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Author: David Alton Dodd

Neighborhood: Baja

Age: 49

Occupation: Engineer

Over a decade ago, I found myself stumbling around downtown Tijuana with a cup of coffee. It was in the early morning, before nine o’clock, before most Tijuanans were out and about. The wife and I, we were having issues, so I was renting a cheap but clean apartment near the old police station.

I had no kitchen, just a bed and a dresser and a radio and a lot of time. Those were the days when I made a living playing the ponies. I made rent and had plenty left over, certainly enough to get a cup of coffee.

I couldn’t sit still in those days. This had to be on a Monday or a Tuesday morning, both dark days in terms of betting a track, in that the main tracks were not racing. Otherwise, I would have already been at the race book, plotting and scheming. So I walked down Avenida Constitución and sipped my coffee and watched the locals meander on their way to wherever. Keep in mind, these were still the salad days of Tijuana. This was before the Twin Towers fell, before the border became a goddamn mess. It was a different place then than it is now.

The locals passed by; no one even looked up. Fish tacos! That cart was so amazing. The smells entered my nose and teased me, but my hangover told me to pass. Worst thing you can do with a hangover like mine was to eat on it. It’s like feeding a dragon — you don’t. The coffee was enough. The walk was good. And then, it happened. I was the target of a shell game.

The sun here will not be denied. To hell with those places that have no sun! The sun is here. Vitamin D for everyone. Welcome to Baja — pack some sunscreen. Yes, I know, it’s the middle of January, but you’ll thank me later.

My days are full. Lazy, but full. The propane trucks are coming earlier every day, and now it isn’t just honking but recorded music, too! There is a jingle that I won’t bother to translate, but basically the truck is singing a happy tune about enabling you to purchase a tank of propane. I suppose the idea is twofold: be annoying in a different way than simply honking the horn and attempt to make the purchase of a tank of propane gas some magical thing, like a visit to Disneyland.

I roll out of bed, make some coffee, and write for a while. What else is there?

In the afternoon, I go shopping. I take my Calimax club card, as though it is an enchanted artifact. I buy ingredients to put together for dinner. Sometimes I buy a bottle of tequila. When I pay for the items, they always ask for my magic card. Without it, I might as well have entered the store naked. They scan the card and hand it back, I pay for the items and tip the person bagging my groceries, and I step back out into the hot sun. During the walk home, I imagine that if there is a god of transaction, then I have certainly done my part to make that god happy.

Once home, I peruse the receipt and see that I saved 60 cents on a 15-dollar purchase.

I decide to get even. I realize that the card is nothing more than a tool for the grocery chain to analyze purchases. People who buy a head of lettuce are likely to purchase two onions. Shoppers carting off a couple of pounds of ground sirloin are likely to add a package of hamburger buns and a bottle of catsup. And so on. Then there’s me: a bag of serranos, a jar of apple sauce, two pints of sour cream, a half-kilo of bacon, a liter of tequila, and a 40-watt lightbulb. Good luck analyzing that, Calimax.

That’s my own little shell game, patent pending.

So it was 12 or 13 years ago, and there it was, the game, and they went way out of their way to pull me into it. The old man behind the cloth-covered crate fumbled while trying to hide the ball, giving away the location as if he had lost his magic touch. A 20-dollar bill went down — some “passerby” yanked it out of his pocket and slapped it down on the table. And there it was, the ball, right where he pointed. The crowd cheered.

Nine in the morning, and someone yanks a Jackson out of their pocket? In Tijuana? Sober? Of course, the game went on, and they were all in on it and urging me to participate. I knew better. After a few more 20-dollar bills went down, successfully compensated, I told the guy that was the most vocal that, unlike them, I didn’t walk out onto the street with big money.

So they moved on, upset, looking for tourists, I imagine. I was delighted. Free entertainment. That old man was a magician.

I read this morning that the tiny and precariously positioned country of Taiwan fired some test missiles, ostensibly as a show of force and a means of defense against China. Apparently, almost a third of those missiles failed to strike their target, in full view of world media. That old man is right back at it. He fumbles that ball — damn it, he just can’t help it — and you know where it’s at, and someone is urging you to plunk down a twenty and make a wager. The United States of America is the mark, right? Stupid simple.

It’s the same damned story. I could never look at another newspaper, and I wouldn’t be missing a thing. It’s all just a shell game. The minute you don’t play is the minute you start to get smart. Next time you swipe that club card, do humanity a favor: buy some dog food, a flashlight, and a can of corn. You’ll screw the game, and it isn’t like you’re not going to use those items in the long run. After all, the moment you plunk down the money, that old man is magically going to get his shell game back.

Tomorrow will be hot again. Do yourself a favor if you venture to Baja: remember the sunscreen.

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MsGrant Jan. 18, 2011 @ 8:48 a.m.

We're all tools, aren't we? I am so glad you posted this - a bittersweet reminder to play by our own rules. Because in the grand scheme, is it really going to matter? If you had stayed a cog in the wheel, I doubt we would be able to read your wonderful stories and essays, because I have a feeling your creative abilities would have succumbed to the inevitable. That's why sunscreen is so important - apply liberally.


nan shartel Jan. 18, 2011 @ 12:14 p.m.

~~big sigh~~

thx homey for a sunny tour of South o the border and ur mind...it even seems hard to think of any person or country showing half hearted faulty bravado in the face of the possible consequences

recently i complained to Don Bauder that there's no good news anymore...only ur "shell games" appear for the public to appraise....he let me know that the minute "GOOD NEWS" appears he'll post it

i won't hold my breath

humans r curious social creatures we alway want to know "wasup"

u've learn not to internalize it...a real feat in this day and age....and use it for fodder to greater understanding in ur life and in ur writing

don't bogart that sunscreen homey...pass it over to me ;-D


David Dodd Jan. 19, 2011 @ 1:18 a.m.

I love you guys, no bad news here, just the same news I guess. I got that one last message that broke the camel's back I reckon. I lumped it all together and felt like a moron, that if only a few people dig what I have to say then it's pretty silly of me not to upload it here. No lice, no car impounding nor jail time nor dubious dating on Craig's List. But it's honest, I promise, maybe not as exciting as some want to think. I have those stories, too. But you know, those are so seldom and precious, I'd rather spill them a little at a time. Because life here is certainly different from there, but not in such a bad way.

It's just different. This is what happens.


bohemianopus Jan. 19, 2011 @ 7:58 a.m.

Ahhhhhhh nice post--drank every word until the glass was empty. I agree with Nan and MsGrant--they couldn't have said it better.

I look forward to the next one...


David Dodd Jan. 21, 2011 @ 3:29 p.m.

Thank you! I never missed any of your entries, simply wonderful stuff. I'm working on something, I'll get it in here soon. My youngest is almost 18, and while she can't be bothered to read any of dad's stuff, I think I owe her an explanation anyway ;)


nan shartel Jan. 19, 2011 @ 12:25 p.m.

we love u 2 homey...because u make us think...could anymore be expected of a writer of non sensationalism and great depth??


David Dodd Jan. 21, 2011 @ 3:32 p.m.

I make editors mad though, nan. "Too broad!" "We don't need a lesson, we need controversy!" I never set out to do any of these things, nor the opposite things, and is it my fault that so many connections can be made from points that are ostensibly nebulous? ;)


nan shartel Jan. 21, 2011 @ 3:59 p.m.

snarky u aint....thank gawd...slanted u aint either...u can do some serous butt kicking...but even then u listen to the other players...ur far more then a referee RFG

it's nice to have ur input at Don's again

i like ur view of ur town...it is a neighborhood blog... easy peasy sometimes...sometimes not

when i come here to read i know there's a person here...not just a writer

works for me homey!!!


rhino Jan. 21, 2011 @ 10:44 a.m.

I will never look at my supermarket card the same again. Great to see you back!


David Dodd Jan. 21, 2011 @ 3:19 p.m.

Ha! Get even with 'em, just buy eclectically! Thanks, rhino.


SurfPuppy619 Jan. 21, 2011 @ 6:37 p.m.

Im all in.

How about mid February-plan it 3 weeks out...let me know


David Dodd Jan. 21, 2011 @ 6:43 p.m.

4 weeks? I have a Super Bowl date I don't want to miss, I get to bring my daughter along for that one, but I am all in. Make certain you have passports, the border Nazis are threatening to fine people that don't have a passport. I can't wait until they fine me, then there will be a story in it, until then they simply turn us out into the retard line and make us wait. Boring. Ask them specific questions and they can't answer them. No story there. But heck yes, 4 weeks, and I'll be there with bells on.


MsGrant Jan. 21, 2011 @ 8:07 p.m.

Me too!! They don't care about the six month thing, do they? I'm sending my passport renewal in this weekend, but I think I have about five months left.


David Dodd Jan. 21, 2011 @ 9:39 p.m.

Your passport can be expired, regardless of what they tell you. Just having one is enough.


David Dodd Jan. 21, 2011 @ 9:59 p.m.

To be more clear, if you enter a country that requires a visa, then you'll have to have a valid passport (not expired) in order to obtain the visa. Mexico does not require that if you stay within a certain distance from the border (not sure about the distance, 25 miles perhaps?). Entering the U.S. again, your expired passport is just fine, because it isn't dependent on a visa if you are a U.S. citizen.


Founder Jan. 22, 2011 @ 7:29 a.m.

But if MSG has to send in her old Passport to get the new passport then she will be "without" her passport for a while...

BTW: I always make a color copy of mine which I then carry because then at least if you lost or had your original stolen you at least have something to show the authorities...


SurfPuppy619 Jan. 23, 2011 @ 8:35 p.m.

Oh MAN! I forgot-you need a passport to visit TJ now!!!!

I have not gone down in sometime!

How long does a PP take?? I know the post office does them....


David Dodd Jan. 23, 2011 @ 8:51 p.m.

It usually takes a while, several weeks. You can fast-track it, but they charge like crazy for that. I think I paid over $200 to get one fast tracked (and the government denied me! No refunds!). I went through the City of Chula Vista, but you need to make an appointment.


SurfPuppy619 Jan. 26, 2011 @ 2:14 p.m.

OK, I have to get the PP, not fast track-you guys do the first pow wow with out me.......


Founder Jan. 22, 2011 @ 7:45 a.m.

How about choosing the date by private email through the Reader, so we do not get any Phobogger party crashers?

For myself, I'm thinking meet up with those from SD that hight want to carpool toward the border, picking up folks along the way., Then say at 10 AM, walking across the border to meet up with RFG and lots of FUN; then back by 2 PM. as a starter concept of when, and where. I know the Taco shop near the taxi stand has good taco's... + Maybe the Reader would fly Don B. in for "Good Luck"...


MsGrant Feb. 5, 2011 @ 9:51 a.m.

Woot, woot!! Nice work, gringo. Going to get my passport photo taken today.


bohemianopus Feb. 5, 2011 @ 12:08 p.m.

Congratulations on the win!!! So glad you came back. I can't wait for your next story!


David Dodd Feb. 6, 2011 @ 7:12 p.m.

Thank you both, I really appreciate the encouragement. And thank you Reader.


nan shartel Feb. 7, 2011 @ 1:20 p.m.

a big congrats RFG...definitely a winner!!!

keep on typing out these wonderful thoughts about ur hometown...we LOVE em...Nan ;-D


antigeekess March 10, 2011 @ 10:56 p.m.

Okay, just read this one, too. I don't hang out on here too much anymore.

"And then there’s me. A bag of serranos, a jar of apple sauce, two pints of sour cream, a half-kilo of bacon, a liter of tequila, and a forty-watt light bulb. Good luck with that, Calimax."

Heehee. Love this. Belated congrats on your win. :)


David Dodd March 12, 2011 @ 1:50 a.m.

Thanks :) I did the eclectic shopping list yesterday as well. A lot of it has to do with having the small markets nearby, like for certain produce items or bread, the quality and even the price are better there.


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