Rose Bowl Flashback: Tijuana Taxi by Ted Johnson

by Ted Johnson, BA ’71, JD ’75, M100 ’67-’68

During our stay in Los Angeles in December, 1967, the Hundred was quartered in Hedrick Hall, then a very new-looking dormitory atop a foothill on the edge of the UCLA campus. Most days we practiced for the Rose parade, pregame and halftime shows on an intramural athletic field located below the dormitory. We marched to the field, typically through morning fog, which burned off quickly in the hot California sun. In the coolness of each evening we made our way on foot to an under-21 discotheque someone had discovered on Sunset Boulevard. The place had the glitz and polish of a disco for over-21 crowds, with pool tables and a large strobe-lit dance floor packed with college students every night, just no alcohol. One morning we took buses to the Biltmore Hotel in downtown L.A., where we played for I.U. alumni and fans from the large atrium hotel lobby. Another day we marched and spent time at Disneyland, and another day the band—or most of the band visited Universal Studios and Marineland. Two of us, trombonists to the core, created our own tour option Tijuana.

At breakfast that particular morning, my buddy in the trombone section and I asked assistant director Bob Glidden if we couldn’t pass on the studio tour and Marineland visit, ostensibly for the purpose of “visiting a relative in L.A.” (My future sister-in-law was a stewardess for American Airlines, and she did live in Pacific Palisades at the time.) We were astonished at the ease with which we convinced Mr. Glidden to grant us permission to separate from the band for the day, on the condition that we return before “lights out” that evening.

Within an hour or so we were off in a rented car with two other I.U. friends headed south on I-5 to Tijuana, Mexico. We parked the car on the American side of the border, because the insurance wouldn’t cover damage or liability occurring outside of the United States. We passed through the gate, walked across the border into Mexico, and hopped into the first taxi we saw.

It immediately became clear that the cab driver had other intentions. He turned off the highway and drove us into an area with unpaved streets without street signs. He eventually stopped his cab outside an adobe building at the intersection of two dusty back streets and motioned for us to get out. We saw the shadowed entrance of the building without a sign and the covered heads of two men standing near the building turn in our direction. Having every reason to believe this was a convenient place to waylay four gringos, we didn’t budge—a Mexican standoff, if you will. One of our group of four was a senior Spanish major. Winging it, he insisted that the driver take us downtown to la biblioteca, figuring that it would be better to show an interest in reading instead of whatever the driver had in mind for us. Bewildered, and after a period of time that seemed like an eternity, the driver eventually relented and drove us downtown.

The rest of our “Ferris Bueller’s day off” was uneventful, spent souvenir hunting in Tijuana. Late that afternoon we were relieved to find our rented car in the same condition and location where we had parked it on the American side that morning. We savored in silence the long trip back to L.A. as we took in view a spectacular sunset over the Pacific Ocean. We arrived at Hedrick Hall, older and wiser trombonists than we were just twelve hours earlier, just in time to join ranks for the nightly trek to Sunset Boulevard.