By Bob Dorn
This week, my best friend and wife and I– the two of us– spent 48 hours on a quick trip to Baja; three of those were spent in line waiting to get back into the U.S.
It was 7:30 a.m. when we had finished looping around the center of TJ and entered the river bed east of the center. We didn’t know at this point that we’d followed “San Diego” signs until they’d disappeared. We were left to ourselves to learn that the left lane would turn into a Left Turn Only lane, withdrawing us from our salvation and guarantor of freedom, the U.S.
We begged and implored drivers to our right to let us in; the California drivers just stared straight ahead and inched forward, the Baja drivers said a few words before inching their cars forward. We took the demon left because the cop at the intersection wouldn’t let us do otherwise. We looped up and around, taking a left and another left and by 7:45 we entered the wrong line we knew was the right line, not that damned left turn line.
In Mexico you always get what you need, if it’s not what you want. (Not like here, where you’re most likely to get what somebody else wants you to get.)
Neither our line nor the one to the right moved. Not an inch. The demon left was freely moving.
After five minutes we moved a half a car length. At 20 minutes we still hadn’t reached the intersection where the cop had told us to go left and left, around and “atras.” We started debating if we shouldn’t just take the demon left and go back to the center of TJ for a breakfast and a walk around, and then try crossing at 11 a.m or so, or to try the Otay crossing, or the border highway to Tecate and cross there.
You know how it is. Nothing. No se puede. La una es la otra. Blue collar Zen. An existentialist would have gone to Tecate, or bought a house in TJ. We just sat in line.
Guys with soiled rags kept working the lines, holding their cloths up or snapping the car hoods with them, offering to skim the dust off drivers’ cars. I kept shaking my head, no.
We were two cars away from the intersection when a woman in the demon left lane squirted the gas and got her compact Chevy’s bumper ahead of us. Unaccountably, I called out “you Prick!”, but she’d gotten in. At the intersection, the cop who’d seen what she’d done directed her to take the demon left. She didn’t comply and continued ahead and around him, entering the promised lanes to the promised gates to the Promised Land.
We still had to cross the intersection. Once across it and irrevocably bound for the U.S. we stopped behind a late model white Hyundai Expanda (or whatever it was) whose driver had consented to a wipe down. The Hyundai looked better afterward. I was tempted to get the soiled rag treatment but by then was locked into non-compliance.
We moved ahead about a car length, then were stopped, then moved ahead another car length a minute or so later when I noticed the cop walking up from behind, toward us. But he passed us as well as the Hyundai immediately ahead to reach the Chevy compact that had defied his order to turn left back at the intersection.
“Escuchame,” he commanded her. She rolled down her window. About five exchanges passed between them in which he kept pointing to the intersection now behind him. Then, finally, he stepped back. She pulled the car out of line to the left and slowly squeezed it backward along the concrete dividers, aided by two be-ragged car cleaners, one in front, one in back, both of them waving their hands and laughing, calling out, to the left, the right, un poquito mas.
The cop showed her the demon left she hadn’t taken. She took it.
After that, when we’d made it to the first overpass, we began to measure the progress. It averaged about two and one half car lengths every three minutes. How many cars were ahead of us we couldn’t begin to tell.
I’d noticed a Dodge Ram 1500, a Fabulous Furry Freak brother at the wheel, or a slick, low-riding Mitsubishi sport coupe with a sparkly enameled paint job, or another coupe bearing a guy whom I’d refused to let in ahead of us. When we’d pass them we’d congratulate ourselves. When they’d pass us we’d say, uh-oh, we are in a bad lane.
And of course, after the third or fourth alternation of relative advantage between our car and theirs she and I grew less and less affected.
Or, we reverted to counting the car lengths, and the number of seconds or minutes between them. When I could see the border gates perhaps 400 or 500 yards ahead we realized that we were rolling up to four, then six, then, sometimes, even 10 car lengths every five minutes.
After a while of higher wellness my best pal asked me how long I thought it would take to get to the border. I tried to count the cars and got to 20 before I couldn’t see well enough to know how exactly how many lay ahead of those 20 – some had trailers, others were vans that blocked the view beyond them — it looked to be twice as many. I figured with luck the 50 or 60 cars ahead of us would require 15 to 20 minutes.
There was little else that occurred to us to talk about, so my mind went back to admiring the action of that cop, now some two hours behind us.
I wondered what had moved him to go after the renegade who was driving the Chevy. Had he recognized how achingly slow the line was moving, and what happens when people don’t like what’s happening to them? Each car length under these conditions becomes another insult, another reminder that you can’t see the border and already you’ve been in the riverbed or on the first overpass for an hour.
Did he know better than we did that we had another two hours to go, and so did the car to the right of us, and that the cars behind us might face even more time crossing than we would, and that they might go nuts were they to encounter a cheater or two more than we did? And once they’d gone nuts that he’d have more than he could handle?
Or maybe he just had a good sense of justice in him, blue collar justice. Baja justice.
You think of these things when you have time to.