I went to Mexico recently for a modeling job--a catalog shoot. I was told to "walk" across the border into Tijuana where a driver would be waiting to take me to the location. I asked tons of questions, thinking this must be a bizarre and complicated thing to do. I couldn't have been more wrong. When you enter the U.S. from any international trip, there are forms to fill out (how many farms and/or livestock operations did you visit while in-country----riiight), passports to check and stamp, and facial recognition software that is hard at work on your cheekbones the minute you enter the immigration building in the airport terminal. You are named....counted....documented. Ok.
I parked in a secure lot 100 yards from the "end of the line", followed a small stream of people who were all headed in the general direction of "the fence", double-checked that I had my passport, and passed through a turn-style, wondering where to go next. It was at this moment that I realized......I was in Mexico. That's it, a vertical turn-style--- the kind that propels you onto the street from the subway like cake batter off the end of a mixer, and I was in Mexico. No one asked my name, my business, how long I would be staying, and certainly no one checked my passport to see who the heck I was or to take a peek at what I might be carrying. Really strange. Completely and utterly undocumented. Ok.
I worked all day at a gorgeous studio and marveled at the modernity of Tijuana. It was definitely not the trash-strewn disaster from all the 1990s teen flicks with Spanish Fly-seeking college students yacking in the shadowy corners, although I suspect there may have been a few lurking in some of the primary-colored cantinas nearby. I'm also certain that I did not see the worst that this town has to offer, but if the pitiful children begging for change along the sidewalks was any indication, I wasn't anxious to see much more. It bulges with 2 million people, many of whom routinely travel back and forth across the border weekly if not daily, living and working.
My work done for the day, I was transported in style back to the border. The pedestrian traffic was fairly light, and the lines weren't too terribly long, but my entry back into the US was quite the less pleasant experience than my morning turn-style twirl. The strange cell signal icon that had plagued me with international-roaming-charge-fear-factor all day long was finally replaced by the weak and horrible, yet pleasantly familiar, "E" of my AT&T service, and I anxiously called my boyfriend to let him know that I was alive. Almost instantly, I was blinded by the Japanese anime, seizure-inducing strobe of an 8 kabillion candle-power flashlight in my eyes, accompanied by a U.S. border guard yelling over the crowd at me to hang up--NOW. About 200 sets of eyes all whipped to me. I was floored. I hadn't seen any signs that said no phones, but I was not about to argue with the laser beams destroying my retinas. My fellow line-standers gave me a nervous look that said "don't make them angry. You won't like them when they're angry." Blue spots still plaguing my vision, I apologized to the same guard when I got closer. He looked at me like I was an idiot and angrily pointed me toward the next booth. After a much warmer looking, grandfatherly fellow scanned my passport, I asked where to go next, and he angrily spat out, "Gee, following the people who are exiting would probably be a good idea," with an eye roll worthy of the Honeymooners and disgust at my foolish question. I mean, really? I felt like saying, "Hey, guys-- Lose the 'tude. You work for me," but thought better of it. Suddenly there was a ruckus to my left, eliciting a collective gasp from my compadres still in line and freezing the air in the room as a detainee started loudly yacking into a trash can, hands cuffed behind his back. Too much Spanish Fly? Ok. A quick x-ray of my backpack and I was back in squeaky clean, suburban San Diego, literally steps from an outlet mall. Liz Claiborne. Crate & Barrel. Talk about "The Gap". Surreal.