I drove East from San Diego as the sun set in my rear view mirror in pink and purple, like tequila in fruit juice. I crossed up and over the Santa Rosa Mountain Range and descended into the hot Hell of the California desert along the Mexican border. It was ten o’clock under a clear moon night in May and my thermometer read “102 degrees”. I stuck my hand out the window into a giant blow dryer and I knew that the cool ocean breeze was long gone.
As I drove East along the US Mexican border I saw border patrol SUVs patrolling the open desert under the moonlight like coyotes prowling for jackrabbits.
Further East the desert morphed into cultivated flat lands that spread out across the desert floor. The hot dry air stunk like manure and milled grains. The nearby Colorado River served enough water to this desert to turn it into a giant sprawling outdoor food factory. This desolate region was only fit for Indian reservations, growing food or testing weapons.
I rolled into a small border city called “Calexico” (population 34,000 people, 47,656 dogs and an unknown number of chickens, pigs and armadillos). Right across the border in Mexico was the much larger city of “Mexicali” (Population one Million people, two million dogs and an unknown number of chickens, pigs and armadillos).
These brother sister cities were so close it felt incestuous. Given that I saw no other Gringos in town it felt like I was already in Mexico, except for the strip malls displaying the English signage for US national chains like Toys R Us, Walmart, Burger King, McDonalds, Dennys . . .
I learned that Calexico is known to have the highest percentage of Mexican residents in any U.S. city, with nine out of ten residents being Mexican. The US stole the Southwest from Mexico during the Mexican American War (1846 to 1848). But the Mexicans are taking it back. As some Mexicans point out, they didn’t cross the border. The border crossed them.
Calexico combined the worst of both worlds – crass soulless American commercialism with cheap and tacky Mexico. Thus the name – “Calexico”.
With the evening temperature hovering around 100 degrees, I knew the next day would be an inferno when the sun came up. I had to find an electrical hookup for the AC in my motor lounge or I would bake under the sun like a potato in an oven.
With no campsites in sight I snuck into a motor home park and found an electrical outlet I could suckle on for the night and hopefully into the next day. I planned on parking my motor lounge on the US side and crossing over into Mexicali the next day.
The last time I’d driven into Mexico was in the mid 80′s when I was a 22-year-old vagabond exploring North America in my 1974 VW Camper Bus. A week into that excursion I ended up in a Mexican jail after the police shot the Mexican I was traveling with. Since I was the only witness the police took me out into the desert to execute me. But I talked my way out of it. But I digress.
Given that I associated the Mexican desert with gunfire, stupid and corrupt cops and a miserable three days in jail, I decided to play it safer and leave the vehicle behind on the US side this time around.
I drove up to the border where I expected to find a parking lot. But instead I found myself on a one way road into Mexico with no way of turning back. I was going to be forced to take my motor lounge and my stash into Mexico.
I stepped out of Destiny and walked toward the Mexican border guard to explain the situation. He put his hand on his gun holster and stepped into his shooting stance. He asked what I had holstered on my hip. I pulled up my shirttail to reveal my camera holster. He took his hand away from his gun.
But that was enough to trigger a hot flash back to the last time I drove into Mexico and was shot at by the Mexican police – accidentally of course. Accidents do happen, especially to Gringos in Mexico.
He told me I had to drive into Mexico and then get in the long line of cars trying to enter the USA. Interesting how there had been no wait to get into Mexico. He waved me through and I reluctantly drove into the tacky sprawl of tourist shops and naked dance clubs.
I would have visited one of the dance clubs, but the idea of coming out to find my motor lounge stripped down to the axles motivated me to get in line for the USA. The line of cars was four lanes wide and a few miles long.
I was the only motor home trying to enter the US as armed US custom guards walked their dogs in between the lanes sniffing for contraband. No doubt they would soon board my motor lounge, spot the lounge lights and strip lighting in the floor and begin the process of tearing this party lounge on wheels down to the axle in search of drugs.
I hoped that the produce I had bought in Humbolt County, Northern California that was wrapped in coffee grounds and sealed in Tupperware would elude the dogs. I wondered if dogs ever got colds and stuffy noses.
When I got to the US border inspection area, the guy laughed and asked if I was the guy trying to back up at the Mexican border. I told him I was and that I had accidentally crossed into Mexico and was glad to be back in the US.
Obviously a drug runner would not be pulling that stunt and so he waved me on into the USA. I was now officially a successful, though unintentional, drug runner.
Emboldened by my success, I decided to park on the US side and walk across. But when I asked the parking attendant if the lot was secure he held a form to me to sign that stated in bold red text that they were “Not liable for any damage due to fire, collision or theft.”
Were they asking for written permission to steal me blind? Once again, I imagined returning to see my motor lounge stripped bare down to the axles. I backed out of the lot.
It was time to get the Hell out this hot hybrid hellhole, where the Chinese restaurant was run by Mexicans who had no stir fry on the menu – only sandwiches like the classic eggroll sandwich. I guess this cuisine would be called Chin Mex. You might not get food poising. But you’ll throw up anyways.
I stopped a Taco Bell to eat, write what you are now reading. Some how it seemed like the right thing to do.
Then I got the Hell out of town and headed for Arizona.
Next Stop – Phoenix Arizona and the Desert