Chapter 41

We finally make it to Tijuana, and there’s the border, just like Tia Adriana said: two or three lanes coming into Mexico at freeway speed, unhindered by even a hint of interest, and many lines going out of Mexico at a snail’s pace, and every single car stopping to be inspected. Several booths of border agents act like toll collectors, only this toll takes a lot longer to pay. You have to wait so long in line here, there are street vendors going from car to car, selling all kinds of things: small guitars, accordions, keychains, paintings or drawings, piñatas. It looks like toys and souvenirs mainly. There are even food vendors pushing carts in between the lines of cars. This whole experience is like a drive-through flea market.

We inch our way up to the front of the line and pass a wide horizontal line that says “U.S.” on top of it, and “Mexico” below it. I guess on the other side of the line we are in America, hence the American border guards.

When we pass the line I am giddy with happiness. I’m almost home. The car ahead of us has been stopped for a bit longer than most other ones, but it eventually gets through.

We pull up to the guard shack, and Mrs. Delgado sticks her arm past the front seat and points to the glove box. I open it and pull out some papers and small booklets. We wait for the guard to finish doing whatever it is he’s doing.

“Documentos,” the guard finally says. Mr. Delgado takes the handful of papers from me and hands them to the agent. He’s a middle-aged man with greying hair. He’s got about thirty extra pounds around his belly, trying to break out of his tan Border Patrol uniform. There’s obviously not much exercise in this job.

The man looks the documents over, and then counts them. He looks inside the car. Great. Here it comes . . .

“My documents? I don’t have any. I’m an American.” The booth agent hands Mr. Delgado his papers back and points to the small building with the parking spaces and tables around it. Mrs. Delgado looks nervous.

As we pull up to the building, one of the guards waves us over to one of the parking stalls.

The guard looks in the car and takes the documents from Mr. Delgado and studies them. Then he peers inside the car and back to the documents again. It’s obvious my documents are not in his hand.  A shiver runs down my spine. The guard asks Mr. Delgado about my “documentos,” and Mr. Delgado speaks to the guard. They both turn and look at me.

“Hi, I’m an American, and my Student Body card, heck my whole wallet and all of my money got stolen in Mexico, and these kind people are giving me a ride back home.” Mr. Delgado does his best to agree. “Si, Si,” he says with conviction, but that doesn’t seem to reassure the guard.

Mrs. Delgado is beginning to perspire and she looks more than a bit worried. I can’t tell if it’s because now their documents are going to be more closely scrutinized, or if she’s worried for my sake.

This Border Patrol Agent, looks more like a police officer. He’s younger than the booth guard, about thirty-ish, and his hair is darker too. He looks very serious as he inspects the documents, through sunglasses no less, while a short explanation from Mr. Delgado repeats all that was said last time. I’m trying my best to put on a happy, innocent, American smile. He looks at the documents, which I recognize from work, are passports, green-cards, birth certificates—all kinds of documents. These guys need a lot of paperwork to get into the US. I didn’t need anything to get into Mexico.

He shuffles the papers around a bit, then organizes them like a hand of cards, putting all the suits together, and now he looks inside the car and his eyes are locked onto me like a tractor beam.

“Would you please step out of the car, sir?”

Oh, shit. He called me sir.

The officer looks at me sideways, and then asks me to stand by the rear of the car. Immediately he gets down to business.

“So, can you tell me what you are doing in this car with this family?”

“I lost my ID in Mexico and I took a bus and a fishing boat to get to Baja California, and then I hitchhiked my way here.”

“How did you get to Mexico?”

Oh shit! This is not going to help. “I took a plane.”

“And you didn’t have a return ticket?”

“Everything got stolen.”

He looks at me and leans against an empty stainless steel table. “So, you don’t have any identification?”

“No officer, but it’s pretty obvious I’m an American, right?”

“Obvious?” he looks at me sideways again, which is pretty hard to do with those highway patrol type sunglasses. They give him a disturbingly blank expression; the kind of look all policemen get when they’ve been on the job for many years and have heard every excuse known to man, several times over, and by the time you come along, they aren’t impressed with anything you have to say. The added Stephen King-ness of it—being nighttime—is a bonus. His face has a certain, if you mess with me, I’ll rip your head off quality to it. If he asks me if I feel lucky, punk, I’ll definitely have to answer no.

“Please empty your pockets onto the table.”

I pat my pockets and feel the slight resistance of a bunch of scraps of paper in my left pocket, and the folded paper money in my right. Shit. I pull out the Mexican money and put it on the table.

“Is that everything?” he says, raising the ante, his vacant stare reading my mind like it was a dull comic book.

“Yes,” I say, but I don’t feel very convincing. I’ve never been a good liar. I feel like he’s looking right into my soul.

“Okay, I’m going to pat you down now, please stand with your feet apart and place your hands apart on the table.”

Now I feel like I’m on an episode of Cops. I do as he asks and glance over at the car where everyone is staring helplessly at what’s going on.

He begins at my neck, and then his hands move up my head and through my short hair. What’s that all about? Like I could conceal . . . what . . . maybe a sewing needle? Yep, that’s him officer, that’s the sewing needle bandit!

I imagine all the things this cop has seen and where he has found things by the way he searches every inch of my body. Without any warning he feels my front pockets and there is a difference between the right and left one. Very subtle, but I don’t think he’ll notice.

“Do you have anything in your pockets?”

I don’t know what to say. I do, but really it’s nothing to worry about. I can’t threaten anyone with a few slips of paper.  He reaches in and pulls out a few slips of paper, and immediately I feel a surge of guilt run through my body. I’m sure it is all over my face too. I wonder where I can get me a pair of those sunglasses.

“Oh, I forgot I had those.” I know he doesn’t buy it.

“I’m going to ask you again, please empty your pockets onto the table.”

Reaching into my front pocket, I pull out a handful of business cards and slips of paper, covered in Mexican names and phone numbers and Mexican business cards. I check my back pockets and pull out the wedding picture.

“Is that everything?”


He looks at the pile of Mexican money and Mexican contact information, then he picks up the wedding picture and looks back at me again. I can tell that he’s adding two plus two, and he’s not getting four. I try to speak, but he just raises his hand.

“Do you know these people?” he asks pointing to the photo. “Wait.” He looks over at another officer standing nearby,  “Andy, come here a sec will ya?” They have a private little conference.  When they’re finished, Andy, the new guy, asks Mr. Delgado to step out of the car and they have a private conversation at the front of the car, while me and Brewster have our own mini interrogation. “How do you know these people?” he asks, referring to the Delgados this time.

“I met them on the road here. I hitchhiked, and they gave me a lift. “

“Okay.” He pulls out a pad of paper and pencil from his shirt pocket. “What is your name?”

Oh shit. I look at him. I have to give him my real name, or it won’t register when he checks it out. “Francisco Carlos Villa.” Why do I feel like I’m lying?

He writes it down on his notebook, then looks up at me, “Francisco Villa? Really?”

I nod.

“Are you playing games with me, son?”

“No sir, you think I’d lie about a name like that?” I hope he sees the logic.

“And you’re American.”

“Well my dad was Mexican—“ Oh shit, does that make me a Mexican?

He writes that down in his little book, “OK, where are you from?”

“Arbol Verde, Arizona.” He writes it down.

“Do you go to school?”

“Yes, Carlmont High school in Arbol Ver—“ I already told him where I live.

“Do you work?”

“Yes.“ He waits for it . . . “At the Taco Bell on Lincoln Ave.”

He stops writing and looks at me. From behind those expression-erasing sunglasses, he looks like he’s going to kill me. “You know, I’m not even . . .” He walks over to Andy and they take a few steps away from Mr. Delgado.

“Noooo,” Andy says in disbelief, and rather loudly. He looks over at me, then he is quiet again. Brewster continues to talk to him and they both intermittently steal quick glances at me.

Mr. Delgado is giving me that, poor procito look everyone down here seems to be so good at.  I really want to apologize for all of this. I want to tell him I had no idea we’d go through all this. It’s all my fault. I’m making it hard for the Delgados to get to wherever they are going, and they were so nice to me.

I hear Andy tell Mr. Delgado to stay where he is as he walks over to the passenger side of the car and talks with Mrs. Delgado.  After a few minutes he looks at Brewster, nods, and then Andy tells them they can leave.

Brewster looks at me, “Turn around and place your hands behind your head.”

Holy shit. I am getting arrested? I want to protest, but I feel my arms being pulled behind me and something tight around my wrists and he grabs me by my elbow. As I’m being walked to the guard station for who knows what, the Delgados watch me, an American, get arrested and led into the border station for trying to get into the United States, as they, a family of Mexicans, pull away and drive into California.

I feel like I’ve crossed the border into the twilight zone.


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