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— That first week of December, Ortega's average wait dropped back below an hour again, and now, "It's pretty much where it used to be. What I've noticed is that in the past we used to have customs agents and some immigration officers as well. Now, I've seen border patrol officers in the booths coming across. So I guess they increased staff that way."

And, while every driver was made to stop and open the hood and trunk for about a month, by Ortega's estimation, after September 11, that situation has loosened. "It varies depending on who's at the booth," he explains. "I see the same people over and over at those booths, and I've seen certain officers that sit in the booth, and they don't even walk out to your car. They don't even check your ID. They just say, 'Go ahead,' and wave you through. I've seen other officers who are really strict. They make everybody open up the hood. They make you open up the trunk. They check the car. Usually, it's the same officers who do that. So it actually depends on who the officer is in your line."

Though he's never seen riots or near-riots at the border, Ortega has witnessed a few lost tempers. "And I've heard stories from other crossers about that. Especially after September 11, when everything was going crazy, people were getting a little desperate. I saw a lot more cutting in, more anger, and I heard stories of actual fistfights breaking out. I never saw them, but I heard stories from some of my employees who live down there as well."

Asked how he keeps his cool at the border, Ortega responds with a laugh. "Well, I take a crossword -- not all the time, but I do carry them once in a while. And I make calls on my cell phone to check on my employees. But mostly, I'm just mentally prepared to spend some time in line. I'm already used to it, and I don't mind the line at all. But, because I'm familiar with it, I do know that it can be pretty stressful to some people. What I recommend is that they just allow themselves to get used to it. The line is always going to be there."

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