He was writing about the place where downtown grew a hundred years later.
Downtown -- the center, or "Centro" of the town -- used to be all that there was to the whole town. This was it, see? There it was, over there, across the river.  This was the whole town of Tijuana itself, just this piece of a pueblo, here, in this tilted flat place above the river, oh yes my friend, back when it was a small town, here it was, all tucked in, on one side of this valley, here, just ten blocks by five blocks here, below the surrounding hills, and surrounded by open fields. Now, señor, look at it - it is the center of a huge sprawling megalopolis with five or six other "downtowns" like zona rio, 5 & 10, Otay, centers or "nodes" who just don't have the name "downtown centro" yet... and never will, because this was, and is, the original centro, the original town center.
Yes, my friends, exhausted and somnorific studies have indicated to students sleeping in class our nodding heads that the place where old Tijuana grew grew many many many a hangover hungover hanging on, and so downtown lives in our dreams in the little library with its shelf of books about Baja California en español por supuesto, the same "flat place" near the river where the expedition(s) of 1769 camped on their last night(s) before getting to San Diego. They didn't go visit the village. The library has been closed by construction destruction. There was more than one of 'em, we tell you, expeditions, I tell you, made by men. Just like there's more than one of us in here. In the old word California, in the old book hidden. But THERE'S Only ONE flat shelf beside the river, see? Nyah. So this page is personal, too. ONly now talking about history. Mystory.My story .
Where? This "flat place" about a mile long and a half-mile wide extent across an ancient marine terrace of clay and mud (we have seen the trenches dug into the earth, but we could be mistaken, for we are only dreaming in the library, remember, reading another old book) saying this part of land got laid down when the sea was twenty feet higher -- as it will be again by around 2150 when more polar ice be melted. But we digress... that will be when downtown finally moves onto the mesa top above....
And last, when someone explains to you why all those round river stones are every, everywhere in flooded layers around the territory here, there, on top of hills, breaking out of valley walls. It was a river, millions of years ago, when the first bones of California islands were still attached to the continent, over there in Sonora. We're talking Jurassic park here. Don't go there disneylandia style tourism on San Diego Bay and then... take a turn south to "Historic" Mission gambling cantina whorehouse mmmm no, not in new Spain, never it always was no yes. But long, long before there was another river. That is the secret message of another arroyo. Sometimes the floorwalker refers to it with invisible letters and words, like this.
Meanwhile, roughly an oval shape of land about twelve blocks wide and twenty long, this slightly sloping terrestrial terrace was the "large piece of flat land a league more
or less from the sea" where Junípero Serra and the colonizing expedicioneros camped in 1769 on their last night before reaching San Diego. Yes, all right, we don't "know" for sure, but Daniel speculates - based on the old diary description discovered in the library one day he doesn't remember when he might have dreamt it - that the colonizing forces of missionaries, officers, foot-soldiers, Mexican mule-drivers, and animals, actually walked where the big new arch has been built at 1st & Revolution. Stranger things have happened. Serra did write that they were near the river... and, well... we shall leave Dano speculating and hoping that you, too, will walk up the historic old bridge path from the river past the old bus station with its mosaic map of the road from Mexico City. Trust us, this all ties in somewhere link-link nudge nudge say no more no.that wasthe onficzionlye(erase,P)[means it was the truth].
Where were we? Oh yes, arriving at downtown. The centro of Tijuana is the oldest part of town still in existence (not counting outlying ranch ruins). An earlier collection of shacks and adobes closer to the river was washed away in 1891. That was when the few hundred who lived here decided to rebuild on this slightly higher space just out of reach of the river. If you walk downtown you will notice the little hill running up toward the millennium arch, or here, like the foto on top this page looking down the steep sidewalks at Third street where the land goes suddenly dropping from Revolution. This, that, is the old edge of the flood plain... this is (or was, at least) one of the those California rivers, yes. The Alpha and Omega, first and last, in fact.
Here it is again, the bigger downtown overloading your computer and downshifting data one must cross the river channel in order to get from the border or back again. See? North is at the top, the borderline where the river bends to U.S.A. You see how Revolution Avenue (and Constitution and Madero) run south away from the zona norte end of town by First Street. The millennium arch is located at the corner of 1st & Revo, where the letter "E" is... and right there, see that diagonal street baby step left and down? That is Plaza Santa Cecilia. Two blocks over left - at the red cross - is the Cathedral and the Popo market et al. Eight blocks straight down along Revolution, you get to the Jai Alai palace.
Over to the left, between 3rd and 4th and F and G, is the Parque Teniente Guerrero, an easy place to walk to and a spot to soak up real Mexican culture with families playing on the swings, picnicking on the grass. The old men sit on benches, counting ants, feeding pigeons, and looking sadly at the young men wasting time. There are also tables for playing chess ("ajedrez") and lots of good sidewalks through trees and flowers, for walking and promenading. Snacks everywhere. Watch out at night; be polite to police.
Like any downtown, this Centro de Tijuana is a fascinating layercake of dense life. Three and four storey buildings are quite common, but many streets settle down to two or just one. Scattered amid apartments and shops you can spot old houses and cottages and bungalows from the old west, roaring 20s and World War II era, hidden behind busy sidewalk walls. There are quiet hot spots like el Lugar del Nopal, on the culdesac staircase where F ends (Cinco de Mayo) past 6th street... or the bigger staircase stinking of urine past where the zeburros go to sleep, at the end of 4th going up toward the casa de la cultura. A hundred little corner neighbor stores hidden here and there.
Back along main streets, you will see plenty of shopping and eating spots, even several traditional market halls with all their stands and shops and spaces for locals, not just tourists, places always crowded or half-crowded in daylight with Mexicans and Gringos from both sides of the border, especially around 2nd and Niños diagonally from the cathedral -- and nearby the ex-palacio converted into a city cultural offices
with a public library inside the courtyard gate -- a wonderful place just to rest in the patio away from the noisy noisy street (entrance under the brick arches by Constitucion and 2nd)[WARNING--IMAC COURTYARDS CLOSED FOR CONSTRUCTION 2004], and back on the sidewalks, lots and lots of cantinas and bars, more restaurants, stores, internet cafes, sidewalks packed with people in the busy hours of day and evening, tacos and hamburgers and fruit on the street. Don't forget Plaza Santa Cecilia -- the diagonal pedestrian street angling from the big arch -- with its new fancy pavement and color-themed vendor kiosks as well as restaurants and gay and straight bars.
At the center of downtown, of course, is the twin zone, Avenida Revolución -- wild tourist Revolution Avenue ("la Revo") and its business sister, Constitution, pointing SOUTH toward that gigantic Mexican flag flapping on the hill.
EAST goes several blocks of auto-body repair and upholstery workshops, which transform into a produce, meat and fish market neighborhood before you reach the Zona Rio with Mercado Hidalgo, CECUT and Plaza Rio shopping mall.
WEST five blocks of shops run toward the medical and hospital neighborhood around the Teniente Guerrero park -- a very well kept park that is an excellent place to take a walk, have a snack, and see real Mexicans living real lives. Beyond the park, Third street zigzags and then goes up second/Juarez over the hills toward the beach.
NORTH toward the border lies the "Zona Norte or Zona de tolerancia" or, by its neighborhood name, Coahuilla.
SOUTH the centro breaks onto the hills, or bends left along the boulevard, south-east.
Revolution Avenue -- Avenida Revolución -- "La Revo".
"La Revo" they call it, Avenida Revolución, Revolution Avenue. Often considered the heart of Tijuana, it is a strange beast indeed, and yet... Tijuanans love their weird little child, as much as New Yorkers love Time Square or Los Angelenos love their freeways. She is such an anomaly -- and yet tan tipico -- que she deserves her own page to explore in depth without running out of memory.
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Zona Norte -- Coahuilla.
This is the fabulous, infamous, sad and glittering, sexy and drunken "zona de tolerancia" -- the "red-light" zone where supposedly the sidewalks and bars are full of prostitutes who will take you up to their cheap hotel room (which you will pay for in addition to paying for them) or go to yours, if your hotel management will let you -- the nicer hotels (rent by night, not by hour) often have "no visitor" rules precisely to stop this kind of trade and protect their property.
The nickname "Coahuilla" comes from the street beyond First, especially the couple blocks full of bars between Revolución and Constitución and on to Niños Heroes. This flashing, glittering, tawdry and infected two block strip is one of the few places where Tijuana actually seems to live up (or rather down) to its global reputation of sin capital of the western world.
This part of town can be very dangerous at night, and a little dangerous in the daytime, especially off the main drag of Coahuilla Street. Lots of problems with drugs (crystal meth, crack cocaine, etc.) and muggers and police who might think you're one of them (the thieves and addicts). Yet, at the same time, there are lots of working families here who struggle to survive. A friend of ours runs an internet cafe out by the corner of G on Coahuila -- but that's a little ways from the worst part, and the chavos who chat there seem pretty drug-free thank you God.
The boundary of this zona norte is generally accepted to be First Street (Calle Articulo 123), which runs from the big new metal arch at First and Revolucion, into the west. By a geographical quirk the streets down into the zone -- Revo, Constitución, Niños Heroes -- all literally run downhill, which enhances the feeling of sleaziness. First street -- aka Articulo 123 the signs say but no one calls it that it is "calle primera" -- is a strangely exciting and saddening place to walk (in the daytime, at night we are bawk bawk bawk chickensheet) what with the mix of girls leaning against the wall, cheap restaurants and hotels where immigrants with a little money wait to get across the border, and tourists try not to be so obvious.
Primera/First staggers and bends along the top of the little hill from the arch at Revolución toward Constitución and then after Niños it straightens out into a stretch of inexpensive hotels, businesses and restaurants. Far to the west at the corner of 1st and I you will find perhaps the best hamburger joint in Tijuana which caused me to write a poem on October 11, 2001.
TO: Part Five