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The long corridor is quiet now. A reasonable facsimile of Willie Nelson lies dozing in his shorts, on his back, in the dark, the door to his room open to the caressing balm of a Pacific breeze that drifts easterly along Coahuila Street. No lights ignite the dark; there is only the shadowy simulacrum of Willie at rest, his head pillowed at the foot of the bed, his feet up where his head should be. The day before, he was on a wild-eyed rant. Walking up the staircase, I heard him singing this ditty from my childhood: “Whistle while you work, Hitler is a jerk…” Then he started over again. When I got to the top of the staircase, this gray-bearded, gray-braided spectre caught in mid-song smiled weakly. “A song from my childhood,” he said. I looked into his sad eyes, nodded, and ambled past. Best to let grogged dogs lie, I thought. So what if we both knew the same bit of musical doggerel from the same post-war era. Does that give us common cause? Make us “soul brothers”?

He has been here for several days now, sweeping empty Tecate cans and cigarette butts out of his room on a daily basis. In another room, not far from here, a few years back a much younger man was doing the same, spending days cloistered in a Mexican hotel, drinking red wine from the green bottles that, empty, lined up outside his door, while he chain-smoked American cigarettes. Eventually, they all break one way or another, like a cueball rolling slowly on a green felt plane. Left or right. They stay or they go, but they do break, finally, in one direction or another. The young man stayed, until one morning I saw him sitting on the stairs weeping, his bare and bleeding feet having left crimson prints all along the mottled gray concrete hallway outside his room. Broken green glass trailed out of the open door of his room, as did a trail of cigarette butts and ashes. I couldn’t bring myself to look at him. I could tell he had had his own personal Night of the Iguana and was about to leave. Some can take it, some can’t. Mostly, when they go, it’s because it isn’t their time…not yet.

Author T.B. Beaudeau knows that downtown TJ dive bars are the place to gather news about Tijuana’s expatriate gringos.

Author T.B. Beaudeau knows that downtown TJ dive bars are the place to gather news about Tijuana’s expatriate gringos.

The old guys, like doppelgänger Willie, they don’t care so much. They have reached The Point. They have enough life experience, have seen enough that the trail ahead seems more like a backtrack of the trail behind, a pointless and Sisyphean task, and so they seek out a legendary graveyard, as the elephants do. The young man of the bloody feet was too young to stay. If he did, it would had to have been under a new set of terms, self-evolved, but he still had some esperanza roiling about inside him. So he left in a cab, to go back to the place from where he came, a place most likely of tightly manicured hedges and well-watered lawns. As for the old guy, well, this may be his moment on the beach. But some of these old guys are tough and tricky. You never can tell if they might not get away at the last moment, sucked back out by a stronger tide…to return to friends, family, the society they knew…or maybe just rehab.

The notion of the therapeutic retreat, the pulling back from the life one lives is an attractive one. I tendered such fantasies myself as early as high school, wanting to avoid the pressurized hurly-burly of society and its claims upon one’s person, the multitudes of expectations, the burdens of responsibilities imposed by others, bellowing bosses, demanding wives, disappointed and disappointing children. I had the nagging perception that everything would be made all right if I could just spend three days alone, lying in bed for 72 hours in an air-conditioned motel room in Centralia, Washington. It never really leaves, this desire.

That’s who comes here, this is what they seek. For the old guys, however, it’s the majesty of disappearing into Mexico, finding the graveyard of godforsaken gringos and then letting Nature take its course. We have a progenitor, of course — Ambrose Bierce. He left a cushy job in San Francisco as a newspaperman in 1913, in order to find out what the Mexican Revolution was really like. He never went back. He simply evaporated, a puff of vapor under a hot Mexican sun.

For those who have crossed this Rubicon, there may be salutary moments of lucidity, when a man can turn back, but if you stay on track it gets harder and harder to make the timely retro-spin northward, back to Anglo-Landia. You make your bones every day down here, until you become bones yourself. There is no rest, no respite for the live-in gringo. You get beat up, you get robbed, your pockets picked, you have your ups and downs with Mexican cops, you learn some Spanish, you meet other, similar ancient ones, like the chimerical Willie Nelson at the top of the stairs.

The Walrus arrived one week. He is another like Willie, religiously drinking a few caguamas a day, strolling the streets in huarache sandals, letting the summer sun bake his feet into bright-pink balloons, so painfully burned he could not walk for days at a time. Once, he sent me to the corner store for a caguama — he could not take a step.

The Walrus plays music that seeps from under his door and flows down the hallway. “I’m in love,” sings Wilson Picket. “Love, love, love makes me do foolish things,” sing the Marvelettes. Yes, yes, indeed…


Love makes the world go ’round. Especially if you’re an old coot on Social Security or a government pension. Stateside, the chicks just don’t get it, they don’t understand you, but down here there are a multitude of Mexican cuties running around looking for a handsome bloke like you. You never knew you were that attractive, and you’re so glad that at last someone sees the real you. And loves you, too. For many of the old bulls, this is the last roundup, a final fling, an opportunity to have it their way, just once.

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Comments

David Dodd Sept. 25, 2013 @ 1:01 p.m.

Good stuff. Next time you do a piece this long, you might think about twisting the characters around some of the old watering holes. Personally, I'd rather leave an empty caguama bottle on the spot you spit your final bit than a black wreath. I would, of course, have previously consumed it in your honor.

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mridolf Sept. 26, 2013 @ 3:17 a.m.

This is the kind of really good, in depth story about Tijuana that I used to enjoy in the Reader a long time ago. I appreciate it. And, as an aging male San Diegan myself, it's reassuring to know this place is available, if the need ever arises. No need to walk off into the forest, or desert, or finish it with a handgun.

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John Kitchin Sept. 26, 2013 @ 10:45 a.m.

Very good cover story (Sept. 26) and enjoyable, better than I could do, all of these rare. I appreciate those who can put an entertainment spin on a story, as I am all informing and persuading, save for my humor. Your story is all too-true, as well, unfortunately, but there are other sides to it, albeit not as interesting as the one you have chosen.

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johnnyfever Sept. 26, 2013 @ 11:30 p.m.

The last couple paragraphs say it all...

"When you come to Tijuana, you must be prepared to lose everything, including your life."

"Every one of us has been knocked out cold at least once, usually as part of a robbery. In the first 50 years of my life, I met nobody subjected to routine robberies and muggings. Since I’ve been here, I’ve met dozens."

                  "Baja is back"  July 24, 2013

"a 2012 survey on travelers’ perceptions conducted among 600 Southern Californians (in San Bernardino, Riverside, San Diego, Imperial, Orange, and Los Angeles counties). Respondents Respondents who would not visit Baja because of “danger, crime, and drugs” decreased by 44 percent."

Doesn't this story show a 180 degree perceptual difference from the reader PUFF PIECE a couple months ago (below)? So does reality come from surveys or the Gringo school of hard TJ knocks? I'll take the second, as the white man is always a 'mark' in any 3rd world country, especially in Mexico and many parts of Los Angeles these days.

Obviously these gringo geezers are pushing the vulnerability envelope by living in TJ and hanging out at bars and the local houses of ill repute. As a single male myself in his 40's, not to put myself on a pedistol but I have never paid for sex. If that's your thing since it's legal in Mexico, ask yourself how many of these women(children) are forced into the sex trade to pay off debt for a family member or to a coyote,ect?

I can see the appeal of a woman from another culture. The divorce rate in CA. is 75% and America's self aborbed materlistic culture is rapidily deteriorating IMO.

But I can think of better ways of spending my twilight years, like getting my soul right with God before I leave this world.

Strong

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David Dodd Sept. 29, 2013 @ 2:34 a.m.

Prostitution is not legal in Mexico. It is simply tolerated and controlled because the authorities would rather keep it all in one place, confined, which makes perfect sense for Mexico based on how life operates there. In other words, they would rather not see the girls parading themselves near a schoolyard or a shopping mall.

So far as the comparisons of the stories, I can understand your frustration, but you have two writers coming at Tijuana from two different angles. If you go down there to visit and keep your eyes open to avert trouble, you'll probably be just fine. However, if you live there and are out and about on a daily basis, it's like anywhere you might find yourself in a sketchy environment, you'll see your fair share of crime.

But mostly, everyone's moral compass spins in a different direction. The older single gringos don't have any ties to any relationship unless they're dumb enough to believe that a slender, beautiful, 23-year old gal thinks some retired balding gringo with a potbelly is the sexiest thing ever. The old ballplayer, for instance, will tell you that he doesn't pay for sex, he pays them to leave afterward. And there is a lot of truth in that even after taking one's tongue out of one's cheek.

Enjoy the story from the perspective it's written, because to do a comparison is always going to be disappointing. The attitude of a story never tells a complete story, that's never the point. Twain's version of the Mississippi River wasn't everyone's version, and it certainly wasn't the complete story, but it was a damned good story, nevertheless. I'm sure that Faulkner would have done it differently, and it still probably would have been good.

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John Kitchin Sept. 29, 2013 @ 6:48 p.m.

Prostitution is legal in Tijuana, and there are licenses and taxes paid, as well as a Labor Union for the prostitutes. I asked about writing a Reader cover story on same, as my ex-girlfriend was a leader, but that idea was rejected. As far as perspectives, these are only two mentioned above, and I can think of at least 20.

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David Dodd Sept. 29, 2013 @ 8:08 p.m.

Prostitution is not legal, John, I promise you that. The licenses and taxes aren't constitutionally correct. Otherwise, the girls would be all over, legally plying their trade. It's simply controlled. If you want to pen a story about it, my advice would be to start with the judicial in Tijuana and work backwards. I believe the perspective would be more in line with how things work in Baja. If you're serious about that article, try it backwards, I bet it would be rewarding - if not with the Reader then elsewhere. But try working in reverse, it's tough to get interviews at first, but sometimes persistence pays off.

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davephillipich Sept. 27, 2013 @ 10:04 a.m.

Just want to say that I really enjoyed the story. Reminded me of Rum Diary a bit (the novel, not the movie). More like this, please.

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dwbat Sept. 28, 2013 @ 7:04 p.m.

One of the best Reader cover stories this year. Superb writing by Beaudeau. Two thumbs up.

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dwbat Oct. 8, 2013 @ 11:33 a.m.

I really don't care if you ever agree with me. It's meaningless.

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diegodougie Sept. 29, 2013 @ 1:11 a.m.

I really enjoyed this story and would love to hear more stories (I also enjoy reading David Dodd's stories). I like to spend my Saturday afternoons and evenings in TJ cantinas and get the feeling we have querencias in common (Dandy, Tropics, Bar Nelson,Bar Tenampa are mine).

Standing invitation for a few rounds of caguamas on me, send me a direct message on this account.

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David Dodd Sept. 29, 2013 @ 2 a.m.

Hang out in the Nuevo Perico once in a while in the afternoons. You never know who you'll run into in there.

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John Kitchin Sept. 29, 2013 @ 6:55 p.m.

This goes without saying, and I need as an author, publisher, and editor many years to point it out: You DO know that stories of this nature are fictional, although based upon some real experiences, right? Like sermons and ministry, entertainment stories are not to be taken as factual. Good piece of entertainment.

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David Dodd Sept. 29, 2013 @ 8:12 p.m.

No, John, you have this one wrong. Every piece in here is correct and entirely accurate. The only thing that might be deceiving is the time-line in these events, they weren't so close together as some might interpret, but I assure you that this is and was entirely accurate.

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John Kitchin Oct. 6, 2013 @ 6:51 p.m.

Figuratively and creatively correct, but it is fiction, not news, and intended to entertain, which it does. Excellent piece. Instead of "Downtown" perhaps say "Zona Norte". Never take a taxi, so that you do not get robbed by the cab driver, except if you are foolish enough to enter Zona Norte.

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David Dodd Oct. 8, 2013 @ 6:15 a.m.

You can get robbed in Centro as easy as anywhere else. Zona Norte is sketchy, but there is more of a police presence there than in Centro. And in over two decades in Tijuana, I've never been robbed by a cab driver. If your experiences have been different, it doesn't make mine or T.B.'s fictional.

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John Kitchin Oct. 7, 2013 @ 9:42 a.m.

David, are you the author? Best cover piece in Reader history. Some in this thread are treating it as NEWS, which the author usually writes, but it is not. It is Local Color, or Human Interest, and as such is not supposed to be accurate. As a NEWS story it has a lot of problems, such as the time line compression as you have indicated. It also has lots of opinions of the author, which is only acceptable in an editorial. I could go on, but need to reemphasize that it is an excellent article and entertaining. I have different opinions than most of what it says, but my story would be boring.

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David Dodd Oct. 8, 2013 @ 6:07 a.m.

Of course I'm not the Author, John, but your statement that this is fiction is entirely incorrect. I took T.B. to find Charlie, I'm the "Dave" in that portion. I knew Stanley, although I didn't much care for him. The "old ballplayer" is someone I've known since before T.B. came to Baja. I know Rene. It goes on and on.

And I remind you that this isn't a beat piece on crime, it's an article which is editorial and certainly told POV. But it's accurate, all except for the seemingly tight timeline, and that's what happens when T.B. starts with 7,000 words and the editors of an alternative weekly are challenged to cut that in half. He did a fantastic job framing this and sprinkling in his thoughts on the TRUE EVENTS that have happened in this section of Baja in the last several years.

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Nihongene1 Oct. 1, 2013 @ 9:17 p.m.

you seem to be making quite an effort to debunk this author. it can't be because they are published and you are not? i think the writing in this article was just magnificent. just beautiful. keep up the good work, son!

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John Kitchin Oct. 6, 2013 @ 6:46 p.m.

I agree, and have said so, that this is a good piece. And, I have been published in about two thousand newspapers in the past 45 years.

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Nihongene1 Oct. 6, 2013 @ 10:31 p.m.

really? for that i apologize. tell me what you've written lately. i'd like to read some of it. i'm a big fan of supporting local artists. i have a lot of friends that are writers and hugely admire their ability to write. what an insanely marvelous talent to have. . .wish i had it. but reading is even better. for me anyway. you get to enjoy and learn without the headache of writing. good luck with you writing as well! .

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Chad Deal Oct. 2, 2013 @ 6:09 a.m.

Really, really enjoyed this story. How the cholo on the cover has anything to do with this fine account, we may never know.

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Fulano de Tal Oct. 9, 2013 @ 11:40 p.m.

It take it that " Old Baseball Player" is David Dodd, ¿verdad?

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David Dodd Oct. 11, 2013 @ 11:37 a.m.

No. I'm just the "Dave" in the story. The old ball player, however, currently resides right next door to me. Hope I'm keeping the noise level down here. He's a fine gentleman, I enjoy talking baseball with him as often as I can. He was drafted out of high school into the Red Sox organization. It was long enough in the past that his minor league career is not entirely complete with any internet reference. To date, so far as I know, he has not read this story.

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jslueth1 Oct. 16, 2013 @ 7:46 p.m.

This article is well-written and contains some truth. Still, it is unfair and misleading. I'm a Gringo who has spent a great deal of time in TJ since 1998, from the wealthiest parts of town where the city's elite gather to the seediest districts where nobody with social stature (or physical vulnerability) would want to be found. I'm all the better for it in every way. I know Tijuana has endured a reputation for corruption for at least 80 years and I have seen first-hand how the combined effect of 9/11 and the wave of drug violence from 2008 to 2011 forced TJ into an unprecedented level of economic stagnation and social isolation. Yet I have also seen TJ overcome these setbacks, shake off its dependence on Gringo tourist dollars, and become a city where most residents again feel physically safe and financially secure. Depicting TJ as a Gringo destination for inevitable, tragic death is simply outlandish. Death is guaranteed anywhere you go if you just stay long enough.

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