Paving the road to nowhere, one word at a time.

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Location: Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico

American born, living in Mexico since 1992.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Tanks For Nothing

"Solutions are not the answer."

- Richard M. Nixon

* * * *

I seldom walk the streets of Centro anymore, like I did the other night. Some years ago, I knew these dusty and pot-holed and sometimes dangerous routes like well-traversed cattle trails on the slope of an erupting volcano. In those days, I imagined that at any minute all hell could possibly break loose; that an event or encounter would not so gently remind me that I wasn't born here, nor did I belong here, and so on. I was vividly conscious of every gawking pair of eyes, of the curious and the predators and the mischievous and the mysterious. Hungry eyes, starved for action, famished for something other than the rabbit-eared television in the window of the local barbershop.

"Hey, Gringo, the tourists are over there," I imagined them saying to me as I walked along.

My first explorations of downtown Tijuana were like that, made even more interesting by my complete and total ignorance concerning the Spanish language, having no understanding of Mexican culture or traditions, and an obvious inability to handle tequila. Things are different now. Except for the part about handling tequila. I am still learning how to handle tequila.

Perhaps I'll never conquer tequila, but I have no plans to stop trying.

The other night, I tried to find Daniel, he was supposed to be reading poetry at some grand location, somewhere near the corner of Calle Constitucion and Calle Once, except that Eleventh Street does not intersect with Constitucion, and it never will. Still, I thought that I could find this place by feeling out the terrain, maybe I would get lucky. After a couple of beers in the Dandy Del Sur, I decided to brave the streets. I never did find the building where Daniel was reading poetry.

Instead I found small shops with used electric motors and cubbyholes with rotisserie chicken for sale and taco carts at every corner. I found prostitutes here and there, and stolen jewelry for sale on the sly, and taxi stands with no lines. I found very old Señoras with eighteen bags of groceries negotiating a calafia-ride to parts unknown.

Banda music filled the distant space between myself and wherever I couldn’t see.

What I found the other night, once again, was Centro de Tijuana – just as I left it back before I learned enough Spanish, before I knew about dia festivál de los rabanos or the meaning behind the colors of the Mexican flag or how to cook sopes or any other important thing about Mexico. And so on. My ignorance back then was the root of any bliss that I felt walking the streets of Tijuana where tourists rarely go. And everything was just as I had left it.

Except that now I am not simply an observer, I am a participant. Everything is the same here except for me. I don’t think I can do anything about that, and I'm inclined toward believing that everything is exactly the way it's supposed to be.

* * * *

A week ago Sunday I woke up and made coffee and sat down at my computer, like I usually do on any given Sunday. Usually on any given Sunday I wake up to darkness or perhaps to dawn. Usually it is the same time in California that it is in Baja California - that regardless of some international boundary, one can depend on the fact that six o'clock in Tijuana is also six o'clock in San Diego or Los Angeles.

The clock was one hour fast on my computer on Sunday morning - while the United States of America was springing forward, Mexico was sleeping in. For the next few weeks, Tijuana will be one hour behind San Diego. There isn't anything that I can do about this except to be annoyed by it. There doesn’t seem to be any advantage at all being behind by one hour.

Anna enters school at seven o'clock in Tijuana, which is currently eight o'clock in San Diego, so our daily taxi ride is on hold for a few weeks. Juan is taking her to school. Juan has received, amongst various commendations and medals and so on, an honorable discharge from the United States Army.

Rather than to sign up with the Army reserve, Juan will do reserve time in the National Guard, which is one year less service. Evidently, the national reserve has some tanks that need mechanical repair. The National Guard is happy to have him. And so they should be.

On a videotape that Juan managed to smuggle out of Iraq, he is repairing the fuel manifold in an A1-M1. The inside of the tank is maybe one hundred and fifty degrees Fahrenheit. Some army buddy is filming Juan tearing into the works like a madman, sweat pouring off of him like some cartoon character.

"Fuck"” he says, dripping like he's in a shower.

"The fumes suck. I'm going to get a headache again."

He tries to find some goddamned hidden bolt in the armor plate, the last bolt holding the manifold cover.

"Fuck, I can't find the bolt," he says, and he's a human pretzel, contorted around armor plate and strategically placed support beams.

They didn't design this tank to be taken apart because they don't design tanks to be dismantled, it’s the United States Military – instead, the military designs a cargo jet big enough to transport tanks in one piece. They design a tank to engage the enemy, simple as that. The o-ring that he had to replace wasn't conveniently located because the tank was engineered not for maintenance, it was engineered for blowing crap up. The fact that, on occasion, some o-ring in the fuel-line fails and needs to be replaced is nothing more than a minor inconvenience, so far as war goes.

And some army buddy is doing nothing other than filming Juan. How did this bastard get to be the one who held the camera?

"Most days, the tankers would roll in, and I was trying to sleep, and they'd start yelling. 'Huerta, fix my tank!,' and I would go fix their tanks," Juan told me.

Sometimes the fumes made him so sick that he'd wind up in the infirmary. They gave him aspirin and sent him back to his bunk. And the next day, the M1-A1's would roll in again.

"Huerta! Hey, Huerta, come fix my tank!"

Except for the fucking heat and the goddamned fumes, that videotape would be one hell of a resume on his job search. It sure makes my silly little problem of living and working in different time zones seem like less of an inconvenience than an o-ring in the fuel manifold of a tank.

* * * *

"They lost it," Rick told me at work. "They were changing out the poles, the electrical lines, like they do here sometimes, you know, changing to using stronger poles."

"But not like here, it’s Mexico over there, they do it the Mexican way. An old flat-bed, big rusted chains, and like, thirty or forty guys wrestling a pole down," I countered.

"Right," he said. "So, they were bringing down the first pole, and they lost it somehow."








And so on.

Fifty times, at least.

Like amazingly heavy round dominoes strung-up on a very strong clothesline, the poles fell, at least fifty of them, one at a time. Some poles took out houses, others destroyed cars, and yet other poles barely missed pedestrians that were otherwise distracted by everything else in Baja California.

Human casualties were, evidently, within acceptable limits. Without delay, everything was patched up and adequately fixed. Life went on, in spite of grounded poles and wire. I wouldn't expect anything different out of Tijuana.

* * * *

As for me, I have been looking for solutions lately, but I am reaching the conclusion that there are no solutions. Perhaps I should be happy knowing that I am part of this place, and that I haven't been hit by falling poles and wire, and that no one is asking me (or Juan at the moment) to come and fix their tanks.

Some sort of change is on the horizon, I can feel it. Maybe if I stop looking at it as a problem. Maybe if I start doing what I want to do, for a change. Maybe I should do what I want to recommend to Juan.

"Huerta, come fix my tank!"

"Fuck you," I want to tell them in place of my son.

"Fix your own goddamned tank."


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