Travels with Ally
The hopped up drug gang on meth, or something, tried to take us down on the highway through Sinaloa but with evasive maneuvers we got away to haunt the taco stands of Mazatlan searching for frijoles de la olla. (Plain beans in the pot.)
We hadn't planned on driving down the West Coast of Mexico but got a wild hair and took a right at Tucson, abandoning Interstate 10 to Texas, Laredo, and the big birthday party in San Luis Potosi. (My septic system had failed days before we left California; we each had to dig a hole in opposite ends of the back yard like the old days. The shit was literally bubbling up in the back yard but I didn't want to postpone the trip waiting for the sewer pumper the next day--my caretaker would have to handle it.)
After a night at the beach of San Carlos, Sonora, we headed into the badlands of Sinaloa. We didn't want to tarry in cartel-infested territory but as dusk neared it was apparent we wouldn't be able to drive through the whole dangerous state in a single day. At dark we found ourselves outside Culiacan, just about the last place I wanted to spend the night; I sat at the gas station, immobilized, wondering what to do: keep on driving through the night, not recommended, or drive into the city to find a hotel, notwithstanding the shoot-out on the main street the previous week.
We didn't want to stay on the highway, and not right downtown either, and so we drove around the neighborhoods for an hour and a half looking for a charming B and B with a kindly old Mexican woman in front, ushering us in, something that I didn't think existed in Culiacan. We finally found a tweener, a small hotel a few blocks from downtown with a nice little park nearby. After cleaning up and eating the last of the tofu sandwiches (eleven meals of tofu in four days, a modern Sinaloa record) we went out in search of flan but just found kittens for motherly Allison to pet, and a "ladies bar" next to the hotel where we sat for half a minute and I eyed some of the aging hookers, or were they just regular women? I wasn't sure but the place felt so toxic we quickly left. At the hotel office I asked the boy if they were prostitutes but he said no.
The next day as we drove into Mazatlan a hoard of young men descended on the truck at a red light, madly splashing their soaps and liquids on the windshield, about five or six of them; I gave them the finger wave "no" but they kept coming. I put on the wipers and some backed off, then I gunned it through the red light, then safely through another one and left the savages behind.
We drove around a neighborhood looking for frijoles de la olla then settled on a taco stand so Allison could eat something; when she couldn't decide what texture of pork to order she burst into tears and went to the bathroom. She was gone awhile so I made up and sang silly songs and flirted with the workers: "Oh, oh, lost in the bano!"
"Its her time of the month," I gallantly told our unimpressed waitress.
Running Out Of Gas
We raced out of Culican on the autopista, the long gringo highway, thinking there would be a gas station along that expensive, paved line through the state of Sinaloa and South down the Mexico coast but there wasn't; when the gauge slipped under a fourth of a tank I exited toward a small town on the jungle road. The reserve light came on and I sweated it out, then spotted the sign Chilapa, 1 Kilometer; I cruised into the little town and stopped to ask some people outside a restaurant if there was gas.
"No Pemex in this town," she said. "But you can buy by the liter at a house, I will show you."
"But I have no room in my truck for you," I said.
"Follow me on my bicycle," she said.
I turned around, as I passed by the little two- table restaurant I asked "Do you have frijoles de la olla?"
"Yes!" the woman said as I drove away.
I followed the woman or man a few blocks to a street lined with big fancy buses, there was an evangelical revival meeting happening in a huge arena. She knocked on a door, called up to a house, and the woman came out. "How much you want?" she asked.
"Eight liters," I said, about two gallons. She came out with two gallon jugs and a funnel and poured it in.
I gave the bicyclista a five peso tip. Allison woke up and later said, "The dyke on the bike was hot, just my type, I'd do her."
We drove on South toward Vallarta and San Pancho where I had reserved a few days at my friends sweet little guest casa in back for a beach vacation.
We found the gas station just five more miles down the road, we would've made it but I couldn't take that chance: out of gas on a quiet road in Sinaloa sans even a cell phone.
It was another unexpected day at the beach, the gringo, surfer-infested beach where we hummed the song: Sayulita or Sinaloa--which is the worst hell?
We paid five bucks for our chairs and went into the waves; it was glorious those mini-breakers, and then it got weird: When we were in Tucson contemplating changing our road trip to Texas and heading South into Mexico Allison had told me that if we go to the beach she would give me an avocado scrub on the sand. At the time I told her that was the nicest offer I'd even gotten. Now at the beach I sat in position and she handed me half an avocado.
"Here, rub this on your chest," she said.
"What?" I said. "This is your whole idea, I'm not going to rub it on me, you said you were."
"Just your shoulders," she said. "I can't rub your chest, we're just friends."
"Sure we're just friends but I'd rub it on your chest, I don't care. What? You're afraid you'll get all turned on my my sexy hairy chest?" So she puts it on me and tries to make me out as some freako who's demanding an avo rub? She did my shoulders for a minute then I smeared the rest on my legs and we were good to go.
Allison put together some makeshift swim wear by wrapping a shawl around her hips and we had an amazing swim in the warm waters. We sat in our rented recliners gazing out at the surfers and the sea and it was nice, but the venders keep coming by and Allison talked to all of them and they're blocking my view of the sea.
"This is annoying, stop acknowledging them, you already told me you don't want to buy their junk," I said. "Hey, could you take a picture of me to prove I was at the beach?" Another vendor came by and distracted her. "No," I said to one, no to another, and then there's about three around us and I scream out "No!"
Then I'm trying to get her to take my pic again and when she makes some derisive comment I lose it. "Take the picture you fucking bitch! Take a fucking picture bitch! Don't flick your cigarette at me!" I gave her the finger with a snarling face.
"I was just throwing it in the pile of trash there by your feet," she said.
"Bullshit! That's an insult in just about every culture!"
She didn't take the fucking picture but she did video it, then she started crying and left her pile of garbage behind. "I'm leaving," she said.
"Me too," I said. "I'll see you back at the car in twenty minutes." When I found her again at the car she said she found some nice veggies at the little store; she picked out a bag of fruits and veggies and we walk back to the car.
"These will be nice," she says. "Aren't you going to get any?"
"Are you kidding? We'll share those."
"Well, if I'd known they were for you too I'd have gotten more--lets go back and get more."
We turned to go back to the store when I said, "Forget it, we'll just eat those. How can you think you would just get them for yourself? You know, everything I've done or gotten on this trip I've shared with you. And by the way, what do you think of me buying all the gas and the motel rooms?"
"Oh, you were going to Mexico anyway so I assumed you were paying."
"Well, I wasn't going to Mexico anyway, you instigated me to go." And that was one hell of a day at the beach.
Lost In Guadilajara
The thing about the whole Mexico trip was that it seemed accidental: my friends were here and planning the big party for their father as they worked, and worked on me to go; Allison decided she wanted to go, travel South with me; and because we were originally heading straight to Texas I hadn't thought to bring any maps, it was a straight shot down to San Luis Potosi from Austin.
After the beach where we got into some really dumb arguments, probably mostly my fault, we headed East toward the party in SLP. Okay, we should've taken the "Preferida," the bypass around Guadilajara, Mexico's second largest city, but I decided to just drive right across its broad expanse, something I'd done before without trouble. I saw the sign for the bypass and had an urge but rolled on through on the broad blvd. When we reached a complicated roundabout we were shuttled onto a city street and soon saw daily life in Guadilajara close up. Eventually we found our way out of town but every time we took the sign to Mexico, it ended up somewhere else, not South toward Mexico City. I kept trying and finally stopped and bought the $20 map of MEXICO, the Guia Rojo.
We examined the Guia Rojo and found that, unlike the previous editions, it didn't have the city maps we needed to find our way out of the metropolis, just directions for a cell phone app to see them, but we were without the smarty pants phone necessary. I stopped at another gas station just to buy a Guadilajara city map for seven bucks but that one was just the city streets and not the burbs where we were going around and around. (I also left behind the Guia Rojo in the store I discovered later.)
There was nothing to do but drive downtown and start over, it had been almost three hours driving around in circles, and we did get to see the Olde City, quite beautiful, from the truck windows. I found a cabbie and asked him to lead me to the highway to Guanajuato--he was happy to oblige for ten bucks and within fifteen minutes we were on the edge of town at highway 80. I gave him the Guadilajara map as a tip and Allison chipped in another twenty pesos. On the road again we drove until sunset stopping for a simple room in a nameless town sans wi-fi.
Oh man that was a blowout for the ages, I doubt that any of us will have a 70th like that, in our own hotel no less. The patio was an amazing outside ballroom ringed above with more party/patio space. Drinks were at 6p, servers came around with trays of little round crackery things with mushroom something on top (canapes?). There were photo shoots with the birthday boy/man Humberto then dinner time in one of the two dining areas: bean soup, salad, rabbit mole, mushroom mole, and an array of alcoholic beverages at each table. All the usual suspects were there: Nouch, Diego, Brigit and the rest of the Europeon contingent as well as the Texans, Humberto's family, and others who had traveled many miles to get to this little village through a mile long tunnel at 9000 feet-- even a Huichol shaman and a famous Hollywood director.
After dinner the Matehuala Mariachi band struck up the music and soon the patio filled with dancing celebrants; I'd had a few margaritas and was ready to move. It was all the couples dancing and after asking a few friends I just went out there weaving my way through the dancers to the band stand then back to the dining area; that was fun, bumping my way forward to the Mariachi beat. Soon more party people poured onto the floor and the couples motif broke down into a free form frenzy; I went upstairs to watch below and found some poles holding up the canopy to use as dancing props. I must admit I got a little crazed and busted my falling down move once, once is enough for that little "crowd-pleaser."
A Texas guy came up to me and said "You're peculiar, aren't you?"
I reflexively started to temper or deny it, then said, "Yeah I guess."
Dancing dancing dancing with my dear friend Brigitte, just one dance please I asked her husband Cristoff--he didn't want to give her up so we did a Brigitte sandwich sort of dance and then I danced with Dana for awhile, a fun American-style boogier.
On into the night we drank and danced while others talked around the fire and Ally, my traveling companion, was the life of her circle of partiers wherever she roamed. It was reaching the point where I was starting to lag, starting to labor, losing a step or two yet not wanting to leave the party; an hour later toward midnight another more modern band played in the spacious bar and the revelers danced into the next day. I wandered home across town by midnight leaving the party in full swing.
Now the coffee is hitting the receptors and I'm looking out the window to the desert 5000 feet below, listening to the smooth morning wake-up music of Pancho Sanchez. Everyone, 200 or so will gather again for noon brunch (!) then an electronic dance party at 6pm. There will be toasts, maybe a roast, an erotic pinata, and perhaps more surprises...
(To start the day the insiders took a 5:30 sunrise hike up to Que Mado)
At The Border
We cruised up the autopista from Matehuala and into the border, Ally feverishly holding back her pee; the guard in the booth waved us up to the unloading slots where Ally bounded out of the truck looking for a bathroom.
"You have to leave your purse," the customs guy said. Away she went and the man said, "What is your relationship with her?"
"Friends," I said. "She's kind of like my niece."
"Kind of?" he asked.
"Well, I'm like an uncle, we don't have sex."
He looked at my California drivers license, "Do you have one of those medical marijuana cards?" He asked, the sniffer dog looking on.
"No," I lied.
He looked at me skeptically; Ally came back and the customs agents told us to take everything out of the car, which we did, filling the long shelf by the parking area. When everything was out a black woman wearing a bullet proof vest said "The dogs have alerted, please come with me."
We went into a locked room nearby where there were ten or fifteen people, all of Mexican descent, handcuffed to chairs, they handcuffed us also. I started whispering to Ally, "When they find that money they're going to want to know why we have it."
"We have nothing to worry about," she said. "We haven't done anything illegal." Being handcuffed to a chair in a room at the border is a singularly unique and terrifying experience. We continued trying, sotto voce, to get our story straight; I knew if we were interviewed separately it would be all over. A jail matron came by. "You can't talk to each other," she said. "We only put you together because of the seating situation."
After forty-five minutes the black woman came back and gave me my wallets, my regular one and the one that I had stashed with Allison's things in a plastic bag in the back of the truck.
"You said you had less than $10,000, right?" she asked. "Yes," I said.
Ten minutes later she came back, unlocked my handcuffs, and took me into another room with an Hispanic co-worker. She counted out the money, about $7000 in hundreds, and asked why I had so much cash. "Don't you know its not safe in Mexico?" said her cohort.
"Well really," I said. "These squeegie guys, hopped up on meth or something, tried to take us down in Sinaloa last week but I ran two red lights to get away, but its not really so bad in Mexico."
"What do you do down there?" the black enforcer asked.
"Oh, same as up here, landlord, I have a house and..."
She looked at me like oh shit, now this? Like she was about to let me go but now? She gave me back the wallet and locked me back up next to Ally, who looked very tense. A few minutes later she came back, unlocked us, and let us drive away. To celebrate our freedom we drove through Laredo a few miles to Chili's where I had an old timers burger and milk shake in honor of my father's favorite meal. As I ate I saw Ally intently watching CNN, the school massacre at Sandy Hook had just happened.