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The Upstater, from New York, used to fly into San Diego every couple of months. Retired, and a widower of several years, he’d wander the streets of Tijuana, making up for lost time. But that was several years ago. Now I see him sitting on a public bench on Revolución, feeding pigeons. Then there’s the Old Baseball Player, legendary not only for his capacity to consume cerveza, but for his single-minded pursuit of female companionship. For myself, the testosterone has dwindled significantly since my salad days. It is almost a blessed relief to not feel the nagging compulsion to copulate, to not entertain the notion that one’s duty is not being done as a mammal. I have fond memories of reading a parody of the 1970s sex manual, The Joy of Sex, retitled as The Job of Sex — and in retrospect it was. Certainly many of the “girlfriends” we run into down here view their liaisons with gringos as a job. They may as well be shampooing poodles for a living.

Other godforsaken gringos find love, at least at their end. Astonishingly, a high percentage of these men, many of whom speak only English — and who have lived previously under the rules, regulations, and customs of Anglo-American culture — become enamored with a Mexican cutie or two, spending large sums of money for their upkeep and believing that these women only have eyes for them…shoobie-doo-wop-bah-daaaaah. Of course, these delightful female charmers may try to engineer the same sweet set up with half a dozen gringos at once. One old guy, seated next to me at the Monte Carlo restaurant, which is next to the notorious good-times bar Adelita’s, complained bitterly of such an experience, of the shocked discovery that he wasn’t her one and only.

“What do you think of that?” he asked, putting a forkful of scrambled eggs into his mouth. He swallowed. “I mean, I told her I’d rent her an apartment and pay her bills, and I been doin’ that for six months, but she still’s got to cheat on me.”

He’s 50-something, his eyes glazed over with incredulity. He met her at Adelita’s, where lovely lies and adroit deception are the tools of the trade. It is always amusing to see one of these types in the bars, having an intimate tête-à-tête, billing and cooing with a woman one-third his age who doesn’t understand a word he is saying. She offers a musical laugh, mimes the lover, bats a coy eyelash, demonstrates every nonverbal courting cliché imaginable. A love-smitten fool and his money are soon parted.

Some have been through this routine several times, always heading back into the fray with a renewed conviction of eventual victory. They need to feel “in love.” Men! Who would have thought it?

One beefy character, an L.A. truck driver, attended the baby shower of his pregnant street-hooker fantasy girlfriend. He was not the daddy, but being a good sport he brought along the gracious gift of a baby stroller for Madame Mama-to-be. The woman was planning to be away for a while…


We all have had our brushes with death. The Old Baseball Player has been knocked out three times during muggings in the Zona, the most brazen attempt a couple of years ago, at high noon, with 60 people standing around, most of them hooker-onlookers. When he came to, his wallet was missing and his neck was wrenched, but he claimed he got a punch in before he blacked out. The Upstate New Yorker was cold-cocked in broad daylight on Madero, one street over from Revolución, his wallet stolen by two assailants who leaped from a doorway as he passed. And old Charlie, several months before he died, was robbed of $80 when his billfold was “frisked” by cops outside his apartment. It was the first time in eight years of living in Tijuana that he’d been stopped by the cops. At the bar he complained, “But they’re supposed to protect and serve.”


I first saw the lion tamer crouching at my side. He wore a short red jacket with epaulettes and gold piping and white pants with a satin stripe down the side, and he was pulling me into a seated position. I was on the sidewalk, and what a beautiful dream I was having. All those blue and red lights flashing stroboscopically, swirling around me like the reflections from a rotating disco ball…or is that a rising moon? A bad moon risin’. That song. Had I not heard it just a short while ago on some juke box, emanating from some doorway? Never mind. I guess the show is about to begin…. The lion tamer asked if I had ID. For the circus? I thought. Now you need ID for the circus? Ridiculous, I thought. Or I thought I thought. A carnival ambience was all around me, a whirling maelstrom of colored lights, snippets of conversation, and visual montage. People were talking. What a show! A large white truck, what? A lion truck? They keep the lions in that? A large white truck was backing up to the curb? I was on a curb? The sky was still turning dark. It was an opalescent gray the last time I noticed, but now it was going all indigo. I felt around me and pulled my hand back to see blood, quite a bit of it. The lion tamer! I’d been bit? No, wait, I thought, I’m on a dirty sidewalk at the entrance to the Zona Norte, right off Calle Primero and Constitución. Suddenly, the beautiful dream vanished. I was beginning to understand.

“Was I shot?” I asked the man in the fabulous garb, now dissolving, acid-trip-like, from lion tamer to paramedic. “Stabbed?” A long string of something hung from the back of my head like a piece of damp linguini; I could feel it, a rivulet of semi-coagulated blood running halfway down my back. The medic said, no, I had not been stabbed. A loco had gone on a rampage, and I’d been clubbed from behind.

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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.

1

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.

1

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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