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My stomach clenched as  the police car whipped across the center divider. I let up on the gas as I watched it approach in my rear view mirror. Things were not getting off to a good start.

I thought this trip would be the proverbial piece of cake. Younger daughter Rosie needs her wisdom teeth out. A little research spurred by my lack of dental insurance and the prohibitive $2,000+ price tag in our home city turned up the fabulous idea of a trip to Mexico via San Diego for the operation.

Image by brunoboris via Flickr

A dear friend, M., now living close to the border, had discovered an excellent Mexican dentist who performed wonders on her mouth at a fraction of the cost she would have incurred stateside.

This was sounding better and better. Instead of coughing up two grand, I could get in a trip to Southern California, a visit with M., a pass through Santa Cruz which would include a visit with older daughter Ciel, and an all around adventure. Even with travel expenses, I would come out ahead financially since the Mexican dentist charged about a fifth of the cost for wisdom teeth removal here in Eureka area.

Plus, I just like to get out of town every few months, and see the rest of the world beyond this Redwood Curtain.

Fresh from deadline, brain only functioning at partial capacity, I packed my bags, threw a box of food in the back seat and I was off. Road trip!

Three hours down the road, the lights came a flashing behind me. Turned out I wasn’t in a 65 mph stretch of road after all.  S**t, what a way to start the trip! The officer was so friendly and affable as he handed me the ticket I had to stop myself from wishing him a good day. Ugh.

Hmmm, how much are speeding tickets anyway, now how much money am I saving?

An hour or so later, driving through Santa Rosa, it hit me. I forgot the passports! Despite M’s urgent reminders a couple of weeks ago, somehow I had let t his little detail slip my mind! Would they even let us over the border? Way too late to go back, I instantly began calculating strategies to get the passports in my hands by Tuesday morning for our appointment. It wasn’t looking good. No postal service on Sundays…

Gassed up in town of Cotati, using my brand new Mileage Plus credit card. My new plan is to use this card for everyday expenses, pay it off each month, and then use the miles for a long-awaited plane trip to an exotic destination. I’ve met folks who have fully financed their travel with these miles.

But of course, they are a little more careful with their cards. Somehow, between gas pump and car, that card did not make it back to my wallet. A discovery I made the following day when it was time for another fill-up on the way to L.A. So, one credit card down, I bravely soldiered on, after making the requisite cancellation call. A random misfortune that I blame on the lack of sleep the previous week. I don’t think I’ve ever lost a credit card except when my entire wallet was stolen.

Three strikes made me wonder how the rest of this 9-day adventure would unfold, especially when I realized that I’d left the envelope of cash meant to pay the dentist on my desk at home.

Border Adventure

I’d heard it was impossible since Homeland Security to pass back and forth through Mexico without proper documentation. Wrong!

Our appointment was 9 a.m., and no Express Mail package arrived before our departure at 7 a.m. But we waltzed right across the border, barely needing to flash our drivers’ licenses. The kind woman at the gate did warn us that we ran the risk of delays on our return, and visions of a swollen-jawed Rosie waiting for hours to get through filled my anxious mind.

I’d never been to Tijuana before, and I regretted not planning it differently so I could have had an hour or two to explore. Foregoing the long lines of traffic, we parked in one of the ubiquitous border lots, walked the winding ramps to cross over into Mexico, then hopped in a cab on the dingy street. The day was cloudy and everything looked a little sad and depressed.

A small fence separates densely populated Tiju...

San Diego/Tijuana border. Image via Wikipedia

My vision of Tijuana is that snippet of street right at the border, the nondescript medical building, and the odd outdoor, over-the-counter pharmacy where we picked up the pain-killers and antibiotics after the surgery. I’d forgotten my camera and was afraid to turn on my phone for photos. M. cautioned us to turn the phones off, telling stories of exorbitant charges incurred due to unscrupulous people somehow hijacking the line.

We were in and out in less than three hours. The surgery was uneventful, although he only removed the top two teeth leaving the bottom ones which had not poked through the gums yet. Rosie had sworn she wanted to be knocked out, but much to my relief they did not even offer that option. It’s an unnerving experience to watch your child go under anesthesia.

The local numbing worked just fine, she didn’t feel a thing as they yanked the offending molars out of her mouth, the dentist chattering away the whole time. A brief recovery period,  we received a piece of paper with grammatically incorrect  post-op instructions , then we were standing at the pharmacy asking them to convert the currency to dollars so I could understand the cost of the meds.

Born in Brazil, M. has a way of charming anyone who might block her path and she used her talents on the border crossing guard. She left us standing in line so she could scope out which guard looked the most friendly then guided us to the line she chose. We joked about wisdom teeth, showed our California licenses, and we were back in the States.

A strawberry milkshake at the McDonald’s for Rosie, then it was time for a couple of days of rest and movie-watching at M.’s house, along with pureed soups, yogurt and smoothies.