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Cheese train

Not much deterrent for illegal vendors on the trolley

A light-skinned Mexican wearing casual work clothes with a tie around his neck stands in the trolley with a black backpack. He looks around to make sure there are no security guards watching him. Then he walks through the car and in a loud whisper asks, “Queso monterrey? Queso cheddar?" Several trolley riders stop the cheese seller and buy a one-pound block for $5.

That was the first time I saw a vendor in a trolley, more than a year ago. I didn't give it much thought; unlicensed vendors in Mexico are everywhere. It wasn’t until I saw a tall black guy with a shaved head and an older white man covered in tattoos also selling cheese that my curiosity arose. Especially because I have seen the black guy in the Caliente Casino, most likely gambling the money he makes from selling cheese.

“Yes, we are more than aware about the illegal vendors,” a trolley security guard told me on September 4. “I don't know how much they get fined — I just write the citation and the court handles the case. In fact, I really want to know what they charge them. I've seen repeat offenders and I ask, but they won't tell me. They think I am trying to get them in more trouble.”

I interviewed several officers and they all knew about the illegal queso. Besides cheese, other popular items for trolley vendors are chocolate, granola bars, and other types of grocery items that can be quickly sold. The vendors usually get on at Palomar Street and get off on the last trolley stop in San Ysidro.

“There is no doubt that they purchase the food with food stamps,” said an officer at the San Ysidro stop. “I have also caught people selling watches and perfumes, most likely stolen ones.”

I ask if he knows the black vendor.

“The tall black guy with a shaved head? Yeah, I know who you are talking about. The problem is that we have to catch them in the act or we cannot write a citation. There's cameras in the trolley, you know? We are aware of who they are and I have spoken to my boss about taking more action to solve the problem, but in the meantime we can only ticket them if we see them selling.

“Besides him, there are single mothers with their children selling all sorts of groceries. We have the option of confiscating the items that are being sold, but when mothers with children are trying to make cash illegally, I usually tell them to move along or they can get in big trouble. I don't want to take away food from a whole family.”

As for why queso is the most popular item, trolley security does not know.

“I guess they need the cheese to put in their quesadillas and stuff. Why buy it in the trolley? They might be saving a dollar or two, but I don't really know why cheese is the most popular item.”

From personal experience and as an extreme queso lover, cheese in Tijuana supermarkets is either cheap and horrible or expensive and of mediocre quality. To find decent cheese at a good price, you have to go to quaint mercados that usually close early. I asked several queso customers why they would buy from a stranger on the trolley. They all had the same answer: “Porque esta bueno y barato” (because it's good and cheap).

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A light-skinned Mexican wearing casual work clothes with a tie around his neck stands in the trolley with a black backpack. He looks around to make sure there are no security guards watching him. Then he walks through the car and in a loud whisper asks, “Queso monterrey? Queso cheddar?" Several trolley riders stop the cheese seller and buy a one-pound block for $5.

That was the first time I saw a vendor in a trolley, more than a year ago. I didn't give it much thought; unlicensed vendors in Mexico are everywhere. It wasn’t until I saw a tall black guy with a shaved head and an older white man covered in tattoos also selling cheese that my curiosity arose. Especially because I have seen the black guy in the Caliente Casino, most likely gambling the money he makes from selling cheese.

“Yes, we are more than aware about the illegal vendors,” a trolley security guard told me on September 4. “I don't know how much they get fined — I just write the citation and the court handles the case. In fact, I really want to know what they charge them. I've seen repeat offenders and I ask, but they won't tell me. They think I am trying to get them in more trouble.”

I interviewed several officers and they all knew about the illegal queso. Besides cheese, other popular items for trolley vendors are chocolate, granola bars, and other types of grocery items that can be quickly sold. The vendors usually get on at Palomar Street and get off on the last trolley stop in San Ysidro.

“There is no doubt that they purchase the food with food stamps,” said an officer at the San Ysidro stop. “I have also caught people selling watches and perfumes, most likely stolen ones.”

I ask if he knows the black vendor.

“The tall black guy with a shaved head? Yeah, I know who you are talking about. The problem is that we have to catch them in the act or we cannot write a citation. There's cameras in the trolley, you know? We are aware of who they are and I have spoken to my boss about taking more action to solve the problem, but in the meantime we can only ticket them if we see them selling.

“Besides him, there are single mothers with their children selling all sorts of groceries. We have the option of confiscating the items that are being sold, but when mothers with children are trying to make cash illegally, I usually tell them to move along or they can get in big trouble. I don't want to take away food from a whole family.”

As for why queso is the most popular item, trolley security does not know.

“I guess they need the cheese to put in their quesadillas and stuff. Why buy it in the trolley? They might be saving a dollar or two, but I don't really know why cheese is the most popular item.”

From personal experience and as an extreme queso lover, cheese in Tijuana supermarkets is either cheap and horrible or expensive and of mediocre quality. To find decent cheese at a good price, you have to go to quaint mercados that usually close early. I asked several queso customers why they would buy from a stranger on the trolley. They all had the same answer: “Porque esta bueno y barato” (because it's good and cheap).

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Comments
3

Umm, where's the problem? Sure, if I buy homemade cheese from some random guy, sure, I might get sick... but why isn't that my choice to make?

Sept. 8, 2014

Michael Pacillo. I don't think you get what they are saying. And the cheese isn't crappy. Or homemade. It is usually fresh, still cold or cool cheese like you would see at the store. The 2 lb blocks of Monterrey Jack or Mozzarella. So no it doesn't cause/spread illness. Like other things may. This is ridiculous. I can't even believe this is being written about. Some people don't have a job and the only way for them to make money is do that or sell other things. Why didn't Carlos Bey, the writer of this story, talk about the Instant Coffee that everyone sells and people buy. Could have been called the Coffee Train. Or whatever. This is not the only place this happens. When I lived in Philadelphia, which is close to my home town in Maryland, people are always selling stuff on the metro, on the L actually. They sale batteries & food, hell, they sale whatever they can get their hands on from whatever store the stole it from up there. And yes there is some "deterrent" like the tickets and fines that a lot of people get for soliciting on the trolley without a vendors license. Funny story, but a waste of ink and paper I think. However it is "Neighboorhood News" so it is relevant.....

Sept. 12, 2014

And to the writer of this story and many others which I have read, I don't mean any disrespect. But people are gonna do what they have to for money and as for the ones who buy the cheese they love it. They get it to make quesadillas and other foods that some of them sale for a living in Tijuana. It's not just like people only buy one block of cheese. Some people buy a ton. I've seen it. But I don't go digging in other peoples business like that. If anything should be written about it should be about the ones who Steal Cheese & Candy Bars and sell them for cheap to go by drugs. Like the first guy mentioned in this story. I know who he his. And while I'm not gonna give his name, he is not Mexican, he is White. And well I pretty much already stated how he does his thing in this comment... But one other thing I was just thinking about and realized. To the writer, why did you not think of it as being anything when you saw a Mexican guy doing it. Only when you saw a Black man or a Caucasian man doing this did it spawn your interest? Are you trying to get these people in trouble or what??? A lot of them have familea and live in TJ bc it is all they can afford. And back to the Mexican, Black, and White people point...... Is it okay for Mexican people to be doing this but not people who are Black or White? Are Mexican people the only ones who struggle??? Maybe in Mexico if they can't cross bc if your lucky you will get paid $20 a day to work down there. So I'm just wondering. What is the difference????

Sept. 12, 2014

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