Translation for 140 languages by ALS
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowline.
Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sail.
Explore. Dream. Discover
---Mark Twain


HANDICAP ONLY ~ Border crossing (San Ysidro)

Imagine: You are in standing traffic on a hot, hot day and surrounded by an indefatigable stream of beggars - physically deformed humans, small dirty children, worn mothers, old people, musicians, drunkards - all, ostensibly, selling you stuff to which you make a point of saying no  while trying not to say yes to the equally plentiful legitimate vendors selling ice cream, cold drinks including beer, sweet smelling hot gorditas right off the grill -- and you are stuck in this traffic jam for the next foreseeable hour. At least. More than once you glance over at the drivers around you and say to yourself, I wish I was in a car. Then I'd be there already.

The San Ysidro border crossing, notorious for being America's - if not one of the world's - busiest and most congested ports of entry, has become moreso in the past ten days. The reason being, since two weeks ago, U.S. Border Control took the step of limiting one of their four designated pedestrian lanes to handicap persons only. Even the armchair traveler can well imagine how fewer handicapped persons than non-handicapped persons pass through any sphere of public facilities let alone border crossings. If you guessed the HANDICAP ONLY lane is virtually empty, you are right. If you can guess why American border patrol took this move, I would love to hear it -- because they, the border control, are not forthcoming.*

Until roughly two weeks ago there were four designated lanes: 

  1. Handicap/Bus passengers (e.g., people traveling on Greyhound wherein they unboard with all of their belongings, pass through Immigration and then, if not detained, reboard on the other side) 
  2. General Public (passport holders)
  3. Ready Lane (holders of special identification cards for "rapid" passage such as Mexican citizens who commute daily for work or Americans with passport cards) 
  4. Travelers possessing Sentri cards. 
With the elimination of the shared line for charter bus passengers those travelers no longer unboard near the front of the border crossing but, rather, at the back -- like everyone else. As a result the waiting line, which though typically long was infrequently standstill, is now visibly longer round the clock and significantly much, much slower -- round the clock. 

I heard the horror stories of crossing into southern California from Tijuana but, personally and irregardless of the hour I went to the border crossing, I never waited more than fifty minutes to pass through be it on foot or bus. What once consumed an hour - maximum - now drags on for around three hours or more. By some impersonal entity's measure this move from "not so bad" to worse is progress; but not for those of us who stand waiting in line.
the time it takes me to walk through the border crossing from Tijuana a motorist could drive from Los Angeles to southern San Diego
Blake R. is a young American who moved to Tijuana two years ago for the affordable living. He works in a bar in San Diego. He recognizes the change in crossing into San Ysidro. His boss is lenient with minor tardiness too because, like Blake, he also is an expat living in Tijuana. "This is insane! We should've been up at the gate by now," he says, referring to  the demarcation of U.S. soil. He's on his third cigarette since we've been chatting in line. "Before, we were talking and laughing. Now look how quiet everyone is." The change was noticeable. "I feel tired and I haven't done anything...and still got to go to work. This [expletive] sucks! And I have to do this every day...." 

He and so many others. Health and transportation industries now recognize the reality of commuter stress. The US Census Bureau gathers working adults commute an average of 25 minutes each way (not bad, right?) with extreme commutes in the definitive ballpark of 90 minutes upwards. The foot crossing at San Ysidro takes more than twice the time of extreme commute. (Does this warrant an 'extreme, extreme commute' definition?) To put it in perspective, for the time it takes me to walk through the border crossing from Tijuana into California, a motorist could drive from Valporaiso University in Valporaiso, Indiana, to Indiana University in Bloomington in roughly three hours; or, say, from Los Angeles to southern San Diego. According to a psychology study by Stephanie Lynne Morrow the hassle of daily commuting can seem harmless enough (after all not everyone can work from home) but the "impact of chronic exposure to minor stressors over time can be quite deleterious to well-being." She goes on to quote other research that suggests daily hassles "may be even more relevant than actue, dramatic life events in relating to physical and psychological health."

Thankfully my crossing is not a daily one. But I have missed two work assignments owing to the bureaucracy of hurry up-and-wait. Nothing sticks in your crawl like being prepared and making sure every t is crossed and i, dotted just to then be handed another form to be filled out in triplicate. Maria, Blake and I are in our 20s and 30s. Many people in line are much older. I tried asking some of the Mexican elderly near me but they weren't too forthcoming. "Ridiculo" and "gobierno!" was the general verdict as they wagged their heads in dismay. 

In addition to the eeking foot traffic, the border agency - and it is heavily manned - operates only one of their two X-ray machines for all bags, irregardless of size, passing into the United States. As a result the four designated lanes eventually merge into one as each person holding anything must wait his turn to place the bag/suitcase/purse/package on the conveyor belt while four agents sit and watch the screen on the opposite side of the machine. It is hard to comprehend the improvement accomplished in taking more time to complete a task. Then again, maybe, like Blake, I am just too tired to think about. 

*I explained to a few of the idle-looking agents that I was writing a travel piece and, naturally, wanted to submit accurate information for print but none of them imparted anything other than the obvious: there was no more special lane for bus travelers.


  1. We thought that the new added lanes or the 2 inspection boxes would maxime crossing time..its worts now...about 3 hrs anyday...they do it for us to 'waste' gas' card idle about 2-3 hrs wasting 2-3 gallons all the sress...sure way to improve economy and kill your citizens...they promised it would be better and fsster and expent millions of tax all govt plans...a waste of tax money and not improved at all..

    1. Greetings from Spain!
      So...two years later and still nothing to show for it but slower, longer, more inefficient & STRESSFUL processings. A sad state of affairs...


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