It is 6 a.m. and class starts in four hours. The journey begins in an apartment on a hill in Tijuana. It is a hazy Friday morning and the only thing between class and the student is an arbitrary boundary between two countries and the line of people to get into the U.S. We begin our decent down the large hill from the gated community, passing some of Tijuana’s most modern architecture and plain looking cinder block homes. The street has cracks, bumps and potholes through out as we jostle down the road.
Weathered posters for past entertainment events such as bullfighting and musical acts in town hang askew and have the color beaten away by the sun. We travel by car to the border. When we get to the bottom of the hill, we stop at an OXXO convenient store, similar to 711 back in the states. My eyes are heavy as I wait to pay for a Guava juice. Everyone else in the store is getting ready for their day with a coffee and quick bite to eat. One man has an issue of La Zeta Tijuana’s newspaper in hand, San Diego’s UT is on the news racks miles into TJ right next to it. We finish up our purchases and head to the border.
Tijuana’s morning rush hour is hectic. Haphazard driving and quick maneuvers are done in a flash keeping the roads moving in a chaotic dance to get from A to B. Our destination is about five minutes from the hill we came down from. We drive past newspaper salesmen and vendors getting their carts ready for the day. The student and I park the car in a day parking lot a few minutes walk to the port of entry. Most of the car lots had filled capacity by 7 a.m. Operators of the lots said they had been filled since 5 a.m. We made our way to the line to cross in.
The highway exit, which becomes a two-line road, was at a stand still. Along the road, food vendors and merchants worked in the exhaust of the idling cars. The two lanes multiply into many gates based on the Ready-Lane/Sentri cardholders and general population traveling into the states. The Ready Lane pass and Sentri are known as Radio Frequency Identification. They are cards issued by the U.S. Government allowing for faster travel into the U.S. Ready Lane is a passport ID that comes with shorter wait times. Sentri pass is the same concept except it allows even faster cross times because of a pre-screening application process. The rest of the general population, with a paper passport or government issued ID have wait times of up to 4 hours at its worst.
The line was just up to first bridge leading to Downtown Tijuana. It was a welcomed sight compared to the usual line of bodies snaking up and then back down the street. We hoped in line. With the smell of churros in the morning air and the sun in just beginning to peak through the clouds, we waited.
In the distance I could hear a tune was being played crudely on a violin. The man playing the tune was a musical panhandler with a limp and crutch, the old man wore his the hood of his sweater under his cowboy hat. At the end of violin he has a cup of change he would shake at people incase they had any loose coin in their pockets to spare for his talent. He kept walking down the line playing his crude melody and shaking his cup. We started to make our steps closer to the US.
Once at the actual line, which divides the United States and Mexico to enter the states, travelers must enter a gate where there is another line to wait in. At this point travelers are on U.S. soil. The line now leads to a Customs and Border Patrol officer who will look at the travelers Identification and ask where they are headed and why through general population lines.
Once all was said and done we had been waiting in line to cross the border for approximately two hours. Once across and at the San Ysidro trolley stop, it was 9:25 am, I was not going to make it to class on time. I still had to take the trolley and then a bus to campus. Tickets can be bought at the trolly kiosk. A day pass costs five dollars plus two more dollars if you do not have a Compass Pass. The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System’s trolley comes every 15 minutes to the San Ysidro stop. Four stops from the border is where I got off, Palomar Trolly station. Luckily the 712 bus east to Southwestern College had not departed, I hoped on.
Before I knew it the bus had gotten to Southwestern College. It took roughly 45 minutes to travel the 10 miles from the San Ysidro port of entry to the Southwestern College campus and more than double that to cross via the General population line into the United States. More than two hours to travel the length of a couple of football fields, and that was on a good day. I ended up being 25 minutes late to class.