Bill's Vignettes

This is my story. It will consist of little pictures, snippets, or vignettes, from my past. It is a legacy to my children and grandchildren and those that may come after and hopefully will also be of some interest to the casual reader who doesn't know me from Adam.

Archive for the ‘tourist’ Category

Tijuana Tourist

Posted by sundoulos2005 on May 10, 2008

San Diego is only 17 miles, if my memory serves me right, from Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico. Although I had lived fairly close to Canada all the time I was in high school, I had never been out of the United States. Being on my home and so far from home was an adventure for me. I drank in everything because everything was new and different. I could not be that close and not do anything about it.

Tijuana had a reputation — a bad reputation. It was, in those days before no-fault divorce, a mecca for those seeking to dissolve their marriages. It was also a place where underage sailors could drink freely. There were other vices that held their attraction for sailors, marines, and college kids. On the positive side, Tijuana had some class, as well. It had a professional jai alai team and stadium and a bullfight ring. As much as I had wanted to, I was never able to take in a jai alai game or a bullfight.

One of the things Tijuana was noted for was its jail. Our superiors in the Navy repeatedly warned us about the evils of the Tijuana jail. They told us that if we should be locked up there, there was no telling when or if our command would be notified. It was an automatic AWOL and if incarceration lasted long enough, desertion. We were also told that the jail was dirty and fetid and that food was not provided. I never bothered to find out.

I cannot remember for sure, but I do not think we were allowed into Mexico in uniform. That was probably a command regulation. On Friday evening we would head into San Diego and don our civilian clothes and head to the Greyhound Bus station. The bus went as far as San Ysidro, a San Diego community on the Mexican border. Once disembarked from the bus, we would walk into Tijuana.

Even though we were in civilian clothes, our haircuts gave us away as military. That made us quick marks for the many street vendors and solicitors. Young boys — and I mean pre-teen — would try to pimp their sisters and their mothers. Hawkers would stand in the doorways of bars and entice you with the supposed beauty of the girls on display within. The streets were crowded and filled with sightseers, drunks, donkeys, cabs, taco vendors, and others trying to gain your attention. One always had to be alert to pickpockets, as you often were jostled about as you made your way down the street.

On one of my first visits to Tijuana I purchased a taco from a street vendor. Having grown up in New York State, I had no idea what a taco was before reporting to San Diego. I did try one there. The counter girl asked if I wanted it American or Mexican style. “Well, let’s be authentic,” I said and ordered it Mexican. That was my first encounter with hot sauce and jalapenos. The girl that sold it to me got a good laugh watching me take my first (and last) bite. Now that I was in Mexico, I could get a real taco, I thought. I was not impressed. In fact, I took one bite and spit it out. What the heck was that? I wondered. It was worse than what I had had in San Diego. That was my last venture with Mexican food for at least another ten years.

I took a lot of pictures in Tijuana. Unfortunately none have survived. One that I took was of a lawyer’s office. Even in Mexico they have every angle worked out. “Juan Gomez [a fictitious name], Attorney at Law,” the sign read, “Marriage / Divorce.” Now there’s a business. Wed them one day and they can come back the next and undo it all. Tijuana was also noted for its art work. One could buy velveteen pictures of an ugly representation of Jesus Christ, usually with his thorn-wrapped heart exposed or beautiful ones of Elvis Presley, cactus, desert scenes, and adobe houses.

One of the saddest things I remember about Tijuana, besides the debauchery, is the poverty. Passing from San Ysidro to Tijuana, one had to cross over a bridge spanning a gully or depression. There were occupied houses there that had no roofs or a wall would be missing. It was hard for me to grasp that people actually lived in those hovels.

Crossing back into the United States required retracing, on foot, the same path taken into Tijuana. I was always glad to get past the border station and even gladder to get on the bus. There, exhausted, I would collapse into a seat and sleep until our arrival in downtown San Diego.

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