Once again, I have visited a foreign country where Cuban cigars are sold, and once again, I’ve blown an opportunity to smuggle a box of them home. All the travel brochures warn that US customs officials will sieze the cigars at the border, but no one has ever bothered to check my bag for anything besides weapons and/or ammunition.
But I digress. On a day like any other, Minimum Wage and I set out for San Ysidro and the world’s busiest land border crossing. I accidentally passed the parking lot and drove a few blocks away to turn around at a shopping center. I stuffed my mini-backpack with our passports, the car keys and three cans of Diet Mountain Dew. I considered bringing more of the Dew, in case we were apprehended by police and forced to spend the night in jail.
We walked across the street and through the big amusement park turnstiles. That was it! We were in Tijuana!
There is so much stuff for sale between those turnstiles and El Arco on the Avenida Revolucion. I’d heard that the shops and booths would have men standing outside, encouraging you to buy from their particular stand. I wasn’t prepared for *every single one* of the men stopping me as I walked by. I tried walking behind groups of people, so that they would get the hit. I also tried walking in the middle of the Avenida. Neither method was successful. Even if I avoided the shopkeepers, there were random men selling silver necklaces and they walked through the crowd. Those silver necklaces were $30 each when I arrived, but two for $10 by the time I left.
It wasn’t all shopkeeper avoidance, though. Minimum Wage got to ride a Tijuana zebra.
And we ate at a place that sold the best iced tea EVER. After two years of never being able to order “sweet tea”, it was quite unexpected to find a glass of tea sweetened with a sugar and lemon syrup. It wasn’t the fake Splenda sugar that takes like sugar because it’s made from sugar, but actual sugar that was made from sugar.
We skipped the free rides on the mechanical bull and the free shots of tequila that all the other places were offering. Not that I’m not up for those sorts of things, but I was convinced that I was going to be abducted and dismembered before I could get back across the border. I secured my purchases in my bag, fought off the final Vicodin salesman and crossed the bridge to the hour-long pedestrian line. Minimum Wage was concerned that he was going to fade in the sun. I was concerned that I would end up as red as he.
The customs man asked if I’d bought anything back from Mexico. I said yes and opened my bag. He waved me off and said, “I don’t need to see it. Just tell me what you bought.” I said, “Little Mexican hats” and he returned my passport and told me to move along. I could have had a bag full of cigars! I could have had more than 200 cigarettes or more than a quart of tequila! Where’s my border security?!
Upon returning to the car and finding it hadn’t been vandalized, we decided to visit “the outlet mall”, only, we weren’t sure where it was. Something about “off the 5”. I couldn’t make a left turn out of the parking lot, so I took a right and drove a few blocks away to turn around at the shopping center from earlier. I then managed to drive away from the northbound 5 ramp and merged on to the 805 instead. After passing Chula Vista and making a lifeline call to Home Base, it was confirmed that I was too far north and needed to get on the 5.
Forty miles later, it was a bit ill-making to find out that “the outlet mall” was that very shopping center I’d already turned around in twice. Plus, now I had to look for a parking space. That funny t-shirt from the Hot Topic Outlet store made up for it, though.