Los Angeles Revisited in 2007 - Page 2
As this page is quite lengthy covering the trip through San Diego and into Tijuana including some background information as we go along, I have subdivided this page for easy navigating. You can either read this page all the way through or jump to a specific section of this page.
On this page:
Today was a great day to do some serious freeway and historical exploration, this time to two cities that I could not accomplish during my trip to Los Angeles in 2003: San Diego and Tijuana.
After checking my emails and listening on my laptop to the Polka Party Express from WMNF on the Web for an hour (after all, when the polka show starts at 2 PM back home it's 11 AM in Los Angeles due to the time difference) I collected my trusty new digital camera and set out southbound on Interstate 405. About 45 minutes to an hour later I was on Interstate 5 south towards San Diego.
The San Diego area is no stranger to me. Back in 1978 my older brother was in the Navy and stationed at Camp Pendleton and one evening my mother got the telephone call stating that my older brother fell ill and we needed to be out there. After some careful deliberation we packed up the station wagon - an Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser - and drove out three days across the country via Interstates 75, 10 and 8 to San Diego and the short trip on Interstate 5 north to Camp Pendleton. We ended up staying on base at a guest house for about three months before my older brother was discharged from the Navy due to his condition.
The fact that we temporarily lived on base at Camp Pendleton didn't deter us from enjoying everything the San Diego area had to offer. A memoir of this three-month odyssey in 1978 is still at my home to this day in the form of a decorative plaster elephant that we purchased in Tijuana. Actually we purchased two of these plaster elephants but one of them unfortunately broke after so many years. During the three-month stay at Camp Pendleton my sister, my grandmother and myself ended up returning to St. Petersburg briefly by way of a Greyhound Bus, primarily for me to catch up on schoolwork among other things. However, when we got home from the bus my house was broken into and items were taken; the items were eventually returned and the perpetrators who did this were caught, thanks to the good work of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.
Driving on Interstate 5 south as I passed through Oceanside (the beach community that's just outside Camp Pendleton) really brought back the memories of 1978. After I passed the Oceanside Harbor Drive exit all of the town names - Encinitas, Leucadia, Escondido and Vista just to name a few - I was able to instantly recall as things were basically the same as it looked back then in 1978.
Further south a bypass of Interstate 5 as it passes through the San Diego area, Interstate 805, splits off to the east. However, I stayed on Interstate 5 south to check out the downtown San Diego area as I passed through. After passing Interstate 8 (which is a two-state east-west highway akin to Florida's Interstate 4 ending near Casa Grande, Arizona with a connection to transcontinental Interstate 10 and points east) and downtown San Diego I was on my way towards the international border with Mexico and Tijuana.
Once you get there at the international border you will encounter the community of San Ysidro, which is definitely an international community lined with plenty just before you go over the border into Tijuana. As I had a rental car and Alamo's rental contract prohibits taking the rental car into Mexico for any reason I had to park my car in one of the parking lots that line Camino de la Plaza, one of the main streets in San Ysidro. After parking my car I walked down the pedestrian walkway and then through one of the turnstile-style gates designed to deter any illegal entry into the United States. After that, the monument that delineates the boundary between the United States and Mexico and - two footsteps later - for the first time since 1988 when I took a trip outside the country to Cancun I was officially on Mexican soil. Finally, I pass through a Mexican checkpoint and I was officially in Tijuana!
I stayed in Tijuana for about an hour, looking around the border area and the endless mercados that Tijuana has to offer. However, in the interest of safety (and to promise my sister) I did not venture far from the border.
I crossed the bridge to get onto the other side of the street so that I can return to the United States via one of the world's busiest border crossings, the United States Port of Entry at San Ysidro. But before I crossed the border I browsed through some more stores including a duty free shop as well as took a peek at one of these Mexican farmacias happening to offer prescription medications at a fraction of what we pay back in the good old US of A. After all, prescription medicine is expensive, so expensive that people who require prescription medication on a regular basis sometimes have to make a trip into either Mexico or Canada depending on where you live. (Believe me? I would recommend watching the latest Michael Moore movie, SiCKO, now on DVD).
After passing the last store on the right I crossed over the border and - an hour later - I was back on American soil once more. Now that I am back onto American soil, unlike Mexico I was required like everyone else to report to United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) - one of the departments under the Department of Homeland Security - for an inspection of my identity and what I had on me. While I was in line waiting to be examined I noticed that those without passports were being scrutinized thoroughly which is why I believe the line was running a little slow. (After all, come 2008 you will need a passport to enter the United States when you return from Canada or Mexico on the land border just like if you were arriving by air). When it was my turn I presented my passport to the CBP officer and I was asked how long I was in Tijuana for; the inspection was quick and painless and the CBP officer waved me on my way. Finally, another glass door and I was officially back in the United States. That's right, the land of the Interstate Highway System.
After Customs I went to grab me a late lunch, as it was getting late and I had a considerable drive back to Los Angeles. However, on Camino de la Plaza as I was walking back to the parking lot (and my rental Chevrolet Cobalt) I witnessed the most horrible account of road rage I have ever seen, California style just like one of these reality TV shows: Someone driving a white Lexus SUV eastbound on Camino de la Plaza stopped in the middle of the road and went after a pedestrian who stepped into the roadway. In Florida, pedestrians who step out into the road and drivers who have to avoid them are the norm and are aggravating. However, this isn't Florida here; this is California on a minor highway crossing Interstate 5 being the last one seen before leaving the United States. The worst case of road rage was being played right before my eyes: The driver of the Lexus SUV was physically beating the pedestrian right on the street! As I did not have my cell phone with me, I alerted other drivers in the vicinity to call 911. Fearing for my own safety, I walked away and headed back to the parking lot and to my rental car.
At last, after navigating the streets of San Ysidro being careful not to enter the Interstate 5 ramp that would take me into Mexico (and violate my rental car contract with Alamo), I gassed up the rental Chevrolet Cobalt and got back onto Interstate 5 north. I took a side trip on the San Diego-Coronado Bay Bridge which looks almost like the Sunshine Skyway Bridge but no support cables. However, the height of the Bay Bridge reminded me of the Sunshine Skyway but it provides a breathtaking view of downtown San Diego especially as you head east. When I headed west on the Bay Bridge I saw a toll plaza still intact from when I visited back in 1978 but no tolls were being collected; in fact, the toll booths have been removed but traffic must slow to a reasonable speed.
Andy Field has a great page on CA 75 including facts and figures on the San Diego-Coronado Bay Bridge plus more photos of the Bay Bridge as well. You can access Andy's page simply by clicking on this link.
After the side trip across the San Diego-Coronado Bay Bridge it was time to get back onto Interstate 5 north and back to Los Angeles, as it was getting late in the evening. Being exhausted from a tiring day I took the short cut via CA 73 (which is the San Joaquin hills toll road) to Interstate 405 and then north on Interstate 405 to LAX and the Hilton for the night. There were some more pictures I wanted to get but it got too late and I wanted to get them before I leave for Tampa in a couple of days...
Pictures from Day Two
The way you walk into Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico from San Ysidro, California, USA is this: You pass through a one way pedestrian gate which is designed to prevent any illegal entry into the United States. Mexican customs and immigration checkpoints operate like the red light/green light system found in airports throughout Mexico as well as most other countries. Mexico calls their system the fiscal traffic signal consisting of a red light and a green light and here's how it works in a nutshell:
You drive up to the checkpoint and to the gate with a stop bar. Once there a computer makes a random selection as to whether you get a green light or a red light. If you get a green light you will not be subject to further examination and be permitted to drive on your way to Tijuana; on the other hand, if you get a red light you will be directed by a Mexican customs officer to an area where you will await an inspection of your vehicle. From what I understand if you are in the far right lane because you need to declare items to Mexican customs you will always be subjected to inspection; this is true especially if you intend to head to Ensenada or points further south and you need to get your Mexican tourist card (Form FM-T) and your Mexican vehicle permit to allow the temporary use of your vehicle in Mexico other than Baja California (currently Baja California is considered by the Mexican government to be a vehicle permit free zone but things change; checking current permit requirements is a must if you intend to drive your car into Mexico).
It also works the same way with pedestrians entering Mexico from the United States: There are Mexican officials stationed at the point of where you go through the second set of pedestrian turnstile gates. If you are carrying anything with you - especially a package - more than likely you will be stopped and asked to press the button to see if you get a green or red light. A green light means you will be permitted to proceed on your way, while if you get a red light you will be asked to empty your packages that you have on you at the table and undergo inspection. However, if you have items to declare, there is a Mexican customs office that you can walk into and make the required declaration if needed.
From this point onward it was getting too late in the evening for more pictures on Interstate 5 from this point northward but I managed to get some more pictures by making a second trip to northern San Diego County, as you will see on Day 3, which is Monday, 3 September 2007.