Border crossing

How long do I have to stare at these palm trees?

As you approach Laredo, Texas, on I-35, a camera photographs your vehicle. If you look to the left, you will see the checkpoint where you will have to stop and answer some questions to U.S. government personnel dressed in military uniforms on the way back home. They may inspect your vehicle to see what you’re transporting. This makes for an intimidating encounter with the authorities for an ordinary citizen like me. I’ve crossed the border three times in the last year and it doesn’t get any easier with each crossing. Each time is just as intimidating as the last. Yet, I plan to cross the border several more times.

When I travel south to Mexico, I’m an anomaly. I drive a compact car while everyone else seems to drive these huge gas-guzzling SUVs or pickups fully loaded with American goods such as stoves, washers, dryers, and who knows what else. Many of them also have a rooftop luggage carrier, a carrier that attaches to the rear bumper, and a little trailer. More often that not, all the vehicles bear California or Texas license plates. And they usually travel in caravans.

In Mexico, I drive a little above the speed limit at 120 km/h. I don’t want to attract any undue attention. However, I think I do because I am often passed by these caravans as if I were standing still. I always look into the passing vehicles, but no one ever looks back or even acknowledges my existence. We are all in our own little coccoons trying not to attract attention from the Mexican authorities or criminals.

At the border, being bilingual is an asset.

Coming back to the U.S. is also quite interesting. Suddenly, all these caravans that were rushing to Mexico are now rushing back to the U.S. And most are still just as loaded, but with Mexican goods and products for the return trip. Usually, it takes about an hour to cross the border back into the U.S. But when I crossed on January 2, 2009, I had to wait about nine hours to reach Laredo. Everyone was returning to the U.S. after the holidays at about the same time. I was about two miles from the border when the traffic suddenly came to a standstill. I hadn’t expected to see so much traffic. We moved a few feet every few minutes. I had a lot of time to look around at my surroundings. I took a picture of the palm trees with Christmas lights with my iPhone. Then, I noticed all the vehicles that were approaching the border. I think the average American would be surprised by this huge onslaught of Mexicans entering the U.S. Yes, me, too. I don’t mean me as surprised, but rather as another Mexican constituting the onslaught.

As I looked at the license plates, I noticed that they were from all over the U.S. I saw plates from Alabama, Arizona, Iowa, California, Texas, Nevada, Oklahoma, Missouri, Oregon, Florida, Illinois, Ohio, Utah, North Carolina, South Carolina, Indiana, Nebraska, Virginia, Wisconsin, Colorado, Georgia, Tennessee, and Arkansas. I’m sure that there were other states represented, but I didn’t get to see them. All the occupants of these vehicles were Mexicans of all shapes, sizes, and colors. And I assume that everyone had documentation to enter the U.S. otherwise they would not be attempting to enter at U.S. Customs checkpoint. I also saw one car with Ontario license plates, but they didn’t look Mexican. Neither did the people in the BMW SUV with what I thought were German license plates.

At first, I was bothered by the fact that I had to wait for so long. Then, I just made the best of the situation and took pictures, wrote down the states of the license plates, read my blogs on my iPhone, and took catnaps whenever possible. I arrive in Nuevo Laredo at about 9:00 pm, but didn’t reach Laredo until 6:30 am! Good thing I had gotten plenty of sleep the previous few nights. I know the next time I go to Mexico, I’ll make it a point not to return to America too soon after New Year’s Day in order to avoid all the traffic. Live and learn.

Finally! I'm in the USA!