4:20 from Yuma: 3 Borders, 2 Countries, 1 Day
8 a.m. I check out of my motel in Yuma, AZ, feeling bad. Yesterday had the pleasure of witnessing a German shepherd—under ICE commands—sniffing up a woman’s private parts for suspected infractions of unspecified rules and multifarious regulations, while itself committing gross violations of human dignity and self-determination. Yuk.
8:30 a.m. I find Yuma’s ‘Old Town’, much nicer than I imagined, considering the border’s Nazi-like presence. The area is well-defined, with shops, a brewery (yes!) and the Golden Roadrunners Ballroom, like time travel, from the annals of my memory. I wish I’d discovered it last night—downtown, not the road-runners—but might’ve been a challenge, given the distance and lack of direction; and maybe a brew or two. I hear there’s a dispensary—meh.
9 a.m. There is a state park here in Yuma, but the restroom doesn’t open until 10 a.m. I can’t wait. There are usually restrooms at border crossings. There are wetlands right here at the river, though, probably the last drops of water in the Rio Colorado before the irrigated fields suck the rest off. I’m sure there’s nothing left by the time it hits the Gulf of California/ Sea of Cortez. I don’t think I’ll add to it; I can hold it in. I leave Yuma for Algodones, Mexico, down I-8, across from the California town of Andrade.
9:30 a.m. I arrive at the Algodones/Andrade border; no, I mean: BORDER, with a parking lot that looks like it exists for the World Series, i.e. HUGE, and people are already showing up. I think somebody has already used my idea of a border-town theme park, and Algodones (aka ‘Tooth Town’) is it, every bizniz every serviz literally organized to support medical tourism, mostly dentistry. Sure there’s a bit of go-go tourism, but not much (can’t be, considering that border closes before midnight, so maybe just some morning-wood sex tourists)…
10 a.m. I find some fish tacos—California influence—and chat up the Zapotec lady manning the deep-fryer. Without the Oaxacans I’d have nobody to speak Spanish with, as most locals speak fluent English, and probably wouldn’t condescend to speakee ‘Spanee with a Gringo. Welcome to Thailand. Taco’s good, though, rarely eat such in its native Baja haunts, what with other non-carnal options. There are Oaxacan artesanias everywhere; no Day of the Dead stuff, though, even though it’s the season. I think they call it ‘Halloween’ now. It looks like a real lively healthy border town, a rarity these days.
10:30 a.m. I approach the border; my gut stiffens. I’m ready. The ICE man comes to the border fence to get his breakfast from the Mexican side. I like that; I loosen up. I cross the border with no problem: no wait, no stupid questions, nada, nadita… I like. That’s the way it should be. Note: for everyday purposes, Yuma tourists should use the Algodones border, not San Luis. Next stop: Mexicali/Calexico, all the way on I-8, through sand dunes and adolescent antics upon them, America at its most playfully destructive, ripping up the landscape with buggy-wheels, simply because it is there…
11 a.m. I cruise through streets of Calexico looking for parking. It’s all on the street, free since it’s Saturday. The American side seems lively enough. I scope out a motel, just in case I want to stay the night. I park my car, and walk to the border. Mexicali seems a bit changed since I was last here, probably thirty years ago. Mostly I remember that it was HOT, like 117F/47C, I trying to commit suicide by soft drink, and almost succeeding. Now it seems mostly quiet, old days long gone with not much to replace it.
11:30 a.m. I try a pineapple tamale, my great culinary adventure of the trip—not bad. I wish now I’d ordered two. I look for the scenery that defined the movie La Bamba, but it seems mostly gone now. They’re trying to save the historic center but it may be too little, too late. I walk around the block(s) more than once. That’s that.
12 noon. I queue up at the border. It’s hot by now, even though winter’s approaching, like 95F/35C. The line is mostly shady. This is slow. I hope I’m in the right line, but they seem to be moving at more or less the same rate—SLOW. I hope I don’t get a parking ticket out on the street. They’re not as cheap as they used to be.
1 p.m. Finally get to the man with the badge, and the screen and my passport. I’m prepared, battle-hardened. “Bringing anything back?” he aks. ‘No.’ Bpam (that’s Thai onomatopoeia). I’m in, Trinity; like Flynn. This is getting easier. I wonder why. I treat myself to a Starbuck’s 20-oz brew, and head out on Hwy. 98 along the border. So that’s two border crossings in a row with no detention. But I had to wait an hour in line. What’s the difference? It’s about dignity. That’s the difference. Got it, Netanyahu? If people’s dignity were factored into the wartime equation, things would all be different.
2 p.m. The long and winding road: Highway 98 joins with I-8 for a stretch, but not much. It’s pretty, though, and there are scenic little towns along the border, and along the way. I take a little break to look around at Campo Indian Reservation.
3 p.m. I park at the Tecate border crossing, walk across, and look around. It definitely looks more like the Baja towns of TJ and Ensenada now; not bad, except for the chopped-up landscape. It’s breezy, too, and cool, definitely not like the previous desert oases. I don’t know if the breeze is from altitude or the ocean. The Tecate brewery is here. Maybe I should take a tour. There are mariachis, too. Unfortunately the public park is closed for repairs; too bad, since it might be quite pretty in that case.
4 p.m. I walk back across the border—no problem. I feel vindicated, in my indictment of the Arizona border, aka Brewer’s Gulch, aka the Gadsden Strip. What a difference a state line makes! I remember Robin Williams on the old Johnny Carson show: “Don’t you want to search me? I might have a gun.” Now I feel ignored, unimportant. I continue west on Highway 98.
5 p.m. I enter San Diego air space—and traffic. It’s thick.
7 p.m. I enter Los Angeles air space—and traffic. It’s brutal, stop and go.
8 p.m. I arrive in Hollywood, turn off the engine, collapse.
I understand, though, all the racist crap that the border represents. Americans reject it all of a piece: Mexicans, Spanish language, the whole schmear. Actually they don’t so much reject it, as are simply uneducated in it. At an arts exhibition in Tucson, they announce their next show, an exhibition from Uruguay—pronounced ‘Your-a-guey’, and this from the towns’ artists and intellectuals, in a major border city. That’s not correct.
Americans simply have no schooling in the subject of Latino culture or the Spanish language, and much less respect for it. The state of Nevada makes a point not to use Spanish pronunciation. The Border Patrol asked if I had “any little brown people in there.” They simply aren’t seen as human. The motives and motivations are of little importance to me, though. To change it is paramount, promoting peace, love and understanding. There, the comfort-food music is working better now.
Mexicans really should have special rights at the border, considering they signed the NAFTA deal with us and Canada, which definitely helped us as much as them. But the current violence there doesn’t help, nor does blaming it on democracy, even if that’s true. I would say that ICE has no right stopping Mexicans’ entry into the US at all, since we stole the land from them in the first place, result of the Mexican War, but actually this piece of land was purchased, so that doesn’t apply. OH! I get it now! Since the US purchased this land, we can treat the Mexicans however we want. That makes sense…