The Bar
I have had the misfortune to drive through Rome during rush hours. I have been driven through, and driven bonkers by, taxis, busses, cars, cows, donkeys, and pedestrians, in the workaday streets of Cairo, Rio de Janeiro, Calcutta. I would like to state here and now, that for sheer folly, there is nothing to match crossing the San Ysidro border, into Mexico, especially on a week-day afternoon.

In the old days, the crossing was quick. You slowed down, drove under the red white and green sign that said "MEXICO," and there you were. (Those of us with dirty minds noticed that the lights behind the "XI" were always out. They still are. In Spanish, meco is the word for that white stuff that men are always putting in the wrong places, to make babies, whether they want to or not. This must mean something, especially to us inveterate border-crossers.)

It is best not to be at the border on a late Friday afternoon. 55,000,000 cars now cross at San Ysidro every year, because too many people have learned of the wonders of heat and light and cheap beer and all the MECO down there.

The slowdown begins where Interstates 5 and 805 converge, but the very first barrier is set up well before the actual border. The U. S. Drug Police have erected a gauntlet a hundred or so feet from the border which must mean that they are checking for drugs entering Mexico, a coals-to-Newcastle situation if there ever were one.

Fifteen or so lanes narrow down to five, and things move very, very slowly because each of us have to be checked over by the gimlet eyes of the DEA. The people waiting far back in line, an mile or so to the rear, begin to go, as the saying has it, postal.

Cars in their separate lanes begin to bunch up as the lanes narrow down until they are within kissing distance of each other. No one gives an inch. To me there is nothing more breathtaking than watching two vehicles, a recent vintage black Mercedes, say, coming closer and closer a brand new white Ford 250. The two of them, complete with accessories, have a total net worth of somewhere around $85,000.

Picture them, if you will, in their two lanes, inching together, neither driver willing to blink. If no one yields, you and I will be witness to an instant $10,000 worth of repair work to trim, fenders, outside mirrors, and doors.

There is something stronger than pride-of-ownership going on here. Perhaps it is a whiff of macho seeping over the border; perhaps both drivers have been influenced by too many bull fights. I have on occasion seen two such vehicles actually beginning to rub fenders, like cats in heat. They come ever closer, mangling mirrors, tearing away trim, rubbing off paint, mashing one fender against another. All the while the two drivers soldier on, stony-faced, practicing the Manhattan visage: looking neither to one side nor the other.

One soldiers on, bumper-to-bumper with the car in front. No one hesitates, for if you do so for a moment, not only have you surrendered your balls, you have the additional problem of the sixty or eighty or hundred cars directly behind who begin, loudly, to sound the trumpet. They will even begin to climb your back bumper. I have seen a Chevrolet Suburban mash in the rear of a brand-new Infinity for the simple sin of letting a lovely sweet-faced Audi edge into their line.

I have driven the autobahns of Germany where there is no speed limit, where cars track each other no more than a few feet apart. I have actively participated in traffic jams in Hong Kong, some of the worst in the known and sentient world. I have driven through Mexico City at nine on a Monday morning, one of five million cars trying to destroy me as they seek to get from here to there over impossibly pitted, narrow roads.

I am here to assure you I have never been able to match any of these adventures against the razor-thin game of Border Chicken, the exhilarating game of crushed bumper and crumpled fender, the cross-border bull-fight that takes place daily there at San Ysidro --- where you and I and three or four thousand others are given the choice of forging ahead or pulling back, just a hair --- having the bulls' horn thrust right towards the groin, you on the very verge of your most beloved possession, the love of sweet MECO.

--- Carlos Amantea

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