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  • The Scrivener


Updated: Dec 29, 2023

Considering that the dental surgery is in another country, it takes only a short time to get there. The journey time is about an hour door to door, but I always allow ninety minutes for the sake of punctuality. This journey time includes leaving my car on this side of the border and walking into Mexico.

The reason I walk into Mexico is that Mexican vehicle insurance costs $40 per day. You can bet that if I drove in there uninsured I would be involved in an accident and get into some very bad trouble. If I paid the $40 insurance it would be cheaper to have my teeth fixed in the USA.

In Naco, Arizona, in this country, there is a bar called The Gay Nineties. It is behind the US customs and immigration post. There does not seem to be anything else on the street except the bar and the border post. There are other buildings but they all seem to be derelict.

You leave your car in the street across from The Gay Nineties. The street is a dead end except for a one-way alley on the left, which you can’t enter in your car. This alley is where the motor traffic from Mexico emerges after being processed.

You walk up along the side of the border post (in the one-way alley, which has a sidewalk). You turn right along the front of the building and proceed to a one-way turnstile which will let you into Mexico, but won’t let you back.

As you walk up to the turnstile you see the border wall on your left. It is 15’ high and made of interlocking formed metal pilings interwoven with razor wire. Also to your left is the booth where the US CBP (Customs and Border Protection) agents process the incoming motor traffic. The area is configured with plastic and concrete vehicle barriers. The atmosphere is not especially benign. No one is gratuitously unpleasant, but it is a serious place.

It is the demarcation line between the first and third worlds. If you live on the poor side of that line, you could be forgiven for being resentful. Living on the rich side, visiting the poor side, and envisioning yourself as the object of that resentment, can make the trip a little tense.

So you follow the street around a couple of bends past the Mexican immigration post, which is just an aluminum table set back from the sidewalk in an alcove. You are now in the Avenida Francisco Madero, in Naco, Sonora. There are Mexican border guards over to your right, They wear grey and black and white camo combat suits, and kepis like the one Norman Schwarzkopf wore in Operation Desert Storm. The guards also wear black tubular face masks that reach from the collars of their tunics up to just below their eyes; so that their faces are hidden. Sometimes they are armed with sub-machine guns.

The dental surgery is located close to the southern side of the border wall. After you pass the Mexican immigration table, you make three quick left turns. After the last one, you head northeast across a large shared private concrete parking lot.

At each turn you check the streets on either side for beggars or (less probably) muggers. I carry $3 in the pocket of my tee shirt to pay off any beggars I fail to avoid. Having the money available separately in your shirt pocket eliminates the need to take out your wallet.

Whatever else it does, the dental surgery serves as a refuge. As you approach it, its general air is reminiscent of the rural dwelling of a prosperous middle class French family, perhaps the house of a village mayor in Provence. There is a painted concrete garden wall with pastel colored wrought-iron gates.

Inside it is all business. A receptionist’s desk is on the right as you come in through the door from the porch. The partitioned waiting room is full of plump brown leather sofas. There is an air conditioning unit above one of them.

A pretty nurse, actually a dental technician, calls you by your first name to come through a door to a short passageway. This leads to the open plan cubicles that house the dental chairs. The nurse wears scrubs that conform to the contours of her figure and give her an air of modest elegance. She is a serious well-mannered girl and she makes polite conversation in slightly hesitant English. She makes you wish you were twenty years younger.

The dentist is competent and urbane. He shows you x-rays on a large computer monitor above the chair, and makes recommendations for the next few stages of your treatment.

After treatment you pay with a check and the bursar gives you a card bearing the time and date of your next appointment.

Then you walk back to the border, staying close to the walls and checking every corner.

There is a US border outpost probably right on the geographical dividing line between the two countries, at the very top of the Avenida Madero, a few yards north of the Mexican immigration table. The CBP guy makes a brief inspection of your documents before you move forward to be processed in the main customs and immigration building.

When you have passed the US outpost at the top of the Avenida Madero, you are confident once again that nobody is going to bother you.

In the main customs and immigration building a uniformed CBP agent checks your face against your passport with some kind of biometric scanning apparatus.

Then you move forward, passing the left side of the agent’s desk, and out through the back double doors of the border post, into the one-way alley that leads to The Gay Nineties bar.

I usually stop on the way home to pick up a salad or a bottle of wine at the Bisbee Safeway. They have better wine than the Douglas Walmart, and there is no Safeway in Douglas. When I first moved to Arizona, I remember visiting the Bisbee Safeway with some trepidation after seeing a bona fide Border Patrol vehicle in the parking lot outside. After a trip to the dentist in Sonora, the Bisbee Safeway now feels as safe as a visit to your grandmother’s house.


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