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It was a dark 4 am in my Mexico City hotel – the Intercontinental Presidente. I quickly gathered my stuff and went downstairs to grab a taxi. It was Monday morning and I had to get to work. I had a meeting in my office at 10. In Los Angeles.
I’ve heard there are folks who commute daily from San Francisco to L.A. or from N.Y. to D.C. But those are only one-hour flights, which makes their daily round trip challenging but not impossible.
I, on the other hand, was sleepily boarding a 4 ½ hour international flight from Mexico City to Los Angeles. Fortunately, I didn’t have to return that evening – that would be ridiculous. Or it could have been professional if I was, for instance, an airline employee.
No, I wouldn’t be returning until late in the week.
The other difference between me and those folks who were doing those inter-city commutes? They were traveling from home to work. But I was commuting from work to work. That is, I had jobs in both cities. For a little while.
Here was the routine: I'd be up at 4 and head to the airport for a 7 am flight. With the time change advantage I would arrive at Los Angeles at nine. Then it was just a matter of getting to the parking garage and driving in to work. I could get there around 10, along with my fellow employees.
Only difference was they were coming in from Santa Monica or Hollywood or from a dozen other LA neighborhoods. Whereas I had winged in from Mexico, Distrito Federal or the Federal District. Their equivalent of District of Columbia.
My co-workers would complain about the drive, the creeping traffic, the accident in the middle of the freeway. How they lost 20 minutes because of some fender bender, car fire or freeway chase. And I would nod, commiserate and pretty much stay silent about my own six-hour commute from the Presidente Hotel in Mexico to our office in Burbank.
So How Did This Come About, Anyway?
Well… opportunity struck. This doesn’t happen often, having two jobs, but it was in direct opposition to that other state of reality we’ve all lived – having no job.
Most of us have experienced dry periods of slow or no employment. I certainly have. It feels as though everyone else is busy and engaged. It’s only you who hasn’t been invited to the dance.
Luckily, I had been on a roll for a number of years, but there was always that nagging sense it all could end tomorrow. I’ve heard movie stars feel this way as well… it isn’t just me. So, when this second work situation arose – in Mexico - I felt I could balance it with my TV production job in L.A., usually a Monday through Friday arrangement.
And the Mexico gig? Well, it was a travel show all about… Mexico. With the President of Mexico. On his plane. Or one of his helicopters. Or a boat. There’s always a boat in these shows.
This meant weekends were for running around Mexico. On a Sunday we could be shooting in the Yucatan or at the ruins of Chichen Itza. And then come Monday morning I would skedaddle back to the States and the ruins of the 405.
I would have to plan everything very carefully. What did I need to bring to Mexico – the right clothes, schedules, passport, currency, etc. And what did I need to bring to work Monday morning - again the right clothes, computer, currency, etc.
But Jon, Didn’t Anyone Know?
Uhh…. I mean, they sort of knew in Mexico. I wasn’t there during the week, right? But in the U.S… not so much. Of course, it would have been easier if they had. There were times I was working in Mexico, and might have needed to give the impression I was in the U.S.
I would be in the middle of a Mexican village and someone might call from L.A. needing information - directions to a shoot in Orange County or someone’s flight schedule to Chicago.
This meant I needed to carry lots of information with me. And try not to get the two situations mixed up.
It was in these moments that the concept of the global village became frighteningly clear. Even a bit dizzying. I was reminded of an old New Yorker cartoon: Two dogs are sitting at a computer and one says to the other, "On the internet no one knows you're a dog."
Now it’s possible to be anyone, anywhere in today's digi-world. The only problem is when you're expected to show up in person. Short of androids, we still have to make a physical appearance ourselves. No one has figured out a way around that one… yet. Hence my long distance commute.
But it was fun. I loved the concept of waking up in Mexico City and having a coffee break late morning in LA. Sure there was some guilt, but I was working hard to give everyone what they wanted. It was a hustle and I suppose I was gaming the system, but I was just trying to be all things to all people. The people in L.A., the people in Mexico, helping my family with the extra dough. But I paid for it in sleep, nerves and that 1990’s cliché, quality time.
Still, there was the naughty adventure of it all. At work, when someone asked me how my weekend was and what I did. I would quickly summon up a conventional, 'Went shopping.’ 'Played with the kids'. Of course, I hadn't seen my kids in days.
And yes… yes… yes. I wanted to reveal everything to everyone. But in the production business everyone wants to believe you've dedicated your life to only their project. Hey, when I’m running a show I'm the same way – (“What do you mean you want to take tomorrow off to attend your mother’s funeral? We’ve got a big shoot with Wink Martindale!”)
Back in the USSA
But as with all schemes, it was just a matter of time before something went south - pun intended - and I would get caught from behind. I probably knew this, especially since I was starting to make little slip ups.
Moving back and forth between the two worlds I was feeling what I imagined a bigamist must go through. In my case, an international bigamist. Two places of work, two sets of crews, essentially two families. And it was a challenge trying to keep my stories and everyone’s name straight as well.
More than once back at work in L.A. I let slip an accidental “Si” with a co-worker.
“Hey Jon, Ralph wants to know if he can come in an hour later.”
To which I carelessly replied, “¿Si, que es la problema?”
And then I would laugh… loudly, making it seem like unexpected Spanish was hip, and I would loudly add: “Mi Amigo?”
This was soon followed by a quiet conversation with myself (in English) to get it together.
Anyway, one Monday morning I was on an early Aero Mexico flight returning from a culturally frantic weekend covering ancient native temples.
All around me my fellow LA bound travelers sleepily prepared for the start/end of a vacation or the beginnings of a work week. Over my breakfast of Huevos Whatever, I would dig out notes and materials for my own upcoming work day in the good ‘ol U.S.A.
I needed this time to get my head out of the wonders of the weekend’s Aztec ruins and back into the spectacle of American reality TV. Less Chichen Itza – more “Real Zombie Housewife Preppers of Georgia”.
At about nine-thirty a.m. I arrived at the Parking Spot where I picked up my father-in-law’s convertible. He had generously loaned it to me as my car was in the shop. And I was off and running again… to more work.
It’s a funny sensation moving back and forth between cultures. Just a short while ago I had been traversing the Paseo de las Jacarandas and Calle Capitán Carlos León in Mexico City. Now a café con leche later I was cruising the 101 and Ventura Boulevard.
But no matter the country, it was Monday morning everywhere and people were trudging to work. Some drove, some took a bus and then there were a few strange souls who schlepped in on an Aero Mexico 737.
So there I was this particular Monday morning, hurrying to the L.A. office, sleepy, a little jet-lagged, not quite at the top of my game… whatever that was.
I probably should have been a bit more aware of the traffic around me. One should always be aware of traffic conditions in one’s immediate vicinity. It’s called situational awareness and mine was a few clicks down from where it should have been. Maybe it was the time change or maybe it was the past few weeks of international overload.
That’s probably why I didn’t immediately notice when the traffic light turned from amarillo to rojo. Thus, I was a beat late as I hit the brakes, jerking to a stop. Instinctively, I looked in the rearview. My hair must have stood up as I saw a young lady in a big truck - on her phone - bearing down at warp speed.
I barely had time to “brace for impact”. When – bam! – the truck plowed into me and the world split apart. I was smashed back into my seat, my head slamming into the well-placed headrest.
I stumbled from the car and tried to grab a handhold on reality. Where was I? What happened? Are there any policia nearby? No wait. I’m in Burbank. I’m in the U.S. Everything’s ok.
But I just totaled my father-in-law’s Mustang.
I looked over at the big Ford. It barely had a dent. On the other hand, the Mustang looked like an accordion. There was no question as to fault as the young woman sang her tragic aria to me:
“I’m so sorry! I’m so sorry! It’s my fault. It’s my boyfriend’s truck. I’m so sorry!”
I nodded that I understood. Then I stumbled over to the curb and heaved that morning’s huevos all over Hollywood Way. It was the end of an era.
That afternoon was spent in the emergency room where a young doctor x-rayed my neck. He had just bought a house in my neighborhood, so we talked real estate… also he said I had the neck of a middle-aged man. Which was appropriate. Other than that, no damage.
The Mexico project was almost done. I had spread myself too thin and in truth this wasn’t fair to anyone. I had made some bucks… and some pesos. It had been fun. But I clearly wasn’t the international man of mystery I had thought I would be.
I just belonged to the freeway commute like everyone else – advancing fifteen feet at a time.
My father-in-law was cool about the Mustang. He was getting on and had recently given up his own commute, no longer needing this car. Sometimes our world gets smaller, starting with our commute.
And no… no one here ever found out about my two-timing Mexican adventure.
That is… until now.
And... I never knew how lucky I was to have the freedom to traverse international borders so easily, with little consequence but a bit of fatigue… until now.
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