The Lonely “Wall”: Rolling Through Flyover Country To the Mexican Border

I was in Las Vegas over Thanksgiving 2018 with family, and they wanted to take a road trip. We settled on San Diego, and they asked what I wanted to see.

The wall “prototypes.”

My answer: “The Border Wall. At least the samples.”

Actually, I soon learned, they’re called “prototypes.” You’ve likely seen the official photos. There’s eight of them, in a row near the real border fence. They’re the result of an early executive order from the current White House. They had their fifteen minutes in the spotlight almost a year ago.

There’s been no funding yet for the Real Thing, though a round of struggle for several billion worth is underway in the congressional lame duck session.

I’ll leave the blow-by-blow on that to others. For me the prototypes were a thing, a key symbol of where this country might yet be taken. I think of them as a portent; I dare to hope they’ll end up as no more than a monument.

I meant them no mischief; I wasn’t going to protest, splash them with paint, nothing like that. They were supposed to be impregnable and unclimbable anyway. I just wanted to go where they were, contemplate them up close, and with luck, walk over and touch one. Take some pictures of my own.

The others were game, so off we went. Finding them appeared to be easy: my GPS lit right up when I typed in “prototypes.”

They were, it said, near the Otay Mesa border crossing, about 25 miles southeast of downtown San Diego. Lines for roads went across my phone screen straight to the Prototype marker.

But my GPS was mistaken, or perhaps out of date. Otay Mesa was a complex of large low warehouses, blank white boxes in the middle of an arid-looking stretch of desert.

The California desert, the real fence, and Tijuana beyond it, across from Otay Mesa.

The crossing we saw was emitting a steady stream of huge tractor trailer trucks. Beyond it, East Tijuana sprawled out along  the border fence, with maquiladoras in front and housing behind, crawling up the edges of foothills a few miles farther east.

But the roads on my screen were all blocked in fact. More than that, they didn’t really exist. Pavement ran past the warehouses, then abruptly disappeared; it looked to me like roads had been bulldozed.

When we came to the first one, we checked the GPS, drove a few blocks up, and tried the next street. Nope. And then a third one.

None went beyond the warehouse complex. The GPS lines hinted that they must have done so, not long ago; the barriers looked new.

We had not thought to bring binoculars, and following the fence running eastward with the naked eye at first didn’t show any sign of the prototypes. Had we been misled by our devices?

No. Sliding my phone camera into the gap between two locked metal gates, I finally spotted them, far in the distance, hazy but barely discernible spots.

As close as we got.

That was the best we could do. Half an hour more of exploratory driving suggested that all access roads had either been closed or demolished. In the distance a cream-colored Border Patrol van raised a dust cloud, following a track near them; it was clearly not open to us, if we could even have found it.

We headed back toward San Diego and the motel. Puzzled, I started googling local news reports about this. Why was the location so remote in the first place? Why was it then closed off, essentially hidden?

Turns out the administration was expecting all hell to break loose around them. Homeland Security sent a memo to local officials, warning them to expect huge, militant protests.

In response, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department spent at east $50,000 on riot equipment, including lots of pepper spray and tear gas, then paid for 10,000 hours of overtime for deputies and staff to practice using it. Much more was spent on “securing the area” around the prototypes. (It certainly was fully secured against us tourists.)

But it turned out there weren’t any but token  protests. When the president came to visit last March, about a hundred veterans were assembled to wave MAGA flags and applaud. Nearby, 15 doughty anti-wall protesters chanted and waved posters; there was no trouble.

Local radicals told the press they had decided to ignore the whole thing. (Once, though, a few art grad students parked behind the prototypes on the Mexican side, and when it got dark, projected some anti-wall images on them; but no damage was reported.)

[UPDATE: On December 10, several hundred protesters gathered on the American side to protest the treatment of asylum seekers penned up in tent cities on the Mexican side. The gathering was peaceful, though a few dozen were arrested.]

Besides the sparseness of protests, widespread skepticism, and even derision has been expressed about how useful the wall could be as a deterrent, coming from many who could hardly be classed as lefties. When a Fox News talking head claimed that a group of Navy SEALS proved unable to climb or breach the prototypes, a SEALS spokesman sniffed that no SEALS had wasted time going anywhere near them. And the military-oriented War Zone website also pointed out that drug and people smugglers are already adept at getting over, under or around existing wall-type barriers; it’s part of their skill set.

In fact, it seems the whole prototype project has been pretty much forgotten. A touring company has offered visits to them; but its site had none scheduled, and does not even list a ticket price; business must be less than brisk. (Small print added that visiting the prototypes on the other side was very hazardous, due to a high risk of robbery or kidnapping.)

Besides, the White House has moved on to peddling hysteria about an “invasion” by caravans of terrorist asylum-seekers from Central America, armed with full diapers and empty stomachs. The day we went searching for the prototypes, several hundred tired, hungry refugees, mainly from Honduras, were crowding into tents and a Tijuana soccer stadium, before making efforts to file asylum claims. Soon enough, the border Patrol had a chance to use some of that stored up tear gas, several miles west of where the prototypes kept their ersatz vigil, on mothers and toddlers

I still wanted to visit the wall segments. I maintain the possibly vain hope they’ll end up as a monument to monumental folly.

But the next day, we visited my other favored site, the San Diego Mission, founded by Spanish priests before the radical gringo colonists in the east had won independence from some King named George.

There I had better luck: they let us in. I lit two candles: one for a friend facing surgery, and the other as a plea for forgiveness for all this crazy wickedness.

There was no damage at this small demonstration either.

[Update: the 8 wall prototypes were demolished by the regime in March 2019.]
They disappeared in the dust of Ozymandias after all.

4 thoughts on “The Lonely “Wall”: Rolling Through Flyover Country To the Mexican Border”

  1. Hi Chuck,

    I am more and more convinced that the more we focus on that which is external, whether it be be important ideas (like this one) or wall prototypes, the farther we are from doing what can actually bring change.

    As the UK has learned, change without a stable 60% or greater base of support (a number from political sociologists) will fail.

    Doing what creates that 60% base of progressive folks is the only place our focus will make a difference.

    That’s the target. In Quaker terms, finding that of Spirit in all people, especially the 5% we need to swing the percentages, in the context of person-to-person connection over time, is the method. Or we can wait a generation.


  2. Trump’s Wall if it is completed, scares the Hell out of me. It will be used by him and his supporters to KILL people like me trying to escape the BEAST System, just like the Berlin Wall was used to kill people trying to escape East Berlin into West Berlin. And, I am sure the people of East Berlin were told in 1962 that they needed that wall to protect them from the evil West Berliners, but the real reason it was put up was to keep the slaves of East Berlin in East Berlin, just like Trump’s Wall WILL be used to keep us slaves in this FAR RIGHT TOTALLY FASCIST BEAST SYSTEM! I remember a sci fi movie back in the 1990’s in which it portrayed an American family trying to escape the U.S.A. into Mexico, and there was a high tech barrier set up along the border to keep the American Slaves inside America! We all know that despite all of Trump’s propaganda about needing a border wall to protect us from invading Mexicans that he and his corporate buddies love to use cheap labor from south of the border to build his resorts and work in them once they are built and for many other businesses, so they are lying through their teeth when they say the wall is to keep out Mexicans! IT WILL BE USED TO KEEP DISSIDENTS LIKE ME IN!!! WE ARE LIVING IN A HIGH TECH ORWELLIAN POLICE STATE NIGHTMARE HERE IN THE U.S. THAT IS ACTUALLY FAR WORSE THAN ANYTHING ORWELL EVER COULD HAVE IMAGINED!!!

  3. Thank you for this post. My mother lives just outside San Diego. I’ve been visiting her a lot in recent years since her health has been an issue, and I’ve thought of taking my own visit to the prototypes. I checked Google Maps as you did and thought it would be feasible, but you’ve proven it isn’t. I also was concerned about security and was not prepared to abandon my trip to be with my mom to spend time in lockup.

    More broadly, though, I routinely watch the news and read the San Diego Union-Tribune while I am visiting. There are plenty of lefties living in San Diego, despite the near constant presence of the Navy and Marines, and I have yet to learn about a sustained protest against the wall (that might have justified the money the sheriff spent). I wondered why that might be, and your thoughts on the issue are well taken.

    I too share your hope that these prototypes will someday soon be a demonstration of the folly of this administration’s proto-fascist policies.

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