“And every week we’re late, we pay another $10,” says Juana Ynez.

“But what can you do?” Jorge says. “I have to be close to the bridge. Otherwise, I can’t get there. I depend on it.”

Jorge was born in the state of Colima, on the mainland Pacific coast of Mexico, in a fishing port called Tecománpeseta. “My dad was a campesino. He was hired to climb coconut trees and cut down the coconuts.” Jorge says he was fine till he caught polio at the age of one. “It’s a picturesque village,” he says, “but if you can’t climb the mountain and collect limes, or chiles, or bring down loads, it is impossible to survive there. I went to a home for the disabled when I was a young kid, but every day they put us onto the streets to beg. For me, it was impossible to survive in Colima. So I came to TJ when I was 19. Here, it’s difficult but not impossible.”

He found work in a maquiladora. “But they took advantage of my disability. Where they paid others 1500 pesos a week [about $120], they paid me 480 pesos. That’s about $40. It was discrimination, and Mexico has laws, but nobody enforces them. Back then I had to pay $100 a month for rent and pay for transport to get there and back, and food, and water and light…. I was fired after five years for complaining, and you know what? Selling Chiclets on the bridge, with no boss, and no transport, and not having to get up at 3:30 in the morning just to get to work, I made more money. Until the economy and the violence. The last three years have been bad. Really bad. Wednesdays, for some reason, I usually come home without a single peseta.”

That’s when the family, and especially his son — the younger one who has a job as a waiter — have to pitch so that no one goes hungry.

“I was a waitress,” says Juana Ynez. “We met one night when I went for a beer and a dance at the Valentina, across from the Adelita in the Zona Norte. I knew right there that he was serious. And he has been a good father. Yes, I have to help him with his disability, and he has terrible hemorrhoids, sitting on his patineta [skateboard], but he has not failed us. I love him too much. And every day, every day, he goes up to that bridge. After 16 years, that takes courage.”

“I don’t believe in being sad,” Jorge says. “I have life, and I have las fuerzas [my powers] to fight for it. And it’s mostly good on the bridge. People know me by now, and they buy Chiclets when they can.”

But, man, I’m thinking this guy’s a hero. I couldn’t do it.

This is when I notice Maricela, the neighbor, near tears. You can see flashes of a beauty that must have floored the guys back in the day. The big eyes, the swept-back hair, the laugh lines that still get exercise — just not now.

“My son, Jesús, is paralyzed,” she says. “He dove into a shallow pool in Toluca. We keep hearing about cures, but we can’t do anything about it. He has a wheelchair, but an electric one would mean he could be independent. We have no social services to make that happen. It’s so different with your government. It cares about people like Jesús.”

Wow. I ask if she couldn’t get him seen to in San Diego.

“It is too expensive, even if we could get him across. Thousands of dollars. We’re thinking of applying to Cuba because they have excellent programs for paralyzed people, and they don’t cost so much, even with the airfare.”

Then the little place is swamped by kids, and grandkids carrying bolis, ices on sticks, which Juana Ynez went out to buy. Maybe it was an okay day for Jorge after all. Blanca, their grown daughter, who arrives with her kids, says that her husband, who is in construction, is out of work. They often come across town — they rent not far from the cathedral — to share in food here. “Yes, Papá is very brave,” she says, “but he has a big temper.”

Not today, though. The kids have Groucho Marx masks they keep putting on the adults. There’s lots of laughs. I feel a little envious at the real family thing they have going. Outside, in the alley, I slip Jorge a Jackson. Seems the least I can do. “It will help with the rent,” he says, though about an hour later, when I’m on my way back to the border, I spot him coming out of a liquor store with a few cans of cerveza. I don’t say hello again. Hey, the guy deserves a beer, and a beer in peace. Por el placer de ser.

THE SPANISH REFUGEE

The other day I was in at Toñico’s, the paella place on Jalisco Avenue, up beyond the top of Revolución in the Colonia América section. It’s still a cozy Spanish eatery, with great guitar music, serving good paellas. But instead of the Great Old Man, Toñico himself, coming out from the kitchen, it was a gal, really pretty and with a face full of life. “I’m Yolinda, his daughter,” she said. “My dad died.”

Oh, boy. I flashed back ten years to that first, best time.

It was my friend Lois’s idea, after our first bullfight…

“Go, go!” Carla had said, the day Lois called. My true love refused to see bulls killed as a show, so Lois and her friend Kay and I went to the bullfight. By the time it was over, we were high on the vino tinto and the crowds, and, yes, the blood and the heroic trills of the trumpets. As dusk glowed red over Tijuana, we came bowling out of the downtown bullring like blood-drunk Romans. We stood outside, near where they were cutting up the carcass of the last bull. I felt guilt. I felt exhilaration. I didn’t feel like going back to América.

More from SDReader

Comments

David Dodd Nov. 11, 2009 @ 1:42 p.m.

Excellent piece, Ed! Authentic, truly authentic and very well done!

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rshimizu12 Nov. 11, 2009 @ 11:29 p.m.

I go down to TJ a few times a year for dental work and thats enough. I go down during the day and I am not to worried about the crime. But I really wonder what the city mayor and government is thinking when so much of TJ's economy is tourist related. It's simply ridiculous to let all the crime and drugs run rampant. I usually go down mid mornings or late afternoons and TJ is a like a ghost town. The main reason is to avoid the heat in TJ. I always walk and wear shoes with a lot of support. The other reason I avoid TJ is because it is so dirty. TJ is in desperate need of some street sweeping on a regular basis.

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JerryB Nov. 11, 2009 @ 6:30 p.m.

Shssssshhh!!! Don't tell the Union Tribune posters who appear after every article on Tijuana about this. They will flood this page, b!tching and moaning about how no one should visit Tijuana.

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xians421 Nov. 12, 2009 @ 11:07 p.m.

I haven't been to TJ in nine months, due to an unfortunate combination of new found sobriety and a personal lack of willingness to comply with draconian passport regulations. The last few times I visited, I found a place entirely devoid of the turistas that serve as the lifeblood of this once vibrant metropolis. Tijuana has become the place to go if you sympathize with Greta Garbo and you "want to be alone". The situation is so dire that even the legless beggars have left for greener pastures.

My wife and I will get back to Mexico, if only to take advantage of the desperation of the no longer thriving Las Rocas Hotel and Spa, but the destinations of old have changed for the worse, and probably for a long, long time.

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goyo Nov. 14, 2009 @ 5:13 p.m.

I want to go to Tijuana with Ed. I have visited Baja off and on for 30 years. I stopped about 5 years ago because of the drug wars, but Ed's story made me decide to go again, at least to Tijuana. To meet the people and enjoy time with them is an incredible experience. We look at them through tourist's eyes but if we can get past that we can appreciate the kindness, sympathy and struggle they endure.

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cabezas Nov. 16, 2009 @ 4:29 p.m.

Revolution isn't a touristy place anymore. Zona Río is the new place where locals and tourists from all over can hit the bars (Plaza Del Zapato, The Rock, London Bar, Cheers, Whiskey, etc.) And top-notch restaurants such as BICE, La Espadaña, Sushi bars, and American chain restaurants such as Applebee's. Not to mention the new "Turi-Bus" that will take you to all the places that are never spoken of in the states... The real TJ!!! Sure crime happens, just like anywhere, but it isn't common in the city! Drug dealers are usually the ones involved and it happens in suburbs that tourists can't just end up in...... They are far into TJ. Something like Julian would be in San Diego.

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Visduh Nov. 16, 2009 @ 9:43 p.m.

A very lengthy piece, like the cover stories in the Reader of old. If one knew no better, this would convince that a trip to TJ was mandatory and as soon as possible. Ah, but your typical gringo would likely find him/herself in severe gastrointestinal distress after sampling those bizarre and wonderful tacos. (It's not a slam of Mexican cuisine, just a fact of life.)

Yes, it is probably a very interesting city, and deserves better than it gets. But if you are a typical US citizen, stay away. There are just too many hazards without much to balance out the equation. The crooked cops, the shakedown artists, the chance of ending up in the middle of a shootout or being kidnapped for ransom, and a host of other things, plus the opportunity to get violently ill from the food just don't make for a pleasant visit.

So, Jerry B, although I don't know a Union-Tribune poster from a hoot-owl, I did my bitching and moaning about not visiting TJ. Actually, the U-T itself often promotes visits to museums, galleries and new stores or restaurants in TJ without a word of caution.

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bohemianopus Nov. 18, 2009 @ 8:35 a.m.

What a wonderful piece! Best cover story in a long time! I read it through to the end.

Love, food, music, history, adventure and human interest--you got it all!

I have been afraid of visiting Mexico recently because of the violence, but I have always loved the country and its people. This article whets my appetite to dip my big toe into the water once again.

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