By the Spring of 2010, there was a noted lull in drug related violence in Tijuana. This fit in well with my need to venture out and explore both sides of the border, as well as finally feeling comfortable enough to start asking friends and family to join in the fun. As my time in TJ was limited to short visits (I was still working in Baltimore and being “soccer mom” to my high school senior); I wanted explore as much as possible. With all of Baja California to the south of me and all of Southern California to the north — where to go? Heading north still felt like the safest bet for me, so towards the The San Ysidro border entering the United States we headed — the busiest land crossing in the world, also known as “La Frontera” to the locals, where more than 110,00 people pass through DAILY.
A Diplomat living in Tijuana, or anyone who is a frequent border crosser (for family, work or school related reasons) can apply for what is called “SENTRI“. This is a trusted traveler program (after fingerprint, intense background check, yada, yada) which enables you to use the expedited border lines. On a good day, this may involve a 10 minute wait. The worst SENTRI line I ever sat in was 50 minutes. Not so terrible and here is why…… I remember during the height of violence, a CNN correspondent reported that upon leaving Tijuana, he was shocked to have zero wait in the “regular line” (non-SENTRI). This was one of the 1st times that it hit home how poorly Tijuana was being represented by the mass media. “Mentirosos” (Liars I tell you!!) I know this because early on I wrongly directly Steve into the non-SENTRI line. Once you are in that line, there is no way out. OK – so how long can the wait be, right? Lets just say I never headed for the border again without an empty pitcher and roll of TP in the back seat. I thought Steve and my step-daughter Marissa were going to kill me as we finally crossed almost 3 hours later – and to think I was worried about the drug cartels. I can’t blame them after the long wait and ordeal of being grilled by a grumpy CBP border officer who deals with so many people every day (some of which are smuggling drugs & other people). Entering back into Mexico is a simple as driving in. Oddly I felt more welcome going South.
La Frontera is a colorful place. There are vendors lining the streets which include liquor stores, pharmacies and the like, but also those who stroll through the lines of traffic. Where else in the world can you have your car windows washed, buy windshield wipers, fresh fruit, candy, fleece blankets, hammocks, paintings of ” The Last Supper”, breakfast burritos from “Torta Johnny’s”, a latte from “D’Volada” brought to your car, or my personal favorite — churros (check out my “Food for Thought” page if you want more info on these babies). Now that is service!! Starbucks needs to step it up if they want to compete with this. My favorite Mexican soccer jacket was negotiated and bought at the border for $20 by my step-son, Jeremy, who haggled while hanging out of the sunroof of the car. You can even buy puppies here – PUPPIES! Oh I was tempted. This is commerce like none other. There are also drug sniffing dogs and too many beggars to mention. Beggars- those that are handicapped, carrying children small and large, and even people missing limbs in wheel chairs peddling “Chicklets”. My heart broke every time I crossed. I never had enough Pesos in my car to deal with with how sad this situation made me feel, but I came to understand it as just part of the border culture. If you ask me what I hated most about Tijuana it would be crossing the border. Yet if you asked me one of the things I missed the most about Tijuana, it would be the experience of crossing the border. Go figure.