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All was going well on 17-year-old George Marhoefer’s first trip to Tijuana in 1974.

He and a friend, a freshman at San Diego State University, had found a good cheap bar, where for 25 cents, “you got a beer and you got a dance with one of the gals.”

They met another man, a San Diego businessman who knew Tijuana well, and offered to drive them back to the U.S. side of the border, where they’d parked their car.

But on the way back, nature called. The man, whose name now escapes Marhoefer, pulled over near a vacant lot. Marhoefer and the man got out to relieve themselves — just as a police car pulled up behind them.

The police officers arrested them for urinating in public, and led the pair to downtown’s legendary Tijuana Jail, which is scheduled to close soon, as I wrote in a post here recently.

“They had a shotgun pointed at me as they walked me in,” Marhoefer, now 54, recalled.

Neither Marhoefer nor the man had the $35 that the police told them they each had to pay in cash, so they went to jail.

“The cell was all cement. The beds were concrete with no bedding and the toilet had no running water,” Marhoefer said. “And the cell was completely wet. Right before we got there they had to break up a fight with a hose, so the guy in the cell was bleeding from his nose. He was out of his mind delirious. I thought he was going to die.”

In the meantime, Marhoefer’s college friend had returned home to his dorm room at SDSU.

The next morning, the man Marhoefer had been arrested with convinced the jail’s guards to let him write a check to make bail, for twice as much as they’d requested the night before.

As he wrote the check, he whispered to Marhoefer that he planned to put a stop payment on the check as soon as he got home.

“I told him he’d better never come back to Tijuana,” Marhoefer remembered. “The only time I’ve ever been in jail was the Tijuana jail. It was a sickening experience, you know?”

A few years later, Marhoefer said, he was in nearby Ensenada with a group of friends when they got pulled over for running a red light. Instead of complying with the officer’s demand for a bribe, the car’s driver challenged the police officer to take them to jail.

“From that back seat I was saying ‘pay him!’” Marhoefer said. But the driver had called the officer’s bluff. The police let them go.

♦♦♦

For the many servicemen who have found themselves spending an unfortunate night behind bars, Christopher Gulyas was like a savior.

When he was in the Navy, Christopher Gulyas was a member of the Shore Patrol based at the 32nd Street Naval Station in Barrio Logan.

“My job (or part of) was to go down and bail our guys out,” Gulyas wrote in an email.

I would contact my counterparts at the T.J. Jail and make bail for them (the Navy had a slush fund for this purpose, the servicemen paid it back). The job was to get them back here before it got REALLY bad for them there.

What I observed, smelled, etc. is something else. Not pretty, not friendly, not good memories, but memories just the same.

Please contact Adrian Florido directly at adrian.florido@voiceofsandiego.org or at 619.325.0528 and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adrianflorido.

Adrian Florido

Adrian Florido is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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