There is a little girl who lives on my block and she is always happy. Her age is about three or four but she looks small for her years. I'd say childhood obesity is not so much a problem around my neighborhood as is childhood malnutrition. Her dark skin is twice as dark as normal for she is always playing outdoors. She rarely has new clothes. Most of it comes from the segundas (second hand stores). If she has any nice toys I've never seen them. Nevertheless, her infectious laughter fills our street daily. She thoroughly loves her life because she has known no other.
On the street below mine I often see two boys of about ten. Sometimes, they join in the soccer games played religiously amongst the kids in every neighborhood around here. Other times, they play, just the two of them, with a raggedy baseball and gloves. They like the sport and that pleases me immensely. I enjoy the game and wish there was a diamond around here where people could play. But you'd need a park for that and we don't have one of those either. The lives of these children, their families and others are the stories I like to document. I don't like to write about myself. But I was born in the USA, which is a me, me, me culture, therefore -FLASH!- Unemployed dishwasher is now again semi-employed dishwasher - HOORAY! Unfortunately, since the commute from my palatial wooden shack in El Fin Del Mundo, to my highly desirable position as scullion at the French Gourmet in Pacific Beach takes about seven hours (plus another eight and a half on the clock), I'm left with precious little time to indulge in my most cherished folly - writing. I still pump out about a story a week but getting to an internet cafe to post them is just to difficult and tiring a journey for me so the stories just pile up around my writing corner. But several days ago, a Tijuana shuttle van driver told me an interesting story. The wild thing about it is that, for a Tijuana taxi driver, it's probably a typical story: Avenida de Las Aguas (Waters Ave) in Villa del Sol ends at the Tijuana-Rosarito corridor 2000. If you turn right onto the 2000 you'll pass the new Home Depot. If you turn left you'll pass by the reasonably new Calimax market. Avenida de Las Aguas is a staging area for several public transportation companies in Tijuana. One of them being the white shuttle vans. These vans are a common sight in downtown Tijuana as many people use them to get to the east side of town. They charge thirteen pesos (about a buck). That's almost double what a bus charges (7.50) but if you're in a hurry and don't want to pay the much higher rates of a taxi libre they'll fill the void.
At three-forty-five am on a typical workday Waters Avenue is already beginning to stir. The blue and orange buses that line the street closest to the 2000 highway, creak slowly from side to side as there drivers groggily walk inside them, cleaning windows and picking up yesterdays debris off the floor. The big white and blue buses that go from El Florido to the San Ysidro border will soon be roaring down the avenue and so will the little crab-like red and yellow mini buses (calafias). The food vendors have yet to arrive but they're on their way. One of the first to always show up is an older man who operates a juice cart across from the OXXO nearest the 2000. Farther down the street is the staging area for the white shuttle vans. It takes them about forty minutes to get to the San Ysidro border so if I get the four am shuttle I can usually cross in time to get the five am blue line trolley to Old Town.
There is a gentleman who rides the shuttle vans that I knew before I was laid off and have since ridden with again. Like me, he too was a crime victim in Tijuana and like me his work commute was altered by the experience. The nice fellow goes so far as to hire his own shuttle van. He worked out a deal with several of the drivers. For a flat fee of one hundred pesos, he gets a solo ride straight to the San Ysidro border. The drivers don't stop for anybody else and they also take a much more direct route.
One morning last week he was sitting in the front seat of a van. The driver and him were just getting ready to depart. He saw me, recognized my ugly mug and told me to hop aboard. I grinned, thanked him and jumped in. I exhaled in relief as I hit the seat cushion. Not only did I have the seat to myself but it was a secured ride!
Let me explain what I mean by a secured ride. When you travel by public transportation to the border at four in the morning there's two common ways you can get robbed. The bad guys can hit you while you're traveling to the staging area (which happened to me), or you can get hit while you're on the shuttle van, bus, taxi etc. I can't imagine being packed inside one of those white vans in the darkness before the dawn, when all of a sudden some cretin pulls out a pistol and screams "Gimme your f*g money!"
My fellow commuter had solved the problem by not picking anybody up. As the three of us headed for the border, the shuttle van driver and his hundred peso passenger updated each other on the latest criminal activity in the area. From what I could ascertain, there were two particularly nasty groups of thieves giving the locals problems. One was a two man team that boarded together and robbed the passengers and drivers from the inside. The second group was larger and used a vehicle. One person boarded the shuttle van and using a cell phone, signaled to the trailing vehicle when the van was ripe for the picking.