• Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

Corrugated tin sheets, rusted, dripped with paint, nipped into irregular rectangles, and fastened to each other in an unintentionally beautiful patchwork, stand as the long wall of a house. The residence across the alley from the tin house is hemmed in by a chain-link fence, along the bottom of which runs about six inches of overgrown umber grass that pushes against the open diamonds outlined by wire, and the dry lawn clashes and snares with bits of white and yellow paper stuck in the fence by a dallying wind. Between the plots, tawny and tan dogs, drawn and scabby, lope in the dusty sunlight, turning, bowing, bending, licking at the dirt. The dogs cast a long shadow back to the street where I sit in traffic. As they turn, the side of the dogs facing us stays shaded and black because the sun is beyond them, down the alley. With the tin, the fence, and the dark dogs, the image is one of those that can be arresting at the beauty of it but when captured on film looks like a bunch of junk and dirty mutts.

I squint my eyes. "Damn sun. I wish I could've found my sunglasses."

"You lost your glasses?"

"Yeah. In the move. It's funny, I thought I knew exactly where they were, but when I looked in that box they had disappeared," I explain, holding a hand to my eyes in a salute against the raging light. The light streams in, down the alleyway, over the dogs, through the open passenger window, past my friend Mel, and onto the right side of my face. The dashboard of my truck is lit in a flowery yellow, and the bright side of the steering wheel is highlighted white. "The damn things don't exist in this dimension anymore. I've looked everywhere."

Mel gives a polite laugh. Traffic eases us into the shadow cast by the home with the cyclone fence, and the blinding saturation that filled the cab abates and draws to the seat and pickup bed behind our shoulders. Rivulets of sweat gather at the short hair of my neck, slip down, and seep into the collar of my T-shirt. I lift my arm and sniff my pit. "Woof! Damn, Mel, I apologize. I'm kicking up quite a cloud of B.O."

"Oh, don't even worry about how you stink," she says, holding her hands up, palms toward me. "But don't come over to this side of the truck unless you really want to smell some funk."

At the corner a man in a polo shirt and painter's pants holds up a newspaper. Passing motorists drop peso coins into the thick skin of his upturned hand. He offers his newsprint papers that flutter at the edges to the customers. After each takes his paper, the man reaches into a canvas pouch around his waist to grab another.

Diagonally across the intersection from the paperman, a round-faced boy strums a light maple acoustic guitar. From behind the streaked and dusty glass of our windshield I can see his mouth open and his bare, pale teeth. He favors and opens the left side of his mouth more and squints that eye also. We can't hear the words, but his face expresses the wrought feelings of the song and the desperation of every musician.

Across the street, closer to our truck, a woman who looks to be carved from a solid trunk of oak, wearing a purple, white, and green dress, holds up caramel disks of peanuts and popcorn.

"Everyone's selling something," I say. "And everything's for sale."

"That's Mexico," Mel slips out absently as she stares out the window.

"Good ol' Mexicali," I say. "Sorry the truck doesn't have air-conditioning. We could roll up the windows. I doubt you enjoy the smell of burning trash as much as I do."

"It doesn't bug me," Mel says and wrinkles her nose.

"Just the same. Jesus, some AC would be nice. What is it, 112 here?"

"That's what the weather website said."

The midnight blue Ford carrying us lurches forward when I release the clutch and pull away from the yellow traffic light hanging at an awkward angle over the intersection, and now it's behind us. Cars stop.

"All those people back there selling something. They never had a chance to do something different, did they?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, if they were raised in San Diego they'd probably be well-off enough to take vacations in Mexico," I explain. "But as it is, their day is solid. They've got to get up and start selling to make enough money to pay for food. Go to sleep. Do it again."

Mel agrees. "One of these people could probably do our jobs better than we can, but they've got no opportunity to do it. Where you are defines what you can be. What you can be is what you are."

We follow a light blue tricycle that's been converted into a parcel carrier -- a large flat front end that can hold a dozen medium boxes and be taxied around by pedal. But on this trip the cargo bay stands empty. And as we pass I look to the shirtless man operating the cycle, and he is smiling a wide, beaming, toothless grin -- the joy of an empty load.

On our way to Guadalupe Canyon we have to stop outside Mexicali for authentic beer, tequila, and Coca-Cola with real sugar in it. The truck in front of me pulls into a strip mall on the side of the road marked by a hand-painted sign with a cartoon soccer player kicking a goal and a tin-embossed plate that reads "Cerveza Tecate." I follow the truck into the parking lot, stop behind it, and get out.

"Are we on Highway 2?" I ask.

"Yep," my friend Tony says as he exits the driver's side of his white Toyota. "This is Calle Dos and should take us to the bumpy road that leads to Cañón de Guadalupe."

  • Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

More from SDReader


Sign in to comment

Win a $25 Gift Card to
The Broken Yolk Cafe

Join our newsletter list

Each newsletter subscription means another chance to win!