Saturday, January 13, 2018

Cool Shopping in Tijuana

"Dónde está..." I started slowly talking to the boutique hotel security guy, trying to get my brain into travel mode. "Pasaje Rodriguez?"

"Across the street," he responded. His English wasn't great, but it was a heckuva lot better than my Spanish.

Oh. Across the street. I could work with that.

"Y Pasaje Gomez?" What was I talking about? I'd read that these two spots had great clothing stores. He shook his head. The hotel security guard wasn't up on the latest in women's boutiques.

Well, I'd find it. There was a tourist information booth outside on Avenida Revolución. I shoved my near-worthless speed-throttled phone into my back Levi's pocket and walked down the stairs--the hotel was a flight up from ground level.

I didn't make it to Tourist Information, though. From street level, the staircase switched back and went on down the stairs to a passageway.

What's that, I thought. I made a U-turn and followed the stairs down to what turned out to be a covered shopping plaza. It was long, like an alley, and went the width of the block from Avenida Revolución back to Avenida Madero.

I wandered through, noting the passage once would have been full of trinket sellers catering to throngs of day tourists over from San Diego. Years of bad press about border violence had damaged the tourist trade in Tijuana, but I'd read that this had led to a thriving local arts scene.

The little covered alley under the hotel seemed to support this—there were children playing in the hallway outside of shuttered stores, and about half the storefronts were full of local people selling coffee, juice, music, posters and collectibles, and secondhand clothes. There was nothing there for me to buy—I have my own share of clothing I need to repair or discard—but there was indeed a thriving local culture of people able to rent once-seedy storefronts, turning them into creative shops in a energetic atmosphere.

I paced the length of the plaza to the far side, wondering what this particular passage was called. I had a suspicion and headed to the end to turn around and see if there was a sign.


Pasaje Gomez.

Travel to Tijuana

Walk to bus. Bus to Burbank train. Pacific Surfliner train (ugh, crowded chaos today) three hours to trolley. Blue line trolley to the San Ysidro border.

This would have gone faster and easier if I'd just gone downtown and caught a direct bus, I thought as I ran into the cambio by McDonald's. I changed twenty bucks into Mexican pesos. I'd waffled over whether to walk or catch a taxi on the Tijuana side of the border, and had decided to go with the taxi, so I'd need pesos for the taxi. Either that or five bucks, but I'd spend less with the pesos. Was I really waffling over a dollar or two? Old travel habits die hard.

I followed the crowd along a sloping walkway, entered a building, and stood in the line for non-Mexican citizens. The wait wasn't long, maybe five minutes. A passport control officer motioned me to her desk.

""Hola," I said to the officer.

"¿Cómo está?" She said.

I blanked. As in every bit of Spanish I'd ever heard or known disappeared from my head. I stared a minute and then started laughing. She started laughing too.

She filled out my entry form, stamped my passport, and waved me through.

I followed the walkway winding around to the point where it funneled out into the street. There were no yellow taxis, only the white with red-striped taxi libres. I'd read an article on the train—apparently a fight between an Uber passenger and a yellow taxi driver had led to the banishment of yellow taxis from the border.

A posted sign at the taxi rank listed the costs to each section of Tijuana. Only 35 pesos to Zona Centro. That should have tipped me off it was walkable.

A driver waved me in. Ten minutes later, he dropped me off on a busy block on Avenida Revolución between 3rd and 4th. I guessed. It's not like there were any street signs, and 3rd and 4th have other names as well. Was I in the right spot? I whipped out my phone...oh. Thanks, TMobile, for slowing my speeds down because I hadn't upgraded to whatever you wanted me to do. Awesome. Super.

Then I spotted the Hotel Lafayette building across the street. I jaywalked easily--there wasn't much traffic at 3 in the afternoon. A doorman checked me into a cute room, where I discovered the wifi wasn't working. Annoying, especially with the deliberately dragging phone signal and the in-room info featuring...Instagram posts. Yay, me.

I left my bag in my room and went out to explore.


August, 2014. 

That's the last time I used my passport. (Solvang doesn't count.)

For someone who makes it her business to run around the world, this is a dire state of affairs! I barely noticed during my big move to Los Angeles, because I was busy investigating the city as well as working ridiculous hours at my moderate-kahuna job.

But then I read about 20 articles talking up Tijuana, all saying the same thing—that the loss of tourism meant artists and creatives had taken over the tourist/red light/tequila district—hawking the same "boutique" hotel (whatever that means) and the same trendy housewares stores, and I thought "Is this for real?" The last time I'd read this many parrot-y travel articles, they'd been about Berlin. They probably still are. Hip! Happening! Berlin! I think that's how my pal Ed Ward phrased it when he lived in Berlin.

I liked Berlin enough to rent an apartment there for a month during the first MariesWorldTour, but the articles are ridiculous. I guess it's what you write when you want people to buy your material. Write what people want to hear, preferably something that sounds new and cool.

But I'm not sure where Tijuana falls on this "what people want to hear" meter...seems an unlikely match, Tijuana and travel-porn outlets, but I know a regurgitated story when I see one. But I also know I can go to Tijuana and back in a day, and that as many times as I've been to San Diego, I've never had time to venture down across the border. I loved staying in San Miguel in 2013, but Tijuana is a massive city, clearly a different beast from a colonial art town. Surely articles about the Zona Centro were like New York articles being about Times Square, no?

But getting to TJ doesn't involve a plane or days off work. I could even, if I chose to, get the Red Line to DTLA and catch a $23 bus all the way to the border. So while I was uncertain about the articles screaming "I'm a press release," I was quite certain the effort would be worth the return even if all I found was a deserted hotel and a painted donkey.

I attempted to book the boutique hotel, but it appeared to be all booked solid. A bit of sleuthing revealed that it wasn't booked just required a stay of two or more nights.

I delayed my trip until a long weekend. That's now. I paid for two nights via AirBnB...that's one way around developing a hotel e-commerce site. I was impressed. Resourceful. 

I didn't book my ticket until the Saturday morning I intended to leave. I kept waffling about the transit...did it make more sense to catch the #222 bus to the Red Line to Pershing Square and walk over to Main to catch the bus, or did it make sense to catch the train at Burbank Airport, and take that to San Diego to the trolley?

Finally, my early laziness won over my later laziness. I caught the bus to Burbank Airport and ten minutes later, was on the train to San Diego.

View from Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner. Sit on the western side to get the view. 

Friday, January 12, 2018

Meanwhile in Burbank

I like their sign, but I bet their coffee is nothing special.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Date of Note

January 4th, 1988. 

I walked off the elevator on the tenth floor of 387 Park Avenue South to my first day as the Antioch intern at the Epic division of Marvel Entertainment. I'd driven my 1974 (or was is 72?) mustard-colored Volvo station wagon through a blizzard from Ohio to New London, CT for New Year's. I had no windshield wipers, a manual choke, and only one headlight from when I'd hit a deer, but I made it, and then went down to Manhattan for my new job.

January 4th is thirty years ago today.

That’s a lotta years, for anyone still counting. There’s a lot of water under that bridge, a lot of people in and out of the door of the Big Two in comics. I don’t think anyone I met on Day One at Marvel is still there, though at least five of my colleagues (Harras, Chase, Chiarello, Gill, Lopez) are with me at DC. Heck, I can only think of six or seven people still at Marvel who were there on my LAST day.

I’ve edited, colored, written, and packaged for Marvel, Gemstone, Teshkeel, and DC in that time, with a side trip to Scholastic and a lot of side trips into my own writing. I traveled for 2001 and 2002 and did no comics work (even claimed I would never return to comics, which lasted until I realized writing paid even worse than anything I’d done up to that point, including working the salad bar at Roy Rogers), so while it’s been thirty years since my first day, I guess I have a mere 28 years under my belt.

I’m a little embarrassed that after three decades, I’m not in anyone’s masthead, not an executive with a title and parking space. But I realize too that no masthead would substitute for the job in Kuwait and Cairo, the two solo expeditions around the world (the second making comics from my laptop even behind Chinese firewalls in Tibet), the “residencies” I assigned myself in Mexico, Barcelona, Namibia, Uganda, Australia, Berlin, Cape Town, or the endless months fighting with my own manuscripts.

January 4th, 2001.

Sixteen years to the day I boarded the Amtrak at Penn Station in Manhattan to embark on my first trip around the world.

Maybe January 4th and I have a thing.

Monday, January 01, 2018

Happy New Year

Back and forth, back and forth. LA, NYC, LA...I'm not the first person to be shredded into ragged wisps, pulled from one coast to another, my life in the East, my work out West. 

Many people have a loyalty to the weather of SoCal, the energy of NYC. Me? I just want to be home where I belong. I've probably spent more of my life traveling than pretty much anyone who doesn't work for an airline or freighter company. I learned that the concept of home evaporates after a while, that in the end, one must choose between solitary adventure and a support structure with friends and family.

Can you have both?


You can move abroad permanently and build a life elsewhere. But constant movement generates a helluva lot of firing synapses, novelty, adventure, and mostly, that part of my brain that needs to spill all this input onto the written page. God, I miss that in my current life of routine. But you can't have constant adventures AND be part of the lives back home without spending time at home. That's just a kind of calculation, simple math for the soul. Something desk jockeys can find reassuring as they battle the mind-numbing deathly boredom of routine while they see friends off having epic, year-long adventures.

There is no right or wrong in this equation, but there is a lot of x=x, while y=y. X never equals y, or sometimes it appears to but that's an illusion. In the end, x reverts to x, y to y. A bit of algebra for how to live. Dabble in one or the other, but ultimately, dabbling too long in y results in a life of y. 

I'm delusional. I suck at algebra. 


Today, as on every New Year's Day since I opted into traditional-day-job lifestyle, I caught an early morning flight from Newark to Los Angeles. 

Was I glad to leave, considering it was brutally cold in Jersey City? Considering I spent most of my week caulking around windows, putting wood filler in the flooring cracks, taping plastic to the hundred-year-old door, digging the electric blanket Turbo gave me out of storage? Yes and no. I couldn't wait to get back into the warm weather of Burbank, but Burbank means work, and work means stress and exhaustion. Such is life. Why should I be any different? 

A year ago today, I was pleased to start my year off with an airline upgrade.

No upgrade today, but look at this view! I definitely scored the right seat. 

When your life is x, it's the little things. 

Saturday, December 30, 2017

This Old House

Check out my old apartment, sold for $465k.

I sold it for $300k in December of 2006.

Comparison: kitchen detail from 2005/2017
Don't feel badly for me—I only paid $125k for it in November, 2002, and I once figured out I had spent $16,000 on renovations. The before photos are a reminder of what a crappy place it was when I bought it. Before I got sick of listening to the front door buzzer all the time and walled up the parlor door with two levels on insulation and sound-deadening board. Before Al replaced all the lighting switches with push buttons, before we put in that fake tin ceiling later sold as "original detail," before Turbo scrubbed all the paint off the old hinges and I matched the missing ones at Olde Good Things. Before we got the fireplace cover dip-and-stripped. Before I dug the old pocket door out of the wall only to find half of it was missing. Before the fake-wood shutters, now removed. Before me and Yancey and MK ripped up the ugly old carpeting and found the beautiful heart pine floor underneath after a week of tearing up plywood (I still ache from the memory). Before I learned how to move and plumb an island sink. Before the stained glass bought off eBay, before the transom, before the old gaslamp I re-installed only to see destroyed by the interim owners, before we glued up medallions, before exposing the brick in the kitchen, before rigging up wall cabinets on the floor in front of the brick and faking a countertop from wood. Before the condo owner upstairs landscaped the backyard.

I was able to turn the proceeds from the sale into 1) my wonderful house in Bergen-Lafayette 2) my great little condo in Burbank by Warner Bros, and 3) a comfortable nest egg where I don't have to panic all the time.

Still, I am impressed. The people who sold it for $465k spearheaded the drive to fix up the exterior of the building. It really went downhill for about a decade. The story was that the condo association paid painters to redo the front, and the painters took the deposit and vanished. The place steadily went downhill until the owners of 1L got Sylwester from Kearney to finally, magnificently redo 350 8th Street.

Two units immediately changed hands for exorbitant amounts of money, after years of owners losing cash on their deals. Good for them.

It really does look great. See?

Monday, December 25, 2017

Scenic Holiday

My mother lives at the foot of Skyline Drive, and takes every chance she gets to drive along the crest of the Virginia mountains.

Here is the highest point near her home as it looked on the afternoon of December 25th, 2017.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

My Mother the Seer

My mother had my baby scrapbook sitting out on a table, so I opened it up.

This caught my eye.

Prophetic. And hilarious.

Thursday, December 07, 2017