“I’m an idiot,” is the thought hovering in my mind as I relax on a Blue Line trolley headed to Tijuana.
This news flash isn’t about safety concerns, as I’ve spent some time in Mexico over the past few years. But before today, I always drove to the border and parked before walking across.
Today I get the brilliant idea (delayed by a few years) to ride my bike ten minutes from North Park to the downtown City College trolley station. I pay five dollars for an all-day pass. I lock my bike up, hop on a trolley within 15 minutes, and now I can sit back for the next 45.
The true gem of riding public transportation for me – besides saving gas and not having to stare monotonously at the road – is in meeting strangers. Today’s first is a fit 66-year-old man with kind, piercingly blue eyes giving me his secret to continued youth: “…a positive mind and heart…the rest will follow.”
One stop later, a Mexican grandmother sits down. I immediately notice how much food she has with her.
“So you’re hungry, I take it?” I had to ask.
Get this: it’s apparently cheaper for her to buy Subway sandwiches and milk in the States than in T.J., due to the coupons offered here.
My new Mexican grandma and I continue jabbering away as we walk across the border. We arrive at the corner where her son is picking her up (and thankfully, because her bags of food are winning – how did she get these things to the trolley?).
I say adios, and gradually realize that my expected ride is nowhere to be found. My plan was to spend time at an orphanage today.
I soon fall into conversation with a parking attendant. “Busco un orfanato. Conoces alguno cerca?”
Enrique doesn’t know of any orphanage nearby. And he’s strangely quick to advise me not to trust everyone here in T.J., especially when grabbing taxis. My hopes of spending time in an orphanage for the day are pretty quickly shattered.
So seriously, what to do? My mission was to hang out with some kids and check out this program. How can I locate another one? Some investigating was in order… and perhaps a few cocktails on Avenida Revolución, the main drag of Tijuana’s tourist zone.
I know, it sounds like the day was about to take a strange turn. My bad.
We’ve already established that it’s embarrassingly easy to get to T.J. It’s also a no-brainer to grab a cab headed to Avenida Revolución once inside the Mexican border for around $3. You can put a bit more effort into it and casually walk across a few plazas and one bridge to arrive as well.
But I want something different here today. Enrique and I talk some more as I’m getting a feel of things. He points out the blue and white buses parked alongside a roundabout just a block away.
“Te cuesta nueve pesos." (Less than 90 cents.)
I know that I can make the walk to Revolución in under ten minutes, but there’s absolutely no way I can pass up my first bus ride in T.J. I’m in.
In true Tijuana fashion, 30 yards away from the roundabout I’m flagged down by a young guide who leads me to the bus’s door. Immediately, there’s no mistaking it: I’ve been here before. I'm jolted back to Bolivia or Peru or another Central/South American country, all with the same bus ride components.
We wait until enough people have filed into the vehicle to leave – there’s no time schedule here. All windows are open. There's no air conditioning. And there’s no radio on the bus; instead, as the rule requires, there’s live entertainment.
The man sitting behind me promptly belts out one of his favorite Mexican tunes as my short journey of a few blocks begins. And as expected, more than a few riders give him pesos for his efforts as he meanders off the bus after a few stops.
In what seems like longer than it would have taken me to walk, I hop off at the corner of Avenida Revolucion and Emilio Zapata, saying “gracias por el viaje” to the driver.
It’s been 17 (seriously, that long?) years since I’ve last wandered the streets of T.J. I’m eager to meet people, get some info on local orphanages, and take advantage of cheap drinks and Mexican flavors.