Wednesday, May 26, 2010

In which I take a job in the heroin district of Tijuana

This blog is evolving from an all about my in-laws and my wedding blog to a blog about the men mistakes I made before I met the wonderful hottie Primo and now to just life disasters in general. To get more in-law material, I would need to visit them or tell stories that are not mine to tell as long as the people involved in them are alive.

Anyhow, I do have more dating drama to tell you,* but I thought you might like a change of pace and one of my post-Peace Corps job stories instead.

When I returned from the Peace Corps in 1995 (I was a business volunteer in Chile), employers were not lining up to hire me. I know. Shock. Thank you every Peace Corps volunteer who has shown up to work in Birkenstocks, singing "Kum-Bay-Yah." You do no favors for the rest of us. I had legitimate business accomplishments to show for my two years (increased revenues and profits, reduced accounts receivables, which matters a lot in a country with high inflation, reduced expenses, etc, etc), but nobody cared.

So I loaded up my car and went to Washington, DC, the Mecca for those with apparent lack of accomplishment, which is what Peace Corps seemed to indicate to so many in the private sector. No luck there, but apparently I was a good enough temporary secretary at the World Bank that they were calling my mom and dad six months after I had left DC to see if I wanted more work. Yes. Because secretarial work is what I have aspired to all this time.

I went west. My Peace Corps friends Marty and Janet lived in a big San Diego house. Most of my things were in my parents' basement, but I loaded in my car some key items: all my high-heeled shoes, an inflatable queen-sized mattress and my grandmother's china.

No. I don't even remember why I felt compelled to haul a set of china from Minnesota to California. Surely there was a good reason.

In San Diego, I checked with the University of Texas alumni association for alums in manufacturing who might have some advice about international manufacturing work. When I called this guy, whom we shall call, "Bob," he invited me to come see him. I am all about the networking, so I went.

He explained that he had a small maquila just in Tijuana where he was building a revolutionary product for which he held the patent. He had some engineers and some skilled workers, but he didn't speak Spanish and didn't have someone to help him negotiate the Mexican bureaucracy. Yes, he had his Mexican liaison, but he needed to delegate some of those responsibilities.

Was I interested in seeing the operation?

Well yes!

I drove to Tijuana with Bob and his American engineers the next day. The factory was indeed what he had said: a small operation making a prototype of the product.

After I had looked around for a while, Bob asked if I would like to work for him. $1,000 a month plus 1,000 shares of stock a month. The stock was currently worthless, but soon - soon, we would all be rich!


But I realized that I could not afford to live in San Diego for a mere $1,000 a month. Even in 1995. Staying with Janet and Marty for the duration was not an option. Houseguests and fish, etc, etc.

So I spent my first day looking for an apartment in Tijuana. I found one in someone's back yard. Small, but newly renovated and clean.

And without a toilet.

The landlord said, "You stay at my house until I install the toilet. Manana, I install."

Foolishly, I gave him my money.

The toilet remained uninstalled as the landlord played cards with his buddies and I slept several nights in his youngest daughter's bed. She, in turn, slept with her older sister.

Meanwhile, at work, my big accomplishment in the first few days was to get a shower curtain put across the opening to the toilet so I could pee without everyone watching.

I suggested that fire extinguishers might not be such a bad idea for a place where men were welding, but Bob did not jump on that one. One of the engineers said that Bob and his wife could pinch a penny hard enough to form copper wire.

I accompanied the Mexican liaison on various errands. I got to weld. At 4:30, when the factory closed, I went to see if the toilet had been installed in my apartment, then I went back to my landlord's, twiddling my thumbs trying to think of ways to kill time.

The engineers pulled me aside. "We're retired. We have pensions. We can wait this out," they told me. "But you're young. You need something that's going to pay out sooner."

The Mexican liaison dropped me off at my toilet-less apartment and recoiled in horror. "This is the main heroin-trading area here!" he told me.

How did he know? I demanded.

"Because all of our laborers are on a work-release program from the heroin rehab center and this is where they come to buy drugs!"

I looked at my toilet-less apartment, at the box of china sitting in the corner next to the inflatable queen-sized mattress and my shoes, and thought, "What am I doing?"

The next morning, I told Bob I was quitting. I told my landlord I wanted my rent back and amazingly, he gave it to me, albeit very reluctantly.

Then I returned to Texas and surrendered to the placement office at the business school at UT.

* The man I met in the airport who was older than my mother and had jumped out of helicopters behind enemy lines during Vietnam and who would call me from Japan and New Zealand and talk for hours but couldn't be bothered to tell me he didn't want to see me any more once I had slept with him. Oh yes. I will tell that story, even if it exposes more of my Bad Choices** about men, just because it's a good story.

** "Bad Choices," as someone wrote about taking her dog onto the plane and letting the dog out of its carrier so that the dog was free to run down the aisle and poop. The writer noted that the dog had made Bad Choices, but I would place the blame elsewhere.


  1. This appears to be pure invention. You don't even know what the word "maquila" means. And what happened to you down here, as you describe it, discredits you for having such bad judgement.

    It's obvious that what you have described never happened. There is no heroin district here in Tijuana. Your comments are racist and insulting.

  2. TRT, Explain to me how my describing what happened TO ME is racist and insulting.


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