I went back to Tijuana last week to participate in a poetry reading at a small university. I say “back” because, from 1999 through 2007, I lived there pretty much full time. I still rent a room from a dear friend of mine, but only get there once or twice a month, if at all.
I miss it.
So much so that after the poetry reading, I took a couple hours just to walk along the boulevard from beyond the Caliente racetrack, and then down into the river zone. The taxis kept honking and whistling at me, hoping I would become a client and ride, instead of walking. But no. I wanted to smell the air – hazy, flavored with diesel and cement – and feel the sunshine struggling to crack through the late morning winter clouds.
I saw the new shopping center by the corner of De Las Americas, the Galerias Hipodromo, anchored by a multiplex cinema. Made a video blog of myself talking, even as I slowly made my way past the entrance roads leading to the racetrack grandstand. Meanwhile, the big structure just hunkered down in the distance, beyond its surrounding stretches of open space. Now, there is a big piece of undeveloped real estate, laying all around that ancient behemoth, where horses will never race again, only greyhounds.
Sat myself down on the bus and taxi benches at the corner of the avenue that leads uphill toward the American consulate. Remembered how a couple years ago, Franco Mendez had an art opening at a little gallery just a short ways up that road, in a mini-mall behind a restaurant next to a fancy motel. That was a good night, Franco freely talking about his caged portraits and sculpture, while the free hors d’oeuvres kept coming and coming and the champagne flowed almost continuously.
Then I crossed over to the north side of the boulevard and made my way down the sloping street, past the gas station at the corner, and on beyond the golf course clubhouse entrance, where someone got kidnapped in broad daylight a year or two ago. Right there, across from the country club entrance, sits the old Lomeli Tile showroom, with its curious portrayals of historical Tijuana monuments pictured outdoors in painted tile images mounted right on the walls below their windows. I briefly thought of making a video showing those old works, but I didn’t, even though I had a rather sudden and intense intuition that those works might soon disappear, just like the old bullring did last year, or the mosaic map of western Mexico that was torn down a couple years ago, from where it used to stand inside the ancient bus station, downtown.
Walked past the old restaurant that’s shaped like a giant sombrero. Decided not to eat there. Onward, beyond the narrow road that runs down toward the prestigious Cardenas Preparatory School, all that’s left of the vanished 1929 hotel and casino. Finally stopped to eat in a fast food joint – they are very fancily tricked out in that neighborhood. My hamburger and fries were good. I sat for a while longer, writing in my journal.
Eventually I would go on, make my way down into the booming river zone with all its banks and offices and stores and hotels and restaurants and shopping centers and traffic traffic traffic traffic traffic. I would sit down on the edge of a small fountain, across from the glorieta circle where a tall statue of Abraham Lincoln stands holding broken chains. I make a video blog talking about Cartolandia (or “Cardboardland”), the long-vanished 1930-1970 slum that was wiped out by bulldozers in order to build the “New Tijuana” – Zona Rio.
At last I catch a bus “home” to Otay Mesa. After an insane, bouncing, racing bus ride, I get to my friend’s house (who rents me a room) and just sit down to write and read and look forward to the days when my personal obligations won’t keep me in San Diego all the time.