We were coming back from my stepdaughter’s wedding in Mexico.
It was Sunday. Around 2pm.
She had told us the smartest places to cross the border. But I lost that information in a pile of confusion from the three days proceeding.
So we headed due north for Tijuana on our way to San Diego.
As places to cross go, not the best idea.
I was driving. I had arranged for the car insurance required for Mexico, so was the only one permitted to drive. Gordon rode shotgun. Lily was supine in the back seat, reliving the continuous consumption of her sister’s wedding.
The traffic stopped.
We had no idea why. We were on a four-lane highway. Miles from crossing the border.
Cars slowly shuffled ahead.
Eventually, a little action. People walking down the road. In the middle. Along the sides. Chatting with the residents of the cars.
And then… we saw it.
A taco stand in the middle of the highway. With two ears of corn grilling on the front panel.
More people walking down the road. Carrying green drinks on trays.
Weren’t we on a 4-lane highway?
Where did these people come from? How were they going to get home for supper? Where did they park?
A blinding swath of fabric unfurled in front of me. Covering the hood of our SUV. A blanket with an edge-to-edge image of Frida Kahlo. Whoa. The unfurler came to my window. He knew we wanted the blanket. It was only a matter of price.
To the right, a small boy stood on the shoulders of a taller boy. Juggling. And then passing his top hat.
A wall-size wooden relief of the Last Supper wandered by Gordon’s window.
I had a half tank of gas when I started this sit-in. I was now down to a quarter. Not good.
A large man with a large beard held two golden retriever puppies under his beard. He passed them from car to car. Hoping someone would be smitten in their sedentary state and forget that it might be a tad difficult to get an unpapered puppy across the border. Heck we couldn’t even get three papered American humans across.
I’ve heard so much about the atrocities of crossing the US border. Refugees lined up in cages. Children being tugged away. Armed men in camo wear. Is this what I was waiting for? Is this what was holding everything up?
Or was it this moving retail bazaar?
A cheese plate wafted by on the right. Next to me a man had a long metal rack of shoes resting on the hood of a Toyota Camry. The driver was checking out a pair of hushpuppies on the end.
Traffic was three lanes wide now.
The vendors were everywhere.
The trunk of the Chevy SUV in front of us sprung open. An entire family carrying what looked like four brightly colored children’s desks attempted to wedge them into the too small opening.
Entrepreneurial children collected garbage in large green hefty sacks. From car to car. Rewarded as they went.
We were on an eighth of a tank now and two and a half hours in.
My daughter shifted positions in the back. My husband needed a bathroom.
A team of five hip-hoppers staged a show two cars in front of us. With boom box. Impressive one-handed gymnastics.
Gordon had been handing out money to people without limbs that had rolled by. He had just run out of bills. He closed his window.
A white string hammock was held up and swung over our car by two burley hammock sellers.
A wooden stand selling shellfish in large clear glasses loomed in front of us. Tendrils and body parts of octopi were handed out. Each with a long pink teaspoon.
And more green drinks.
And then, I finally thought I saw it ahead.
The road widened into a tunnel of retail shelves for us to drive through. Pottery, paintings, posters. Stone turtles with handles. Watermelons. Foot-long crullers. An outdoor bazaar of everything you could possibly want. And in the distance, if you squinted your eyes, the gates of the border. San Ysidro Port of Entry.
We were just above empty. My husband saw a ten peso bano sign and sprinted for it. My daughter reshifted herself.
There were no refugees. No cages. Just shopping weary Americans trying to get home.
We passed thru inspection without incident. We had been trapped in retail highway hell for three and a half hours.
When we got to our hotel in San Diego we found Donald Trump had just left. Just the person we didn’t want to see.
Would a little traveling retail therapy have woken him up to the ridiculousness of his well-tweeted border chaos?
Or would he just have wanted to build a very large wall around it?