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Mexican Time

At Los Amigos, a taco shop on Hidalgo Avenida adjacent to Tecate’s central plaza, Cayetano Herrera reflects on the fickle nature of time.

“It’s a burden,” he says.

Herrera is referring to the Mexican government’s decision to keep the usual starting date for daylight-saving time — the first Sunday in April — rather than push it back to the second Sunday in March, as the U.S. did. Over a dinner of quesadilla de harina con carne and an orange soda, he complains about the challenges of living and working in two different time zones. “You always have to think about where you’re going and when you’re going to leave.”

While many Mexicans legally cross the border every day to work in the United States, Herrera is the odd American who travels to Mexico for his job at Toyota. The 49-year-old shipping supervisor begins his 55-mile trek in Mission Valley near Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego and arrives at the Toyota plant eight miles west of Tecate, which abuts the U.S. border, an hour and five minutes later.

Herrera manages shipping for TABC Inc., a division of Toyota, and his job requires that he work in both Tecate, where he grew up and still has family, and Long Beach. His work has taken him all over the world, from Canada to Kentucky, San Francisco to Argentina. The logistical demands have prepared him for juggling time zones when shipping truck beds to Indiana and catalytic converters to Japan, but the north-south shift in time is something he’s never experienced in his 28 years of working for Toyota.

“What’s being saved?” he asks over the dialogue between waiters and cooks at the grill. “Everyone down here is running earlier. You constantly need to adjust.”

While those crossing into Mexico gain an extra hour in the morning, the hour they lose coming back in the evening is further complicated by the delays at the border. Since 9/11, many travelers forgo the long lines and excruciating wait at the Tijuana border in favor of the shorter lines at Tecate, 40 miles to the east. As a result, on a typical weekday, it can take anywhere from five minutes to an hour to cross into California, even longer if you’re selected for secondary inspection. That’s when the extra hour really takes its toll.

“You get off at 6,” Herrera says. “By the time you cross the border, it’s 7, but all of a sudden, it’s 8. Physically, you don’t feel like you’ve lost the hour, but mentally, it’s a challenge.”

Even more confusing is his car navigation system, which keeps the correct time only in the U.S. His telephone adjusts to the right time, but not right away. Herrera’s solution? He keeps two watches: one on Mexican time, the other on Californian. “Once I cross the border,” he says, holding up his arm, “I wear the Mexico watch. Instead of changing the time, I change the watch.”

Yet even this system isn’t foolproof. Late-night crossings into California are tricky: The Border Patrol closes the border at 11 p.m., which is 10 o’clock Tecate time. Herrera wipes his mouth with a napkin and adjusts his baseball cap emblazoned with a TABC logo. He plucks a radish from a wooden bowl on the table and heaves a heavy sigh.

“Tomorrow morning, I need to get up with our time to beat the traffic and be in Tecate an hour earlier. If I wait for Mexico time, I’ll spend more time on the freeway.”

Herrera says he’ll be grateful when Mexico springs forward on Sunday and he can stop thinking about time all the time. Until then, he’ll keep wearing two watches and showing up for work an hour early.

“I’ll probably stay in my car and take a nap.”