This was not the finest hour in multinational relations.
As we made the third go-around of the traffic circle, I rolled down my pickup window and combined my lack of any semblance of being bilingual with wild, mostly pointless hand gestures.
How do you say in Spanish?
“Please, dear God, just help me find the border and I promise to be good.”
This was the nightmare of our nervous navigation of crawling through the gauntlet of street vendors of downtown Tijuana after dark.
There was probably more an imagined threat to our wellness, than a reality. But, after already suffering one legitimate near-death experience deep into the wilds of southern Baja, our caravan of cars—which had already dwindled from five to two—desperately wanted to get back to Estados Unidos de Norteamerica.
We were traveling with precious cargo—that being our two young daughters—and the wife person was beginning to show sure signs of stress, as indicated by her piercing stares, accompanied by comments, such as,
“What in the hell did you get us into?” and “Find the border crossing, NOW [censored affirmation]!”
It was dark. I volunteered to take the lead and we were lost.
And, the street signs seemed to be in some foreign language.
Somehow, I didn’t remember our transit heading south three weeks previous with as much consternation and befuddlement. Yes, there was that harrowing U-turn across a freeway median that was specifically mentioned in the guidebook, but, ultimately, we safely made our way to the toll road, which was welcome relief with a relatively straight, fast highway.
We were more than willing to pay a few pesos to put on more miles towards our destination for the night, a small town along the Pacific side of Baja.
Back to our break for the border in Tijuana: As we were headed home, my buddy, Jack, was following me, accompanied with his wife and two young kids. I suspect his wife had suggested, in no uncertain terms, that he not lose us in the traffic, based on the four inches of space he was following me by.
Just as the exasperation level of pretty much all four of us adults was about go up to DEFCON TWO (the kids probably thought the whole thing was a great adventure), I happened to see a sign on the other side of the four-lane street that read, “U.S. Border,” with an arrow pointing the opposite way from which way we were heading.
So, I did the only logical thing by whipping a wild U-turn at the next, and very congested, intersection just as the light had turned from green to yellow, with Jack basically connected to my rear bumper as the light had clearly turned red. Later he told me that he was going to stay behind me, even if he had to plow through traffic.
The good news was that within a few minutes we were in sight of the U.S. border crossing.
The bad news was that lanes appeared to converge from much of Mexico, South America, and possibly Cuba, so you have like 20 or 30 lanes, which merged into fewer and fewer, until you have only a few border guard stations where you get to let them question you as to where you have come from, what you brought back—including how much alcohol, and check out your sign color, while they listen for a discernable Hispanic accent.
Profiling, before it was popular.
One of the vehicles that made their way home on their own (or so we thought) was a white Jeep Cherokee, driven by Tom. I kind of forgot about the three vehicles that found their own route home, especially since some lived in cities far away from where we lived.
That was until I happened to read a recent news story about some guy who tried to make his own border crossing from Mexico into the U.S. As you can see from the pictures, he “almost” made it.
I remember while we were camping in tents on the beach along the Sea of Cortez, in southern Baja, one evening the infamous El Norte winds came up with a vengeance, and we could hear Tom’s wife, Linda, screaming as their tent was about to collapse into a heap,
“Get me home!”
Now, I am starting to think that maybe Linda expressed a similar sentiment as they were wandering around the teeming streets of Tijuana, which may have lead Tom to attempt the fastest way he could get over the border; “over” being the key word.
The story mentioned smuggling, but knowing Tom, if he had been smuggling anything, it would have been a few too many cases of Pacifico.
In any regard, obviously things did not go well.
Hmmm. I seem to remember hearing something about a divorce a short time later.
I guess it was only luck—and a marginally unsafe U-turn—that saved Jack and I from the same fate.