Photo: Denis Kabanov/Shutterstock

In Tijuana With Your Gente

Tijuana Narrative
by Josh Heller Apr 26, 2013

You should just park at the border and walk to the big revolving metal door that welcomes you to Mexico. There’s never a wait to get into Tijuana, just bored Mexican border officials occasionally asking people to press a button. If it’s green you can pass, if it’s red they search your stuff. Though it seems like you can avoid pressing anything if you just walk straight through the exit and down the steps. There’s a long line to leave Mexico, but you won’t have to deal with that for 24 hours. Just walk over the bridge and meet Beto at the American embassy, a McDonald’s on the other side of the taxi stands.

Beto will pick you up and drive you to a hilltop apartment where he’ll get some bikes for you, Sal, and Geoff to ride. Mike will be out of luck, though. BTW, in Tijuana Mike’s name is “Skeeter.” He met Beto and Ricky during college, working at a supermarket in La Jolla. When he first visited, he felt bad that all of their friends had nicknames and he didn’t. After several trips to Tijuana, he asked them to dub him “Skeeter.” They told him that wasn’t how nicknames work, but “Skeeter” stuck.

Beto will take you back to Playas. He’ll offer to BBQ so you can drink caguamas of Indio and eat homemade carne asada tacos. You’ll all agree, but the whole time Skeeter will be scheming a way to eat at a famous taqueria. He won’t mention it right away, because he’ll want to seem like a gracious house guest, but eventually it’ll come out. Skeeter will need tacos, now.

Beto will want to take you to El Char, even though he’ll have to deal with the taquero chiding him for his team’s loss in El Classico. The insults will be minimal, because the taquero will be busy opening, and the tacos won’t be ready for 20 minutes. So you’ll go around the corner to Tacos el Frances. Beto will order everyone four tacos: lengua, carne asada, maciza, and adobada. You’ll be surprised that adobada is al pastor and that carne asada comes with pinto beans and guacamole.

You’ll get back to their house and play a casual game of backyard soccer. Then take Beto’s offer to ride bikes to the Oxxo to pick up caguamas for the afternoon. Since Skeeter won’t have a bike, he won’t be able come but he won’t really care because Beto & Ricky have Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, allegedly one of only two things that bring him joy. (The other thing is paddle tennis.)

You’ll ride bikes to the pharmacy so that Sal can buy a prescription inhaler that’s 1/5th the price here. Geoff will not have ridden a bike in 10 years, and will trail behind you until Beto shows him how to use gears.

Then you’ll ride towards the beach and the northwestern frontier of Mexico. The border fence runs out into the ocean. You’ll be cornered on three sides: the United States to the north, the sea to the west, and the mountains to the east. A lighthouse will mirror a guard tower. The former’s purpose is to welcome things in. The latter is to keep things out.

When you get back to the house with the beers, Ricky will show you his beat-making equipment. You’ll be overjoyed. Skeeter will be so deep into his video game, he won’t notice that you’re mixing your first set of tech-house at high decibels. Everyone else kicks Skeeter off so they can play FIFA. You’ll take a shower and a disco nap.

Fifteen minutes later you’ll be piled in a car traveling over the mountain to downtown. You’re going to Sotano Suizo so that you can drink barrils of Indio and share a two-foot sausage with Swiss cheese and chilis. Ricky will tell you that three years ago downtown Tijuana was considerably more dangerous. Cartels would kill people on the streets. The drug war isn’t over, it’s just that the winning side said they won’t kill people in public anymore. Which means that more people have returned to the streets to party on Saturday nights.

They’ll take you to Moustache Bar. The patrons will look like people at any bar anywhere else in the world who’d be attending a bar named after a hipster accessory. Globalized subculture. You’ll pay six dollars to see a DJ that you like from the LA beat scene. He’ll move the crowd with kick drums that resonate the courtyard. There aren’t neighbors to complain.

After an hour Ricky will take you around the corner to a seafood restaurant where his friend is deejaying cumbias cut with Jay-Z verses. Seven girls will be dancing by themselves. And since all of your friends are single and timid, you’ll make the first contact by asking these girls if you’re dancing to cumbia correctly (which you sort of are). The girls will find this funny and start talking to your friends. Within five minutes Skeeter will be doing his famous Russian-fold-your-arms-and-kick-your-feet dance in the middle of the circle. Everyone will be happy.

You’ll walk outside to buy an agua, but the taquero will give you a horchata, which won’t be refreshing. Skeeter tells you to stop drinking it for fear of getting sick. You’ll do several “spit takes” until the cup is empty. You’ll drink a beer outside the bar. Skeeter will reprimand you, because he’s scared of getting arrested. You’ll yell at Skeeter, Ricky handed it to you. There’s nothing to worry about when you’re under the supervision of locals.

After a few more bars, you’ll jump back in the car and return to Playas. At the taco stand you’ll loudly tell your friends about the “masa sock filled with potatoes and chicken” you had at the San Fernando Swap Meet. She called it a “quesadilla” from Patzcuaro. You’ll be wasted and say “fuck” a lot, and mispronounce Patzcuaro. The family who operates the taco stand will look at you dumbfounded. Ricky will mockingly ask you more questions about Patzcuaro. You realize that he’s getting your goat, but you’ll still answer seriously.

The next morning you’ll feel incredibly hungover. You’ll eat a gigantic breakfast, and then feel worse. Someone will make a joke about going to a strip club while everyone plays along. A few hours later you’ll be walking through the red-light district in the middle of the day. You’ll pass prostitutes of all ages, all sizes, and all genders. Local men will be barbecuing on the side of the road, American men wearing jeans and tucked-in polo shirts will be ambling around doorways to brothels.

At the entrance to the Hong Kong Gentlemen’s Club, two women will be bathing each other in a foamy bathtub, as men with dollar bills gawk at them. The host will take your group to a booth with a view of the dance floor. A woman will be hanging from a ring like she’s at Cirque du Soleil. The entry price is cheap. You’ll each buy one $4 beer.

A group of strippers will be brought to sit next to you, in hopes that you’ll pay them for sex. Everyone will feel uncomfortable. You can start to understand the feeling women have at regular clubs when lascivious guys come over to talk to them. The woman sitting next to Skeeter will tell him that she longs for a US visa, so that she can go to the outlet mall on the other side of the border to buy high heels. This whole experience will depress everyone. You leave soon after finishing your beers.

Beto will drive you back to the border, say goodbye, and welcome you back whenever you want. You’ll stand in line at the border for an hour and a half. You’ll buy and share churros, tamales, burritos, and fresh fruit with your US-bound friends. You’ll oversee a game of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon that will center around Samuel L Jackson, because Geoff won’t be familiar with Kevin Bacon’s filmography. Skeeter will win and make a big deal about it. You’ll argue about which San Fernando Valley restaurant has the best garlic sauce. Zankou will unanimously win.

Even though you hate waiting in lines, you’ll just be happy that you spent a great weekend with your gente in Tijuana.

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