Today was an odd adventure. A lot of quirky and surreal things happened today. It was like I was living out one of my dream state stuff, so it was like a Doom Patrol story from the 90s when Morrison was writing it. Seriously, if Mr. Nobody had shown up today, and I’m not sure if the heroin / ecstasy dealer wasn’t him, it wouldn’t have surprised me.
Things started innocently enough. I wanted to explore early rising Tijuana. With the fog kind of thick around 7am I decided it was good to start a walk towards downtown. The Pueblo Amigo is near the border and since I wasn’t sure if the path I normally take to the border was safe due to construction, I figured it was a good time to check things out. The good news was the path was available, so no need for a taxi ride. The sad news was it was just as congested as ever. It wasn’t even 7am when I got to the border and the foot traffic line was at least three hours, probably more four hours realistically. The car traffic might have been an hour wait, judging that they had new lanes built since I was last in Tijuana for Comic-Con last summer.
The sad thing I saw with the new routing construction to the border was that formally thriving businesses along the old border route are dying fast. No foot or car traffic to speak of and it might be an interesting econ study to see if those businesses are around in five years. Honestly, I’m surprised they have lasted this long since the foot traffic route was changed maybe five years ago. The area is a shell of its former self but it did yield some interesting photographs.
I walked across the Tijuana river, which I have to admit was just as clean as it was in the summer. OK, clean is a relative term but for many years only the adventuresome traveler, and by adventuresome I mean foolish, would use the bridge at all, especially at night. The river was a garbage dump and the homeless element living on the banks of the river were a dangerous lot. Now, the garbage has been cleaned, the homeless element gone and I even saw some construction workers on the bridge. Progress is being made.
This is where the story turns into a Grant Morrison inspired dream. I was wandering where the whim took me and I literally came to a point in the road where I could turn left or right. Going left would take me into semi-familiar territory; right would be a tantalizing new adventure since I didn’t immediacy recognize any of the landmarks I saw, but I kind of knew what they were. Curiosity took over and I went right.
It took me a few steps to hit a place I think was called the Love Hotel. It was one of ‘those’ places that rented in 4 hour blocks. Something was familiar about the area, but it was really vague. There was so much construction, especially recently, I couldn’t put my finger on why I kind of remembered the place. Walking around some more I came across a street that I kind of recognized. It was another back in my head thing that I knew instinctively I had been in the area but for the life of me I couldn’t place when I had been there. I kept thinking maybe I read about the area and that’s why it seemed so familiar but there was something more than that.
After walking a few more blocks it wasn’t the sights but the smell that activated my memories. I had passed by a lot of food carts but I walked by this one food cart and the smell was so familiar. I must have acted like Wolverine by the way I was smelling the surroundings but the more I smelled the more I remembered, but I still was having trouble remembering the circumstances that brought me to the place in the past. It took one more turn and it all fell into frightening place.
Many birthdays go I met Carlos, a bartender barker whom I introduced Butch to. I’ve talked about Carlos in the past, not in the best of glowing terms, but at the particular time this all happened he was someone I called a good acquaintance. At the time, being that I was in Tijuana and I ‘needed a guide’ in the words of Carlos, we started drinking heavily and went on a blur of an adventure. From what I remember at the time it was a slightly scary but fun drunken adventure. That is how I remembered it for all these years. I was so . . . I was going to use the polite phrase intoxicated but in light of the memories that came back I will use blind stinking drunk, I had to stumble back into the area to realize how much I was played back then. Carlos, and I guess this was his motivation all along, is a long term con guy. He’s not going to take your money right away. He goes for the long game. I say that because one of the things I did remember about that birthday was he was pushing me to go on a fishing trip with him to Rosarito. It sounded fun but I remember getting feelings of being out in a boat in the middle of the water and being shaken down for money and dumped over the side. Paranoia; I’m sure it was but I had a bad vibe about going with him so I never took him up on the offer.
What I remembered today about the birthday drunken trip was Carlos was trying to get me to buy for every bar we hit and every woman he wanted to get. Yes, the smells and the area was the strip club/prostitution section of Tijuana. I’m not a prude by a long shot but that area of Tijuana, even at 7am, is one of the sleaziest, dirtiest, grimiest and utterly dangerous places I’ve ever been. The area isn’t a Hollywood version of a sleazy part of town. You’re not going to find Julia Roberts on the corner. You’re not going to find a C-listed actress in one of the clubs. This was real life, no glamor sleaze.
Just as an example, I saw a boy at one of the food carts doing his homework while I think and hope it was his mom who was next to him at the food cart selling tacos and tamales to the patrons and street workers in the area. I wanted to think the woman running the cart was his mom because there was a street walker literally feet from the cart who kept an eye on the boy. She may have been his mother. The street walkers I saw lining this one street were hard women, and I’m only saying women because that was the persona being presented. Some may have been cross dressers but I didn’t take the time to do a full assessment. Back during my birthday, I remember Carlos dragging me from club to club, egging me on to buy drinks, being the birthday boy that I was, and having women trying to get me to buy them drinks and more. I was drunk but I did realize what was going on and didn’t take them up on any offers. That much I know happened because I was so paranoid about the experience back them I remember counting my money back at the hotel that evening to make sure I had all my money and I checked my bank account for a week to make sure no unusual charges popped up.
That area looked dangerous and was busy at 7am. When we went there is was 3-4pm and I remember Carlos telling the place gets jumping at 11pm, which is why he wanted to keep me going all night. I can just imagine how wild that area can get at night.
I went to the Tijuana arch and sat down. There was an American sitting across from me. At first I thought he was drunk but he wasn’t; he was mentally disturbed. He was muttering to himself, then his eyes fixed on me. I was a threat to him and he soon gathered up his things and shuffled off. Seconds later I saw this guy wander towards me. He looked like a thug you would see in a straight to Cinemax R-Rated street cop crime drama. Greasy and stained jacket over an equally dirty stained hoodie. Heavily tattooed, including neck and head. Cold eyes and stained fingers suggesting heavy drug use.
He came up to me and explained, without prompting, that he could get me anything I wanted. Ecstasy, heroin, cocaine, pot, PCP, girls; whatever I wanted he could get. Obviously he saw my camera and picked me as an easy mark. I took a cue from the mentally disturbed American and started muttering to the guy that the Kai in him was strong and he should follow the path of the Celestial Hosts. I think I walked away saying Pa Wraith be with you or something like that. Yeah, I think I was mixing up some Star Trek religious icons, but before I started muttering I got a glimpse of the Jehovah Witnesses on the corner and figure doing the odd religious references would work tom my favor.
A few hours later I went to a taco stand a few blocks from the hotel. I thought they had closed down but was told by my favorite concierge at the hotel that the time I saw it closed was just a normal closed day for them. Those street tacos are amazing and paired with bottled, real sugar Coca cola, oh sweet heaven did that combination hit the spot! I couldn’t finish all of the build it yourself tacos, which I got the smallest level, and that and the price of the 2 Coca colas I had was $6. It was so good.
While I was eating a cat wandered up to me. The cat wanted food and I tried explaining to the cat that the food I had wasn’t good for cats. (OK don’t look at me crazy for talking to a cat! I got a cat at home and she listens to me sometimes) The cat wouldn’t take no for an answer so I threw the cat a few scraps. Well that sealed the deal and the cat was my instant friend.
When I headed back to the hotel, I came across something disturbing. There was a pet shop in the mall near the hotel. It has been a long time since I’ve seen what pet shops used to be like in the United States and this place was sad. You could hear the dogs and cats in the back just sounding depressed, and that was what I heard from the outside. I didn’t want to go inside. When I turned the corner I saw two baby chickens in a small cage. I thought they were dead when I first came across them because they weren’t moving and were fanned out in the cage. The dog I saw was in worse shape. The dog kept biting at its nails, which were way too long. I think the cage was too small for its size because I don’t think the dog could have fully stood if it wanted to. I felt helpless because there wasn’t a lot I could do in the situation.
I went back to the hotel, went to the bar and had a couple of strawberry margaritas. Part of whom the Pueblo Amigo caters to are gamblers, especially American gamblers. Oh the sports betting was big and the guys I was sitting next to at the bar were the type of gamblers I thought were TV exaggerations. The three buddies were the Hispanic man who kept using man, buddy and my good friend like some people curse, the young American with the Fred Durst personality and dress, and the Asian guy who spoke very little but when he did it was to curse a play. The Hispanic guy knew everyone near the bar area and was given the remote so he could roam through the channels for his friends. These guys were real addicts. They had their phones hooked up to chargers and were on them constantly placing bets at other facilities. They had betting forms in front of them to track wins and losses. They were even doing bets between themselves.
It was an enlightening but crazy scene.
My last day on vacation wasn’t going to be spent in Tijuana but in San Diego. That meant getting up at 3am to get through the border check by 4am. I’ve said this on every trip I do in Tijuana; I have to get up early for the border crossing because missing the window by 15 minutes can be the difference from getting through the border line in 10 minutes or 2 hours. I got through in 5 minutes and this as one of the first times I picked the right feed line to get into, meaning the border workers didn’t have to check out someone for five minutes.
The wait for the trolley wasn’t that bad. It was only an hour wait. Another rule of the border is get the second trolley that arrives, not the first one. Everyone crams onto the first one; it’s standing room only. The second trolley arrives about 10 minutes later and will be less crowded. You’ll have a chance to sit down, which is needed in taking the one-hour ride.
The ride was OK, nothing eventful and I got downtown and had breakfast at Brian’s 24. Brian’s isn’t a bad place to eat at 2am or 5am. Honestly it’s pretty good but I miss the Old Trolley Café that used to be near the YMCA. Brian’s has a hipster’s vibe to it; like it is cool for the sake of being cool. Here’s an example of what I mean; they have an 80s radio station playing at Brian’s. The station, which supposedly associated with one of the original VJs from MTV, plays the music you would hear on neutered MTV. OK, to clarify even better, the music playing was mostly the stuff you would hear on contemporary radio at the time, sprinkled in with some slightly edgier grooves. So you’ll hear a lot of Michael Jackson, The Police, Katrina and the Waves and occasionally you might hear Gary Numan’s Cars. You won’t hear Jo Boxer, The Smiths or even Kate Bush on the station, and the early DJs did play the odd and eclectic stuff on MTV. In SoCal, you had 91X and KROQ playing a lot of alternative stuff. To me if someone is ‘hip’ then they are hip to the outlier trends. Playing the easy stuff is, well, easy. They may not have the license to play their own music or maybe this was a station that closely fits their sensibilities, but it feels like they are trying too hard to be 80s cool. They off just enough that the result isn’t authentic. The Old Trolley Café didn’t try to be anything but a dining place and it catered to the travels and locals. When I would eat there it felt like San Diego; laid back, surprising sophisticated in a non-pretense way and a staff over the years that was loyal and knowledgeable about the offerings.
After breakfast it was just 6am so I took the bus to La Jolla Shores. With my decades in San Diego I took a lot of things for granted so I didn’t appreciate them. I lived in San Diego so going to the beach should have been something I did all the time but I didn’t. I figured I’d have tome and I went to enough parties and gatherings at the beach, maybe once in a year and a half, I was kind of good with heading to the beach. When you live in San Diego, beaches are always crowded during the day so facing the crowds getting to the beach, finding parking, then leaving at night with the crowds, the beach was an all-day traffic jam I didn’t want to be a part of.
Going very early in the morning the only people there were the locals. There were lots of people walking their dogs, talking the exercise stroll or surfing. With the overcast day and the cool winds, it was so relaxing just listening to the crashing surf. It was so relaxing taking everything in. There was this one person who took his exercising seriously. He started off by the children’s play area, using the structure as a gym center. He played soccer for a bit, kicking the ball against the wall. He did a lot of stretching and yoga poses by the water. The coolest or weirdest thing I saw was when he picked up a trash can and started running around with it over his head and using it like weights. I have to say as gyms go, being at the ocean is not a bad place to work out.
A was at the beach over an hour and I did get a feeling of being one with nature. My geek came out while there and I felt like I was Paul Atreides on Caladan. I was savoring the wet sand and the water, especially the water. It was my last day of vacation and the next day I was returning to Arrakis, which in my case is Phoenix. Considering I had gotten to the beach by bus, I wondered why did I waste so much time not going to the beach when I lived in San Diego? I know living in San Diego there were so many things I took advantage of and didn’t explore as much as I should have. One of the lessons I’m learning from this trip is that I have to experience adventure where I am. There are spots in Phoenix I haven’t seen and I should take advantage of being there and exploring the place. Just on a few runs I have come across areas rich in street art and local personality. I need to find more of that in Phoenix.
After I got tired of the beach I was confused by where to go next. I wanted to head to the North Park / Hillcrest areas but I was meeting a friend downtown and wasn’t sure if I had the routes down enough to hit those areas and still be on time for my friend. In decided to play it safe and go back downtown and explore the harbor before seeing my friend. I ended up watching some workers build a set by the new Children’s Park. It was for the famous half marathon, which I started kicking myself about because it would have been nice to photograph that.
I had lunch at a sushi spot downtown that I will never eat at again. The first and second time I went to this spot the food was good. The last few visits for the past few years have been terrible. Each time I’ve gone recently it’s a coin toss to bet on if the food will be substandard or the service staff. This last time was a little of both falling down. I guess another life hack I’ll have to put in practice is never do dining in the popular part of town. You have to look for the pocket places the locals go or avoid the popular area eateries all together. I would have had a more satisfying meal if I went to the downtown Albertsons and bought food. I’ve done it may times and have rarely been disappointed. They have a sushi area in the store with people creating the dishes.
I had some time to explore Horton Plaza and I went into the comic shop they have in the mall. Something I miss from my younger days in San Diego is getting the old smells that I got from comics, books and record shops. There was the smell of the paper, the aged slightly rustic smell I would get coming into a shop like that. The smell was a transport vessel and it’s something missing from the stores today. Back in Phoenix, the comic shop I go to still has a comic book smell to it. Even with the move they made a few years ago, there’s a sense of grounding I get from that shop. The comic shop in the mall didn’t have that. There are lots of comics and other collectibles in the store. The store is rather large and knowing how expensive rent is in Horton Plaza I hope they’re making money at the location. For any modern collector, this shop does have a big selection of comics old and new.
I finally made my way to Neighborhood to meet my friend. I always rave about Neighborhood because it is the type of place I like when talking about exploring a town. It’s close enough to downtown action that it gets the wandering tourist but the vibe I get from Neighborhood is a local vibe. When I walk in the place it feels like San Diego. They have a lot of local beers and other spirits to indulge in. My go to drink is the Julian Hard Cider. I like the name Happy Apple Juice and I have to be a little careful because it does sneak up on me. After getting my drink The Cure starting playing on the sound system. When I mentioned the difference between trying to be hip and really hip, Neighborhood is a place I find hip without trying to be hip. They have a style at Neighborhood that reads neighborhood. It’s funky approachable.
After that, my friend showed up, we got caught up and we had a great Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride adventure. For me it was great looking catching up just getting the sense back in one another. It would have been nice to see her earlier, but seeing my friend Cody at the end of the trip made so much sense. I have missed the Cody vibe, which like the ocean I have neglected a lot because I always figured she would be there. There’s a few people I get that calming energy vibe with here but Cody’s vibe is something that is almost mystical. Hanging out with her for hours is like being Alice wandering through Wonderland, even down to the cookie.
All of that made this morning a pain. I’ve got about two hours before I fly out, and yes I checked and the time is right. This was a rewarding vacation, despite some of the obstacles, because there was no pressure to do any particular things and I was able to explore and roam.