Ken Harrison 6:41 p.m., Dec. 12
(Author's note; Carlos and Maria are not their true names but they are as real as the words they told me.) The lives of this young couple did not mix until they reached Tijuana. Prior to that, Carlos had grown up in a west coast state in Mexico known for its powerful drug cartels. From a very early age, Carlos knew people who worked in the growing and shipping of marijuana. It was nearly impossible not to know someone, or have relatives, involved in the drug trade. The wealth accrued by the drug barons in Carlos hometown is all around him. Musical groups sing songs about their exploits. It is not difficult to understand the allure of the smuggler's life for young men whose alternative is a life of perceived monotony on a ranch or farm. Carlos is the second of four close knit brothers. Their parents are honest, hard working people. Struggling along like so many of Mexico's citizens these days. The brothers are all, well trained mechanics who, like many from central and southern Mexico soon headed north, to 'La Frontera.' Where the real money was to be made. For many young Mexicans it is almost a rite of passage to head north and test yourself against the 'Americanos.' In 2005, Carlos had a job repairing forklifts in Tijuana. A couple of his buddies at work moonlighted as polleros. One of them had a legal visa and an automobile. He worked the U.S. side of their operation. The other would lead the group from the Mexican side to a pre-determined location along the border. Carlos had no desire to cross into the United States and look for work. His mechanical skills allowed him to make a decent living in his native country. The push of poverty did not exist in his case. But the power of a young man's libido most certainly did; "You want to go to a party in Fallbrook?" His friends at work asked him one day. Visions of American babes drew him in like the proverbial moth to a flame. The one night of partying in Fallbrook became a year of living in Fallbrook while gardening in the nearby town of Vista. With his close ties to both Tijuana and his native state, Carlos soon began earning extra money as a courier. During the next year, he spent six months in Phoenix and six months in Los Angeles, with trips to Baltimore and New York thrown in. Within a span of twenty-four months, the deceptively soft talking young man had gone from pulling weeds in the sleepy town of Vista in northern San Diego county to transporting marijuana between Los Angeles and New York. With a commensurate spike in pay and all the cheap thrills that easy money entails. One of the first things that Carlos learned in the U.S.A. was that American babes want American dollars. Lots of them. Like many young people who've crossed from Mexico into the U.S.A. in recent years. The hardening of the border line has meant almost no chances exist for them to visit their loved ones back in Mexico. The wisdom of a respected elder is not there. This disconnect must no doubt exist for all undocumented human beings living in the U.S.A. But for young men with an oppurtunity to make fast cash, the decision to break the law must be a lot easier when your family isn't there to guide you. In May of 2007, Carlos was arrested in the United States with sixty pounds of marijuana. Three months later, the U.S. government deported him back to his native country. When Carlos arrived in Mexico he received some terrible news. While he was in jail, two of his brothers had disappeared. Both of them had been working at an auto repair shop. When the cartel wars flared up last year, I once asked Carlos, "I notice that a lot of auto body shops were getting targeted by rival killing squads. How are they tied in with the cartels?" "A lot of the cars that cross the border carrying drugs have been modified. With hidden compartments and false bottoms. That and money laundering," came his reply. Carlos was absolutely correct. Aside from the obvious money laundering, mechanics know every nook and cranny of an automobile. And while a certified mechanic can make a 'good' living in Tijuana, a certified mechanic, willing to break the law, can make a 'better than good' living in Tijuana. According to accounts, Carlos two brothers were at an auto repair shop drinking beer with an officer in the Mexican army. The military man pulled four or five weapons out of his vehicle and the drunken men began firing them into the air. The municipal police soon arrived and arrested the group. Military personel later showed up and secured the release of the military officer. The police then state that they released the two brothers sometime later on. Carlos two brothers have never been seen since. He began his search for them in Tijuana. Using his connections, he had someone contact 'El Pozolero.' The infamous disposer of cartel murder victims. The inquirer was told that Carlos two siblings were not amongst the many bodies dissolved at his ranch south of Tijuana. Meanwhile, back in their home state, Carlos parents were frantic with worry. They hired a lawyer to investigate the case and made plans to travel to Tijuana. Carlos did what he could. He got a job in a Tijuana auto repair shop and continued to search for his two brothers. 'I have always been struck by the normalcy of men like Carlos. Villified by politicians and the media, a lot of them just want to be regular guys with a regular shot at life. In the United States, many of them would be your typical, blue collar, Joe six-packs. Don't get me wrong. All of these groups contain, ruthless, cold blooded murderers.But they also have what I refer to as, 'men of conscience.' ' Good men stuck in a bad world. Like many twenty-something year old males who work on cars for a living Carlos likes beer and pretty girls. One day he walked into a strip club on the eastside of Tijuana and struck up a conversation with a dancer named Maria. She is about his age and had been born in a state that neighbors the one that Carlos hails from. Both still retained close ties to their native region. Maria's story is tragically typical of many a young girl's life in the raucous border towns. Of which Tijuana is but one of the more notorious. She is twenty-something and short of stature even by Mexican standards. She was born a seven month old premie and never caught up in growth.But what the black haired, brown eyed spark plug lacks in height she more than makes up for in energy. Her divorced mother left Maria in the care of her grandmother when she headed north to find work in the U.S.A. In the years that followed, Maria's mother would bounce back and forth between being an undocumented worker on a farm in the U.S. midwest, to being a licensed sex service industry worker in Tijuana. Back in their home state, Maria was running amok. As an overwhelmed grandmother tried unsuccessfully to cope with a house full of cast offs, the angry young Maria roamed the streets. At the age of fourteen, she became pregnant and was fifteen when she gave birth to her daughter. The single, unwed mother was a minor and soon attracted the attention of Mexican social services. There was talk of taking away Maria's daughter. Upon hearing this news, Maria's mother left her job in the U.S.A. and returned to her native state. She took both Maria and her grandchild back to Tijuana with her. There, Maria's mother went to work while Maria cared for her daughter. Maria has an aunt (the sister of her father), who also works in the sex service industry. She is the ex sister-in-law of Maria's mother and the two have never seen eye to eye. When Maria turned eighteen, her aunt talked her into stripping at the club where Maria's mother worked. It was a cruel thing to do and devastated her; "What mother would want her daughter to work in this business? I did this work to support her so she wouldn't have too. (Maria's aunt) did it to hurt me." Maria soon made a name for herself at the club(her mother self exiled herself to another club on the opposite side of town). Maria attracted a large following of male suitors and soon became one of the club's top dancers. She also carved herself out a reputation as being 'a pretty tough cookie.' One day, the manager of the club summoned her to his office. Inside, was another dancer, who'd been accused (accurately) of stealing from a customer. The dancer had said Maria did it. Upon hearing this news, Maria attacked the girl and had quickly beaten a confession out of her before the manager could pull them apart. Carlos and Maria are physical opposites. He is tall while she is short. Carlos speaks in a near whisper. You want to lean toward him when he speaks. While Maria's commanding voice can be heard houses away. As the saying goes, opposites attract and the couple soon struck up a serious relationship. As their feelings for each other deepened, both came to realize that they wanted each other to make huge lifestyle changes. Carlos no longer wanted Maria to work in the sex trade and Maria no longer wanted Carlos to work in the drug trade. Carlos had maintained his ties with acquaintences in the smuggling business. Much of it was due to the simple fact that he knew many of them from childhood. His visits with them were more often than not, personal and not professional. But the fact that he was still actively searching for his missing brothers must certainly have played a part. The search was not going well. Carlos continued to utilize his underworld connections while his parents tried every legal channel available to them. At one point an investigator told his parents that he'd 'discovered' their sons in a federal penitentiary in Central Mexico. And if they gave him some more money, he'd prove it. It was a false claim. As in family tragedies the world over, there are always vermin looking to profit from grief. In 2008 Carlos mother traveled to Tijuana searching for her sons. At that time this writer spoke briefly with her. After a few minutes I realized that an 'interview style' discussion was impossible. The painfully thin woman spoke of her two missing sons only in the present tense. She was in complete denial to the possibility that they might be deceased. She tried to convey only hope. You could tell however, that it was an eggshell fragile hope. I dared not ask the question; "What if your sons are dead?" I sensed that if she was merely confronted with the words, she would crumble to pieces. Yet when I looked into her eyes, I saw only the ghosts of her two boys. She knew. Deep down inside. She knew. Then it hit me like a punch in the stomache. Complete with lingering ache. I was gazing at the base tragedy of the global drug war in its simplest formula. Be it cocaine in Columbia, heroin in Afghanistan or marijuana in Mexico; Lots of young men fighting over vast amounts of illicit wealth will invariably produce lots of dead young men. Mourned over by lots of grieving mothers. The wail of a parent burying its child is the anthem of the global drug war. Carlos and Maria agreed to each others wishes. The couple rented an apartment in a tough, eastside Tijuana neighborhood. Maria became a stay at home mom. Within a year she was pregnant. Meanwhile, Carlos supported them thru a strictly honest living. He could do it as long as he worked twelve hour days, six days a week. A son was born to Carlos and Maria, in the city of Tijuana, in the year 2009. He was named after each of his two missing uncles. The birth of this child seemed to change Carlos. He went from trying to find something he'd lost to protecting something he'd been given. When his parents came out to see the baby, he had the exact same affect on them. Carlos and Maria decided to leave Tijuana and live with his parents in their native state. Carlos would start his own auto repair business, from scratch, working out of his father's garage at home. That baby boy is going to be raised by a loving, caring family who, I feel, will keep him off the smugglers highway that tempts so many. After all, they've already suffered in the global drug war that ravages mankind. They are the tears behind the statistics. 2010 is to be the first new year in the new life of Carlos, Maria and family. A couple of young people, scarred and tempered by life's vicious cruelties. Yet finding hope in the arms of each other and a child born unto them. I wish them luck. Happy New Year, folks. Coffee's Ready, Gotta Go!!!