Tuesday, July 6, 2010


As you may have read in my previous post, I recently took an ill-advised trip to Tijuana to take in the sights. The sights consisted primarily of broken-down cars, massive amounts of graffiti on every imaginable surface, more sombreros than you can shake a stick at (seven), and a plethora of unintelligible and/or Spanish road signs. (C’mon, Spanish. You can’t just throw question marks at sentences and let ‘em stick any which way.)

So my game-plan was to get out of Tijuana as fast as possible. But it turned out to be an interminably slow process. This simple but shocking sentence should clarify the situation: I no longer find LA traffic to be all that bad.

Here’s what happened. Traffic backed up about half a mile from the border. We're talking a traffic jam of apocalyptic proportions. We’d just sit there for ten minutes, scooch forward a couple inches, then sit for another twenty. There were vendors weaving through the cars, selling Mexican flags, bottles of water, cheap jewelry, food, and dozens of other things. It was like some bizarre bazaar. (Wordplay!) 

The hold-up was because the US Border Patrol was checking every car extremely thoroughly, looking for various contrabands. Narcotics were the thrust of the investigation, but I believe they also had their eyes out for drugs. I didn’t have either. I didn’t even have Advil so I could make a lame joke when they asked me if I was carrying any drugs across the border. I did have my passport, though, as well as my driver’s license. I thought I was fine.

So imagine my surprise when I realized I didn’t have my car’s registration. I have my theories as to where it went, but at the moment, I simply didn't have it.

Turns out they frown on that.

But let’s back up momentarily. About the same time I decided to leave Tijuana, nature came a’ calling. I decided that, instead of tracking down a parking spot, finding a friendly-looking store, using my extremely limited Spanish vocabulary in order to ask if I could use the bathroom (“May I please use your bathroom, por favor?”) getting into the inevitable mistranslation/ineffective attempt at an explanation/Blazing Saddles-esque street fight, spending the night in a Mexican prison, only to emerge the next day to discover that my car had been stripped of everything but its shell--I’d just hold it until I got back to the States.

But it took me an hour and a half in that traffic jam, just to make it to the border. An hour and a half of sitting in a car with nothing to do but think about how badly I needed to use the bathroom, por favor. An hour and a half of doing nothing but looking at people selling bottles of water—sometimes even splashing water on my windshield, trying to sell me a car wash.

A half hour into the wait, I was in emergency mode. After an hour, I was eyeing an empty bottle of iced tea I had in the car. This wasn’t just a passing notion. I was calculating angles and everything.

I have a low car, I was surrounded by large SUVs, and I was still technically in Mexico. I didn’t want to risk any potential shenanigans. “Avoid shenanigans in Mexico” as the saying goes. So by the time I got to the border, I was a little jumpy.

“License and registration,” said the guard.

“I don’t have it,” I replied, shimmying and shaking in an utterly suspicious manner. “Where’s the closest bathroom?”

The guard, for some reason, seemed suspicious. He sent me to a secondary inspection area, where I was happy to go to because he told me I’d be able to find bathrooms there. 

The secondary inspection area was a small parking lot, and I parked about twenty feet away from a bathroom. But the first (and seemingly only) rule of the Secondary Inspection Area was not to get out of the car until an officer speaks to you.

There was an SUV next to me. The two occupants, suspected of drug possession, were being put in handcuffs and led away while officers tore through their car with dogs. I was thrilled.

“Excuse me!” I said cheerfully to closest officer, who was actively doing his best to control a dog that looked slightly rabid. “Can I step out to use the bathroom?”

“Stay in the car," the office snarled. "We’ll get to you.” I eyed my iced tea bottle again.

Eventually, however, they did get to me. I was a nervous, jumpy wreck with no registration, and they eventually took me into “the office” (Cue dramatic music.) (No, not The Thundercats theme song. What’s wrong with you?)

I was told to put my hands on the steel counter and spread my legs. “Jumpy, aren’t you?” the officer said in surprise as he patted me down.

Eventually, however, I was allowed to use the bathroom. It took them over an hour to discover that I was not smuggling any drugs across the border—not even any Advil—but I didn’t care. I had a serious Stockholm syndrome relationship going on with these people, and they could do no wrong.

There were three other people in the office with me. One got a lecture and was let go. Another got arrested due to a warrant out in Michigan and was told he’d be released “eventually.” I was dealt with before the third. She kept asking me how many times I’d been there before, and seemed highly suspicious when I told her this was my first time.

But eventually, they did let me go. They recommended I track down the registration on my car, with which I wholeheartedly agreed. When I got back to my car, I saw that they’d searched it just as thoroughly as they’d searched the SUV next to me. I was going to ask them about cleaning bills, but I thought it might be best to leave well enough alone.

I’d started out the day thinking about taking a pleasant trip to Vegas. I ended up in Mexico, being detained by Border Patrol. There’s a lesson here. A lesson about sensibility. A lesson about planing ahead, making wise choices. And the lesson is this: When given an option, always choose Vegas.