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The Bear's Progress

SkeptoBear's trip to James Randi's Amazing Meeting 2004

Day Two
Contrails, Corona, cops, creationism. How much can a bear bear?

Day two dawned brightly, and at least one traveller was awake at breakfast time. As the motel didn't do breakfast, an expedition of one was sent out to scout for food. Food was found at a nearby bakery. On the way back, the expeditioner looked at the sky and saw incontrovertible evidence that the citizens of San Diego were being suppressed by the government. The skies were full of contrails, but we felt safe as we were citizens of somewhere else. Much later that day we were to find just how suppressed the locals were.

There was a small amount of trouble rousing the rest of the party, partly due to forgetting which room they were in and spending some time knocking on someone else's door, but eventually everyone was up, fed from the bakery (at an alarmingly low price which suggested that all the ingredients were stolen and all the employees were slaves) and we were in the car with our passports and on the way south to Mexico.

Tijuana is a fascinating place. Where else would you be approached by many people offering the services of their automotive workshops to paint your car? We briefly thought of getting a nice purple metalflake job with flames coming out from behind the front wheels, but a quick check of the Hertz contract seemed to suggest that cars should be returned wearing the same colour as when hired. Had we known at that time that we would be returning to Tijuana the next day we could have arranged to make it white again, but sometimes opportunities just get missed. The shops in Tijuana are a delight, and consist in almost equal numbers of pharmacies selling every sort of prescription drug (without the inconvenience of a prescription, of course), shops selling flick knives, brass knuckles and other weapons of personal destruction, and bars offering three margaritas for the price of one at 10:00am. It was interesting to note that in a place where there are no restrictions on what sort of pharmaceutical drugs can be sold there seemed to be nobody selling vitamins and supplements and the other things that the supporters of medical quackery assure us are terrifying the pharmaceutical companies and threatening their livelihoods.

In a further investigation of Mexican culture, we finally found out why people in Mexico drink tequila even though the taste is so ghastly that you have to suck on a lemon afterwards. By sampling the fare in a restaurant, we deduced that tequila is used to remove the taste of Mexican fried mushrooms from one's mouth. Even kerosene would taste good after a dish of these things, not that anyone could eat a whole dish. We also observed some strange drinking customs when a group at a nearby table ordered beer in yard glasses, the kind usually reserved for 21st birthday parties and bachelor nights. Perhaps it was to give some weight to the drinking utensils, as our party had discovered that beer was served in tankards which looked like glass but were made of plastic so light that the first time you picked one up the beer was flung over your shoulder. Perhaps they sell more beer that way.

One aspect of Mexican culture in which we received forcible education is the combination of pedestrian crossing etiquette and what to do when arrested. Crossings in Tijuana are not marked in the same way as the rest of the world, and at least one of them had the added distraction of containing a group of buskers carrying an obviously home-made plywood double bass. Such was the distraction that the policeman on a motorcycle was forced to use his siren as we drove past him through a red light and onto the crossing. After playing the part of dumb Australian tourists and ignoring all "bribe me" cues, we were being escorted back to the station to pay a fine when a grey van almost knocked the policeman off his bike. Said van turned out to have certain plastic bags containing a white powder on the front seat, so the policeman returned the licence to our driver and told him not to do it again. We thought for a moment of getting a photograph of the policeman and The Bear, but then someone remembered rumours of Mexican police stations, cellars, rubber hoses and telephone generators attached to genitals. We thanked him and ran away as fast as the speed limit would let us.

When we left Mexico it only took about an hour to get through customs and immigration, where we were again faced with the dilemma of how to respond to an armed person who was holding our passports and saying odd things. What is the correct answer to the question "Is this car a rental?"? Is it "No, we drove it here from Sydney"? Is it "No, we always buy a car every time we go away from home"? Is it "No, we had a rental car but we sold it to a repair shop in Tijuana and they gave us this nice one in return"? We decided that "Yes, it is" was the appropriate answer and we were on our way. There was still much to do that day and we were coming back to Tijuana tomorrow to visit the cancer quackery clinic, so border patrol trouble was not needed.

The next stop on the agenda could not have been further philosophically from the grit and reality of Tijuana. We were going to the Institute for Creation Research. This presented us with a quandary. There would no doubt be an entrance fee to get into the place and its associated Museum of Creation and Earth History. We would have resented paying it, although they were quite entitled to charge entrance. Once inside our resentment was sure to build, perhaps to the point where some of us might have said something rude or even behaved badly. Had we escaped the Mexican police only to incur the wrath and tear gas of the San Diego riot squad? Fortunately, there was a form of divine intervention and the place was closed when we got there. One really disappointing aspect of this was that we would be in Las Vegas in a few days and we wanted all the information about how the Grand Canyon was made in ten months before we flew over the real thing. I suppose that we should not have been surprised to find the place shut. If a whole universe can be made in six days then a museum about the job shouldn't have to stay open seven days a week to make a living.

Back in San Diego, we got ready to go out to dinner with some local skeptics. We had exhausted the eating possibilities in Barrio Fargo where we were staying (one Chinese restaurant, 238 places serving mole poblano, only Corona and tequila to drink) so we set off for one of the town's finest seafood restaurants, situated on a pier in the harbour. We knew we had been recognised as travelling skeptics when we saw the number on the ticket we got at the parking station, but it was when we got to the restaurant that we found out the level of citizen suppression in this town. Those contrails were doing their job well. The first indication of the downtroddenness of the populace was when a barman questioned SkeptoBear's age. Admittedly, The Bear had attracted a certain amount of attention by sitting on the bar and loudly asking "Who do you have to hug to get a drink around here?", but we finally convinced the barman that The Bear was of legal drinking age. For bears, that is.

It was only after a fine meal of shellfish, California chardonnay and good conversation that we noticed that there was nobody else in the restaurant except us and the staff, who were putting chairs on tables. It was only 11pm on a Saturday night so we thought that it was a bit early to close. As we were leaving it became obvious that the staff had been very generous with us, probably because we were so obviously tourists. The sign on the door said that the place closed at 10pm on Saturdays. 10pm!!!. Is there a curfew in San Diego or something? Oh, well, it was probably for the best, as it had been a long day and we had another long day ahead of us. We had to go back to Tijuana to visit a cancer quackery clinic and make some essential souvenir purchases, we had to call on a psychic, and we had to make the long drive to Los Angeles to see some magicians. Before we went back to the motel, SkeptoBear spent a few quiet moments admiring the harbour outside the restaurant. With an early start planned, there would be very little sleep for anyone that night.

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