Tijuana Exodus & Old Tricks in San Diego

Note: There were a few more pages I wrote on the last half-day in Tijuana and then in San Diego later that day (and a little the next morning). I didn’t think they were a good fit as an ending to my account of the 2019 Tijuana Mission Trip, so I wasn’t going to run them. But I ended up typing them anyway, and here they are.

I. Final Moments in Camp.

At 5:25 on Friday morning, at Amor Hacienda Camp on the eastern outskirts of Tijuana, I am packing up.

At 6:18, incredibly, I am packed up with no problems. Dust coating several items. My boots are a different color than what they were to start. I’m sitting in the mess tent with pen to paper.

“Can’t help others until you help yourself. That’s why I came to get coffee.”

Breakfast is served. I’ll go help anyone with a tent, or with loading the cargo.

“At my age I can’t be expected to function until—”

“Oh come on. At your age? Is he really starting to talk like that?”

“Yeah, he really is.”

I’m sipping my coffee, too. Camp chatter. The alloy snap of tent rods, a crowbar clanging to the ground. That’s what I employed to get my stakes out of the ground.

A beautiful morning, bittersweet. I’m ready to get back stateside but I’ll miss this place again.

II. That’s Not the Way to the Border.

7:33. We are not leaving the way we arrived. We’re on a popular road into Tijuana we traveled often last year. Our van is—or was—the back of the convoy but Frank pulled over and wanted us to get in front of him.

Feeder lot. Guy with a shovel in the road, smoothing rocks into a rut. Entrada salida. We’re swattin’ mosquitoes in here. Antes de es educación. School buses any color but yellow-orange. Blue, green, purple, red.

Our phones charging in the car. Eugene ringing the bell for us as we left. Roadside fajitas. Yes, this is all familiar. Guy in a hammock. Boulevard Olivos Norte. Cerno dealers. Abejas. Major merge with trucks. Divoted road.

Pulling over. Ron’s on foot. Traffic. We make our way to the light of a busy intersection in an area where trucks are leaving warehouses. U-turn at the light. Pulling over! Confusion. Waylay delay.

I tell myself, “Faith in convoy. Faith in convoy.”

We are going to get on the 201, heading north. This has been an odyssey, a clustered backtrack.

Hazy today. Mountain shrouded in a human cloud. Now I see the rest of our group, three vehicles including Joe’s truck waiting for us on the shoulder of busy 201 norte. Somehow we lost the lead, got off course.

Linea, this way. Ramp. Curve. Bighorn Sheep sculpture, on a pedestal. Over the Tijuana River, though you can hardly see it. There’s water there but it’s obscured by trees and other brush. Boulevard Alberto Limón Padilla. Rising.

Discarded tires, one standing up in another. Crevasse, ravine, fissure. You think you’re above the city but look around there’s more above you yet. Levels, tiers, steps of houses.

Slowing down now, a light, trucks entering. Still on Padilla headed west. We will cross at Otay Mesa. That is where we crossed last year. I hope it doesn’t take as long this time.

III. Garrita de Otay.

We make a right onto 905. Joe pulls over. Waves us on. Straight shot now.

Straight but not easy. Now we sit. Con todos. We’re stopped cold right now, right where we started this slog last year. It will likely be hours from now until we cross. A few feet a minute.

Right arm getting sun through window. Munching on pretzels. Someone trying to cut. Motorcycles whiz by. Other lanes move. We are frozen. This is the worst part of the trip. I’m better prepared for it mentally this time but I let myself hope it wouldn’t take as long as it will.

We left camp around 7:20. We are nearing two hours into the drive. I will try to think about falling into my bed in a hotel room in San Diego. Getting a six of Tecate.

This is torturous. A few more folks walking around now, as we get closer to where the pharmacies and restaurants are situated. An older guy with a mustache and a backpack crushes a can flat, picks it up and puts it in the backpack.

A guy on a bike selling coffee. He doesn’t have the coffee on him. He must go and get it once he gets an order. I wouldn’t dare drink coffee now. I only had half a cup this morning—because of this! The slow, slow crawl.

Señora in a shawl, holding a styrofoam cup, asking for dinero. I’m dozing a bit. It feels so good.

IV. Hatching Plans in a Hotel Room.

13:04. I’m in my room, 1415, at the Westin San Diego. This is two hours in the room I didn’t think I’d have. Because check-in isn’t until three o’clock. I’m grateful.

I’ve looked at myself in the mirror. I look rough! My cheeks are approaching brick red, or burgundy. I stink!

First order of business is a full-on shower. Then some walkin’ around, looking perhaps for a notebook store. Then I’m going to that burrito place I went to a year ago. I’m-a get two burritos, one for this afternoon, one for dinner.

Then I’m-a buy two bombers of the sickest, stickiest California IPA and maybe a hip flask of vodka. Then I’m coming back here and probably taking a nap. Tonight I’ll unpack everything and probably throw half of it out the window.

V. Pages from the 14th Floor.

“Good morning, sir. Did you just get off of work?”

A lady who had a broomstick and was wildly slashing at the air with it said that to me a few minutes ago as I was walking back from a visit to The Taco Stand. It’s a quarter to four in the afternoon.

The Taco Stand was as I remembered it. Busy, line out the door. Not a big place. I drank a Negro Modelo as I waited for my food. A group of twenty-somethings left so I was able to take a seat at the counter, where I could watch the cooks make the food.

The burrito I ate was a California: carne asada, guacamole, cheese, fries. It was good. I scarfed it. I took a pescado (grilled fish) to go. It’s in the fridge.

Then I stopped at Krisp Beverages and Natural Foods. I was looking for ‘Best Damn Beer Shop’, didn’t see it. This Krisp place was part grocery, part pizza parlor, part liquor store. In fact, the ‘Beer Shop’ was part of this Krisp store. A store within a store.

I saw and bought a bottle of Pliny the Elder, a beer with a notable reputation. I’d never had it. I got a couple other things, maybe too much. I’m just about ready to sleep.

The Pliny’s good but I’m not getting all excited about it. Maybe the hardest part about coming back—and I’m glad to be in San Diego, to be comfortable, to be headed home tomorrow—but I had this idea of, “Oh, the first beer’s gonna taste so good.” And, “A real shower’s gonna be amazing.” And, “Putting clean clothes on is going to make a difference.” And, “Listening to baseball again is going to get me back in the groove.”

But maybe none of that really makes a whole hell of a lot of difference. When I go down the vice and comfort checklist and check all of them off I’ll hit that moment when there’s nothing left to do again for the first time. What then? It’s a sobering thought, a little scary.

I’ve gotten away from it all for five days. It hasn’t been easy. Not getting there, not being there—the heat, the dust, changing in the tent, scripture in the dark. Getting out of Tijuana was a chore, a comeuppance, a not-so-fast. A, “Sure you wanna go?”

Now I’m in a hotel room, a nice one, in what is a lot of people’s favorite city. I’ve got dead cow in my stomach and I’ve got my liver back on the hamster wheel. I’ve got Rockies-Reds. I’m fourteen floors up.

Why do I think Tijuana’s so great, anyway? I’ve been trying to put my finger on it. Maybe it’s just another escape. Its own little season. I feel like I can be a good version of myself there. And doing the same back here is like walking on a balance beam at a height with which I am increasingly unfamiliar.

V. Untitled Short Poem.

Box fan at the border
Taco queue, exchange rate.
Night falls on San Diego.

VI. The Dogs Of.

In up-up San Diego
I walked opposite way
sidewalk that woman
had the shirt, “I love
all dogs
and, like, three people.”
In my mind I
chuckled but also thought
of Tijuana. So
many dogs to love,
so many people.

VII. Saturday morning: The Bloodshot Yes.

Why am I bleary? I mean, I know why, in an acute sense. But why really? Why did all bottle fall out? Into me? Into this bloodshot yes? Into this ping-pong head? When I have so much to be happy about?

Oh… heaven’s supple hallways.
There’s room for all of us here.

—Tijuana, MX / San Diego, USA
July 26 & 27, 2019

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