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Tijuana Trolley
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Tijuana Trolley
This is an excerpt from a work that is currently in progress. This passage details events in the Baja California in the winter of 1994-95. It is part of a much larger work.
[973 words]
Robert Guskind
Robert Guskind is an award-winning reporter and globe-trotting adventurer who is currently at work on a book about his travels and tribulations. He is a regular contributor at www.cherrybleeds.com and www.undergroundvoices.com.
[February 2004]
The Angel Of Death (Non-Fiction) This is creative non-fiction relating to my travels in Europe. It is part of a much larger body of ongoing writing. [1,290 words] [Biography]
Tijuana Trolley
Robert Guskind

The sun is shining in La Gloria, a little village in the Baja California in the hills above Rosarito, a honky-tonk tourist town south of Tijuana.

The Baja is my winter home, where my friend from Zurich, Richard, has a house on a cliff overlooking the Pacific, to which I have repaired to write a novel and beat back a nasty dope habit.

No going on either front, especially the latter.

Which is why I’m currently on a dope run up to La Gloria, a rundown village with one paved street, whose name translates as Heaven in English.

Ishmael Estevez, a member of the extended family of dope dealers that does business with gringos out of a house in La Gloria, is working on his car as I pull up in Richard’s old sky-blue BMW sedan.

Ishmael, who is wearing a cowboy hat, boots and dirty jeans, looks up and sees me.

I got out of the car. He asks me who I’m looking for. I expain that I’m Richard’s Norte Americano friend. I’m here to pick up some curas—what they call the brown pellets of dope they sell here—for Richard and myself.

“No problem,” Ishmael says.

“Great,” I say.

“But we do not have.”

“You don’t have any?”

What’s this about? The Estevezes are almost never out of dope, unless the cops put them out of business temporarily. Which happens from time to time because they get behind on their bribe payments.

“No today,” Ishmael says. “We go. We find.”

He smiles and points at his battered pickup truck.

I shrug and say, “It won’t take long will it?”

“Very fast.”

I climb into the truck, which smells of motor oil and farm animals, and we drive off down dirt roads, bouncing on to the main road through La Gloria. Ishmael smiles, revealing a mouth full of yellow, crooked teeth. He pulls a bottle of tequila out from under the seat and takes a big swallow. He passes it to me.

Why not? I take a hit of tequila.

Since Ishmael doesn’t speak much English and I speak almost no Spanish, our conversation is limited to tortured broken English, mostly references to passing scenery and drugs.

I’ve already developed nerves of steel as a passenger in moving vehicles in Mexico thanks to the crummy roads and the insane drivers, but this ride in the general direction of Tijuana with Ishmael is shaking me up.

He is darting around other cars and trucks, crossing the median to pass to the left or kicking up monstrous clouds of dust on the dirt shoulder to pass on the right. When he sees a dog trotting along the road, he veers toward it in an attempt to run the dog down.

He does this several times.

Each time, Ishmael hoots with glee.

I have previously noticed an inordinate number of canine victims lying alongside or crushed in the middle of Mexican roads. They’re everywhere. I’ve been assuming a lot of dogs became traffic fatalities simply because there are a lot of dogs running around loose in the Baja.

Now, I know that I’m wrong.

Some drivers here deliberately run the dogs down. I understand cultural differences, but since when is hitting dogs with your car an Olympic sport?

Fortunately, either his aim is so bad or the dogs are so accustomed to being used for target practice, that he doesn’t hit any.

We are traveling the back roads in the dirt brown hills Tijuana and Rosarito. We stop in neighborhoods where corrugated tin shacks—the kind that wash away in the heavy winter rains—perch precariously on steep hillsides with thirty and forty degree grades.

We drive through industrial developments where companies like Sony and Sanyo have their Mexican manufacturing and assembly plants.

Finally, we end up in the bowels of Tijuana, riding through neighborhoods so far off the beaten path that few Americans set foot in them.

Periodically, Ishmael stops in front of one or another rundown house, tells me to stay put and go inside. I sit in the truck and wait for him to reappear, my hopes rising, only to have them dashed when he comes back out shaking his head or shrugging.

Things go on like this for two hours.

“Ishmael,” I finally say. “We’ve been gone for four hours.”

“No worry.”

“Richard’s probably wondering what happened.”

“No worry.”

He passes me tequila and adds, “We fine something soon.”

Then, we take off in a cloud of dust, bouncing down yet another dirt road.

We are in gang territory, the kind of Tijuana neighborhood I’ve been warned isn’t safe for gringos or for Mexicans if they don’t belong there.

Thirty futile minutes later, I turn to Ishmael and say, “We really have to go back.”

“We look more.”

“No. Let’s go.”

Ishmael looks glum as he turns on to a major commercial thoroughfare.

We drive past a strip mall.

I hear popping sounds.


Pop. Pop.

Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop.

I have heard these sounds before, like firecrackers, only much louder and less random.

I turn and look out the back window. I can see cars stopped in the middle of the street and men running around with guns.

“Fuck,” I say.

I duck.

Ishmael doesn’t say a word or glance into his rear view mirror. He simply steps hard on the gas and we take off. When we finally get back to La Gloria nearly an hour later, Ishmael looks around to see if my friend Richard has appeared. Satisfied that no one has shown up looking for me, he smiles and apologizes for our lack of luck. I shake my head, mutter that some days are like this and walk away.

I get into Richard’s BMW and drive off, detouring into Rosarito to see a dealer named Baby.

My body is on a rigid schedule in terms of its need for drugs. The first warning signs of impending illness—a runny nose, sneezing and a rumbling stomach—are due shortly.

Baby grudgingly sells me two curas, enough dope to carry Richard and I through the night, and I take off north in the direction of the house.


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© 2004 Robert Guskind
February 2004

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