I say my cellphone almost got me killed and my girlfriend says that it saved my life. It was four in the morning and I was headed from home to work. Home for me is a palatial wooden shack in eastern Tijuana. It is in an area that folks around here call 'El Fin Del Mundo.' Work for me is a restaurant in northern Pacific Beach. I wash dishes there.
In order for me to arrive at my job by six-thirty in the morning, I must leave my place about three-thirty-in the sometimes cold and always dark-am. The local buses don't start running that early so I have to walk to the nearest bus stop that runs an all night route. It takes me about an hour and through some pretty tough areas. Armed robberies are so prevalent in the hills below me, taxis rarely enter these mean streets during the hours of darkness. That is why I was walking through eastern Tijuana at four in the morning.
My girlfriend is a bit on the Catholic side. As are most Tijuanenses that I know. She insists on protecting me with a blessing every morning before I leave for work. Because my life has been one long ride on the 'hell bound express' I figure I can use all the help I can get. Therefore, I never raise a fuss when she starts praying and making the sign of the cross on my forehead. Don't get me wrong. I'm a firm believer in a higher power. I just prefer that it stay personal. As in one on one between me and that power.
On this particular morning she was still asleep as I was dressing. I knew she was tired from work and didn't want to wake her up. A half an hour later, I was walking down Primera Street heading toward a road called Melchor Ocampo, when my phone rang.
My girlfriend had woken up and realizing I'd left for work she called me to give me my daily blessing. She was in the middle of doing so when an old, beat up, primer gray, four door Toyota came driving slowly past me. As I spoke to my girlfriend, my attention was drawn to a passenger in the car. The vehicle's windows were all rolled up and illegally tinted. All accept the front passenger side which was down. A child sat in the seat. A boy of about nine or ten. The first thing that came to my mind was, 'Gosh, it sure is early for that little kid to be out. Especially on these mean streets of Tijuana.'
I heard an adult voice speak sharply from inside the vehicle, "He has a phone!"
The two rear doors flew open and a couple of rather nefarious looking characters leaped out from either side of the car. Both men were thin and scraggly in appearance, disheveled in their attire. The word 'tweakers' immediately came to my mind. Followed by 'dangerous tweakers' when I saw that both men were brandishing handguns. The armed bandit furthest from me had some sort of dark blue revolver that he was tucking into his waistband and under his shirt as he approached me. It was difficult for me to identify due to the distance between us and the way the shadows were playing out on the dimly lit street.
The second unsavory character that I was having to deal with had a nickel plated, semi-automatic pistol that appeared to be about 9mm in caliber, possibly eastern European in design, and with a single action trigger pull. I knew it was a single action trigger pull because he made a big show of jerking a round into the chamber as he got out of the car(You can do the same thing with a double action pistol but it isn't necessary if you're already carrying it 'cocked and locked.') I had no problem whatsoever identifying the fellow's weapon because he was pointing it inches from my chest.
With a twitching gun hand he ordered me to hand over the cellphone. His voice sounded jumpy and agitated. 'Tweaker,' I thought again. 'Not good for me.' That much was apparent. I gave him my cellphone.
"Put your hands up!" he shouted.
"Look you guys. You can take all my money but I need my..."
"Don't look at me!" screamed the twitchy tweaker with the nickel plated pistol. With my hands halfway raised, I lowered my gaze toward the ground but kept my head up the whole time I was talking. I figured he was either not going to shoot me as long as I kept talking or he would just blow my brains out to shut me up. I rolled the dice and kept on babbling.
"Really guys," I said in my Pocho Spanish. "You can take all of my money but leave me my ID..."
The assailant with the revolver in his waistband quickly grabbed my book bag off of my shoulder and then started rifling thru the breast pockets of my long sleeved work shirt. I had a pack of cigarettes, lighter, pack of chewing gum and a trolley ticket in my pockets. He took it all. Meanwhile, the second thieving miscreant was sticking his hands in my pants pockets. I had about ten dollars in small bills and change in one pocket and my wallet in the other. I let him take the money but when he started to pull my wallet out with one hand I dropped my own hand down and grabbed a hold of my wallet as he was yanking it out of my pants pocket. He wound up with one end, I the other, and we began a tug-of-war.
"You don't need my wallet. There's twenty bucks in there. I'll give you the damn money..." I tried to reason. The twitchy one moved his pistol closer to my chest.
"Let it go," he threatened. I looked at the pistol and let the wallet go. Then I looked at him.
"Stop looking at me!" he screamed again. "Turn around. Look down!" he ordered. I did as he told me. This disrupted the work of the other assailant, who was diligently removing my college graduation ring and a couple of other rings from my fingers. When his crime partner ordered me to turn around, I had to yank my hand away from him. This pissed him off.
"Don't move!" he shouted.
"Turn around. Look down!" repeated the other.
"Don't move!"
"Turn around. Look down!"
This was starting to get comical accept for the material loss and possibility of violent death involved. I took advantage of the two bandits temporary confusion to look at the car that had carried this less than professional gang of thieves.
There appeared to be another man driving. I had briefly thought about trying to fight my way out of the attack when it began but realized that it was futile. 'Did the driver also have a gun? What about the kid sitting next to him? Or was there another person in the backseat that I couldn't see?' I quickly analyzed the situation with my community college and state university trained mind. 'You're screwed buddy,' was my only conclusion.
By this time the one with the dark blue revolver in his waistband had taken everything he could off me and was walking rapidly back to his side of the car. The second attacker was about to follow suit when he saw my key ring hanging from the belt loop of my denim jeans. He snatched at them. 
My key ring is your typical silver, spring loaded style that many a person wears in their belt loop. I used one for the twenty years I worked in construction and the one year I've been washing dishes(Thank you American economy). My key ring is a little bit different in that the small thumb latch one uses to open the clip is broken. You have to stick your thumbnail against the spring loaded rod itself and force it open before taking it off the belt loop. It can be done in a fraction of a second. If you know how. The twitchy tweaker with the nickel plated handgun pointed at my chest didn't know how. This gave me time to put one of my hands on top of his.
"Why do you need my keys?" I asked him.
He started jerking my key ring with my hand still over his. I almost lost my balance. The pistol at my chest remained. Which was why he couldn't put all his puny weight behind his attempts to get my keys.
"Give me the keys!" he pulled down harder. He wasn't even trying to figure out the broken thumb latch. He was just trying to rip the belt loop.
"Why do you want my keys!" I yelled back at him as I tried to keep my balance. These keys were to my house. My girlfriend and her son were there. I had no intention of giving up the keys. I wasn't being a hero. It was pure foolhardy instinct. The caveman protecting his cave in the 21st century.
"Give me the f*****g keys or I'll kill you!" he pushed the gun into my chest. I felt the muzzle and for a brief moment wondered what a bullet exiting that very muzzle and punching thru my sternum would feel like. I didn't want to go there and being a native southern Californian blessed/cursed with that So Cal attitude, I thought about casually telling him; 
"Look Pal, there's no way I'm ever going to win any of these debates we keep getting into if you're constantly pointing a gun in the general area of my heart and lungs every time we get to dialogging. That's not democracy or good citizenship." But all I could blurt out in my Pocho Spanish was, "Why do you want my keys?"
"Give me the f*****g keys!" This time he dropped the pistol from my chest to my belly and shoved it into my gut.
'This had to be it,' I was thinking. I've seen the bodies of Tijuana's crime victims on the six o'clock news many a time. They never show the faces. Just the feet. My feet were about to be on television.
"Don't kill him," I heard a voice say. It was a female voice and it was coming from the back seat of the car. 'So there had been a third person back there! And damn if she wasn't calling the shots!'
"Come on, let's go!" came the female's voice again. The second bandit released my key chain and I released his hand. He turned and started to walk away. Throughout the unfolding events I'd tried to remain as in self control as possible. I tried to think about every word that I was saying. But I was pissed off and couldn't keep my big mouth shut. I spoke before thinking. Never a good thing to do in these situations.
"Hey man, you just took everything I've got. How about at least leaving me a cigarette? Just one cigarette!" I hollered to the twitchy tweaker with the nickel plated pistol as he was leaving. He stopped walking toward the getaway car and spun around to face me, again. He raised the pistol and pointed it right at me, again.
"Oh hell," was all I could think of.
"F**k your mother," he said to me. Then he got in the car and they drove off.
It all happened in a few minutes but it's taken me several months to write about it. For several reasons. But I'm just going to give you one. The most powerful one of all - the child. That kid disturbed me to no end and he still haunts me to this day. If I was looking at the future of our border region, then there is no future for our border region. Not a positive one.  
Throughout the entire incident. As I was being ordered to "Look down. Turn around," I kept trying to glance at the car and its occupants. I wanted to be able to recognize them so later on I might have a chance to seek retribution. But every time I tried to gaze out of the corner of my eye all I could see was the young boy's face. It gave me shivers.
I was born and raised in one of the toughest barrios in East Los Angeles. I've broken bread with gangsters, thieves and dope fiends for much longer than I'd like to think. I'm not bragging, it's just a sad fact of my sad life. 'Thieving tweakers like the two with guns who were robbing me, they're a dime a dozen on the streets of Los Angeles and a nickel a dozen in California's horrible state prisons. No, those small time hoods didn't rattle me. It was the kid.
Every time I looked his way, I saw him staring in rapt admiration over what his accomplices were doing to me. He was like a student in a science class. Watching in fascination as a professor and assistant demonstrate some clever experiment. He was learning a trade. The way some learn to weave, paint or bake, he was being taught to watch a human being suffer without feeling anything himself. Because that is what you do to someone when you stick a gun in their face and take everything in their possession. It causes suffering. When a firearm is pointed at somebody during the commission of a robbery, the pointee(victim) has no choice but to assume that the pointer(criminal) is evil enough to use it.
In order to be able to routinely inflict this kind of anguish on other human beings you must lose your empathy to their pain. I was watching this child being taught to ignore mercy and compassion toward his fellow man. He was being shown that money for drugs and material items meant more than a human life. The most sobering part is that there are thousands of these novice bandits in east side Tijuana and all along the U.S. - Mexico border.
Did these youngsters ask to be raised in a lawless border town where drug lords who decapitate their rivals are admired far more, than the corruption plagued law enforcement agencies seeking them?
 Did these youngsters ask to be raised in an urban ghetto environment by parents geared toward the rural, old agrarian mentality that two hands to work the field or factory are more important than a mind 'wasted' on books?
Did they ask to be the future of a country that its own dictator, Porfirio Diaz, once said of; "Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States."
I'm no rocket scientist or brain surgeon. I'm just a simple dishwasher at The French Gourmet in PB but I'll bet a buck that;
"Someday, somewhere, at some time of the day or night, Mr and Mrs Tourist are going to come face to pistol with that kid. Only he's going to be an adult. He's going to be holding a gun (probably bought in the U.S.) while taking their money with casual ruthlessness. If he has to shoot and kill them he will. No problem, not a second thought given, no sleep lost. I know he will. I saw it in his face. I didn't see it in the mugs of the two meth monkeys who were robbing me. That's why I talked back to them. Oh sure, I had no question they would whack me if provoked enough, but with them I had some wiggle room. Not much but it was there. The kid was going to grow up to be a criminal who wouldn't give an inch. You could just see it in his face.
I know that look. I've come across men like that in my life time. Dangerous and deadly men. Like rattlesnakes who don't shake their rattles before striking. No warning. No chance. This boy would be one.
Uneducated young apprentices of violent crime like him are seeds of anarchy that I'm afraid shall someday bring a bitter harvest to this long suffering border town and the many good people who live in it. We call ourselves Tijuanenses.
My take on the whole incident was that if the armed criminals had not seen my cell phone then I wouldn't have appeared worth robbing. That was why one shouted, "He's got a phone!"
My girlfriend's train of thought went as follows; Her waking up and calling to bless me at the very moment when vicious bandits were in my vicinity was divine intervention. No doubt about it. The words of God protected me from those armed thugs like a Kevlar vest sprinkled with holy water. After much serious discussion, we both agreed that we're both right and let it go at that. Coffee's Ready Gotta Go

More like this:


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!