Around the bend and down the grade of two-lane Highway 188, two Tecates sit on either side of the narrow river bordering California and Mexico. Trucks, semi and pickup, horns blaring, race every which way including straight down the middle of the street churning dust and dirt while drivers shake fists at on-coming traffic.
“We’re looking for Thing Road,” I said.
“I’m looking out for these crazy drivers,” Lee said.
“Thing Road! Here it is! Stop!”
“I can’t stop here. I’ll park over there.”
Highway 188 and Thing Road, in the center of California’s Tecate, is the perfect spot for the historical plaque commemorating Rancho Tecate’s pioneer era of Indian and bandit raids and smuggling Chinese and liquor. But nothing was there.
Across the way, a chain-link fence surrounded two modular trailers housing the Border Patrol. No sign posted Keep Out. The gate was open.
“Park in there,” I said. “I’ll ask here.”
I walked up the steps and through the open door. “Hello! Anyone here? Hello, hello!”
I walked down the hallway and peered into rooms clicking and buzzing with electronic equipment.
A uniformed officer appeared. “How did you get in?” he asked.
“Through the open door,” I said and quickly showed him the printout of the plaque I was looking for before he could usher me outside.
He had never seen it. He directed me to the store owner at the end of the street. “If anyone knows where it is, he does. He’s been here the longest.”
When we drove out of the Border Patrol parking lot, Mexican drivers who previously honked and shook their fists at us, gave us a wide berth and the right-of-way.
Lee parked in front of the store at the end of the street. An attractive young woman led me into the owner’s office. The well-dressed man wore impressive jewelry and exuded wealth and power as he sat behind an ornate desk. Two muscular men stood beside his desk. Paintings graced the wood-paneled walls of the large office. The “boss” motioned for me to sit in plush furniture.
This is something out of a movie, I thought. What am I doing here?
The “boss” confessed he had never seen the plaque. Neither had his assistants.
Alert to Squibob Chapter E Clampus Vitus: The plaque you dedicated on October 4, 1980, near junction of Highway 188 and Thing Road, in Tecate, California, has vanished.
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A white Border Patrol truck followed us in our black Bronco on the road along the California-Mexico border. Maybe not the same vehicle because it kept a distance sometimes disappearing from view. Their white truck and our black truck were the only vehicles on the road that afternoon. From San Ysidro to Border Field State Park at the Pacific Ocean, a different Border Patrol vehicle followed closely.
Signs in the irrigation ditch beside the road warned of danger from contaminated water.
We pulled into the empty parking lot at the end of Monument Road. The Border Patrol vehicle stopped at the other end of the lot.
Mexican men sat shoulder to shoulder on the low rock wall around the parking lot. They all stared at us with the same pleading expression.
Curled barbed wire on top of a chain-link fence separated California from Mexico. Beyond the open field on the other side of the fence, the Tijuana bull fighting arena loomed in the distance. The fence continued into the Pacific Ocean past the low tide mark. A few women and children waded around the fence to enter California. The Border Patrol officer met them on the beach, spoke in Spanish, and motioned for them to go back. They obediently turned around and traced their steps.
While we checked the 1851 boundary marker of the SW corner of the U.S.A and the NW corner of Mexico, the Border Patrol vehicle drove away.
At home weeks later we read about rampant drug and human smuggling through both Tecates. Some things never change.