I like to explore. When I’m in a new place on business, I try to take every opportunity to roam around and see what I can see.
This past week I was in San Diego for a conference and had a free afternoon. Now, San Diego is loaded with points of interest, but there’s this arbitrary line in the sand about fifteen miles to the south. On the other side of that line are a bunch of people who would like to be on this side of the border, and there are a lot of (mostly) men with guns telling them they have to stay on their side.
This was something I needed to see for myself.
My plan was to tool down the I-5 to the crossing, just to see the spectacle of it all. As I got close I saw a sign for “Border Field State Park and Shore Access.” And I thought to myself, “Fields and shores? That’s for me.”
So I followed the signs down onto Hollister, past Southwestern High School and assorted suburban trappings. After a couple of quick miles, suburbia gives way to working horse ranches, and looming dead ahead are some lovely green foothills. Hollister dead-ends into Monument Rd. There was no sign to direct me to the park, but reasoning that the Pacific was on my right, and the park promised shore access, I headed that direction. Sure enough, Monument dead-ends into Border Field State Park.
I parked in the small lot which, at the time, contained exactly one other vehicle, and off I went down the path. I got a good look at the mesquite and sage scrub that makes those foothills look so green from a distance. Looked a jackrabbit or two in the face. Listened to some frogs and crickets. It was quite nice. And then it got desolate all of a sudden. On either side of the path were rocks and dry salt flats with minimal vegetation.
All this while, off to the left a few hundred yards, is this:
A great big sturdy fence. And there’s plenty going on over there on the other side of the fence. Traffic, buildings, a bullfighting arena.
On my side, it was spooky. Not another soul in the park but me, and nothing but dry marsh, beach and scrub for a mile or two to the north. There was a helicopter – with a big gun – that circled the park at regular intervals. That did not ease the “spooky” factor for me.
When I topped the last dune, just before the path became beach, there was a sign warning me to stay out of the water. Apparently we both – us and them – dump raw sewage into the surf right about there. If I hadn’t known that, and hadn’t been distracted by the fence, it would have been beautiful. That section of park probably doesn’t look a lot different than it did the day Cabrillo sailed past and into the bay. If you ignore the gunship in the air, that is.
The fence, as you see, extends out into the sewage/surf. That’s the beginning of the arbitrary line established by the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo at the close of the Mexican War (the most unpopular American war of its day). I was standing at the most Southwestern point of the continental US, looking at the far-Northwest corner of Mexico.
After about five minutes on the beach, the spooky got the better of me and I became convinced there were Americans cooking meth in the mesquite and gangs of angry Mexicans ready to exit the bull arena and scale the fence. So I headed back.
The thing I couldn’t stop thinking about though, was that on the south side of the fence, it looks perfectly civilized. On the north side, it feels like a demilitarized zone. It’s not hard to imagine that park as an active battlefield. Which left me wondering, “Which one of us is that fence meant to contain?”
I made it back to the car just fine, back past the ranches and back up Hollister. It struck me that only a couple of miles from this uncomfortably arbitrary line, there are housing developments and schools and strip malls that would look as at-home in Atlantic Beach as Imperial Beach, or anywhere in-between.
One item of interest to me is that all the signage – commercial and governmental – right up to the border – is in English. I’ve been south of Tucson in Arizona, and (many times) south of Palm Beach County in Florida. English gives way to Spanish in those places pretty quickly on the billboards and highway signs. Not so in San Diego (and yes, I recognize that those are Spanish words).
I worry about the immigration debate. On our side of the border I dropped into a convenience store where everybody was speaking Spanish. Those people were no different than the folks driving back and forth on the other side of the fence. But we spend untold millions of dollars describing that line in the sand. I (think I) understand the point. It just feels arbitrary and unnatural.
My little adventure is done, and the story is told. The story of that border keeps being written every day.
Next Sunday morning, back to the poverty series.
In addition to writing here at Everblog, Harvey Ward writes about his efforts to live healthier and better at SkippingDessert.Com. You can also find him on Twitter @hlward.