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The churro man tries to get ahead in the slow lane

November 19, 2009 |  8:04 am

El Churrero
-- the Churro Man -- sidesteps tamale carts, squeezes between bumpers and beggars, working 24 lanes of idling vehicles.

He walks through shimmering exhaust clouds, hawking sombreros teetering atop his head and sweets held aloft in a blue basket. His churros are warm and moist. "Churros here," he yells. "If they're not hot, you don't pay."

Deciderio Mauricio Cantera first waded into the sea of traffic at the gateway to California in 1968 and set eyes on the bored and the hungry as they waited, fidgeted and honked, inching toward the San Ysidro Port of Entry.

This isn't a traffic jam, thought Mauricio. This is a swap meet on wheels.

To American border crossers, the ragtag knots of vendors have long evoked wonder, pity and annoyance -- symbols of disorder and desperation at the shabby entrance to the developing world.

But there's much more to it than that. Read the rest of Mauricio's story here, in this special report from the border:

Photo: Deciderio Mauricio Cantera moves through traffic at the San Ysidro Port of Entry. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times