Old Hippie posted a story about Zona Norte elsewhere and it reminded me of what we called Zona Roja years ago

Baja Bernie - 9-14-2007 at 06:38 PM

This story is from my last Baja Book

Asi es la Vida
(That’s Life)

It was one of those days that us American *******s travel hundreds of miles to find. A slight breeze blowing off the Pacific Ocean to compliment the 85º wonderful sunny day with not a cloud in the sky. A killer of a day that brings tears to the eyes of the guys and gals down from Oregon, Washington State, or Canada.

Frenchy, the camp grump, was out on the road giving a couple of surfers a bad time when a slight Mexican kid entered the scene. He watched and listened quietly as Frenchy ended his one sided conversation. He then asked the Frenchman if he had any work. Frenchy, who spoke Italian and could get along easily in the Spanish language, listened for a few seconds. He never had any patience with anyone except his wife who was very important to Frenchy because like so many foreign residents of Baja he had traveled the world but didn’t have a pot of his own to pee in or a window to throw it out of. His wife totally controlled the purse strings.

Anyway! Frenchy grabbed a hoe and told the kid he would pay him ten dollars to weed the ‘community garden.’ Big spender! He would get his lousy ten bucks back from the community group.

The young guy started chopping weeds with gusto but a couple of hours later when Dick happened by he was reeling under the fierce noon day sun. Dick got him over to the side of a building and sat down with him and started asking him questions.

Funny! Dick was a retired United States Border Patrolman and the most proficient Spanish speaker in camp. He claimed to have learned the language from reading Mexican comic books (try it—it does work).

The kid, Salvador, told Dick that he had been looking for work for three days and had had nothing to eat or drink except for a glass of clam juice that a street vendor had given him in Ensenada sometime yesterday.

It was obvious that Salvador was starving so Dick went home and got his wife, Nancy, to fix a couple of sandwiches. With the sandwiches and a liter of soda he returned to find the kid trying his damnest to work in the garden.

Pulling him over into the shade Dick listened while Salvador wolfed down the sandwiches between taking large pulls on the bottle of soda. The kid told of having worked his way from Guaymas on a small freighter to Baja. They fed him okay but when they reached Mulegé the Captain forced him ashore without the wages he had been promised and without a peso in his pocket.

He laughed and said that it had only taken him about three months to work, walk and hitchhike his way to Ensenada. Most of the way he found ranchers who had no money to pay him but were happy to feed him and give him a place to sleep for his labor. Some of them even gave him ‘hand me down’ clothes and once he even got a pair of shoes. When he got near Ensenada he found that there were many more workers than there were jobs.

Dick and Salvador got along great. He stayed at Dick’s place and Dick got almost everyone in camp to give him a day or three of work. At that time it was expected—a tradition in Mexico—that you not only paid the working guys but that you also provided them with a noon day meal.

After a few weeks of work Salvador thanked every one and said that he was moving on to ‘Otra Lado’ (the other side) to get rich so he could go back to Sonora and help his Mom and Dad.

About thee months later he was back with hat in hand at Dick’s door step. At least this time he had a hat. They drank coffee as Salvador told him some of what he had seen and done since he had left camp.

He told of coming to the ‘Zona Roja’ that ran along the border fence. He spoke of the hard and vicious guys who preyed on the peones who were trying to cross over. He could not understand why if a guy had a lot of money the coyotes (people smugglers) would take them right across but if someone only had a little, like twenty pesos, they would be beaten or stabbed and robbed.

He even told of how a guy with new boots was kicked and beaten as they stole his boots. He mentioned the “Nasty Ladies” but said nothing of what they did to earn a living.
He spoke of working in bars where he was handed a five gallon plastic bucket and told to empty the septic tanks by hand.

They talked into the night of his experiences and how, when it became time for him to cross the border, that he became fearful and fled back south to safety.

Dick laughed and thanked him when he told of stopping at the La Playa in La Mision where he took off his clothes and scrubbed them clean in the surf. And that while they dried he cleansed himself with wet sand until he got the smell of Tijuana and the septic tanks off of his body. Tears came to his eyes when he explained that the smell would never be erased from his mind.

Salvador slept in Nancy and Dick’s garage and ate at their table for a few months as he worked all over the mesa. He saved the money he earned and moved to La Mision where he found a small house with a broken down van (the bedroom) attached.

He became a contratista (a contractor), got married and Dick and Nancy became godparents to ‘Ricardo’, Nancita and five other happy and secure kids.

This story was told to me over 20 years ago when Dick was in his cups. It was never mentioned again until I awoke in the middle of the night with the story running through my head.

I place it here before you to make of it what you will.

Oh! I should add that in his early years in camp Salvador and his family were helped by many of us gringos in a number of small ways. He never forgot and while he did not exclaim or even mention the help he was always ready to jump out of his truck and help whenever he saw that one of his gringo friends needed an extra hand.

As he left it was always with a laugh and a de nada (it’s nothing).
He could be counted on as a real good man on either side of the border.

Thinking on it I know that even though I have not seen Salvador for many years—if I needed help he would be right there with that large and wonderful smile on his face and more importantly, in his eyes.

Viva Vida!

jerry - 9-14-2007 at 07:01 PM

nice story Bernie thanks for sharing

Bruce R Leech - 9-14-2007 at 07:02 PM

nice story Bernie thanks