Adventures in Tijuana

By Maria Weeks 07/24/14

I also took a dervish delight in the huge spurt of adrenaline I’d get when a border patrol cop would say: “Thank you,” and wave me through.


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I had my first margarita when I was thirteen in Tijuana, Mexico. But that was back in the hedonistic eighties; when cocaine was being glamorized on the cover of Time magazine, when AIDS was still called GRID, and Gordon Gecko’s “Greed is Good” statement was considered sound rationale.

When my older brother would take us down to surf in Ensenada, about forty miles down the coast from TJ, we’d invariably get stopped by the Federales. They would always check the truck and usually find our marijuana. But this was par for the course. Some would threaten us with jail, but more often than not, nothing was said . . . we’d just fork over twenty bucks or so, and be on our way.

Then in the nineties, I used to drive down there to get my Vicodin, Adderall, Oxy, Xanax. Even though it is illegal to sell narcotics in Mexico without a prescription, many do. So I’d get my stuff, drive away, and then, not infrequently, a Federale would pull me over for a traffic violation. I will admit I’m a diabolically bad driver - even by Californian standards.

I never hid the drugs because when you make them go to the trouble of tearing your car apart (and believe me they will), they tend to get a little irritated. Better to just play dumb and act like you didn’t know it was a crime to buy narcotics in Mexico. I’d say in my poor Spanglish: "Eh? La farmacia hablar no necesito, uh, prescriptiones. Pardo nome. Yo no comprendo law. Por favor, officer." They’d usually answer how “muy malo” it was to not have a prescription, and that I’d have to follow them back to the jail house. That would be my cue to attempt to cry with great sincerity. . .(yeah right) while pulling out forty bucks or so. . .

Finally, I decided to just play it cool and get prescriptions from Mexican doctors. I mean the cost was the same: forty bucks. And it was added insurance—just in case I ran into a Federale that might refuse my money and really take me to jail. The prescriptions also proved useful for crossing the border. Now, instead of having to lie to border cops, you could freely show them what you had, along with your Mexican script.

Then about ten years ago, they changed the law, allowing prescription drugs to be purchased only with an American script. However, one customs official told me: “If a guy isn’t aware of the new law, and brings back prescription drugs with a Mexican script, we usually just seize ‘em. But if we want to be jerks about it, yep, right. . .we can put ‘em in jail.”

In fact, many San Diegans were outraged to hear on the news one day about the poor old man that got caught with antibiotics and a Mexican script. Customs decided to make an example of him by putting him in Jail.

So then I decided I’d better walk across the border because I heard customs were a lot cooler to pedestrians, and rarely made them go to secondary.

I’d usually buy two eighty milligram OxyContin for forty dollars, one thirty milligram Adderall for ten dollars, and about five Xanax for a buck a piece.

After an intolerably stressful week, or getting bad news, Mexico was the place I’d go to get away from San Diego and my life. Not a bad life mind you; I just liked stepping out of it. I also took a dervish delight in the huge spurt of adrenaline I’d get when a border patrol cop would say: “Thank you,” and wave me through. I’d be out of that door and back in San Diego, feeling irrepressible joy, dying to do an Irish jig!

Some might ask: “Why all the hassle? Why didn’t you just get a script from an American doctor? You had insurance.” And the truth be told, yes, I most certainly could have gotten any of these. . .I’ll be the first to admit I can be a prodigious liar; later on, I became an expert doctor shopper, but that is another story. Call it self-preservation but I just instinctively knew if I had a big bottle at home, I’d be downing them like a dog that gets into a bag of treats. This way, I could enjoy the occasional buzz without becoming physically dependent on drugs.

I’d always be greeted with a happy grin by the entire Mexican family running the pharmacy—they seemed to have an odd affection for me—this overly-adventurous solitary woman, donning a business suit, showing an immense interest in their baby. They just didn’t get people like me in their pharmacy—they were used to dealing with disheveled, hollowed-eyed, furtive types.

Most everyone has heard about the shocking violence of the TJ drug cartels in 2007—of civilians getting gunned down in broad daylight. This had a profound impact on the TJ economy. Pre-cartel violence, Americanos thronged the streets. Tourist shops would proudly display their sombreros, sandals, statues, silver jewelry, and Mexican peasant dresses. But, now, TJ had become a dystopian world of grim silent space, bordered-up shops, and bedraggled beggars.

But even though the tourists stopped coming, I still went down there. I’d get my drugs, pop them, and then go next door to the taco shop outside. Waiting for the drugs to take effect, I’d order some tacos and joke around with the waiters. Probably to assuage my discomfort and guilt for illegally “buying drugs,” I’d try and counteract it by infusing some much needed dollars into TJ’s beleaguered economy. I’d tip them generously, buy tons of fifty-cent trinkets for five bucks a piece, and would give the beggars all told, about fifty bucks. But then again, I had money at the time. That always makes being generous so easy.

Flash forward three years later to 2010 and things were different. Now, the cartel had been crushed, the violence and murders halted, but it didn’t matter. People were still afraid to come down. What a sad plight for TJers. I did my best to convince anyone who would listen that TJ was statistically safer than many American cities, but to no avail. The die had already been cast...

And, another thing: inexplicably, after all these years of moderate drinking, and my once-a-month drug habit, I became an alcoholic. Just. Like. That.

I’d been fired from a job. And it really sucks when it’s a job you put an epic effort into. You can’t blame it on “having a bad ‘tude,” or being lazy. No! I got fired for incompetence and that hurts! So, while driving home, crying, I decide for the first time ever that I’m gonna get drunk for as long as I want to. Little did I know this first-time bender would last three years.

I still to this day can’t fathom whatever got into me. I kept my drinking to two, maybe three drinks a night (and only when I went out; I never drank at home alone), for twenty years. Why I suddenly became a two-fifths-of-vodka-a-day drinker at the tender age of thirty-eight is unfathomable to me. Far worse shit than getting fired had happened to me—it just didn’t make sense. I didn’t even like getting drunk—I thought it was a “sloppy high,” to quote the late Lenny Bruce.

Now, I’d go down to Mexico to buy Oxy just to soothe hangovers. But I was no longer nicely dressed. Even though I still had money, I dressed like a homeless person. And I still gave money to the beggars - but only after I got my fix, never before.

Once I was wearing filthy, ripped-up sweat pants and was so drunk, customs led me over in handcuffs to secondary. They wanted to do a strip search; I told them I had my period. They said, no matter, we’re doing it anyway. But, luckily, when I pulled out my tampon, I pulled the drugs out too and put them in the trash can. Thank god they didn’t bother to check . . . Phew!

I finally got sober. I don’t go down to TJ anymore for recreational drugs, but I will always have fond memories of the people south of the border. They never judged me, and they treated me like an “amiga.” I’m sure y’all will say, “Well, it’s ‘cause you were buying from them.” But nah, they could be very cold to the quintessential “Ugly American.” You know, the type that made it patently clear they were “slumming it” down in TJ, and demanded to be treated like kings and queens.

And I have to say: I miss going down to Mexico! I miss the people: their easy way and generous spirit. All you had to do was treat them with respect and kindness, and you could see their impenetrable politeness evaporate, and then they’d want to give you the world.

But more importantly, I want to impart to you: if you were alcohol dependent but have chosen to moderate instead of quitting altogether, be careful. I don’t agree with some of AA’s views, but one I unequivocally do is: “Alcohol: cunning, powerful, and baffling.”

Maria lived in Japan for 12 years, and upon returning, worked at Sony Electronics in San Diego as a translator.  She’s now attending college to be a AOD counselor and does volunteer work at the Ethridge center teaching aerobics and counseling clients.

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Maria Weeks lived in Japan for 12 years, worked as a translator for Sony in San Diego, then sold Jaguars (though her sales license was revoked due to a DUI). She got sober by going to a great rehab, and is now stocking shelves. She is happily married and thoroughly enjoying recovery!