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.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Stuck In The Mud

The rain and wind and hail fiercely competed with the thunder and lightning for an order of brutal display, and there would be no winner. I awoke many times Thursday night and into Friday morning, succumbing to the sounds of one barrage after another of nature’s calling cards. When it stopped, after a few minutes, a jet airliner would sneak out of Tijuana’s airport and make that sharp turn southwest over the house. Minutes later, another storm cell would threaten and then close the gap, dumping its deluge in the wake of people flying to somewhere that storm cells couldn’t reach them.

I imagined a dragon snapping at a sparrow.

When I awoke for the last time on Friday morning, Rocio had left for work leaving a slow and steady rain behind. I came downstairs and showered while yet another storm cell dumped even more rain to accompany me through the crack in the bathroom window. I was to be poked and prodded today, storms or no storms. I did not have the luxury of a commercial jet waiting on a runway for safe clearance to take off. I would be making this trip regardless of whether the dragon slept or raged.

Dressed and loaded with papers, a medical card, and twenty-six dollars, I guided my cane through the mud and water out to the main boulevard. It was eleven o’clock. The green and white taxis took turns loading and unloading passengers near the old Chinese restaurant next to a bank of pay phones. The rain had stopped. I climbed in and the driver took off, his cab riding on the wet asphalt and eluding the new potholes brought on by temporary torrents seeking the lowest ground that water could find.

* * * *

In nineteen hundred and ninety-three, when all hell broke loose in Tijuana, when they opened the gates of the Rodriguez Dam, the water came barreling down the river and washed out all of the roads except for the two bridges, one near Cinco Y Diez and the other in Centro. Concurrently, mud and boulders the size of small cars came oozing and spilling and tumbling down the hillsides to the south of the river, also bringing the thousands of old worn tires that many had used to keep their yards from washing down the hill. It was three feet deep on the bridge near Cinco Y Diez, effectively cutting the eastern end of the city in half. There was never a bigger mess here.

The number of people who died in that series of storms has never been officially reconciled.

Over the course of the next decade, the entire Tijuana River was transformed into concrete. Bridges were built, several of them, and no more roads would run through the river, but rather over it. Drainage was improved. Asphalt streets that were prone to flooding were replaced with concrete. Tijuana’s east-west freeway was completed, using space on both sides of the Tijuana River, from Centro all of the way out passed the Dam. Another six-lane boulevard was paved, running parallel to the main boulevard, Diaz Ordaz. Bridges were built carrying the north-south traffic harmlessly over both of the east-west boulevards. All of these improvements have had a profound effect on the eastern portion of Tijuana.

When it rains, there are still problems here. Pedestrians are going to get wet, with the simple matter of crossing a street meaning wading through a foot or more of water. We are willing to live with it. This latest series of storms have brought fatalities as well, with a family swept away while attempting to cross swift water in their car, and a young girl drowning while two of her siblings are still missing in a more rural area of Tijuana. Such occurrences are tragic. The loss of any life is tragic. The ability to count such tragic losses is an improvement of what once was either an inability to do so or an unwillingness to account for the loss of life.

* * * *

The Allen W. Lloyd building originally housed a life insurance company, with other offices leased by dentists and doctors and other professionals, and served as a landmark on the border at the San Ysidro port of entry into the United States of America. Over a decade ago I wrote a fictional short story I called Jesus Stone, in which that building had been renamed and the life insurance had been supplanted by medical insurance because more money could be made selling the latter than the former. That part of the story is no longer fictional. The rest of the story remains speculative: The Jesus Stone that brought the friend of the protagonist a lot of money along with a lot of other problems and ultimately his own fatality, caused the protagonist to then gift the money blindly and recover the stone and ultimately throw it off of a long pier, ostensibly back to whatever primordial beginnings from whence it came. May the rest of that story always remain speculative and entirely untrue.

The green and white cab rolled along, eluding any rain and carefully negotiating bodies of standing water. The potholes along the way were new and deep and tricky. The one passenger in front of me that had accompanied us for most of the ride to Centro remarked in disgust about the local government’s inability to fix these problems. We chatted about it. I reminded him how much better it is now than it was over a decade ago, and he agreed. He was a rarity, a born-and-raised Tijuanense. We wished each other luck and I got out on Calle Madero, I decided to walk to what once was the Allen W. Lloyd building.

My cane didn’t help much, other than to draw stares from some of the pedestrians. The storms didn’t appear to have had the dramatic effect on Downtown Tijuana as such storms once had. As I crossed the pedestrian bridge toward the border, I noticed the Tijuana River, much higher than the normal trickle, moving swiftly underneath me. There was a time that the river would have almost risen to the brim, and now it is so controlled as to steadily release water into the Pacific Ocean as though this sort of thing happens often. That a city receiving a few inches of rain annually, with little in the way of original infrastructure to handle anything more, could negotiate several inches within a matter of hours is certainly a testimony to vast improvement.

I approached the steps noting the beautiful new construction and lovely glass doors and, once inside, a security officer eagerly helped direct visitors to their appropriate destinations. On the second floor, I approached the receptionist who took my information and paperwork and medical card and asked me if I had eaten any breakfast. No, as a matter of coincidence. She smiled and handed me a plastic cup with a screw-on top and told me to go "pee-pee". I found the men’s restroom and filled it halfway, proud that I could comply. Once back in the office area, my name was called and the sample taken and tagged, and another nurse now attending to me asked if I had had anything to drink this morning.

"No alcohol," I responded, proud of my damned sobriety.

"Only water, right?"

"Coffee," I said. "And a small cup of Fresca."

"Oh, no! You can only have water. I’m afraid you’ll have to come back."

"But the doctor never said anything about not…"

"You can’t have any sugar in your system at all for at least twelve hours prior to the blood and urine test," she said. She handed me back my paperwork and I told her that I would return for the tests next week. Then I asked about the other tests, the Doppler ultrasound in particular.

"It’s on the other side of the building, you’ll have to go there and ask them about that."

I left that side of the building, stepping outside where it was now sprinkling. The doctor never said anything about breakfast of coffee or soda or anything other than no alcohol for forty-eight hours. I reached the other side of the building; more steps and more glass doors. Once inside, I found that I could take some chest x-rays that had been ordered, but that the Doppler ultrasound would have to be done somewhere in the United States of America. Call this certain doctor in Tijuana and he would schedule my appointment. Where was this place in the United States of America? Only the doctor would tell me, once I called him.

My body was nothing more than a machine stuck in the Tijuana mud.

The modern interior, indoor fountains, and beautiful furnishings betrayed the system in Baja. That old expression about painting lipstick on a pig (but it’s still a pig) came immediately to mind. Everything would have to be done yet again next week. I left, and the rain followed me. I would take a bus downtown and have a beer. The skies opened up on the way to the bus and I stood huddled underneath the eave of a building along with several others, waiting until the cell passed, until the hard drops turned into something more manageable. The bus then shielded us from whatever fell after that.

* * * *

"Remember what it used to be like?" I asked Jody as we sipped a beer in the freezing cold Nuevo Perico.

"Yes. Of course, first thing in the morning, the mud is still there until they shovel it up and take it away."

"That will never change. It’s the same out where I live. The mud will always be there," I said.

I bought him another beer. The Perico is the coldest bar in Tijuana. This works well in the summer but not so well in January. Friday afternoon there were not enough jackets to keep anyone warm. I stood for a while.

"How’s the leg?"

"Actually, it hurts less now. Or maybe I’m getting used to the pain. Or else I’m tired of worrying about it. It doesn’t bother me much to use this cane," I said.

Jody finished his beer and left, and I wasn’t too far behind. The Dandy has heat, worth the extra fifty cents a bottle, and my cane seemed to find all of the right spots on the sidewalk all of the way down Calle Sexta. Even that six-toed cat they let have the run of the place was content to curl up and keep warm on a nearby chair. I sipped my beer and read the paper and wondered why sometimes the more things change the more they stay the same.


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