Go Easy in the Boulevard

trafficThe last thing the police officer said was in English, sort of.

“You, go easy in the boulevard.”

My brother nodded vigorously.

I continued looking vaguely out the windshield at the traffic passing by.

Like many teenagers in the 70s, we sometimes took Dad to work so we could use the car.

Work just happened to be in another country.

We lived in south San Diego. He managed an electronics assembly plant in Tijuana.

In short order, the handful of border crossing guards became familiar with the two teenagers heading north, from Mexico into the US, at 7 am. This, lest you miss the point, is an unusual travel situation, usually connected with nefarious goings-on.

The downtown cops never got the memo.

Talking about what we were going to do that day, my brother lost track of our speed.

Do not speed in Tijuana. Especially not with California license plates. Most especially not if you’re young enough to look like a couple sailors from the Navy base heading north after a night of heaven knows what kinds of misbehavior.

The officer, leaning toward the window, spoke too quickly for me to understand. Okay, not really. Back then my Spanish was just fine.

My brother either knew less than I thought, or panicked. He kept looking at me, then at the officer.

I said, “Despacio.” It means “slow.” I mumbled it so only my brother could hear it. I thought if he got the officer to slow down, he could understand him.

I didn’t want to understand him.

My brother caught the word “license” so he took it out and gave it to the policeman, who turned it over, frowning; frowning, in fact, a great big Mexican police officer frown. He handed it back, pointed up the street, and said something else my brother didn’t understand.

Through the whole conversation he kept saying “Despacio?” like it was a question, and the officer was saying yes, you should have been driving slower.

After a routine not nearly as amusing as “Who’s On First?” the officer finally sighed, shoulders slumped, and said, “You, go easy in the boulevard.”

More vigorous nodding. Lots of it.

He went to his car and left. We didn’t move until after he’d passed us.

“Why did he look at the back of my license?” my brother asked.

“That’s where you’re supposed to tuck the bribe.” I have no idea why I knew more about the seamy underside of Tijuana than he did. I wasn’t even old enough to drive. I was just riding along, fer cryin’ out loud.

“Oh.”

After a moment’s silence, he was still curious. “What was that last thing he said, when he was pointing?”

I was rigid, still looking straight ahead.

“He wanted us to follow him to the jail. Dad says if you can’t pay the speeding ticket, they take your car and sell it. And you go to jail.”

Maybe things have changed these days, I don’t know, but in 1974, the Tijuana jail was famous for being a place nobody wanted to be, ever, even briefly, not that, per the rumors, anyone was ever there briefly.

I kept my eyes straight ahead, and we went easy in the boulevard.

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