30 June 2009

There's No There There

La Bufadora, Baja

There is a famous quote by Gertrude Stein about Oakland, "There is no there there". Most people think she was insulting the city, but that isn't what it means. After spending many years in Paris, Stein had returned for a short visit to her home town. Everything that she had known as a child was either changed or gone. Thus: "There is no there there." The place of her memory no longer existed.

Unless you have never left home, you have had the experience of unexpected change over time. The farther you are removed in years, the more changes there are likely to be, until what you knew seems to no longer exist. I tell you this because when I write about The Baja, I am writing about the place that existed before 1975. Just looking online today for information, I know my mental pictures are no longer accurate and the place I knew has disappeared.

The first images in my memory are from 1948 through 1952 and are second hand from "What We Did On Our Vacation" slides of my uncle and his diving companions with the fish they had viewed or speared off of La Paz in the years following WW II. They were fishermen and divers visiting a place that you can now only find in reading Steinbeck's "The Log from the Sea of Cortez". In a child's mind, combine those pictures with stories of dusty streets, small family run vacation houses, the fish and whales plus stories of the kamikazi cab driver and the imagination was stirred. This was The Baja of youth - A place I had to go someday. Through the early years, there would be trips on my uncle's fishing boat out of San Pedro down the coast to Ensenada, or car trips with parents to Del Mar race track near San Diego with the shopping trip over the border into Tijuana.

Parrot Fish

Del Mar Race Track

I never went to the bull fights, but you could hear the cheers of the crowds from the markets surrounding El Toreo de Tijuana (Now torn down). These were always day time trips because even then, Tijuana could be dangerous after dark if you weren't careful because of crazy drunks, strip clubs, and other sinful activities, but it was not yet a place of extreme grinding poverty cheek by jowl with luxury beach front high rise hotels coupled with drug gangs and violence. You could safely stroll most streets or go to Caesar's Hotel on Avenida Revolucion to have a caesar salad tossed at your table where the salad itself was invented by the owner Caesar Cardini. What happened after dark was not seen by young eyes that had been safely returned to San Diego before sun down.

El Toreo de Tijuana

Tijuana Market

Those trips to TJ happened about once a year in the safe company of theoretically responsible relatives. Then came the summer when Miss Goody Two Shoes had just had it up to where with her delinquent family and still thanks her lucky stars that there is or at least was once honor among thieves, because I ran away from home. Now if a perfectly behaved, totally responsible, fifteen year old, straight A student who always does exactly what everyone expects, and never ever disappoints decides to hoof it out of the nearest exit, you have to know they leave a forwarding address and phone number so no one will worry should it actually cross their minds to worry.

So out the door I went headed for a rented house in Hollywood belonging to the friend of a friend and Oh the sights I saw ............ Gypsies, tramps, and thieves plus a hooker or two thrown in for good measure plus a trip down to TJ on the back of a motorcycle in a three piece leather outfit pointing out my over 18 "sister" on the bike ahead at the border crossing for my first drink of alcohol and a visit to the inside of one of those infamous clubs. (Yes everything you ever heard about them is true). My guardian angel got a three month workout to make up for not having to keep her eye on me for the previous 15 years.

That I not only made it back home in one piece but was actually returned home at the end of the summer still as goody two shoes as when I left is a tribute to a lady who had had a much rougher life starting at a similar age when her leaving home had not turned out as well. Well her and the bowie knife she kept under the driver's seat of a car that had a hole in the floor to view the road and a lack of reliable brakes to make it down Micheltorena. I tried to find a view of Micheltorena that ends at Sunset Boulevard to give you an idea of just how imperative it was that there be no cross traffic as the sudden right turn into a gas station for the purchase of more brake fluid was always an iffy proposition. Unfortunately, the camera people of the world seem to have decided that Micheltorena looking down was an invitation to instantaneous vertigo. If you ever get to the area, it has now been the recipient (victim?) of all sorts of civic upgrading, but the hill and the street are still there. Have fun looking down.

Just for Travis: Yes It's All True. :-)


Linda said...

Been to both Enseneda and Tijuana back in the early 80's and I'd be willing to bet it's not even close to what it was like back then either.

My adventures were nowhere near as exciting or dangerous as yours - unless you count eating in a questionable establishment as dangerous!

You really ought to consider a book, you have some amazing stories to tell!

Jamie said...

Well there was the time the children and I ordered tacos from a hole in the wall that thought bad beef and mayonaise were something Americans wanted! Evil. Pure Evil.

Thorne said...

A great telling of what were, I'm sure, even more exciting times than you have let on. The glimpses between the threads of the cloth are almost like peeks into my own youth. I remember a bar in Ensenada that overlooked a swimming pool decorated with mermaids and sea monsters; ferociously flaming chateau briand and serious margaritas...

Jamie said...

Chateau Briand and margaritas are an adventure by themselves even without the Mexican scenery. Would love to hear the rest of the story.

Shelly Kneupper Tucker said...

Every time I read your wild stories of your younger years, I get my vicarious thrills. Why don't I suspect you did wild things? I should know that by now.

Some day, over mojitos and some fajitas, I hope to get to hear you tell me a tale out loud.

Jamie said...

Mojitos and fajitas sound great. Driving across country while I can still enjoy driving has moved to the top of my bucket list, so you may get to hear one in person

Travis said...

I've never been south of the border. Just never really had the desire to go. Although I guess it wasn't quite so tantalizing to a kid who grew up in the Bay Area and central California.

I shall continue to enjoy these snippets, pending release of the book.