The last leg of the trip from Tucson to Nogales, Mexico is marked in kilometers, rather than miles. Most people park their cars in one of the parking lots just outside Mexico and walk across. A thick line of us waited to enter the gates for passage. There is an invisible line, but I feel it. Like a device out of science fiction, once I cross that line, I'm in another world. The narrow streets are crowded with cars. The low hills are crowded with small buildings built randomly. There are no zoning laws, here, apparently.
"SOLO TURISMO", "ONLY TOURISTS", the small sign said. And, indeed, what little money this town makes must be due almost entirely due to the flood of Americanos flowing in and out daily.
Little streetside shops are scattered everywhere. Most have some sort of wooden shelter to make a wall on which to hang their wares and a little shade for the vendor. But even that isn't necessary. One entrepreneur neatly arranged his merchandise on the ground near a wall.
And it was the shops that were OUR visit's purpose, as well. Some times we've gone to get a stock of penicillin, or to pass the time. Once I even dickered with a saleman on a sterling silver rope chain. They start out quoting a price you'd expect to pay in the states. Feign disinterest, and the price goes down. I probably got the necklace for a third of the US price. But it was BOOKS we were after this time. The small Libreria, or bookstore, was one of the better shops, for it was housed in a real building.
The contents of some of the books might have been a mystery to me, but there was no mistaking what many of the small comic books were about!
I recognized the familiar yellow border on the spanish National Geographic. Some were books on health, one extolling the virtues of ginseng. There were cheap magazines similar to the National Enquirer. One featured a story on a man who used to be a woman.
"OPERACIONES, HORMONAS Y EJERCICIOS LOGRARON QUE OBTUVIERA ESTE CUERPO ATLETICO Y VARONIL."
Another featured an oriental man whose entire body was decorated with tattoos. An unusual percentage of the books were about religious matters. The windows and door of the shop were covered with posters. Some were of the Virgin de Guadelupe, while the door was particularily indicative of the general culture.
We didn't stay long, for the rather strong smell of car exhaust was giving Laura and Julia problems. So we hurried back out. There was a 'duty free' shop just on the American side, where expensive 'especial' Kahlua, and other liquors could be had more cheaply than in the states. But we were told we would have had to walk back into Mexico and go through the entrance back into the states to purchase some. We were all too tired to wait in another long line, so we found the parking lot where our car was, and got on the road towards home.
Shayna made special note of the oddly shaped cacti. One looked like a weary man leading over and resting his arms on his knee. 'Tired like us,' I joked.
© Joan Ann Lansberry, 1999
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