Taxilandia: San Diego. A Car Ride Through Chula Vista, National City and San Ysidro that Goes from Immersive to Raw and Dynamic

With an Added Public Transportation Experience Full of Suspense and Mixed Feelings  

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

Bernardo Mazón Daher as Sal in “Taxilandia: San Diego.” Photo: ebofcourse

Innovation is key especially now and especially in theatre, an art form that has always suffered in the collective share of mind compared to other live entertainment relatives like concerts and movies. 

Taxilandia: San Diego I believe, is one of those pieces that uplifts the craft creatively and very differently. Developed and directed by Modesto ‘Flako’ Jimenez, written and performed by local artist Bernardo Mazón Daher, and presented in partnership with Oye Group. The immersive piece was created during the Playhouse’s Digital Without Walls (WOW) series in 2020. An experience where audiences are whisked away inside a car through different neighborhoods. There have been Oceanside, East San Diego, and New York editions in the past. For this iteration, the trip entails Chula Vista, National City, and San Ysidro with host/driver Sal (played by Bernardo Mazón Daher). Audience members meet at a National City Trolley stop and get into a car for a two-hour and change experience where three people ride in the backseat, and Sal drives while sharing stories and pictures through a tablet located on the headrest of one of the backseats. A speaker/sound system amplifies his voice and the passengers'. What is very cool about the experience is that you literally live and breathe the culture and semiotics of those neighborhoods while learning how they came about and how they have been and are being gentrified. Predominantly Latin American and Filipino communities that like the dialogue in the car says, do the "dual language lambada dance". (loved that phrase)

There are different dynamics throughout the car ride. Passengers receive a notebook and a pen and are encouraged to write or draw whatever comes to mind when going through the different streets. There are also car rules like no eating or drinking, helping each other out, and no talking during the green lights but encouraged to talk and share what is going through everyone's minds along with possible questions during the red light pauses. The combo between scripted and "real" is creative, there are a few stops included too where murals and local street art can be appreciated as well as the meaning of street art terminology like tag, and con safos. Sal shares his border, Mexican, and Middle Eastern heritage, as well as his upbringing in so-so-southern California. Something else I appreciated was going to places like strip malls and streets I had never been to and curiously have driven by my whole life. In San Ysidro for example, along with some beautiful murals, Sal shared a couple of restaurants on the boulevard that I had never seen. Both appalled and in shock, I understood that that is also part of the experience. How life day to day takes over and we do not stop to literally smell the roses. In one of the murals, there is a Mexican family holding a case of Coca-Cola soft drinks. Sal pointed it out as gentrification and the influence of US culture but for me, it was total Mexican culture as Coca-Cola has been the staple in Mexican tables during meals for decades. Anyway, that is the beauty of theatre and art in general. En gustos see rompen géneros.

Once in San Ysidro Sal has a heated moment where he needs to step out of the car and get some air. A theatrical moment where riders can discuss their reactions and experience so far. We then see through the tablet as he goes to a quickie mart to buy water for everyone. Once back, he gifts each passenger a red bag that has a trolley card, -the water bottle-, a bag of peanuts from his father's snack shop, and a cardboard trolley figureen. Passengers will be invited to get out of the vehicle and figure their way back to the National City trolley stop on the trolley. There is also a rack card in the bag with a QR code that has activities to do with your fellow car riders during the trolley trip. 

I have established that this piece is a very creative way to do theatre and storytelling as well as bring new audience members because it is so original. With that said, I had total mixed feelings about the last portion, and I understand it is part of the experience as a whole. In the beginning, when we meet Sal, he shares that unlike other cities like New York or others in Europe, the subway is a democratized form of transportation whereas San Diego's trolley is mostly used by people who do not have the means. Again, I accept it, I get it. That was not the issue for me. The issue was the execution at the end and here is why: 

  • There is no warning that toward the end, you will have to go back on your own and ride the trolley. If we are being inclusive, we need to understand that there are people with triggers, anxiety, and disabilities who can't just be left there without a previous warning. The decision is being made for you and that is not very inclusive or considering. You could take an Uber back or call for someone to pick you up but, really?
  • The length of the experience is advertised as 90 minutes but in reality, it is over two hours.
  • The QR code with activities to do while riding the trolley back, um... no ma'am. I am dyslexic and get lost standing up, I cannot be on my phone and watch stories while I am figuring out where I am going!
  • I would love to be on every car ride and see people's reactions when being told to get out and return on their own. My co-passengers and I were very graceful, I do not know how the rest will react. I am guessing that is part of the experience as a whole too? With this last observation, there is also a fantastic audience cohort exercise where with certain demographic it can either go really well or really bad being dropped off one exit away from Tijuana... 
Going back to the positive and the creative, at least in my ride, the older couple I was left stranded with (lol) was absolutely loving and caring. We had a wonderful conversation on the way back and observed the people that got on at each of the stops. They explained how they recently moved to San Diego and the trolley has been a means to get to know the different corners of the city. So, from totally immersive to totally raw and dynamic, the trolley ride full of suspense and mixed feelings had a nice reward of new theatre friends and helping out each other during a weird turnaround. Again, I do not know how the rest reacted and are reacting but I hope it goes as smoothly as it went with my trio.

Taxilandia: San Diego is currently and literally running until November 6, it is also sold out. I would constantly check as there are cancellations. Oh, and the notepad is taken away and you can keep the pen. They let you take pictures of your notes.

If you are able, I encourage you to take the risk and help enrich this ride with your own take.

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