Garrett Harris 6 p.m., April 20
- Community Blog
- Living in El Fin Del Mundo
Helicopter over Tijuana
The unrest and instability in Mexico arrived at my front door on February 4, 2009. On that day I stood on the threshold of my palatial wooden shack in northeastern Tijuana and watched as a helicopter carrying soldiers of the Mexican army launched an assault on an isolated, kidnappers hideout. The ramshackle dwelling is located in a valley near the one I live in. Just south of what I would guess are the hills around Otay Lakes. I had made myself a cup of coffee and was just sitting down to a good book when I heard a whump! whump! and things began to shake. Having been born and raised in the City of Angels AKA the City of Helicopters, I knew right off what it was. It's just that such machines have never flown over this neighborhood in the two years that I have resided in this part of Tijuana. One of my first memories of living in Tijuana was strolling down Diaz Ordaz Blvd and watching the reactions on the faces of the general public as a police helicopter made an obviously infrequent flight above them. This happened near the heart of the city so you can imagine how rarely they come out to the boonies where I type these pages. In this little part of Tijuana where I live the bandits far outnumber the police. Two hit men carrying AK-47's at 'high port' came barreling down the middle of our dusty street a few months back. They had just ambushed a couple of Tijuana police officers in town and were fleeing the dragnet being set up. I was washing dishes at The French Gourmet in Pacific Beach when this particular incident was going down. My neighbors related the story to me when I got home later that day. I suppose had I seen this. It would have been the catalyst that brings me to scribble these words-Instead it was a helicopter filled with soldiers. Don't get me wrong. I have seen the results of the violence in Tijuana. While riding the buses and taxis of this long suffering city my eyes have viewed bullet riddled vehicles, gunfire scarred buildings and the yellow tarp of death that enshrouds its victims as permanently as the grim reapers black cape. I have seen a dead man, uncovered, still warm, in front of a McDonalds on one of Tijuana's main streets. His assault rifle lay beside him. It was a nice one. All black and shiny. But it hadn't been enough to save his life that day. I myself have been robbed by a carload of armed punks, my girlfriend has had her cellphone snatched out of her hand and one of her sons has been robbed twice by gunmen who commandeer passenger buses along isolated stretches of roads. I think what first surprised me was the helicopter itself. Thirty years living in Los Angeles and ten years living in San Diego prior to my settling down in Tijuana (I don't count a couple of years lost in Murrietta) has left images of them familiar ones in my mind. Be they the tiny, two man choppers and police patrols that dart above the cities like mosquitos on meth, or the huge troop carriers that lumber out of Camp Pendleton like dinosaur sized dragonflies. I might not know the difference between a Huey or a Bell but I recognize the machines. They're made in the U.S.A. Not so with the helicopter that I was watching. It looked like something that would have been trying to kill Rocky when he was Rambo. The thing that tripped me out the most was seeing the mountains of San Diego County in the background of the troop laden helicopter. It suddenly struck me how easy it could be to insert a strike team into the U.S. and how difficult it would be to detect them. Directly in front and below my palatial wooden shack is an arroyo that has been graded into a residential street. Beyond that is a ridge of large hills that form one side. Past those hills is the valley that was the target of the military assault. According to an article in La Frontera ( Tijuana daily) the place is called Ackerman Ranch. I grabbed my binoculars and trained them on the big green chopper. As I adjusted the range and the machine came into focus, it was starting to turn before dropping into the valley. As it did so its tail swung toward me. The back door or ramp, to load and unload was open. I could look directly into the whirlybird's bay. It was crowded with heavily armed soldiers. The one nearest the door was sitting at the edge with his feet dangling over the side. I watched him smile and kick his feet a few times in the air. Like a kid on a swing. He seemed to be enjoying the moment. I guess if you are a soldier and you're seconds away from popping open a can of whup-ass on someone you're just naturally going to be amped. The transport ship spun real fast and very quickly disappeared into the valley. Later on that day, television broadcasts and the following morning newspaper articles, gave an account of what had unfolded; Apparently, a group of some nine undocumented migrants were being held for ransom by armed individuals. One of the victims, a female, managed to escape and make her way to the Tecate-Tijuana toll booth, which is nearby. It was her daring exploit that alerted authorities and started in motion the rescue operation that left one criminal dead and eight hostages liberated. If this had taken place in the United States, the female who escaped and sounded the alarm would be a national media heroine. Her face would be on tabloids across the country and the inevitable TV deal would be in the works. But this is Tijuana. The land of the dead hero. The motto around my neighborhood is 'better to live in complete obscurity than to die because your face gets known.' In Tijuana you don't want to draw attention. Coffee's Ready Gotta Go!!!