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Monday, December 13, 2010

MEXICO THREE: The Road to Tijuana

The Road To Tijuana 

Quick recap: Despite a pledge to boycott Arizona because of it's ethnic cleansing law, Mykel agrees to go to that state as part of a tour of Mexico. Mexican fans have put together a cover band of Mykel's old tunes (previous band: ARTLESS) and invited him to sing. He'll tour with Cojoba, a Puerto Rican band he knows from New York.

Despite the worse case of jock itch he's ever had, Mykel, in his Fuck You Arizona t-shirt and combat boots, has boarded a plane for Phoenix. (His doctor warned him against those boots, but Mykel feels that ten days can't do much harm. he will be wrong.)

On the plane, Mykel sits next to a coughing/snot dripping yuppette. He immediately catches her disease. In Phoenix , Mykel meets up with Gilberto who he teaches to lie to get a car rental with a debit card.

Then on to Tucson.

As we start this entry, Mykel has made the trip to Tucson where he has stayed one night in Mexico-town with Güera ( bass player of the ARTLESS cover band: Sin Arte), her dog Mona, a big guy named Beef, the band Cojoba, and Ivan from La Merma, another band that will tour with Sin Arte.
The first show is in Tijuana, a long drive from Tuscon. And Tucson is where we start this story:

The plan is to get up at 8, hit the road by 9 and drive leisurely from Tucson to Tijuana.We can be at the show just at 8 when the first band will go on. It's the only show that Sin Arte won't play, but among the bands scheduled that night  is SOLUCION MORTAL. A band I've known through mail correspondence for more than 20 years!! It's a reunion, and one I don't want to miss.

Up at 8? Who are you kidding? These are punk rockers... and MEXICANS (mostly). The only time they see 8AM is when they stay up for it. At about 9:30 we groggily make our way to the corner Tacqueria. Anna's. (Best tortillas in town, and that's not only my word.)

I try speaking Spanish to the owners of the place, but they answer me in English. Maybe they think I'm the Arizona secret police trying to entrap them into revealing their alien identities.

We order tacos and coffee and by 10:30 are back at Güera's and almost packed. Of course, tacos and coffee do what tacos and coffee do, so there is a line at the bathroom. Unfortunately, I'm last on line, and equally unfortunately I forget to bring my gasmask.

If I was starting to cough from my tubercular plane neighbor, I'm now near vomiting. And those spices! They're great going in, but coming out.... ¡Ay, caramba!

It's gonna be 12 hours from Tuscon to Tijuana...

Hey Mykel,” breaks in Gilberto. “It doesn't take 12 hours from Tucson to Tijuana. It takes 7 hours... 8 if we have to wait at the border. Waddaya talking about?”

It's the story,” I tell him. “It's gotta sound good or it'll be boring.”

Don't worry,” he tells me. “It won't be boring.”

So at eleven AM we're off in Gilberto's Phoenix-rented van.

Before we leave, Donn, the Sin Arte drummer who is not making the trip, suggests stopping in Yuma.

It's a weird little town,” he said. “You gotta go to Mr. G's. It's got the best refried beans in Arizona. You'll love 'em!"

From the best tortillas to the best refried beans. Okay, we'll see.

In the van, I DON'T get the hump. Being 5 foot 3 inches and... er... small boned, I ALWAYS get the hump. 

This is a bit of luck that portends trouble ahead. I hate it when something good happens. It means something awful will happen later to make up for it. Not much goes on between Tuscon and Yuma except a bunch of cactus. 

And some really weird mountains that look like God just piled a bunch of stones on top of each other until they were big enough to make a mountain... Then moved on to the next pile of stone.

Ray complains about the tight quarters and the long drive. He thinks things should have been better planned. It's his first tour, so he has yet to learn that every complaint, everything that goes wrong, every pain, fuck-up and annoyance is PUNK ROCK.

About three hours later we're at Mr. G's

  It's not really too impressive: a drive in with a Pepsi sign bigger than the restaurant sign.

Inside is a long line waiting to be served. We are the only people here who wear less than a size 52 belt. Well, some of them don't wear belts.

One guy, gray crewcut, Diamondbacks t-shirt, wears his jeans so low he could be on a NY guy from the hood. Except, that those jeans have a belt. Pulled tight below his huge belly. He looks like a balloon tied at the bottom. I wonder if there's any circulation in his legs.

There are three menus on the wall and you can choose one. One of the others has expired and the third one... I don't get.

Ray doesn't look to happy with the exotic food: fish tacos, refried beans. All kinds of delights. 
Ahead of us on line is a cop. In uniform, weighing in at about 300 pounds. The flab from under his chin hangs to his chest. His face is nearly hairless, like an adolescent's, though his body says he's in his late 30s. His right cheek sports a band-aid. But I can't imagine it came from a shaving accident. I can't imagine him shaving.

So what's good?” I ask him.

He smiles... grins actually. Not a malicious, cop-like grin, but a real howdy stranger it's nice to meet you grin. It's infectious.

It's all good,” he says. “This place used to be a little bitty place. But they's so good. They jus' expanded. Clean cross the road. Yessir, it's all good.”

I heard about the refried beans,” I tell him. “They're famous.”

Oh yeah,” he says, “get them. But the hamburgers. They got hamburgers here... Hoooeeey.” He clicks his tongue. “You get a wet mouth just thinkin; 'bout 'em.”

Ray orders a hamburger

I get a fish taco and, of course, the refried beans.

They are good. They look like my morning experience in the Tucson bathroom, but the taste! I don't know how they do it. Something about the pork fat or the chili. Wow! If I weren't boycotting Arizona, I'd eat this stuff. Ah, wait a minute, I AM eating this stuff. Ok, I feel guilty, but it is fuckin' good.

Ray is off in the fixin's corner with the cop. They're chatting up a storm. Ray's laughing. The cop's laughing. 

They're old friends. The cop says bye to him... then to us... then walks out the door.

What were you talking about?” I ask him. “You sure got along well.”

He told me I look like Eddie Murphy,” says Ray. “I told him he looked like Andy Griffith.”

After Mr. G's we get back in the car and head for San Diego. There's more cactus. More rocks. Some pretty nice scenery. From Arizona we immigrate to California.

We have to stop at the gate while the uniformed people check us out, and maybe tear the car apart. They are looking for neither drugs nor Mexicans.

Are you carrying any fruits or vegetables?” says the Agricultural officer at the border.

No sir,” says Gilberto.

Ok, you can go,” he says.

In San Diego we head for the airport. We have to return the car in the U.S., then figure out how we're going to get to Tijuana. First, we follow the signs for the airport. Then, we find that the car rental space is miles away from the airport. We hit the first airport sign just as we approach San Diego. Then there's a sign for CAR RENTAL RETURNS with an arrow pointing right. We turn right. Nothing. Just a long empty road for a mile or two. Then a tiny sign CAR RENTAL RETURNS with an arrow pointing left. We turn left. This right-left-right continues for miles. Finally we get to a large sign with an arrow straight ahead. (Actually it points up, but we assume it means straight ahead.) CAR RENTAL RETURNS THIS WAY. And here we come to a huge parking lot... several parking lots. Each rental company has it's own set of spaces.

What's the name of the rental company?”asks Gilberto.

How the fuck should I know?” I tell him.
“You rented the car.”

Well, it started with A, I know that.” he says.


He shakes his head.



It was Advantage,” he says with italics. “I think we passed it awhile ago.”

Once we find the place, there is no trouble returning the car, though we lied when we rented it. We (actually, Gilberto) did have to pay a drop-off fee, but that was expected. From the car rental office we take a van back to the airport. I ask the driver the best way to get to Tijuana.

There's a cheap city trolley,” he says.“The Blue Line. It goes right to the border.”

How do we get it?” I ask.

Don't tell anyone I told you,” he says, “but if you take the Alamo van to the Alamo office, the trolley is right next to them. It's easy. You guys have bags. You look like you're going to rent a car. Just get in the Alamo van like you're customers. It's no problem.”

I thank the driver, then we get out of the Advantage van.

I explain the situation to the gang. We wait for the Alamo van. We don't have to wait long. When it pulls up, Gilberto goes in first.

Does this van go to the Blue Line?” he asks.

The driver shakes his head. “This van is for Alamo customers only. Sorry. You'll have to take a taxi.” and he waits until we get out.

What the fuck?” I yell at Gilberto after the van pulls away. “We've got 6 people and all that baggage. It'll cost a fortune to take a taxi.”

I guess I fucked up,” he says. “But let's just wait here for the next Alamo bus.”

Are you kidding?” I say. “It'll be who knows how long til the next bus. Besides, I know how this works. It'll be the same driver. You think he won't remember six Hispanic punkrockers with instruments... and me? We stick out like a chili pepper hemorrhoid. Come on, let's find a cab.”

Ray shakes his head. “This should have been better planned,” he said. “You had all this time. You could have arranged something in advance.”

You're right,” I tell him.

You're such an idiot.” I tell Gilberto. “We cudda been there by now, and you have to go spoil it by asking stupid questions. It's so obvious. We're gonna be late for the show in Tijuana. Are those guys gonna wait for us at the border if we show up at 8? The show starts at 8! What were you thinking?”

I'm on a roll.

Don't you know when to keep quiet. Is that a Mexican thing...” you don't want to know the rest.

It's punkrock.” He tells me.

So we wait. It's about fifteen minutes before the next Alamo bus shows up. It is NOT the same driver.

Alamo car pick-up?” he asks.

Yes,” I answer, giving Gilberto a little kick as we enter the van.

Yo se. Yo se.” he says to me.

When we arrive at Alamo, Moe needs to relieve herself and rushes into the rental office to use the facilities. I tell the rest of the gang to wait outside (and scope out THE BLUE LINE) while I check on the rental. I walk inside.

Can I help you?” asks a cheery young woman as I walk in the door.

I want to check on a rental,” I say.

She motions to the counter and I walk up and ask the nice bespectacled lady if she has my reservation for a van for today.

What's the name?” she asks.

Diego Rivera,” I tell her.

I'm thrilled when it doesn't even raise an eyebrow. I've been dreaming about the day when this Latino thing would rub off on me. Once a Dominican friend told me I was an honorary Hispanic. But can I actually pass? That would be a dream come true.

I'm sorry Mr. Rivera,” says the woman. “But I can't find your reservation...”

Just at this time, Moe comes out of the Ladies Room. I call to her.
Honey,” I say, “there seems to be a problem with our reservation.”
She catches on immediately. Plays along like it was rehearsed. (What a woman!)

See dear, I told you it wasn't Alamo," she says. " I'm pretty sure it was Avis.” 

Really, darling,” I say. “I think it was Alamo. But maybe we'd better check with the others outside.”
All this time, the woman behind the counter is smiling in sympathy with our predicament. I turn to her.

This is a bit embarrassing,” I tell her.

That's all right, honey,” she says. “You check and come back. Even if you don't have a reservation, we can help you.”

You may be right, Frida,” I say to Moe, who takes me by the arm. We walk out. Meet up with the others (who've discovered where the trolley station is)... and head down the hill to that station.

Buying our tickets in a vending machine, we're on the trolley and at the border in no time. In order to get to Mexico, we have to cross a highway, then go through a maze of tunnels and bridges to immigration, dragging instruments and luggage all the way. Ray has his drum hardware, cymbals, and a huge suitcase. Moe has her guitar, and a smaller suitcase. Javier has his guitar and a backpack. Gilberto, Tainia, and I have backpacks only.

You were great back there,” I tell Moe. “You go to acting school or what?”
She laughs. “Comes naturally,” she says.

We talk some more while we walk the maze to immigration. It turns out that both of us have new passports and we want them stamped at the border. We heard that some people just go through and don't get stamped. I know from experience, though, that if you ask for an immigration stamp, you'll get one.

As we walk, I notice that my boots are beginning to rub against my heel, like new shoes do. That's not supposed to happen. These are old boots. Not worn in awhile, but still old. Ah well, it's not so serious, and the walk is not long. We're going to meet our friends from VERBAL ABUSE just on the other side of the border. They'll be giving us a ride to the club. After all, this is Tijuana... the second most dangerous town in Mexico... and that's saying a lot. We're certainly not going to walk the streets without knowing where we're going.

After an interminable walk just through the immigration maze, we arrive at the customs area.

Just tell them you're going in for one night.” says Gilberto. “We have our instruments because we are playing at someone's birthday party. Got that?”

We all nod.

No problem,” I say.

So we get to the border. Gilberto leads the way. Most of the others crossing are Mexicans going home for the weekend. There are a few college students from San Diego looking to buy drugs or drink at 16. Our crew looks as suspicious as an airplane headed for the World Trade Center.
(Here's the band IN Tijuan.. Farinda was not with us at the border crossing... still pretty shady, huh?)
The path forks strangely on the other side of the bridge. By this time, I'm starting to limp because of the strange pressure of my boots against my heel and leg. Gilberto leads us along the right branch of the fork.

Of course, we're stopped by some guys in uniform. The guards ask Javier and Ray to open their bags. They look at the instruments and ask if we're going to be working in Mexico.

Oh no,” Javier tells 'em in Spanish. “Our friend lives in Tijuana. We're just playing at her birthday party.”

He waves us through.

The rest of us pass easily, although along the march to the exit, we're required to push a button that lights up either green or red. It's supposed to be random, but I swear I see an agent's leg twitch at each press of the button. Like she's controlling the process.

Once inside the country, I remember that our passports weren't stamped.

Let's get 'em stamped,” I say to Moe.

She agrees and since her Spanish is better than mine (born in The Bronx, but her family's from The Dominican Republic... which accounts for the WOW), she asks a man in uniform how we go about it.

The nice immigration agent points to the other side of the fork. Moe, carrying her guitar, and I walk over there. 

We face a long line of windows. Through some we can see empty offices. Others have bored or eager-looking young bureaucrats behind them. We ask at one, the man behind it, pale-faced with a white shirt and loosened tie, points down to another. Then another. Finally we end up in an office.

Behind a desk sits a middle-aged guy. Glasses, thinning hair, he could work in any government office anywhere in the world. Moe does the talking. I understand about half of what she says. Trabajo (work) fiesta de cumpleaños (birthday party) no vamos a trabajar o tocar en un lugar público (we're not going to work or play in a public place)... you get the idea. It takes some time, but eventually he stamps our passports and wishes us a good time in Mexico.

We walk back to meet the others.

There they are!” shouts Taina when she sees us emerge from around the corner.

Where were you?” asks Ray. “We thought you were kidnapped by druglords. Jeezus. You just disappeared without telling anyone.”

We were just talking with the officials,” I explain. “We wanted to get our passports stamped, but they gave us a lot of shit about working in Mexico and stuff like that.”

You what?” says Gilberto. “Fuck! That's just what I wanted to avoid. First, we were worried about you. Second, we don't want them to have a record of us. That shit can stay with you. You're such an idiot.” He tells me. “We cudda been there by now, and you have to go spoil it by getting your passports stamped? It's so obvious. We're gonna be late for the show in Tijuana. Are those guys gonna wait for us at the border if we show up at 8? The show starts at 8! What were you thinking?”

He's on a roll.

Don't you know when to just keep walking. Is that a gringo thing?...” you don't want to know the rest.

It's punkrock.” I tell him.

--More later.

[This is part 3 of Mykel's Mexican adventure. To read the rest:

The story of the Yellow Chili Pepper is here.

1 comment:

The Real Tijuana said...

The two questions that are still unanswered after your visit are…

Why is the Blue Line trolley red?
Why are the guys in Mexican Customs all called Marina?