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♪ I’d Like to Buy The World Some Coke, And Keep Them Company ♬
Ten minutes into our cocktails, it hits me: Hey man- we’re in Mexico. Let’s go find some blow!
Chalk points out that I don’t know how to go about procuring drugs around here. And I’m all “Seriously? You do know where we are, right?”
I tell him a little story about a debaucherous night I spent in Mexico several years earlier:
Read at your own risk:
Once Upon a Time in Ciudad Acuña, Mexico:
Del Rio’s Song
I was on a cross-country road trip with two of my friends who shall here remain nameless. We had taken the southern route, and one of the nights, the evening of a late-May 100-degree-in-the-shade swelterfest of a day, we got a hotel in Del Rio, Texas, right on the border opposite Ciudad Acuña, which is in the Mexican state of Coahuila. Del Rio is the Dr. Jekyll to Ciudad Acuña’s Mr. Hyde; and believe me when I tell you that that is being very charitable to Del Rio. Exceedingly so.
We drove across the bridge (for all you movie buffs, the same bridge that Josh Brolin hucks that suitcase full of money off of in No Country For Old Men) and into Mexico. As is the case with all Mexican border towns that I have visited, the tourist district literally begins about 50 yards past the international toll crossing entrance station. There are hookers and coke dealers and all the other expected ne’er-do-wells of such a place plying their trades a mere stone’s throw from the border agents’ kiosks. You could literally have a hooker trying to get your attention while you’re still sitting there answering some customs agent’s questions about what is your intended purpose in visiting Mexico. As if crossing the border in order to readily access a strip of lawless bars full of drugs and loose women is not a sufficiently self-evident purpose in and of itself.
When the front wheels of my Mazda 323 crossed into the “happening” strip of Ciudad Acuña, the rear tires were still, for all intents and purposes, in the United States. That’s how quick the transition is.
We found a bar and set up shop; but I got restless after about two sips of my frozen margarita, and said “Hey- why don’t I got find us some coke?”
I knew I was the only one of the three of us who had any interest in actually putting an effort into procuring Mexican baking powder; but addiction loves company; so why not just frame it as a group-serving party move? One of my companions was a guy who you could leave alone in a mansion with $10,000 of Colombia’s finest and return a week later to find every last flake still there, and him fast asleep; but I knew that the other one of my companions, for all his “I don’t know/Are you sure you really wanna do that?/We don’t really need…” blah-blah, once you leave him a trail of white crumbs across a table or CD cover, he’ll follow it wherever it leads. So all I had to do was get us over the “hump” of not having any llelo. Then I would be unstoppable with my 2/3 majority.
Now, neither of my companions believed for un segundo that by setting off on this mission I could do anything other than waste a lot of time, put myself squarely in harm’s way on a number of levels, and still not return with any powder. But I knew differently. You see, when you’re a coke-head, you “know” stuff that no one else knows; for example, how utterly unnecessary it is to factor in any degree of risk-assessment-calculation before disappearing off into some unknown barrio.
I assured the two of them I’d be back in 15 minutes or less; though I had never before attempted to score narcotics outside of the relatively-protective shell of the U.S. border, so I really had no justification for making this baseless proclamation- other than the fact that it is common practice for less-than-fully-informed Americans to assume, without qualification, that any vice can be easily sated in Mexico, with minimal risk or effort.
And it’s not that this isn’t a somewhat reasonable rule to live by, generally speaking; but that doesn’t make a reckless 25-year-old any less of a shit-head for proceeding heedlessly into the Mexican barrio under the flimsy reassurances of this short-term, self-serving, and ultimately toothless mindset.
I promptly got up from the table and threaded my way quickly across the crowded patio full of diners, and out onto the sidewalk. I stood by the curb and scratched the side of my nose nonchalantly. Instantly three different young guys on the far side of the street snapped to attention and looked directly at me, eyebrows raised in anticipation. I locked in on one of them, who then nodded almost imperceptibly and came across the street and walked right up to me with his hands in his pockets. We exchanged a few brief words, and then, with his hands still in his pockets, the kid gestured with his head for me to follow him.
In Ciudad Acuña, the second you turn the corner off of the main strip of bars, you’re tits deep in the barrio. It begins immediately.
With my new friend, Diego, I walked deep into a dark sketchy neighborhood. There were no streetlights, and no pavement- only blackness and rutted dirt roads. The houses were all simple one-story affairs.
My tour guide only a knew a few words of English, and very few actual complete phrases; and at the time my Spanish was not a whole lot better. Yet for all that, we managed to have a pleasant conversation as we walked. At least I think it was pleasant. I’m not actually sure what we talked about.
After 18 blocks (I counted, just in case the shit went loco on me) we hooked a left and walked another block and a half, until we came to a house with one of those doors that can be opened as one door, or as just a bottom or just a top. Like a walk-up service window. It was the Dunkin’ Donuts of blow. I hung back while Diego exchanged my $20 bill for a tiny little baggie. The guy at the window asked who the gringo was, and Diego said “mi amigo”. The guy accepted this, though he didn’t seem all too thrilled about it. Maybe that was because the only “amigos” Diego ever brings around are, conspicuously enough, gringos wishing to purchase llelo.
Two minutes later we were walking away from the yay-house. We stopped and sat down on some cinder blocks to sample the goods, and immediately I opened the bag upside down and dumped its contents out all over the dusty ground. If you’ve ever had to look at a quantity of ruined cocaine for which you had big plans, then you know the feeling- a disproportionate sense of disaster, and an unwillingness to accept that what’s done is done.
Bad Idea Jeans
I told Diego we had to go back and get another one. I gave him another twenty. The guy at the window was definitely weirded out by our immediate return. In the U.S., this would have been the reddest of flags; but here in the land of no laws, it was merely an annoyance. And anyway, he seemed to know Diego well enough to accept his vouch for me, though I wasn’t even sure I had accepted his vouch.
At any rate, two minutes later we were back sitting on the very same cinder blocks; but this time I took extra-special care to open the bag responsibly. Diego and I shared a couple quick zoots; and then he escorted me all the way back to the strip. We parted with a smile, and then he went back to his corner to hang out. Well how about that? I’d made it through the wilderness. Somehow I’d made it through.
I’d been gone 45 minutes or so; but my homies weren’t the least bit stressed, for some reason. Maybe they’d lost track of time. Or maybe they just didn’t really like me.
Is There Coke in the Car? Yes, There’s Coke in the Ca-a-ar…
You couldn’t do anything in the bathroom of the bar, because there was this super burly bouncer in there; and the stall doors were so short that you were looking him right in the eye as you sat there laying cable- or whatever you were doing in there. And if you looked down too much, or fidgeted with your lap at all, you had discovered a great way to get the stall door whipped open on you. I know this because it happened to a guy a couple stalls over while I was in there. He was dragged out of the bathroom, hustled unmellowly across the main floor of the bar, and tossed unceremoniously out onto the curb with no discussion. Funny that in Mexico of all places they’ve got dudes in the bathrooms making sure you don’t consume the country’s number one cash crop.
Thwarted by the bouncer, we had nowhere to go but out to my car, which was parked right on the strip in front of a million people sitting in sidewalk cafes, or standing around outside the bars smoking cigarettes. Nevertheless, we got in the car and just did what we had to do. And once it was done, those of us who had partaken had a little spring in our step that hadn’t been there before.
We went back to the bar and ended up talking to some local guys who spoke fluent English. They asked us if we wanted to go to a club; and we were like “Fuck it, sure. Where is it?”
One of them had a taxi- I mean like, his own taxi; and we all piled into it and headed off to some godforsaken quarter of the city. Despite my best efforts to track our route, I lost my bearings almost immediately; but I decided to just go with it. Things had developed a momentum of their own by this point.
Our route through the backstreets of Ciudad Acuña was so haphazard that it seemed almost designed to disorient. It felt like we were in a movie, trying to shake off a pursuing tail car.
But the club turned out to be a pretty festive place. Loud salsa music, streamers, fun lighting- all that good stuff. There were three other American guys in there, and the rest was all Mexican dudes.
The drinks were catastrophically inexpensive; a man should always run from 75¢ rum and cokes. But we didn’t.
At some point I noticed this girl making eyes at me from across the room. She was by far the best looking woman who had ever made eyes at me. She beckoned me over with a smile that changed me. I left the guys at the table and went over to her. It was utterly implausible.
I should have seen it coming; but I was too wired-up, cross-eyed and painless at the time to think straight, and I was also suffering from that disease where you lie to yourself and insist that this perfect 10 is actually legitimately interested in you, and not working some kind of angle.
She barely spoke a word of English; but she could say her own name: Magdaleña. And she could ask me mine. With one arm on the bar and the other falling lamely at my side, and struggling just to stay on the barstool (Why do they make these things turn like this?) and keep my head balanced atop my neck, I made my best guess at my name.
For all her limitations as an English-speaker, however, Magdaleña was extremely fluent in the international language of “I’m gonna make baby bedroom eyes at you, purr like an exotic kitty, rub you with my agonizingly mini-skirted legs, and gently and playfully caress and trace circles on your inner thigh with my perfectly-manicured two-inch fingernails.” I was too soused to think clearly; and when she slithered her hand into my hand and began to lead me away, I drifted along behind her, heedless of anything other than the fantasy that was trying to sell itself to me.
Love For Sale
Turns out that “selling” part… was literal. Magdaleña towed me up to this big burly dude who stood in our way. He held out a hand that could easily have crushed my head like a vice, and demanded $40.
Huh? Oh shit, wait- Ohhh…I know what this is. Fuck. What an idiot.
But when I hesitated, Magdaleña looked immediately heartbroken, and the burly guy looked very annoyed. So, not knowing what else to do, and committed to avoiding pissing off any hostile Mexican giants if at all possible, I gave the guy the forty bucks, and Magdaleña brightened right back up and lead me with great enthusiasm down a hallway to a small hotel-ish room. Somehow, not directly handing any money to the girl had enabled me to kid myself that this wasn’t quite what I knew it to actually be. At this point I was aware that her love/lust combo was a lie; and I felt stupid.
But stupid wasn’t the only thing I felt; so I decided to just lay the stupid aside and let the current take me where it would for a time.
Once in the room, Magdaleña asked me for $20 to get us drinks; and what could I do? I wasn’t holding any cards at this point. Well, except my ATM card, and I was really hoping not to have to bust that out. I gave her twenty more bucks, and she disappeared, returning a minute later with $3 worth of stiff beverages, but no change. Not that I’d been expecting any.
None of this was anything that I had intended. I don’t know what the hell I had been intending, but it wasn’t this.
Fast forward twenty-five minutes: We lay on the bed, catching our breath. The oppressive humidity creeps in through an open, screenless window overlooking the dark alleyway just outside. Any covers that might have been on the bed when we got in here have now long been scattered to the far corners of the room. Magdaleña is propped up on one elbow, smoking a cigarette while casually showing me photos of her three small children— as if we’re old friends catching up after a few years. She reaches over her shoulder without looking and taps her cigarette with the tip of a long red nail; tiny embers fall to the floor as crumbled ash. As she flips through the pictures, Magdaleña’s left foot caresses my lower leg mindlessly. She plays it off as an unconscious act, as if her ravenous attraction to me is simply too insatiable to be governed. I get up and step into the bathroom, and notice in the mirror that my beard is glistening.
Magdaleña herself could not have been older than 22. Could not have. And moreover, from her head to her toes there was not a single physical flaw to be found. If there had been, I definitely would have found it, for I had meticulously probed every last dark corner of the house.
I smiled and complemented her kids on their cuteness. Then she looked at me all doe-eyed again; and I thought “Why is she still trying to seduce me? The cartel already has my money.” She blinked her long lashes at me again. Her purple eye shadow was killing me. Still wasted, I thought to myself “Wait a minute- is she legitimately into me after all?” Seriously, I thought that.
But then suddenly she was back on about the photos of her kids, holding them up and modeling them as if they were a toaster oven up for bid on The Price is Right. It became clear to me now that I was supposed to pity Magdaleña’s hard-knock life and three kids, and demonstrate this pity by giving her still more money. Man, what a racket. I wondered if every girl in the building had photos of those same three kids in her purse.
Again, though- what the fuck was I supposed to do? There’s a guy at the end of the hall with tree trunks for arms, wearing one of those Mexican gang-banger hair nets, and guarding the door. And as if that isn’t intimidating enough, behind him is: the rest of Mexico. This is what happens when you leave your good sense on the Texas side of the Rio Grande.
There was nothing for it but to let it play itself out and then get myself gone. I gave Magdaleña another $20, and with that the transaction had been completed to her- and the syndicate’s- satisfaction.
The Elderliest Profession in the World
When I resurfaced in the main room of the club, eighty bucks lighter, my friends were gone. This was disconcerting; partly because I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that there was no way they had gone down (get it?) the same rabbit hole I had.
So then where the fuck were they? I asked the bartender if he’d seen where they had gone off to, and he tossed a thumb in the direction of the building next door, which either meant “They went that way”, “Get the fuck out of my face, dumb-ass gringo,” or “Report at once to your assigned mass grave, out behind the back of the building.” I went outside and crossed a dirt parking lot and entered another building. It was another bar.
As soon as I walked in, I saw my two buddies. They were sitting at a table with drinks in front of them; and swarming all around them like meat bees on a turkey leg at a mid-summer cookout, was a gaggle of scantily-clad girls, all just as implausibly beautiful as my Magdaleña. Save for one.
This one exception had to be at least sixty years old; but she was attired just like the rest of them, as if she hadn’t looked in a mirror in 40 years. She was sitting on the lap of one of my two friends, squirming seductively and cupping his face in her hand, trying to turn his cheek in her direction. She nibbled on his ear, and had one hand between his legs, rubbing. Her varicose grandma-legs, protruding from beneath a skirt that had no business on any woman older than 18, were draped all over him.
My friend was not enjoying this; but like me back at the other club, he was afraid to offend anybody- so far from familiar turf was he. But my other friend was A-Okay with the two twenty-year-old bombshells vying for his attention. I guess business was a little slow out here in the hinterlands of Ciudad Acuña.
Run For the Border
My friends seized upon my approach as the perfect excuse to get up and start collecting themselves. Awhile earlier, they’d begun to worry about what had become of me; but powerless to do anything about it, they just passed the time drinking and fending off loose señoritas until I showed up- or didn’t.
We grabbed a cab back to the now-deserted main street of town, and were pleasantly surprised to find my car still there. We got in and finished off the blow, not wanting to cross back over the border with any of it.
By now I hadn’t had a drink in almost two hours, so I was merely very wasted, not completely wasted as I’d been earlier. In other words, “Okay to drive into Texas.”
What Exactly Are They Looking For, Then?
At the border station, the guard was very friendly, but he instructed me to pull over to the inspection station. I assumed he was gonna throw the full weight of the Texas legal apparatus at me for helming a vehicle in such an inebriated state; but apparently he didn’t care about that. And anyway, I suppose if the Del Rio border crossing turned away every car full of drunk white boys, there’d be a lot more gringos roaming the streets of Acuña.
They went through the entire car. But I wasn’t worried about them finding anything, since I knew that the only drugs we had on us were inside of us, racing through our capillaries, irretrievable by the law or anyone else. One of the inspection guards slid open the car’s ashtray (which I had never once opened since purchasing the car from a good friend a month or so earlier), revealing an old matchbox. I was horrified when the guard then opened the matchbox to reveal a trapezoid-shaped razor blade and a tiny little clear baggie- empty, but with little smears of white residue on it.
It wasn’t mine- it was obviously left over from when my friend had still been in possession of the car, but little good that explanation was likely to do me now. I got ready for my life as a free man to end once and for all; but then the guard slid the matchbox closed, put it back in the ashtray, and pushed the ashtray closed. Then he promptly handed me my license back and said we were free to go. WHAAATTT??
Party On The Patio
Somehow we made it back to our hotel in the heart of Del Rio. In Texas. In the U.S. It was a little before 5 AM. Our hotel room overlooked a large pool/patio/courtyard expanse; and in the pool there were several young ladies, and some other fun-sters not unlike ourselves, frolicking and generally raising hell. We went out to the pool and joined them for awhile. Everybody was shit-canned. At one point I thought one of the girls was gonna try to kiss me, and I thought to myself “Oh, but chiquita, you don’t know where I’ve been.” But then she didn’t try to kiss me after all. Perhaps this mojo I was rockin’ was entirely self-fabricated after all. Perhaps I just don’t know how to read Latina women.
Around 6:30 AM we stumbled back to the room and caught a few hours sleep before we had to get up and get back on the road.
But the rest of that story gets told elsewhere.
Previous: Chapter 14: La Paz Mexicana