcoholics, any, none or all of the above. Nothing naughty in sight.
From what I’ve seen, it’s hard to imagine why Tijuana has been depicted as the Spring Break and getaway dream – I had always imagined a beach scene, which may explain the lack of such activity (I haven’t seen the beaches).
Perhaps 3$ liters of beer and whores suffice to lure in American college students.
I realize the men in the bar pay tips to the waitresses after each dance. They are being entertained. I’m sure there are also more conclusive deals.