San Ysidro Saturday Night

by Andy Griffin

www.mariquita.com

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It was Saturday night. Mario carefully tucked a stiff pair of new jeans into a plastic garbage bag, along with a tooled leather belt with a large silver buckle, a fancy, silk cowboy shirt with pearl buttons, and a pair of black high heeled cowboy boots.

“Remember,” he told his wife, Josefina, “look them in the eye. We forgot our I.D. at home. We’re just going out for a drink.”

Josefina had to giggle at that. She was barely twenty-one. Besides, she knew that women in the states might go drink in bars with men, but she never would. Neither she nor her young husband even drank liquor at home. What an expensive habit. Josefina was scared. As she waited she checked again to see that her own package was well-sealed and secure in the little day pack she carried, and yes, with a towel too.

In a few minutes a van would come to pick them up. The coyote had already been paid half, $325 in cash, for each one of them. They would pay the balance when they reached the sewer hole. This was crossing the border on the cheap. They would have to run crouching through Tijuana’s storm sewers into San Ysidro on the other side. Someone would be there to guide them to the right manhole, but after they crawled out onto the streets they’d be on their own. Mario had done this before. His Tio Raúl would be waiting for them in a restaurant.

There was a rap on the door. It had been dark when Mario and Josefina had arrived at this house, and it was dark when they left. Ten people crowded into the van. When the vehicle stopped on a quiet street there were at least ten more people already waiting in the night. A man pulled open a grate to the storm sewer, motioned with a flashlight, and dropped into the hole. One by one the people followed. It was damp in the sewer, with a half an inch of standing water. Their splashes made a ringing echo in the huge concrete pipe. No one needed to be told to be silent. Once everybody was down and the grate closed behind them, the coyote set out.

For fifteen minutes a single file of people grunted, panted, and swished their way down the pipe. The drainpipe made a confluence with a bigger pipe. Occasional smaller tributary pipes dripped from above. Mario and Josefina stopped with a bump. Their guide turned off his flashlight, and everyone else did as well. They listened. Josefina could hear a soft clicking. Mario was already unbuttoning his work shirt. A grinding sound announced the removal of the man-hole cover. “Andale,” hissed the coyote.

The first traveler hoisted himself out of the hole. Mario and Josefina were at the back of the pack. “It’s better that way,” Mario had told her. As the others exited, Mario stripped off his old shirt, scuffed off his tennis shoes, and stepped out of pants, leaving it all behind soaking in the water on the floor of the pipe. Mario scrambled out of the sewer naked except for his underwear, clutching at his garbage bag. He turned and reached a hand down to Josefina and pulled her up to the street.

They were in a shadowed alley, but hardly alone. From the glow thrown by street lamps on the busy thoroughfare thirty yards off, Mario and Josefina could see at least twenty-five people pressed up against a wall, waiting to break for the bright streets. This was ridiculous. It was going to look like a bus had just disgorged an entire village. But Mario was already tearing at his bag. Josefina remembered their plans and grabbed for the towel in her pack. She dropped to her knees and dried Mario’s feet and calves quickly. His shirt was already on. He pulled on his pants, slipped socks onto dry feet, tugged at his boots, and buckled his belt.

Josefina slipped between Mario and the wall. He turned to shield her, and she stripped out of her travel clothes and changed into a dress. Snap, snap went two earrings .Josefina had removed what little jewelry she had before she reached Tijuana to avoid attention from the border city’s aggressive rateros. They’d cut your ear off for a pearl. Mario wadded her clothes in her pack and tossed the bundle in a dumpster. Josefina drew a brush from her little purse, made quick strokes through her long black hair, and pinned it up. Mario passed a comb through his short, stiff hair and pocketed it. The other travelers had already run for it. With a quick breath Mario and Josefina stepped out of the alley onto the sidewalk of a busy, wide boulevard.

Two men pushed out of a bar, half-falling, half-laughing. Ahead, at an intersection, a traffic light turned yellow. Suddenly, two INS vehicles lunged out of the side street onto the main drag, red and blue lights flashing. Two agents jumped out of the van making a grab at a man on the sidewalk. His pants were wet from the knees down. San Ysidro is on the edge of the Sonoran desert, and there hadn’t been rain for a month. The man did not resist. Two more agents appeared dragging a man with wet cuffs from a cantina.

Mario put his arm around his beautiful young wife and pulled her close. The two of them paused for a moment, looking directly at the Immigration officers as they stuffed their captives into the crowded van with the bars on the windows. The traffic light turned green. Mario and Josefina stepped around the watching crowd. With la Migra’s flashing red and blue lights glinting on Mario’s belt buckle and twinkling in his pearl buttons, the young couple crossed the street and walked into America on a San Ysidro Saturday nightSan Ysidro Saturday Night

It was Saturday night. Mario carefully tucked a stiff pair of new jeans into a plastic garbage bag, along with a tooled leather belt with a large silver buckle, a fancy, silk cowboy shirt with pearl buttons, and a pair of black high heeled cowboy boots.

“Remember,” he told his wife, Josefina, “look them in the eye. We forgot our I.D. at home. We’re just going out for a drink.”

Josefina had to giggle at that. She was barely twenty-one. Besides, she knew that women in the states might go drink in bars with men, but she never would. Neither she nor her young husband even drank liquor at home. What an expensive habit. Josefina was scared. As she waited she checked again to see that her own package was well-sealed and secure in the little day pack she carried, and yes, with a towel too.

In a few minutes a van would come to pick them up. The coyote had already been paid half, $325 in cash, for each one of them. They would pay the balance when they reached the sewer hole. This was crossing the border on the cheap. They would have to run crouching through Tijuana’s storm sewers into San Ysidro on the other side. Someone would be there to guide them to the right manhole, but after they crawled out onto the streets they’d be on their own. Mario had done this before. His Tio Raúl would be waiting for them in a restaurant.

There was a rap on the door. It had been dark when Mario and Josefina had arrived at this house, and it was dark when they left. Ten people crowded into the van. When the vehicle stopped on a quiet street there were at least ten more people already waiting in the night. A man pulled open a grate to the storm sewer, motioned with a flashlight, and dropped into the hole. One by one the people followed. It was damp in the sewer, with a half an inch of standing water. Their splashes made a ringing echo in the huge concrete pipe. No one needed to be told to be silent. Once everybody was down and the grate closed behind them, the coyote set out.

For fifteen minutes a single file of people grunted, panted, and swished their way down the pipe. The drainpipe made a confluence with a bigger pipe. Occasional smaller tributary pipes dripped from above. Mario and Josefina stopped with a bump. Their guide turned off his flashlight, and everyone else did as well. They listened. Josefina could hear a soft clicking. Mario was already unbuttoning his work shirt. A grinding sound announced the removal of the man-hole cover. “Andale,” hissed the coyote.

The first traveler hoisted himself out of the hole. Mario and Josefina were at the back of the pack. “It’s better that way,” Mario had told her. As the others exited, Mario stripped off his old shirt, scuffed off his tennis shoes, and stepped out of pants, leaving it all behind soaking in the water on the floor of the pipe. Mario scrambled out of the sewer naked except for his underwear, clutching at his garbage bag. He turned and reached a hand down to Josefina and pulled her up to the street.

They were in a shadowed alley, but hardly alone. From the glow thrown by street lamps on the busy thoroughfare thirty yards off, Mario and Josefina could see at least twenty-five people pressed up against a wall, waiting to break for the bright streets. This was ridiculous. It was going to look like a bus had just disgorged an entire village. But Mario was already tearing at his bag. Josefina remembered their plans and grabbed for the towel in her pack. She dropped to her knees and dried Mario’s feet and calves quickly. His shirt was already on. He pulled on his pants, slipped socks onto dry feet, tugged at his boots, and buckled his belt.

Josefina slipped between Mario and the wall. He turned to shield her, and she stripped out of her travel clothes and changed into a dress. Snap, snap went two earrings .Josefina had removed what little jewelry she had before she reached Tijuana to avoid attention from the border city’s aggressive rateros. They’d cut your ear off for a pearl. Mario wadded her clothes in her pack and tossed the bundle in a dumpster. Josefina drew a brush from her little purse, made quick strokes through her long black hair, and pinned it up. Mario passed a comb through his short, stiff hair and pocketed it. The other travelers had already run for it. With a quick breath Mario and Josefina stepped out of the alley onto the sidewalk of a busy, wide boulevard.

Two men pushed out of a bar, half-falling, half-laughing. Ahead, at an intersection, a traffic light turned yellow. Suddenly, two INS vehicles lunged out of the side street onto the main drag, red and blue lights flashing. Two agents jumped out of the van making a grab at a man on the sidewalk. His pants were wet from the knees down. San Ysidro is on the edge of the Sonoran desert, and there hadn’t been rain for a month. The man did not resist. Two more agents appeared dragging a man with wet cuffs from a cantina.

Mario put his arm around his beautiful young wife and pulled her close. The two of them paused for a moment, looking directly at the Immigration officers as they stuffed their captives into the crowded van with the bars on the windows. The traffic light turned green. Mario and Josefina stepped around the watching crowd. With la Migra’s flashing red and blue lights glinting on Mario’s belt buckle and twinkling in his pearl buttons, the young couple crossed the street and walked into America on a San Ysidro Saturday night

Copyright 2005 Andy Griffin

www.mariquita.com