Garrett Harris 10:11 p.m., May 23
A conversation at the SY garita.
I cross the San Ysidro border several times a week and have been doing so for a few years now. Normally, when I'm standing in line I don't speak to anyone unless it's to cuss them out for cutting in front of me. But the other day a fellow caught my interest. When I first noticed him, was when he started muttering about the ineptitude of the customs agents. He was one of those guys, standing alone, who likes to talk out loud to himself, in hopes that someone would be stupid enough to reply and therefore have to engage him in conversation. "I be stupid." At first I had him pegged as one of those old retired WASP dudes who didn't like the fact that we have an African-American president among other things. The kind of guy who thinks Dick Cheney was a great leader and women are the 'weaker' sex. He didn't look old enough to be from the depression era generation, more likely an early baby boomer. Turns out I was right on the Obama call but I missed on a biggie. He'd come across to buy medication. That much I quickly ascertained. I had driven my grandfather from Dulzura to Tecate for many years so that he could buy his meds and I feel for old folks struggling to obtain badly needed prescriptions at an affordable price. So he was starting to get some sympathy points from me even for being a possibleTea Bagger. Then he started talking about bombs and talking kind of loud. We were standing inside the customs building itself, right about where the hand rails divide the one single line into various lines depending on what booths are open. What I call, "The last chance for anybody to try and cut my line zone." We were in the far right line usually the fastest because they have veteran pros like Schultze or Reese working it They are both courteous AND efficient. The feds oughtta give those two more money to teach all those young ex-military guys they're hiring how to do it right He was a couple of people behind me but at the last minute they both jumped into a short line on the left. Obvious rookies, didn't they see the middle aged man working that booth. He's a veteran who doesn't memorize the faces of the 'live in TJ work in SD commuters.' Just like all their young newbes-Not that they have to but it sure is appreciated. "Hah," I laughed.' I'd be dropping my money into the trolley ticket machine while they'd still be getting hassled.' Old guy was now right behind me. I couldn't help but hear his rantings. "These guys just don't get it. It's a waste of manpower," he said. "Those people standing there should be manning booths." He was referring to the several agents that stand to the left of the lines and racially profile people before yanking some brown eyed, black haired kid out of their spot. Because we all know there is no such thing as a blonde haired, blue eyed Latino/Latina. Nor red haired, freckle faced, ones though if my grandmother were alive today she'd definitely have something to say about that. First he started talking about car bombs in the drive thru lanes. "One bomb around lanes 9,10 or 11," he said. "Do you know the damage it would cause? You have twenty long lines of cars each with a tank of gas. It would set off a chain reaction. You'd have bodies all over the place. And how many of them would be Americans?" He asked rhetorically. "A bunch I bet. Does Tijuana have the infrastructure to handle that kind of emergency?" I didn't have to think twice about that answer. "Hell no," he continued. "So what are these guys (customs agents) on this side going to do? Stand on the line and watch their fellow Americans dying on the ground. There is no way you'd be able to get all those injured out of here without helicopters. And does Tijuana have any? Would they let American choppers violate Mexican airspace? Who makes that call? And how long does it take to make that call? Remember, we're talking governments and politicians here." I thought of Hurricane Katrina and politicians making slow calls. Then Old Guy started talking about entering Mexico from the US side and the long lines that form because ICE agents are searching for money and weapons entering Mexico. "it's the same scenario. Because of the long packed lines you couldn't get ambulances in there either. Rescuers would have to run into that exploding mess with stretchers or you clear a spot to land choppers. At least there'd be choppers on that side."
Talking about bombs while crossing an international border probably isn't a smart idea but I'm just a simple minded dishwasher who doesn't know any better. I decided to egg Old Guy on. "Yeah, and what about the half a dozen or more agents that they have standing at the entrance to the pedestrian gate ? All they do is hang around and occasionally stop some young Mexican male trying to get home from work or school and ask him for ID." Which never made any sense to me. I know, I know, he might be carrying money or weapons back into Mexico but I never see them getting searched .Just asked for their ID. If you ask me, the cartels don't use foot mules to move big loads of weapons or large amounts of money. They use the tunnels and submarines. Tunnels run both ways and a sub loaded with drugs has to return to pick up a new load. Why should it return empty? Those cartel guys know a thing or two about business. It only makes sense that they'd utilize that space on the return passage. "And what about the dogs?" chimed in Old Guy. "Sometimes they'll have a dog at that gate. The drugs aren't going south. They're going north. 'Maybe the dogs are trained to smell firearms or money,' I thought to myself but Old Guy was on a roll and I didn't want to stop him now. "I'll tell you what this is all about," he said, his voice rising and one, age mottled hand sweeping across the agents standing at their booths. "It's all about money. They need to justify constantly asking for more funding every year by saying they need more officers. They don't need more officers. They just need to use the ones they have more efficiently. Our government isn't efficient..." his voice trailed off. Old Guy was tall but his shoulders drooped suddenly and he seemed much smaller. It was as if he'd finally come to the realization that yes, he was right. "Our government is full of useless, lobby controlled bureaucrats and their parasitic friends and kin. And they spawn over bloated departments that mismanage hard working Americans tax dollars. But just because you see the problem doesn't mean it'll ever get fixed. Especially if your only choice at the polls, year in and year out, are the same old hogs, speaking lies from behind different faces but all hoping to get fat at the taxpayers trough. Just when I thought the wind had gone out of Old Guys sails, a stiff breeze of ornery old coot swept thru his rigging and he was off again. "And what about that damn x-ray machine? Another line to stand in. And that one isn't even in the right spot! he bellowed. "What is that machine checking for, fruits or bombs? Because if you're checking for bombs, shouldn't you have the machine at the entrance and not the exit? All you need is one guy with a satchel bomb in here..." Old Guy was talking bombs again. He must spend a lot of time alone, in these lines, thinking about bombs. Probably not a healthy thing to do. I was trying to figure out if Old Guy was an angry Tea Party/Minuteman who hated Mexico and Mexicans but still crossed regularly to buy low priced medicines or somebody just worried about being an innocent victim of someone else's actions. Maybe it was a little bit of both. The whole time that Old Guy was into his diatribe, I was scanning the large room filled with border crossers and border agents. I never really got a good look at Old Guy. I was too busy watching the faces of the agents. if one of them started acting like he was listening to Old Guy I was going to start inching away from him. 'Hopefully, the customs agents never give this irate old American fellow any more reasons to talk about bombs,' I thought to myself. That was when Old Guy started telling me about an incident that took place between him and a customs agent. It seems Old Guy was coming back from Mexico and didn't feel like giving the customs agent attending him the answers they want to hear. According to him, the conversation went as follows; Agent: "Citizenship, Sir?" Old Guy: "Doesn't it say on my passport?" Agent: "Where are you going, Sir?" Old Guy: "Out that door." Agent: "Where are you going after you go out the door, Sir?" Old Guy: "To the trolley." Agent: "Where are you going on the trolley, Sir?" Old Guy: "Well, I'm going to tell you Chula Vista but I'm really going to Old Town." And so it went for a couple of questions more. (Note to would be border crossers). The above answers are not what customs agents want to hear. As a matter of fact. It will almost invariably lead to an escalation of words which could culminate in you getting gaffled up and hauled off to secondary. Which is exactly what happened to Old Guy. He seemed particularly bitter that they'd actually dared to put handcuffs on him. I was just surprised that they'd let him reel off so many wise ass answers to their questions before slapping him in shackles. If it had been a greasy haired, tattooed beaner like me trying the smart aleck routine I'd a been hog tied by the third question. But then I know when to keep my mouth shut. My fingers on the keyboards are what get me in trouble. COFFEE'S READY, GOTTA GO!!!