Border Crossing

With summer full upon us, I have pulled out all my summer straw hats. One I picked up as an emergency hat. I’ve squished it into a suitcase, sat on it, and abused it in other fashions for years, but it’s still a great plain soft straw hat. Another one is a broad brim straw hat with a plain black band I acquired in Old Town Sacramento to complete my 1860s costume. It’s a great hat, but without the hat pin, it blows off at the slightest provocation. The cream of the crop is a fine two-toned, straw hat with green and grey cords, peach-colored flowers, and an extra wide brim. This one came from Tijuana, Mexico.

I was fifteen or sixteen when my parents took me across the border for a day trip in Tijuana. My memory of this trip is fuzzy, but punctuated with sharp images of intense emotion. I vaguely remember booths and lots of lanes of cars, even by California standards, for crossing south, but lots of lines of people for crossing north. While we drove down, we had to leave our car somewhere along the border. All the tourists were funneled on foot onto the main drag, which was glitzy enough to rival Las Vegas. Shop owners stood on the sidewalk outside their stores to entice the US currency from our pocket to theirs.

I squinted at the glare and cringed at the solicitous fawning. After we visited several shops, my Dad asked a proprietor where he could find a CD of a particular kind of music. The proprietor gave us directions to a shop several blocks away from the main road. As soon as we stepped into the first side street, all the glitz and glamour vanished. Instead, we found blocks of small, plain adobe or stucco houses. The contrast turned my stomach.

The honest plainness of these blocks soothed my eyes, while throwing into sharp relief the fashionable begging of the tourist trap we temporarily left. I was surprised we were given directions that went outside the trap. I wondered how many tourists crossed that invisible line.

Though most of these buildings looked the same, we were able to locate the music shop without incident. My Dad found what he wanted and we went back the way we came. Not long after we returned to the border to cross back to the US.

We had to stay in a waiting area either for our car or for our turn to go through the border crossing. While there, my Mom had me try on hats for sale at a small kiosk. I suspect this was in part to distract me from the physical reaction I was having to the contrasts we saw and in part to encourage me to get a souvenir from this excursion. Having a weakness for hats, I ended up with a beautifully-crafted straw hat that I still wear for special summer occasions.