A Trip Across the Border

The Real Deal – only if you believe in Unicorns

Several of us sailors had traveled TAD to San Diego, California with the Commanding Officer of our small base. For all intents and purposes, we were on a mission of good will…and maybe a boondoggle as well! We would be explaining to the sailors and dependents of a warship that was soon to become a forward deployed unit in the Western Pacific what our overseas base had to offer them. Each of the Department heads back at the base in Japan selected individuals to represent their departments for the base. We were also charged with determining what the ship would need in the way of shore facilities that we would be providing once the ship arrived at her new homeport.

The HMCM from the Branch Medical Clinic was in attendance, in addition a Senior Chief Personnelman from the Personnel Support Detachment was among the favored. The Public Works Department was represented by the Senior Chief Seabee in charge of that department. Port Operations was represented by the Leading Chief Petty Officer of that department, a well-known BMC…sometimes referred to as wild in nature as he was a bit rough around the edges.

Upon arrival at Naval Station San Diego our four intrepid sailors proceeded to check in and get themselves oriented to their new surroundings. This was a bit new to three of the four men as they had been stationed overseas in Japan for several years and had not been to San Diego in quite some time. In fact, these three senior Enlisted Sailors felt that they had travelled to an overseas duty station! The transient quarters were located within walking distance of the Chief Petty Officer’s Club…this was a blessing. As the flight over the Pacific had been smooth but long everyone felt hungry and thirsty for a cool one. It was still early evening so they all agreed to meet at the CPO club once they had cleaned up and changed into civilian clothes.

They all met at the CPO Club at 1800. HMCM says, “well let’s have a few cold ones”. The other three nodded in agreement. After choking down some food and a few beers all were feeling better. BMC and HMCM had known each other for several years and had pulled liberty together back at their home in Japan. Doc was a submariner and had been stationed here in San Diego at Point Loma during one point in his career. Both of these salty sailors were quite familiar with the old San Diego. “Well Doc, shall we check out the old sailor town area near fifth and Market streets?” asks Boats. “Why hell yes,” says Doc. The Seabee and PNCS went back to the barracks. Our dynamic duo calls a taxi and head for town. The taxi arrives in short order and they jump in. “Where’re you Chiefs headed” asks the driver. Almost in unison our two sailors ask, “are any of the old bars still around in the area of Fifth and Market”? The taxi driver replies in the affirmative. The taxi arrives at Fifth and Market streets and our two Westpac sailors get out, pay the bill including a tip…Westpac sailors have always been known as heavy tippers, so the taxi driver left with a large smile on his face.

Doc and Boats look up and immediately spot the neon sign, “Okinawa Blue Sail Bar”. Walking in they note the red plastic covered sofas and chairs with a long hardwood bar, scarred by years of cigarette burns, knife cuts, gouges, and well just plain use, running along the wall. The place smelled of stale beer, smoke, pickled eggs, and other, pungent odors. Yep, this was their kind of place alright. Most definitely a sailor’s bar. A few customers were sitting at the bar nursing their beers. Doc and Boats sat down on one of the well-worn red vinyl covered sofas. What memories this brought back. The lady tending bar came over to their table and asked, “what’ll it be fellas”. A slight accent in her voice reminded them of home. The mama-san was definitely of Japanese descent…Boats was thinking Okinawan maybe, as the bar was called the Okinawa Blue Sail – go figure.

“You guys not from here are you” says the mama-san with her clipped accent and broken English. “No, we’re not” says Doc, “do you by any chance have Japanese beer in here”. The bar tender answers “Of course we do, Asahi, Kirin, or Orion…which one you like”? They both order Asahi beers. Mama-san shuffles back to the bar and returns with two large bottles of cold Asahi Beer. She sets down the beer and says, “where you Chiefs from…I can tell you are Chiefs and not local guys”. Boats says they are here from Sasebo, Japan, TAD on a mission. “No shit, you guys are from Sasebo? I am from Sasebo too” she exclaims. Doc and Boats both have shit eatin’ grins on their faces. “Well I’ll be damned” says Doc. The three exchange stories and talk of places in Sasebo that they all know. The conversation was of bars, restaurants, and people. The world is indeed small, is what Boats is thinking. The beers are going down smoothly by now and our intrepid sailors feel it is about time to head back to the base as tomorrow will be a long day. All of the personnel from the base in Sasebo have to meet with their counter parts on the ship at 0900. Boats will be meeting with the Ship’s Bos’n, Doc will be meeting with the Medical staff and the Personnelman Chief (PNC) with the Ship’s Admin staff. The Seabee Chief needs to get with the Chief Engineer and find out all he can about the ships’ shore power requirements.

The meetings on the ship go as scheduled and at around 1700 the Sasebo contingent head back to their respective quarters. Boats says to Doc, “dinner and beer at the CPO…right”? “Well, if we must”, Doc says followed by a roll of the eyes. They decide to stay on base tonight as tomorrow afternoon they will be meeting ship’s sailors and dependents at the base theater around 1300 for a Q & A session. Our foursome gets to sleep in until late morning. The Q & A session goes as planned, the CO and his wife take care of most of the questions from dependents with the meeting ending around 1830…CPO club time again for our WestPac Sailors. Over several beers they decide that a trip to Tijuana needs to happen before they head back across the pond. It goes with out mentioning that Doc and Boats have spent some time South of the border and Chico, the PN, probably has some little ones running around down there hassling the Gringo sailors who venture South. The Seabee Chief isn’t quite as salty but he is ready for the adventure. They head back to the Chief’s quarters and get ready for the escapades down South. As the Sasebo Sailors will be heading back to Japan on Monday they remind themselves to not get into trouble…That in itself is a dumb statement to make!

As the morning arrives our four Westpac sailors make their way to the border. After showing their ID’s at the border crossing they head for Tijuana Tilly’s for their first stop. This is a well- known establishment for sailors to step into for a few cold ones…or several. The Corona beer is flowing as the afternoon sun lengthens the shadows on the walls. The place kind of reminds one of the old spaghetti Westerns popular in the late sixties’ and early seventies’. The only prominent individual missing is Clint Eastwood. Of course, our band of four sailors have their picture taken by a local huckster who charges them entirely too much…but who cares, they’re on liberty! They notice that Doc keeps looking out the open air window, Doc has been known to do this often. He told Boats once that since his time as a Corspman with the Marines in ‘Nam he got into the habit of always keeping his eye out for danger. Boats and Chico are discussing something and all of a sudden Doc disappears out the window, head first.

“What the hell happened to Doc” Chico exclaims as he sees Doc take the nose dive and rugby roll out the window. The Boatswain’s Mate says, “nothing unusual here, he’ll be back soon”. Our Westpac Sailors continue pouring beer down their necks and sure enough about forty-five minutes later in walks Doc. “Anyone here ready to go back to the border, I got us some wheels”. We look out the door of Tijuana Tilly’s and sure enough Doc’s acquired transportation somehow. They all pile in and head for the US/Mexican border. They are allowed to pass by the border guards and head back to the Chief’s Quarters on board San Diego Naval Station.

Upon arrival at their quarters, Chico and the Seabee head for their rooms. Doc looks at Boats and says, “Fuck it let’s go back across the border. The night is still young! Boats, you ever been down to Ensenada?” Boats replies back, “No, but your drivin’. Let’s go, I’m thirsty.” So, off they go to Ensenada. It is Friday night and they don’t fly out until Monday, so the weekend is their liberty time.

They cross the border and continue on through Tijuana and head further South. Driving time is about one or two hours if one doesn’t stop along the way. We know our Westpac sailors by now and know for sure that they will be stopping somewhere for a cold one. Thirty minutes of driving and they reach a small town by the name of Rancho Nuevo. “Beer stop” says BMC. They find a little hole in the wall gin mill with a glowing yellow neon sign advertising Cold Corona Cerveza. They open the door and wander in…it is dark as hell until they get their eyes adjusted. Instantly they know this might not be a good place to stop. But, what the hell. Nothing can hurt them. Our intrepid sailors amble up to the bar like they know what they’re doing. Boats says in the only Spanish he can remember, “cerveza por favor”. The fat, scar faced, mustachioed bar tender scowls back at our happy sailors and puts two beers in front of them. They put some pesos on the bar and remark that maybe they don’t belong here. The locals are all eyeing them in a decidedly unfriendly manner. “Um, I think that we may not be wanted in here Boats” remarks Doc. Boats nods in the affirmative. They gulp down their beers and ease on out…no sudden moves for sure.

Soon they are back on the road headed for Ensenada with a cold case of Corona and not a care in the world. Halfway through the case they decide they better pull over as the white line in the middle of the road isn’t as straight it used to be! They both doze off for a while. They are awakened by the sun coming up. As they head further South toward their destination in Ensenada, they discover the highway is flooded over in Rosaritas. “Well, this turn of events sucks” says Boats. “Aw hell, let’s head back to San Diego since the weather looks bad” exclaims Doc. BMC agrees they should head back to the border. They both know for a fact that the remaining beer will need to be thrown out or drank. A Westpac Sailor never wastes a good beer therefore the natural answer to their dilemma is to drink the beer.

About four hours later they reach the border crossing between Tijuana and San Ysidro. Both of our sailors are bleary eyed and tired. As they reach the border guard they are somewhat worried as they know they aren’t completely sober yet and they both smell like hell. They both roll down their car windows and pull out their ID cards wondering what’s going to happen next. The border guard must have been a retired Sailor or Marine. He looks at our daring duo, then spies all of the empty Corona bottles in the back seat, sighs with a perceptible grin on his face and says, “get the fuck outta here and don’t forget to take a shower. You guys smell like shit”.

No comment from our two dehydrated sailors, next stop a convenience store for a gallon or two of gator aid. Then back to the CPO quarters for some well-deserved shut eye. And, so ends our tale of the trip across the border.

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