There is a little girl who lives on my block and she is always happy. Her age is about three or four but she looks small for her years. I'd say childhood obesity is not so much a problem around my neighborhood as is childhood malnutrition. Her dark skin is twice as dark as normal for she is always playing outdoors. She rarely has new clothes. Most of it comes from the segundas (second hand stores). If she has any nice toys I've never seen them. Nevertheless, her infectious laughter fills our street daily. She thoroughly loves her life because she has known no other.
On the street below mine I often see two boys of about ten. Sometimes, they join in the soccer games played religiously amongst the kids in every neighborhood around here. Other times, they play, just the two of them, with a raggedy baseball and gloves. They like the sport and that pleases me immensely. I enjoy the game and wish there was a diamond around here where people could play. But you'd need a park for that and we don't have one of those either. The lives of these children, their families and others are the stories I like to document. I don't like to write about myself. But I was born in the USA, which is a me, me, me culture, therefore -FLASH!- Unemployed dishwasher is now again semi-employed dishwasher - HOORAY! Unfortunately, since the commute from my palatial wooden shack in El Fin Del Mundo, to my highly desirable position as scullion at the French Gourmet in Pacific Beach takes about seven hours (plus another eight and a half on the clock), I'm left with precious little time to indulge in my most cherished folly - writing. I still pump out about a story a week but getting to an internet cafe to post them is just to difficult and tiring a journey for me so the stories just pile up around my writing corner. But several days ago, a Tijuana shuttle van driver told me an interesting story. The wild thing about it is that, for a Tijuana taxi driver, it's probably a typical story: Avenida de Las Aguas (Waters Ave) in Villa del Sol ends at the Tijuana-Rosarito corridor 2000. If you turn right onto the 2000 you'll pass the new Home Depot. If you turn left you'll pass by the reasonably new Calimax market. Avenida de Las Aguas is a staging area for several public transportation companies in Tijuana. One of them being the white shuttle vans. These vans are a common sight in downtown Tijuana as many people use them to get to the east side of town. They charge thirteen pesos (about a buck). That's almost double what a bus charges (7.50) but if you're in a hurry and don't want to pay the much higher rates of a taxi libre they'll fill the void.
At three-forty-five am on a typical workday Waters Avenue is already beginning to stir. The blue and orange buses that line the street closest to the 2000 highway, creak slowly from side to side as there drivers groggily walk inside them, cleaning windows and picking up yesterdays debris off the floor. The big white and blue buses that go from El Florido to the San Ysidro border will soon be roaring down the avenue and so will the little crab-like red and yellow mini buses (calafias). The food vendors have yet to arrive but they're on their way. One of the first to always show up is an older man who operates a juice cart across from the OXXO nearest the 2000. Farther down the street is the staging area for the white shuttle vans. It takes them about forty minutes to get to the San Ysidro border so if I get the four am shuttle I can usually cross in time to get the five am blue line trolley to Old Town.
There is a gentleman who rides the shuttle vans that I knew before I was laid off and have since ridden with again. Like me, he too was a crime victim in Tijuana and like me his work commute was altered by the experience. The nice fellow goes so far as to hire his own shuttle van. He worked out a deal with several of the drivers. For a flat fee of one hundred pesos, he gets a solo ride straight to the San Ysidro border. The drivers don't stop for anybody else and they also take a much more direct route.
One morning last week he was sitting in the front seat of a van. The driver and him were just getting ready to depart. He saw me, recognized my ugly mug and told me to hop aboard. I grinned, thanked him and jumped in. I exhaled in relief as I hit the seat cushion. Not only did I have the seat to myself but it was a secured ride!
Let me explain what I mean by a secured ride. When you travel by public transportation to the border at four in the morning there's two common ways you can get robbed. The bad guys can hit you while you're traveling to the staging area (which happened to me), or you can get hit while you're on the shuttle van, bus, taxi etc. I can't imagine being packed inside one of those white vans in the darkness before the dawn, when all of a sudden some cretin pulls out a pistol and screams "Gimme your f*g money!"
My fellow commuter had solved the problem by not picking anybody up. As the three of us headed for the border, the shuttle van driver and his hundred peso passenger updated each other on the latest criminal activity in the area. From what I could ascertain, there were two particularly nasty groups of thieves giving the locals problems. One was a two man team that boarded together and robbed the passengers and drivers from the inside. The second group was larger and used a vehicle. One person boarded the shuttle van and using a cell phone, signaled to the trailing vehicle when the van was ripe for the picking.
After the two Tijuanenses had finished comparing notes on neighborhood crime, there was a brief silence before the driver said, "I've been robbed a few times but my worst moment didn't end with me getting robbed." Then he elaborated;
"I was driving a taxi back then. Down in el centro. I was parked off of el revu (Revolution). Not doing much. Waiting for something to happen instead of out looking for business. You know, making it happen. A car drove up and a young woman got out. I didn't notice what kind of car because I was staring at the girl. She was petite and dressed in a mini skirt. Oh was she beautiful! I see a lot of pretty girls around there but this one, damn! After her, a man got out. He was huge. Big shouldered and well dressed in a button shirt and leather coat. He pulled out two suitcases from the vehicle that dropped him off. The big man in the leather coat kissed the petite girl in the mini skirt. Then she got back into the vehicle and it drove off. The big man picked up his two suitcases and walked toward me.
"I want to go to Rosarito," he said.
"Hop in," I told him as I jumped out to help him with his suitcases. I grabbed a suitcase and tried to lift it. Son of a gun it was heavy! I could barely lift it off the ground. But this guy carried the two of them like they were nothing. On the ride to Rosarito I didn't play the radio and he didn't talk. Not a word. It made the ride seem even longer. Then, all of a sudden, when we were about halfway between Tijuana and Rosa(rito) he said to me "Pull over. Right here!" Oh man was I scared. He had picked one of the darkest, loneliest spots on the whole road. I know that highway. There is nothing around there. Back then there was even less. No houses, no gas stations, no stores, no people, no nothing. I was positive he was going to rob me. At the least. Maybe rob me, kill me and take my taxi. I stopped where he told me to. He reached into his pocket and leaned into my window. I wanted to close my eyes.
"You never gave me this ride," the big man said to me. I was only halfway looking at him. I was afraid to look into his eyes. "You never seen me," he continued. He crumpled up what he'd taken out of his pocket. "This never happened," was the last thing he said. Then he dropped a bunch of bills onto my lap. "Now get out of here!" he yelled at me. Then he picked up those heavy suitcases and stepped off the road into the darkness and toward the ocean. I didn't stop to count the money until I got to Tijuana! It turned out to be five, one hundred dollar bills! I was happy for the money. But every now and then I wonder where that guy went and what he was up to. He was heading toward the ocean where there's no road. Was there a boat waiting for him. Or maybe a helicopter or submarine?" he semi-seriously chuckled"
My fellow commuter and I both agreed it was truly an intriguing tale. I wanted to ask him if the five hundred dollars was worth the life shortening scare that had been put into him that night. But we had arrived at the border just as he was concluding and I had to hit the ground running like I always do at the San Ysidro crossing. It's the only way to avoid getting elbow checked by some of those middle aged hotel maids and domestic servants. They can be a rough, line-cutting bunch sometimes. Ah, living in Tijuana. It's not everybody's cup of Tequila. And I'm so glad for that.
Coffee's Ready, Gotta Go!!!