Dan was 18. Jorge was 17. They had a code. “Do you wanna go to Tijuana?” one of them would ask, and off they would go.
It was about a two and a half hour drive, but Jorge always made it in less than two.
There was a Del Taco on the way, and whenever they saw it Dan would begin a chant: “Del Taco! Del Taco! Del Taco!” he would hoot. Jorge would join in and veer off the freeway so that they could feast on bean and cheese burritos.
Back on the road they would brazenly drive through the border and park in a lot off of Avenida Revolucion because it was quicker than having to walk in from the US side.
On the street, they were greeted with young children begging them to buy “Chiclet! Chiclet!” They were small, dirty and skinny. Jorge spoke Spanish and would sometimes translate their cries. “That one just said if you don’t buy it, his dad will beat him.” Dan was a sucker for their sob stories, which were probably true. When he remembered, he made it point to bring a pocket full of nickels to hand out to them.
It was their ritual to start at the western end of the avenue and peruse for bars they had not yet seen. They usually started with a round of margaritas, then moved onto whatever moved them. They had no real experience with alcohol so they would order whatever drinks they had heard about on TV or in films. Sex on the beach, white russian, tequila sunrise, grasshopper, hurricane, harvey wallbanger, cosmopolitan, martini, long island iced tea, mai tai, pina colada, vodka sour, tom collins, melonball, salty dog, mudslide, jack and coke, seven and seven, white wine spritzer, sea breeze, etc. At 1-2 dollars a drink, 20 dollars was all they needed to get suitably hammered.
It was a wonder they were never picked up by the police. In fact, they were only stopped one time. Jorge had drifted out of the parking lot to go the wrong way on a one way street. The policia flashed his lights and pulled them over. “He says he will have to take us to jail,” Jorge was shaking. Jorge offered him a twenty dollar bill. “He says it’s not enough.” Dan had a pocket full of twenties, a five and some ones. He drew out the five and ones and handed it over. The policeman’s brow furrowed noticeably. “Tell him it’s all I have,” Dan whispered. Jorge hesitantly translated. “Get out of here, and don’t come back,” the policeman said in clear perfect English.
There was a homeless man they always saw on the avenue. His hair and beard were matted. His clothes were stained dark brown. One time they came and he was walking naked down the street, mumbling to himself. Jorge tried to hear what he said, but he could not get close enough. Even without shoes, the man was a fast runner.
Then there was the time they happened upon a weathered old man and woman. There were two small children clinging to them with frightened eyes. “He says his grandchildren’s parents are dead,” Jorge stammered. “He wants you to buy his children.” They ended up cutting that visit short.
The last time they went was before Dan was going to start college in the Fall. The plan was to stay a couple of nights and to travel down to Ensenada. The land seemed desolate and empty on the way. Emaciated burros lined the highway. Squashed chickens littered the street. Ensenada was even more rundown than Tijuana.
Dan wanted to eat some lobster so they found a restaurant and ordered. They started drinking, and their waiter took an interest in them. “He says he can show us a some fun places,” Jorge told Dan. “He says he has a house in Acapulco and he wants us to come visit him.” The fact that he was a waiter in a dive bar obviously contradicted this, but Dan and Jorge were much too naive to see this. He made plans to meet up with Dan and Jorge after work.
The waiter brought them to a fancy bar where he insisted that they order gin and tonics. “Tastes horrible,” Dan spat but continued drinking. Then Dan was drunk enough to get a stupid idea. He wanted to go to a strip club, because he had never been to one before. “Tell him to find one that has girls with big breasts,” Dan laughed.
The waiter, who had become much more solemn, lead them down a back alley. There was a group of men clambering around a naked woman. She was dancing with a smile on her face, her body covered in rolls of flesh. It was not the kind of thing Dan had envisioned. He ran out of there and threw up on the street.
The gin and tonics were effecting Dan deeply. He gave a haphazard speech which drunk Jorge eagerly translated. It went something like: “It’s wrong for your people to live this way. I am for your people. I believe things need to change, and now. I want to find a way to make things better for you. No one should have to live this way.”
The waiter was not impressed. He told them he was tired and had to go. He quickly left them alone in that alleyway.
Suddenly a large man came up to them followed by several others. “He says we have to give him money,” Jorge said almost sadly. “Or else.” So they gave them men a couple of twenty dollar bills and went to find their car.
Jorge was even more wasted than Dan so by default Dan became the driver. It was the worst drive of his life. At the border they were stopped and the car searched. Thankfully the only bottles of alcohol they had were stuffed in Jorge’s pants. On the freeway home, Dan had to pull over every twenty minutes so that Jorge could open the door and throw up on the road. It was a ghastly business, and the sun was dawning by the time they finally got home.
Dan got up around noon and vomited about a gallon of liquid. He passed out in his bed and didn’t get up until the next day. He would not drink again until his 21st birthday, and on that day to the disappointment of friends he would not even get drunk.
Jorge on the other hand would not stop, and eventually moved on to harder substances. Maybe seeing Jorge suffer was the reason he lost interest.
Whatever it’s cause, the luster of alcohol was gone. It seemed more dangerous, even destructive, then anything else. As he got older, Dan became more and more aware of how lucky he was to be alive. He had done so many stupid things, all in the name of getting drunk and supposedly having fun. It was not who he was, he liked to think. But then he also knew it was him who had done it all.