We both wake up around 9 AM, chipper, well-rested, and fully ready to face the new day. It’s as if we didn’t just sleep a mere three and a half hours apiece after a nine-hour coke bender.
By 10 AM we’re on the road to Todos Santos, surfing Mecca of southwestern Baja; and by 11:15, we are struggling for our very lives against the power of the Pacific Ocean.
TIP: When the angle of the beach sand is so steep that you can’t even stand on it without slipping into the ocean, it’s probably best to plan for there not being a nice, level, friendly expanse of wadeable beach sand just beneath the surface of the water.
If you play it that way, you lessen the chances of doing what we did.
The problem was, in Cabo it was practically impossible to find a place to go swimming in salt water, thanks to the over-the-top pervasiveness of private resorts in the area. So when we left Cabo, we were kinda jonesing for an opportunity to pounce in some proper tropical ocean water. Perhaps the magnitude of this jones is what got in the way of our ability to make sound decisions when we arrived at the beach in Todos Santos.
Yo! Bum-rush the Beach!
We interpret the empty parking lot of Tortuga Beach as a gift to us from the universe, and then and there cease to consider any further why such a pristine run of tropical playa, in a touristy town known for epic surfing, might be wholly abandoned on a late summer Wednesday morning such as this.
Oh well… goody for us!! No need to give it another thought.
It’s at least a couple hundred yards from the edge of the parking lot to the water. Huge six-foot waves crash against the sand in the distance. We park the car and storm the beach like a Walmart on Black Friday. By the time we make it to the water’s edge, we’re both so exhausted from sprinting across deep sand under an angry sun that, rather than taking a moment to assess the wrath of the sea, we just hurl ourselves into the pounding surf with gleeful violence.
Violence In / Violence Out
Upon our entering the water, however, the gleeful component disappears immediately, and is instantly replaced by a desperate struggle to save ourselves from the most voracious undertow either of us has ever encountered. The land drops off so abruptly that as soon as your feet are in the water, you’re pretty much in over your head- both literally and figuratively.
The ocean picks us up and smashes us back down as if it was trying to beat the moisture out of a waterlogged sock; and after each blow, the next is upon us before we even get a chance to right our inner gyroscopes, or get our bearings in any way, or catch our breath. The slope of the sand, both on the beach and beneath the water, is such that climbing out of the water is nearly impossible to execute under such conditions. As soon as a wave crashes against the beach, its probing tendrils are promptly withdrawn, instantly receding down the steep sand and then yanked violently still further downwards to fill the underwater void where most beachgoers would have expected to find solid ground. Then follows its successor, immediately, and without respite. In this way, the ocean water- and whatever hapless revelers have been unlucky (or dumb) enough to find themselves in it- are perpetually reclaimed by the tumultuous sea, who is giving up nothing without a fight.
What the hell is Poseidon so incensed about anyway? Is this about me pissing in his bathtub yesterday? Because I’ll be honest, it felt like a non-event at the time. Did he prick his finger on one of the reverse-hooks of his trident? Did some sea-nymph leave him with blue-balls after grinding him all night up in the clüb?
Whatever it was, we are severely outmatched by the undertow; and make no mistake: there is nothing fun about what we are doing; we are straight-up trying to survive this ill-advised sortie into a livid ocean.
Chalk and I are each too consumed with our own personal strife for survival to help each other- or even worry about each other; we’re beyond each other’s help at the moment.
The strength is quickly being sapped from my body. Between the violent body-slams against the sand, the repeated bouts of being held underwater without having first been able to hold my breath, and the mad terror of not knowing which way is up, I know I’m fucked if I don’t get off this merry-go-round at once. It’s a desperate situation.
I don’t so much as decide to try swimming sideways- along the shoreline and parallel to the waves, rather than directly into and against them- as do it instinctively. This proves effective, and soon I am out of the worst of it, as the land assumes a more shallow slope not more than ten or twenty yards down-beach from the roiling vortex in which I have been mired for the past 90 seconds. Chalk, having apparently had the same instinct to laterally flee the ocean’s pitiless beat-down, is hot on my heels, and moments later the two of us are splayed out prostrate on the sand, a safe distance from the crashing surf, huffing and puffing and spitting out salt water.
Trampled by Tortugas
We’re both fairly well shaken by the experience. We recognize that we’ve just gotten incredibly lucky, and that we quite likely won’t catch any more breaks if we test fate like that again; so after resting for a minute or two, we sit up, face the ocean, and smoke a butt- a kind of peace offering to the angry sea god whose domain we have so hubristically infiltrated. After that we collect ourselves and return to the car, our swimming jones completely neutralized.
By mid-afternoon we’ve gotten past the trauma of our near-death experience at the hands of the angry sea gods, and we’re back in La Paz, having just finished food shopping for the evening’s camp at a beach a few miles outside of town. After loading our groceries into the car, it is finally time to leave La Paz behind for good. But first we have to go around the block to get back to the main road. How complicated could that possibly be?
After a multi-day saga of ill-advised and unsuccessful attempts to make it happen, we’re finally high on cocaine in Mexico. It’s 8:30 PM, we’re in Cabo San Lucas, and the only thing the night demands of us is that we get out there and rip the town a new one, until the wave of narcotic euphoria we’re riding suddenly breaks and slams us back down to earth.
We spend a little while artificially medicating our appetites out of existence, and then hit the streets.
… Down On Squid Roe
It certainly takes extenuating circumstances for guys like me and Chalk to end up in a room like this one. But then Cabo is full of surprises- and also short on better options. Case in point: Sammy Hagar’s meat-head-and-wet-t-shirt-twit-breeding hot spot, Cabo Wabo Cantina. But I already told you about that place, and how lame it is, so let’s move on.
So here we are at El Squid Roe and Billy Kitchen, a dance club whose target demographic is identical to that of Cabo Wabo; but fuck it- we’re here, the place is bumping, the lighting is even more tripped-out than a Virgin America flight during boarding, and the room is jammed with party chicks. Sure, most of them are probably vapid, sloppy-drunk, aspiring girls-gone-wild starlets; but they nevertheless do contribute to the festive vibe in the room. Of course, where there are young women, there also go douche-bags, and in great numbers.
Swinging From the Chandeliers
If this is how El Squid Roe goes off on a Tuesday, I don’t even wanna picture what the club must look like on a Saturday. The place is a veritable monkey house of wasted jackasses dancing on tables, railings, and various other profoundly unsafe spots.
Ex-varsity lettermen stumble through the pulsing crowd with retired cheerleaders on their shoulders. Some homecoming queen whacks her head off the ceiling when the dude carrying her fails to notice that she’s leaning over the railing screaming to her friends as he ascends the stairs to the balcony floor.
In the U.S., a place like this would be about a mouse-burp away from being shut down for violation of fire codes, or accidental patron death. But this is Mexico, Jack; this is why it’s here- at least as far as this crowd of clueless white American dumbasses knows.
I keep waiting for the nipples to start flying. I’m reminded of the spring of 2002, when some friends and I went to New York City for the weekend to watch the Red Sox take three out of four from the Yankees. Despite the fact that it was still only April, the Eastern U.S. was mired in a heat wave that would have seemed excessive in July.
If you’ve ever been in Manhattan during a stifling heat wave, then you know that smell- when all of the festering garbage, sweat, urine and other uncountable sources of dormant vileness are suddenly brought back to life, converting the city into a dutch-oven of unspeakable foulness. And forget about taking the subway at times like this; for you’ll find the tunnels to be little more than just long serpentine hallways of fetid stale air. You can tell a train is approaching before you even hear it or see its lights. The giveaway is that sickening, tell-tale belch of rushing hot garbage which suddenly assails your nostrils like a punch in the nose from a brass-knuckled fist, as the approaching train shoves the atmospheric contents of the tunnel out ahead of it.
So after closing out a few bars in the East Village one night, we decided to walk back to our midtown hotel rather than deal with the reek of the underground- not that the overground was smelling all that great.
Stumbling up First Avenue at two in the morning, Dennehy and I suddenly found ourselves helplessly caught up in the gravitational pull of some bar that was simply going off. Though we desperately needed to not have another drink, control of the trajectory of our goings had been lifted from us, and so we were powerless to do aught but give ourselves over to the whims of the current, like a cartoon character led by his nostrils to a pie cooling on a windowsill. Except this was a different kind of pie.
Inside the bar, it became readily apparent why the place was so en fuegz: drunk, hot babes were standing on the bar striptease dancing while pounding shots and generally just tapping directly into the fantasy receptors of the mind of the American male. Though to be honest, most of them weren’t my types.
I was thinking that the place totally reminded me of the bar from that movie “Coyote Ugly“, until we realized that this in fact was that bar- or the bar that inspired the movie anyway. As is always the case with real life, however, the girls weren’t quite as flawless as Tyra Banks or Maria Bello. High bar, though, admittedly.
And speaking of bars, there was no getting anywhere near the bar in there, at least not for two dudes. And this proved fortuitous, because it meant that we would be spared the later consequences of what would have otherwise certainly been the catastrophically ill-advised decision to consume more alcohol. So we left, and continued uptown toward our hotel.
Anyway, Coyote Ugly; there you have it. Woo-hoo.
I Can’t Dive 55
Anyway whatever, back to Mexico and the present day.
So Chalk and I hang out at Squid Roe for most of the night, seeing how many different colors of alcoholic beverage we can consume, and retiring to the bathroom at regular intervals to powder our noses (and to occasionally use the toilet).
At one point an obscenely drunk woman stumbles and basically falls onto me, though I manage to stay erect. Upright, I mean. This woman is at least twenty years my senior, and has no legitimate business whatsoever hanging out in a place like this, though I do admire her brazen willingness to show herself in public in a twenty-something’s nightlife attire, even if it is ill-advised, which it is. She’s white, American, and obviously working the cougar angle, though her arsenal of moves is in dire need of a revamping.
She apologizes dumbly for the invasion of my personal space, then attempts to retreat, but fumbles that move as well, and nearly falls over again, though this time I catch her, and for my troubles am rewarded with a stiletto heel in my phalanges. A circle of open space begins to form around her, as people start to perceive the menace that her proximity holds; and some of them start giving me dirty looks, as if to say “Control your woman, dude“.
My gallant heroics seem to have endeared me to this woman, because suddenly she starts acting as if this moment of profound sloppiness on her part has somehow engendered a kind of familiarity between us, which it has not. At last she manages to find her footing and stand up straight; and then, apparently as some kind of clumsy olive branch, she asks me to let her make it up to me by letting me buy her a drink.
Now, for the record, let it be said here and now: I like older women- always have. But not like this. Plus I’m spoken for at the moment anyway, by a woman who rarely stumbles and falls into me, though she is welcome to at any time (although I’ll pass on the spiked heel through the top of my foot, thank you very much).
I tell the raggedy cougar that I’m with someone, without going into specifics, and she says “Okay, well I’ll be here. Nice to meet you,” even though we still haven’t actually met. She kisses my cheek as a parting gift as I move off to find Chalk, who has the bag.
I hope for her sake this woman is with friends; because in her current condition she is ripe for the taking advantage of. Though it kinda seems like that might be just what she’s after. At any rate, it’s a sad display, and I’m happy to extricate myself from her vicinity.
That’s Some Good Shit
Sometime around or 3:30 we stumble out of the Squid. How we killed six hours in there I’ll never understand. We spend a short while strolling about the downtown marina area, noting how non-tweaky we feel, which is particularly notable considering we’ve just ripped through an eight-ball together.
We make our way back to the hotel around 4 AM, do the last of the coke, and then go to bed. Counter-intuitive? Yes. Counter-productive? No. Amazingly, we both drop off to sleep in minutes.
The Phone Don’t Work Cause the Vandals Took the Handle
I promised my girlfriend I’d call her from Cabo, if not sooner. Problem is, Mexico is not exactly set up in such a way that prioritizes visiting Americans’ ability to talk to their countrymen back home. At least not Baja.
What you have is these public pseudo-phones peppering the street corners of the cities and the larger towns. They look like like regular old garden-variety payphones: you know, heavy metal face-plate set upon a hard-plastic frame, stuck to a post with a receiver attached by a coiled metal cord. Phones. But that’s where these things and the things we know as phones begin to diverge.
If you wanna call your girlfriend from Mexico, there’s no just sauntering up to a pay phone and dialing away; first you have to buy a pre-paid calling card. But here’s the rub: they don’t ever work! Every single payphone I’ve attempted to use between San Diego and here has porked me when I tried to put it to work. In many cases, you pick up the receiver to find the line is deader than a government official on his first day on the job in Juarez. Other times, you dial the number on the card and, surprise!!– it’s a scam and that number is not even in use. And in a surprising number of cases, there is just simply no cord or receiver attached to the phone- as if these things somehow make nice souvenirs.
But on a good day, the payphone works, and so does the number on the card, but then when you punch in your key-code… you don’t have any minutes left! Even though you bought 300 minutes and haven’t once used the card! It’s awesome. A perfect excuse to not call your girlfriend the whole time you’re in Mexico.
I abandon the phone call attempt for now.
Welcome to the Hotel Baja California
We grab a cheap suite at some glorified motor lodge right in the center of town. The location is perfect: whatever’s happening in Cabo tonight, it is happening right near our hotel.
I manage to get a call through to my girlfriend from the hotel lobby, when the desk chick agrees to thwart all managerial directives and let me use the front desk phone. I explain to my girlfriend about just how telecommunicationally challenged the Baja Peninsula is; but then suddenly, before we even get a chance to get into any substantive conversation, el manager rolls in and my time is abruptly up. My last words to my lady are a promise that I will touch base with her in two days, when we flop back over the border into Arizona.
I treat myself to a long-needed shower in the hotel room; and as soon as I get out, Chalk heads in to do the same. Suddenly I’m all alone with nothing to do, and that’s when the brilliant idea hits me:
I should go see that guy Juan from Sammy’s cantina who said if I needed anything- anything at all, he said- then he was the guy. I bet he can get me some blow; I could just tell by his body language. I’m pretty good with the body language.
But wait- wasn’t there some conversation just this morning wherein I categorically swore to Chalk, under pain of abandonment in Mexico, that I would not again on this trip do anything anywhere near as sketchy as running off into the barrio, led by local sketch-balls I’d just met, chasing the ends of cocaine rainbows?
Well yeah, but… right now Chalk’s in the shower. And anyway the cantina is only three blocks away; maybe Juan can hook me up real quick-like, and I can be back laying out rails on the dining room table by the time Chalk gets out of the shower.
Wishful thinking, but as any fiend will tell you: by the time the first tiny stones of rationalization begin to tumble down the mountainside, it is already too late to stop the avalanche.
So, against all practical reason, I go running out the door and over to the bar. As I’m crossing the street in front of the bar, Juan, having seen me coming, steps outside to greet me. Apparently I’m easier to read than Green Eggs & Ham.
So ,of course, Juan can totally hook me, he says. I just have to take a short ride with him to make it happen.
Ahh, shit, sorry- no, I can’t do that. I only have a few minutes to work with here. Thanks anyway, though.
I’ll have you back here in 10 minutes.
(Hmm)… 10 minutes- really? I wonder to myself how long Chalk’s showers usually take.
Really- it’s very close. It’s just a couple blocks away. And believe me, you’ll be glad you took the few minutes. Shit’s primo.
I think about it for a second, then quickly remember that no cocaine dealer has ever given an exaggerated estimate for how long it will take to complete a transaction.
Alright, fuck it- let’s do this.
Juan yells to the bartender that he’ll be right back, and we walk outside and jump in a minivan driven by another guy.
We go about five blocks, and end up parking in a narrow alleyway just a few blocks past my hotel. Juan asks me how much I’m looking for, and I decide to be fancy and answer him in the local tongue.
Ocho pelo, por favor.
Juan looks at me for a moment, amused but unimpressed with my Spanish, You mean “eightball”?
Yeah, isn’t that what I said?
No, you said “eight hair.” “Pelota” is “ball”, “pelo” is “hair.”
Well yes, then- “Ocho pelota.” A critical distinction I’d been failing to make.
Juan asks me for $140, and I give it to him. Then he steps out of the van, tells me and the driver to wait there, and heads into a nearby building through the back door.
So now I’m alone with this Mexican drug courier chauffeur-type hombre; but he’s not much of a conversationalist. I kinda wish he was. It never ends well for dudes in movies who get picked up and taken places in vehicles by other dudes who refuse to answer any of their questions about where they’re going or what’s afoot. After a few lame attempts at bridging the culturo-linguistic divide, I sit back and pipe down.
Just then another vehicle enters the alley and pulls up behind us. The alley is too narrow to accommodate both vehicles abreast, so my silent driver starts the minivan and drives out the other end of the alley. I try t conceal my panic; but inside I’m like “Fuck… where the hell are we going?”
I ask the guy as casually and unaffectedly as possible where we’re going, though I’ve got an ass-sized proverbial brick in my pants now. He doesn’t answer. So I guess this is it… this is where the wheels fall off my plan and the whole trip goes to shit, irretrievably and irrevocably.
My chauffeur turns right out of the alley, and the other car turns out behind us and starts following. What have I done? Where’s Juan? I start thinking about Sonny Corleone again.
But then the other car turns off to the left, and my driver turns right. Maybe he was just getting out of that other guy’s way is all maybe I hope perhaps. My driver circles back to the alleyway and parks again, only this time so close to the wall of the alley that I couldn’t exit through the sliding slide door of the van if I wanted to. And now suddenly I have to take a piss.
Or do I? Maybe this is just psychosomatic, like when only after your mom finishes putting you in your snowsuit do you have to take that leak that you said you didn’t have to take immediately before she started putting you in your snowsuit. Either way, I’m not about to ask this hombre to move the vehicle, just to benefit my short-term need to take a piss that I’m not even 100% convinced I really even have to take, in an alleyway that for all I know his children play in, and lick the walls of.
Just then, all my prayers are answered, when I see Juan emerge from the same door that swallowed him up five minutes ago. The driver pulls the minivan away from the wall, Juan jumps in, and promptly plops into my hand the largest eight-ball I’ve ever seen- assuming it’s actually coke, that is.
They agree to drop me off at my hotel since we’re going right by it anyway; but I have them leave me around the corner. That way, if Chalk just so happens to be standing out on the balcony drying his hair and scanning the horizon for me with a volatile emotional stew made from equal parts rage and disappointment, he won’t have to see me get out of some random-ass minivan. Which will allow me to claim that I just ran to the store for a drink- even though there is a convenience store right in the parking lot of the hotel, so there would be absolutely no need to head off around the corner seeking a different one. Plus, I’m not even holding a drink.
But as it happens, Chalk’s not standing out on the balcony.
Somewhere Over the Cocainebow
I ease open the door to the suite with the kind of precision silence that a 16-year-old girl uses when she sneaks 17-year-old me into her parents’ house and directly past their open bedroom door and upstairs at 1:30 in the morning to hand each other our virginity.
Actually this might have been even quieter than that. Facing the wrath of a sleepy-eyed, profoundly-disrespected and justifiably-enraged pair of middle-aged suburban parents because they just caught you fucking their daughter under their roof and right under their noses- especially when they already hated you to begin with- might actually not be as bad as having to face the wrath of Chalk after having gotten avoidably delayed trying to hunt down narcotics in the brawling barrios of a foreign third-world city less than 24 hours after having done the same and then promising to absolutely never do it again.
As soon as I’m back inside the suite, with the door kissed safely shut behind me, I notice that I can still hear the shower going in the bathroom. Boo-yah!!! Unless of course Chalk is dead because he fell in the shower right after I left and bled out or drowned while I was selfishly cruising about town with low-level cartel associates.
Chalk’s pretty stable on his feet, though; so I bank on the fact that he’s probably just taking a long shower. After all, his previous shower was four days of hundred-degree desert sweat and sand ago.
Chalk emerges from the bathroom a couple minutes later to find me chopping up logs on the dining room table. He takes one look and decides he doesn’t need the details just now. He approaches the table, leans over, and just like that, it’s on.
Against all odds, my ill-advised hail Mary pass found its mark, for a touchdown.
We bag off of Highway 1 to make a pit stop at the beach near Punta Arena. While sitting on the beach working our way through a joint, we are greeted by a bedraggled yet hyped-up dude who has just come limping across the sand looking as if he had just minutes earlier narrowly survived the bombing of a building. He’s heading straight for us; and on a beach this large and empty, that’s certainly weird, and not a coincidence.
The guy hobbles up and starts yapping at us in Spanish about some drug person or gang that he’s obviously mad at, or afraid of- quite likely both. Gesticulating wildly, he keeps pointing back in the direction he came from, where after a mile or so the lifeless landscape disappears behind some rugged rocky hills of desert. It’s like he’s trying to tell us something. We are adamant that we want nothing to do with this information; and we quickly extricate ourselves from the situation and get back in the car and drive off in haste. If this dude’s being pursued by some kind of cartel henchmen or whatever, we don’t need to be seen exchanging words with him. Fuck that..
Almost immediately after turning back onto the paved highway, we pass a sign that says “Tropico de Cancer.” Sick- we just drove to the tropics!I forgot we were gonna do that. I’ve never been in the tropics before; the furthest south I’ve ever been is Grange Hill, Jamaica, and that’s a good five degrees of latitude further north than here; and anyway I did not get there by car.
We penetrate the city limits of Cabo San Lucas sometime in the late afternoon, a time the American populace knows as “rush hour“- though here we intend to experience it as more of a “chill hour.” We have reached the southern terminus of the Baja Peninsula– and our trip. San Francisco, my home, is 1,500 miles away to the north.
We try to find a beach equal to the tropical dreams we have borne through lifetimes of hype; but for the last twenty miles, from San Jose Del Cabo, it’s been nothing but gated communities, private resorts, and all other manner of exclusive, tourist-friendly municipal infrastructure (read: secured against any advance by members of the local populace). Yes, this is one of those places where America’s fancy-pants, well-monied folk come to relax and stretch out in a place that does nothing to challenge their narrow, limited vision of what a third-world tropical paradise should be.
We end up settling for a ludicrously-jam-packed afterthought of a swimming hole, peopled by what appears, to us, to be an exclusive clientele of indigent local folk- save for me and Chalk. At this spot, reaching neck-deep water without physically touching another human being requires a considerable effort- involving circuitous routes, defensive maneuvering, and a bit of acrobatics. I guess the locals around here- at least those who don’t own or work for high-brow resorts- don’t really reap the benefits of living in a “tropical paradise.” That said, this throwaway of a beach spot is still far more aesthetically inspiring than 99.97% of what passes for pristine beaches in America.
And at any rate, at least the water is clean- I guess. It’s quite blue, anyway; and I mean natural, plausible blue- not that highly suspicious 2000 Flushes kind of artificial blue. However, as I look around at the throngs of small children frolicking in the waves, I admit to myself that this water temperature may in fact be a product of factors beyond mere latitude and prevailing ocean currents.
This Ain’t America, Jack
Remember awhile back when I said I was gonna stop at the Bank of America in Cabo to re-up on cash, so that I could complete the trip without having to be temporarily financed by Chalk?
Yeah well so there’s no fucking Bank of America in Cabo.
This is most unexpected. I’ve been 100% counting on this. Why I didn’t confirm whether or not there was a BofA in Cabo before crossing the border is a question that cannot be answered without exposing me for the bumbling idiot that I am, so I’m not all that inclined to dwell on it further.
Anyway, the upshot is that I can’t get my hands on any of my own money until we cross back into the U.S.- still several days from now. So Chalk cashes in a mutual fund and hands me a wad of effectivo (cash), to live on for a few days. Critical move by Chalk.
As American males of a certain age, it would seem unfitting if we were to breeze through town and not pop our head into the Cabo Wabo Cantina, Sammy Hagar‘s much-hyped nightclub, a magnet for snatch-waxed wet t-shirt bitches, psycho-sexually repressed meatheads in white college baseball caps, and other spring-breaking heroes of coolness.
So we pop our head in there, figuring we should at least get ourselves a drink; but the lameness of the place hits us like a surprise birthday party. It’s basically a poor-man’s Hard Rock Cafe. We’re over it before we’ve even passed out of the sidewalk sunlight and into the the actual joint.
Fuck this, we’re out.
1,100 miles of “We’ve got to check out Sammy’s bar”, undone in less than ten seconds.
As we’re walking out the door of the cantina, a man approaches me with an enthusiastically outstretched hand and a wide smile to match. Despite this, however, there is no outwardly sketchy vibe- though I’m sure it’s in there somewhere. The man speaks flawless English, though he is a Mexican.
He introduces himself as Juan, welcomes us to Cabo, and asks if we “need” anything- anything at all. Apparently, Juan is the man. I glance over at Chalk for a second, but his attention is elsewhere. After a brief moment of contemplation I, with last night- and this morning,- still firmly in mind, decline his offer.
But Juan sees right through me, like Sollozzo reading Sonny Corleone. He knows I’m hot for his deal. He tells me to ask around about him- everybody knows him. I tell him thanks but no thanks- we’re all good for the moment.
For the moment.
I thank Juan and move on. It’s time to find a hotel room, so we can establish a base of operations for the evening’s debauchery, whatever that might entail.
I wake up around 9 AM to the sound of a suitcase being packed with violence.
Ah. So it is as I feared.
I make my awakeness known, yet still go ignored for a minute or so. Meanwhile, clothes, toiletries, and other sundries are thrashed about before me, as one by one they are emphatically shoved into the suitcase. Finally I ratchet up the boldness by actually pulling down the covers, swinging my legs off the bed, and standing up. I insist on knowing what Chalk’s deal is.
Without pausing , or even making eye contact with me, he informs me that he’s leaving.
Leaving? What does that even mean in this context?
It means he’s done, he’s out of here. He’s had it with the bullshit.
Exactly what bullshit he’s referring to I cannot precisely say. I mean, usually if you’ve had it with something, then presumably it has annoyed you at least more than once. Yet the only thing on this trip thus far that could possibly be filed under “interpersonal discord” of any kind was this silliness last night wherein I spent hours driving around the barrio with Mexican strangers searching for drugs, a scenario which ended with me inadvertently leaving Chalk waiting at a bar for an hour and 45 minutes longer than I’d said I would. An admittedly grave miscalculation on my part, to be sure; but come on- it’s still only the first straw.
So again– leaving?
Spanish Hassle Tragic
Apparently, Chalk is leaving the city of La Paz by himself, and driving solo all the way back to Boston. That’s 5,300 miles, a third of which- over 1,700 miles- is in Mexico. That’s a lot of angry driving through a foreign, and potentially very hostile, land for somebody with no Spanish in his repertoire, and a fuse shorter than a pubic hair.
I’m not sure he’s really thought this through. And I feel ridiculous about the fact that we now have to actually fully act out the predictable drama wherein I convince him not to just flush the whole trip down the toilet and leave me stranded in southern Baja.
But I must tread lightly here. It’s in everybody’s best interest for me to bring Chalk around calmly and rationally. That said, there is an urgency to be considered. After all, I cannot be left alone here in La Paz to find my way back as I will. That just will not do.
For one thing, the two of us ran out of liquid cash just last night. I spent my last twenty bucks on a bag of coke so tiny that I couldn’t even get the tip of my pinky into it to scrape out the inner walls. So for the moment, I have no money, and no way to get any. I dumbly lost my bank card last week in San Francisco before we left for Mexico; and so Bank of America issued me a temporary ATM card to use until my new proper bank card arrived by mail. So we waited a few days for that to come in the mail; but of course we got impatient to hit the road and left San Francisco before the new card arrived. The next day I hit a BofA branch in San Diego and took out $700, not knowing if the temporary ATM card would be of any use once we dropped south of the border.
So now all I have is this stupid little Mickey Mouse starter bank card that, as it happens, only works in America. Who knew? No matter, though- the plan all along has been to stop at the BofA in Cabo San Lucas to re-up on effectivo– that’s what they call cash down here. And I couldn’t agree more about the appropriateness of the term.
Chalk it Up to Poor Planning
But until we get to Cabo, I have no money. No credit card. No working phone card. No cell phone that works in this god-forsaken land. Our gentlemen’s agreement had been that, if the money were to run out before we got to Cabo, we could subsist off of Chalk’s credit card until we got to the actual bank in Cabo, where I would withdraw more money for us to exist on until we got back stateside. So I kinda need Chalk to not take off on me.
Playing the one shitty little card in my deck, I tell Chalk that if he leaves, I will have no choice but to hang onto my rare and hard-to-find Mexican road atlas, without which- well, good luck getting home, amigo. Cold…I know, but what else am I supposed to do? I don’t even think they sell this thing in Mexico; and even if they do, in order to find one you’d have to at least know how to ask somebody where there’s a fuckin’ Barnes y Noble.
Actually, after what I went through to acquire this atlas in the months leading up to our trip, I know for a fact that it is only available online; but to order one and get it sent to you, you’d need some kind of address. And Chalk ain’t got no kinda address in goddamn Mexico.
So I know that Chalk will never make it back to the states without me and my atlas. There is just no chance. If he sets out on his own, he will simply never be heard from again. But does he understand this?
I can’t believe how stubbornly committed to this ill-conceived flight from Baja Chalk is. I suggest that we at least discuss it over breakfast before he leaves- a suggestion born partly of my need to eat some food before being left to survive, penniless, on my own wit, but mostly because I am confident that, given the chance, I can put this fire out and get this party train back on the tracks.
We’re Gonna Break Out the Hats and Hooters
We sit down for breakfast at some sidewalk hotel cafe along the main drag of La Paz. A few feet away, there’s this folding sign on the sidewalk advertising some lunch special the restaurant is offering on enchiladas. The sign boasts a picture of a chihuahua wearing a pointy birthday party hat, with one of those unrolling party horn things in its mouth, and a world of endless streamers flying all around in the background. We speculate for a few minutes on whether or not the dog actually ever wore the hat or held that stupid party horn in its mouth, or if the hat and the hooter were just airbrushed into an otherwise innocuous photo of a chihuahua.
Nothing a Chihuahua in a Party Hat Can’t Fix
The conversation about the chihuahua gets us laughing together, and therewith Chalk starts to come around. All I have to do now is just gently guide this ship back onto the highway and towards Cabo San Lucas, the southernmost point of our journey- now only two and a half hours away. After a few quick words, punctuated by assurances that there won’t be any more shenanigans like the ones I pulled last night, the trip is back on. We get on the road and make for Cabo.
Oh and, our final assessment: The dog never wore the fucking hat.
Oh yeah – so we’re in La Paz, Mexico, after 900 miles of unbroken sweltering desert, and I want to get some blow, goddammit. But Chalk is holding his ground that this is a dumb idea. But I know that he means something closer to “It probably won’t work, and then our time will have been wasted” than “Please don’t take this excessively reckless risk”.
I explain how absolutely foolproof my plan is, citing again the ease with which I managed to connect with a yaylesman in Ciudad Acuña that time. Chalk challenges me with “You just finished telling me two seconds ago about how you had to walk way the fuck out into the middle of the barrio in the darkness of night with some sketchy Mexican kid just to score.”
“True, I did just finish telling you that, though I never said the kid was sketchy.”
“Oh well then my bad-“, Chalk allows, mockingly. “I didn’t mean to rush to judgment about the guy offering drugs to total strangers as long as they’re willing to walk a half a mile out into the Mexican ghetto with them.”
“Either way,” I continued, undaunted, “you’re overlooking the salient point of the story, which is that in the end I did return with cake.” I hold his gaze as I lean in to take a sip of my sky-blue tropical beverage (the kind that you might get your ass kicked for drinking in the U.S.); but I misjudge the location of my drink, and the straw pokes me in the nose and causes it to start bleeding. “See?” I say, grasping at straws in every sense of the word – “It’s a sign. This is supposed to happen.”
“That’s an awfully convenient interpretation of a blatant omen,” counters Chalk.
“I don’t think so,” I say, while stuffing a rolled-up napkin up my nose. “Check it out, I’ll just go outside for a cigarette, and I can almost guarantee you I will have a guy lined up before I’m done with the butt.”
While Chalk is not endorsing my plan, he is ready for a butt; so we head outside.
As soon as I stand up, I feel that familiar rumble in my bowels- an early Pavlovian reaction to the mere thought of doing coke- which is familiar to all powder monkeys . “See?” I point out, cheerleading us along, “It’s starting to work already!”
Hector y Carlos
Outside the bar, Chalk hangs back while I go to work. I pull the same discreetly-touch-my-nose trick that worked so well in Acuña that time; and the next thing I know I have made two new friends, Hector and Carlos, two local guys who look to be in their early 20s. They both speak enough English that conversation flows smoothly, if slowed by thick accents all around, and I quickly convey my ultimate purpose. Turns out Hector just so happens to have a friend who can get me what I’m looking for!
Although the gas station where his amigo works is close by, Hector suggests that we drive, since the local cops start asking a lot of questions when they see American gringos strolling through the town square accompanied by local young men.
Sounds reasonable to me! Let’s go!
We jump in Hector’s beat-up pickup, and head off into the night. The gas station is an oasis of bright light amid a sea of blackness. No matter- eyes on the prize. When Hector’s friend is not at the gas station, he steers the truck deeper into the barrio, claiming to know where he is. I half-heartedly protest this unforeseen delay, because it is sure to lead to me getting back to the bar later than I promised Chalk I’d get back. But Carlos is very convincing that this is “no problemo”, and that we’ll be back in just a few minutes.
Lost in the Barrio
Awhile later I am sitting with Carlos in a truck on a dark street, as every sketchball in La Paz wanders by, peering in and asking what’s with the gringo. Carlos manages to reassure them that it’s cool, and they move on.
Hector is off on a mission; but he returns empty-handed. He starts to run off down a different street, and I try to stop him. I need to get back; but he is very convincing that the hookup is imminent, so I relent. Eyes on the prize. He comes back empty handed again. This time he pulls the truck away and continues on deeper into the hood.
They are both so friendly and clean-cut that I trust them, though admittedly a large part of this “trust” stems from the fact that I don’t seem to have any recourse but to trust them. What am I gonna do, jump out of the truck and try to make my way back on foot? Not likely. And anyway I am sandwiched in between the two of them in the wide bench front seat of Hector’s pickup; so I couldn’t jump out even if I was dumb enough to want to try.
So Carlos Won’t Suspect Something’s Wrong Here
I decide to just surrender to the flow, and desist in my attempts to reason my tourguides into abandoning the mission. But I must admit their confidence is inspiring. That said, I am also mindful of the fact that there are doubtless a lot of shallow graves scattered throughout Mexico, filled with the remains of people who found someone else’s confidence inspiring.
We make several stops, each one “definitely the last one”; and it occurs to me that maybe these guys don’t know what the hell they’re doing- maybe they’re the Matt Bevilaqua and Sean Gismonte of Mexico. That thought makes me feel infinitesimally safer, though- like maybe somehow they’re less sketchy specifically because they aren’t well versed in the ins and outs of the local yayo trade. I dunno… that doesn’t really make any logical sense. At any rate, here I am.
After an age, Hector finally returns to the truck, sporting an impenetrable poker face as he approaches. He gets in, hands me a tiny little baggie, then fires up the engine and drives us up on out of there. I drop the baggie into my shirt pocket.
Cops in the Barrio
We’re almost back at the bar when a cop flags us down, wanting to know why there is a gringo in the truck with these two. Carlos snatches the bag out of my pocket just before the cop starts sniffing around with a flashlight, and for a moment I think the jig is up, and that he and Hector are about to take my coke and run off, leaving me to fare as I might with this policia.
But not at all; in fact somehow my two amigos manage to get the cop to look the other way, albeit with a little help from my wallet. As I’ve said before, if you talk to a cop in Mexico, you’re paying him. Period.
I give the guy twenty bucks, which for him is probably two weeks’ pay, and he releases us to the night.
Dude, Where’s My Chalk?
When we get back to the bar, it’s closed. WTF? What country are we in? And what time is it, anyway?
Well, it turns out it’s almost 2 AM; but that’s still no excuse for a bar in Mexico to be closed. Also, though- I’ve been gone for two hours; and that’s not cool. Plus, I know there’s no way that Chalk left that bar going “Hey no big deal- I’ll just meet Deek at the hotel whenever he gets back. Either way, it’s all totally mellow.”
No. Not Chalk. And not any other reasonable person, either, for that matter. But especially not Chalk. Chalk’s not exactly known for his ability to take undesirable plot twists in stride; and although he’s never been tested in a situation exactly like this one (read: an undesirable plot twist plus his friend and travel partner being MIA after disappearing with two Mexican dudes who promised him drugs in exchange for a short drive off the edge of the world), I feel I know what to expect when I do find him. Which is why I’m dreading it.
So I’m not looking forward to facing Chalk’s wrath when I get back to the hotel room; but reconnecting with him as soon as possible is absolutely mandatory, and all other pursuits- including even trying the coke- must be on hold until that happens. That’s how serious I am. Plus, it’d be wise to confirm that Chalk is in fact back at the room, and not off digging his own grave at gunpoint in some nearby alleyway.
On the other hand, maybe walking through the door with a bag of bump fodder might brighten Chalk’s spirits. Hell, come to think of it- maybe he’s in the middle of getting laid by some Mexican bombshell right now! Hey this isn’t so bad- this could be anything! Oh, the lightness of being.
They Want to Have My Cake and Snort It, Too
Problem: when the dudes drop me back at my hotel, they want to come in and do a little of the blow with me. And while this is not at all an unforeseeable request, I kinda wish I’d known this was their objective back when the whole saga began; because I gladly would have (in addition to the twenty bucks U.S. that I’d already given them) bought them their own bag, for the trouble of driving me around- even if the mission did take six times longer, and yield way less coke, than I considered to be worth it. In fact, the meager amount I got, split now four ways, is now pointless. You can get higher thinking about coke than doing an amount this small.
But how could I really say no to these guys? For one thing, it wasn’t their fault that the yield proved so small; and as far as I could tell, it also wasn’t their fault that the mission had taken two hours. I mean, I can’t imagine how it could have possibly benefitted them to waste two hours of my time on purpose, just to achieve some hidden agenda; so I must believe their hostliness to have been genuine. And anyway, they were both really nice guys- not the muscle-bound, tattooed, hair-net wearing tree-trunk-armed men with expressions of hatred and sexual rage in their eyes that you’re probably picturing.
This Room Smells Like Hotel Illness
I slip quietly into the room, and see a vaguely man-shaped bulk underneath one of the blankets. I figure this must be Chalk, though there is no concrete visual proof of this. At any rate, whoever it is under there is fully covered, blanket pulled over the head- the whole bit; and they don’t appear to be awake
Nevertheless, I usher my new amigos in as quietly as possible. I’ll probably feel in retrospect that this was not the best decision I could have made at this moment; but for now I’m committed to it.
I ask aloud, ostensibly to Chalk- or possibly nobody-or anybody- “Would you like a bump?”, but all I get is a low guttural grunt that doesn’t even necessarily indicate wakefulness. And if it does indicate wakefulness, then it most likely carries the subtext “You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me get these fucking Mexican dudes out of here right now and by the way I’m gonna kill you.”
I pour the contents of the bag out onto the dresser and am instantly dismayed to see just how little there is. It’s probably for the best anyway at this point, though- it’s not gonna benefit me all that much to sit up alone ripping zoots deep into the night with Chalk laying there two feet away smoldering like an angry dragon.
Throw Back the Little Ones
This is the smallest bag of coke I’ve ever seen, bar none; there’s only really enough for three wimpy-ass lines. I cut these out onto the dresser while constantly reminding my two rent-an-amigos not to make a sound.
This is the lamest fucking party ever. The room is so tiny it might as well be an office cubicle, and we are packed so tightly around the wooden dresser that it is a bit of a challenge to balance properly without falling over onto the beds. But I know that if any one of us loses our balance and falls over onto Chalk, what ensues will become a cautionary tale for all shit-heads, a timeless yarn which will endure long after all else has gone to dust.
I keep glancing over at the Chalk-shaped bedspread three feet away, and I swear I can see smoke rising from it. Part of me doesn’t want these guys to leave, because I’ve got a feeling that as soon as it’s just the two of us in here, I’m gonna find out just how asleep Chalk really is.
We each do our pointless little pinner, and then I politely let Carlos and Hector know that the party can’t continue any longer, gesturing toward the Chalk-shaped bundle on the bed by way of explanation. They seem to understand, or maybe it’s just that they are as aware as I am that we’re all out of blow. At any rate, we slip out of the room and I see them downstairs and out to the parking lot. They drive off, with waves and smiles. Adios, mis amigos.
I hang around outside having a cigarette that I don’t even want; I’m stalling going back to the room.
Back upstairs, I slip in the door as silently as I can and whisper “Are you awake?”- secretly hoping that I have spoken the words inaudibly. But Chalk is awake. However he never even shows his face; I just hear his voice emanating from behind the blanket, and the voice says “Shut the fucking light off.”
I start to say something, but I am immediately cut off by Chalk saying “We’ll talk about it in the morning.”
I climb into my bed and turn out the light, and lay awake like a fool for the better part of an hour, staring off into the darkness, craving more coke, and afraid to make even the slightest sound that might indicate that I am actually awake. My eyes are glued open, my sclera a pair of glowing white donuts, each with a large chocolate munchkin in the middle.
Finally the coke wears off, and I drop out of consciousness.
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 stillmore 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.
We’re rolling down Mexican Federal Highway 1, trailed by a gigantic truck full of local homeboys intent on getting their hands on some of our money. Supposedly they only want $20; but we’re not unaware of the possibility that this figure could change, without our input, in a way unfavorable to us. But… un trato es un trato (a deal’s a deal). After all, these hombres did yank our car out of some tits-deep sand; sand that we never would have gotten out of on our own. So they’ve probably earned the twenty bucks.
But gratitude aside- and more to the point, los hombres only pulled us out of that sand trap because we gave them a full bottle of Jäger, and agreed to pay them $20 in U.S. money- to be paid at the nearest ATM, which was 30 miles away at the time of the handshake.
Tejas Fold ‘Em
Look, before you start chastising and judging me, understand this: we weren’t exactly holding an intimidating hand when these negotiations jumped off. And it’s not like we were gonna be able to sell the ruse that we didn’t care whether or not we spent the night marooned on a subtropical desert sandpit far from any and all succour. It wouldn’t take a member of the Mexico chapter of Mensa to see that two gringo Americans stuck in remote desert sands beneath a falling sun would probably want out as quickly and with as little hassle as possible. No point trying to bluff.
So that’s why we’ve got these guys up our ass: it’s part of a business transaction.
When we make it to the outskirts of La Paz, the big truck goes flying abruptly past us, then pulls in front of us and slows down a little. Immediately an arm, with pointing finger extended, appears from the shotgun seat window, directing us to an ATM.
One of the hombres stands behind Chalk, looking over his shoulder as he does business with the cash machine; and I am surprised and impressed when the guy honors the original deal, only taking the pre-agreed-upon $20, though he pretty much had Chalk over a barrel and could have pretty much written his own check, so to speak. The hombre thanks us, climbs back into his truck, and he and his friends drive off to live the rest of their lives, twenty bucks richer.
Twenty dollars I gave him. Twenty dollars for a lifetime. It wasn’t even enough to pay for the coffin.
So now we’re in La Paz (“Peace”), capital city of Baja California Sur, and the second largest city on the Baja peninsula- behind Ensenada, 800 miles away in our rearview. With a population of roughly 252,800 people spread across 7,800 square miles, the municipality of La Paz is Mexico’s fourth largest, by area.
We check into the Hotel Plaza Real, a self-proclaimed low-quality hotel, in the middle of the downtown area-
We eat something, somewhere- I can’t remember now, then head out to the hipster district to get ripped in a proper bar. After 900 miles of Tecate, I’m ready for something with a little more bite to it.
Okay, so we lost a couple hours by getting the car stuck in the sand on the beach; but now that that problem’s been neutralized, we’re cooking along. It’s about 20 miles back to the paved highway. No problem.
But the problem is, nobody ever says “No problem” in a situation like this, unless the phrase is being deployed as a vehicle for ironic foreshadowing. Just sayin’.
After about 15 miles, the sand of the road starts getting pretty deep and unruly. I can’t deny that I’m getting a little nervous that if I slow down I’ll get the car stuck again; so I keep plowing along at a slightly faster clip than would otherwise be advisable on this dusty stretch of nowhere thoroughfare.
But wait…what is this? Cresting a shallow rise, I can see up ahead, just before the crest of the next rise, a stopped vehicle. Seeing as how turning around, stopping, or even slowing down are all completely out of the question at the moment, we exercise our one option, taking it on hope that the driver of that car up ahead will get moving before we catch up to him.
We don’t bother asking the question “Why is that guy stopped?”
Because we know the answer.
Here In The Sea of Sand, Nothing Ever Goes As Planned
We’ve almost reeled the guy in all the way; he hasn’t moved. I start casting about frantically for a bypass of some kind- a way to go around him, so as to maintain enough speed to remain afloat on the hungry sea of sand. Problem is, for random stretches here and there, the road bed runs through a two-foot depression in the surrounding land; and this is one of those stretches. So to try to go around the stopped vehicle would mean risking significant damage to the car, unless I can figure out how to do a two-foot bunny hop up onto the raised shoulder.
But I don’t know how to do that. And anyway, even if I could get the car up there, that way lay all manner of scrub brush, cactus, animal holes, and crumbling, collapsed washouts to contend with; so we’d probably end up just as porked up on the bank as we are here on the road.
Dig Me Out
Which is why we are now stuck once again- sunken in the sand behind the other car, immobile. Even if that guy started moving now, we would not be able to follow. Yep, we’re buried again- even deeper than the last time (which was only a half a fuckin’ hour ago). But as buried as we are, so is he.
Now, as much as misery loves company, this is not ideal. Our company consists of three locals: two men and a woman, probably all in their 30s, give or take. I notice that in front of their car sits a dirt-equipped motorcycle, which I assume one of the hombres was riding. The motorcycle does not appear to be stuck in the sand any more than a seaworthy raft is stuck on the surface of a lake. I try to converse with the three of them; but the woman shies away and ducks demurely behind one of the men, saying nothing. And with the men the language barrier is thick, impermeable, unyielding. Employing the international language of “You’re fucked, we’re fucked; we’re all fucked. And fuckedness knows no borders. So let’s put our cabezas together for the benefit of todos”, we are able to glean that nobody is happy about this.
Señorita I’m in Trouble Again, And I Can’t Get Free
A moment later the two men set off on the motorcycle, back in the direction from which we came- the direction of nothing. Nothing that I know of anyway.
But it does seem a bit odd that they’ve just left their woman alone in the middle of the desert with two random gringos.
The woman remains in the front seat of her car, eyes straight ahead. This also seems odd; because if we did have some kind of malicious intentions toward her, her staring out her windshield with her back to us probably would not intimidate us into restraint, nor would it afford her anything more than the absolute minimum chance of thwarting whatever nefarious advance we might have in mind. But Mexican chicks have never been my thing; so she’s safe.
Eeaassyy… I’m just kidding… she’s not safe.
I’m Digging For Tires
We take a few token digs at the underside of the car; but it is utterly hopeless. The entire chassis is resting squarely on the sand. There aren’t really even any air pockets between the sand and the car. Now it’s just a waiting game.
The assumption is that when these dudes come back, they will be bringing help for all. That doesn’t feel like all that much of a reach, despite the mild apprehension that attends the thought.
It’s getting dark. As the light starts to dwindle, the lights of cars on Highway 1 start emerging through the hot waves of desert air, five or six miles up ahead, in a slight depression of the land. Behind us nothing whatever can be seen, save for the dirty yellow lights of a clearly-uninhabited storage building of some sort, miles away across the vast open desert. The ocean was visible a few minutes ago, but now even that shit has gone to bed for the night.
After a little over an hour of milling about by the car, pretending to be unaware of the woman who is pretending to be unaware of us, a set of headlights, and another solitary headlight, appear off in the distance behind us, heading this way.
Here comes either help, mockery, or death.
The motorcycle comes flying up the dirt road and guns it past our car and the one in front of it, and reclaims its parking spot from earlier, in front of everybody. The other vehicle comes bouncing up behind us. It is a gigantic pickup truck, cranked way up off the ground on suspension lifts . The term “pickup truck” doesn’t even seem adequate- the thing is one fang short of being a monster truck.
Oh wait… there’s the fang.
How the fuck did these two guys just take off into the lifeless desert and return a little while later with a fuckin’ monster truck?
The large-wheeled monstrosity stops behind Chalk’s car, and sits there on top of the sand, not even the slightest bit concerned about sinking in the sand. The knobs on the tires are so huge, and the tire themselves so ridiculously colossal, that this thing could probably cross the Sahara Desert without getting stuck. Gas might be an issue, though.
After a brief survey of the situation, the driver of the newly-arrived huge truck simply turns the wheel to the right a little, guns the engine, and goes plowing right up the steep embankment, along the raised desert bed, past both trapped cars, and then down again onto the sandy road bed in front of both vehicles.
Ayuadame, Por Favor!
Instantly, ropes and chains are flying every which way, hooks and cables are linked, pedals depressed, and chasses yanked violently out of deep sand and down the road a piece onto terra firmer.
Sweet. We’ll be out of here in a couple minutes.
And just as quickly, the Mexican dudes start packing up their towing gear and throwing it back into the bed of the big-ass truck.
Whoah. Whaaooohh. Wait a goddamn minute here.
The guys with the big truck and the towing gear are not the least bit concerned about our plight, and as such, are completely uninterested in spending any more time out here in the darkening desert helping a pair of stupid, luckless gringos. A look of equal parts incredulity and panic takes shape on Chalk’s face.
One of the original two dudes (the driver of the other stuck car- the one whose fault it is that we’re stuck), makes a gesture to me that says “Sorry, mano. What do you want me to do?”
Well, I’ve got some ideas. I insert myself into the mix, in an attempt to advance a reasoned argument for why the big-trucking-hombres should help us as well their countrymen. Problem is, my argument has not been thought through any further than “Because we need help, and want you to provide it.” It’s lacking in incentive for the would-be assistance-givers, unless “because it’s the right thing to do” registers; but it’s looking like it doesn’t. We’ve got to sweeten the deal somehow.
But there’s no way we’re whipping out our money reserves here, in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by a crew of local dudes with big-swingin’ trucks. Because, as we all know, the bigger, and more ludicrously masculine your vehicle, the tougher you are.
So what do we have that might move these dudes to help us?
Chalk remembers this large, unopened bottle of Jägermeister that we’ve been carting around since San Diego, saving it for… uhh, this moment, apparently.
Chalk digs out the Jäger bottle and holds it up, like one of those babes on The Price Is Right (though not quite as sexy), as I voice the offer, en español.
When Spanish Eyes Are Smiling
Suddenly Spanish eyes are smiling. One of the dudes steps forward and says they will drag us out- for the bottle of Jäger, and $20, U.S. At least I think that’s what he said.
But as I stated already, I’m not willing to whip out my money stash right here; so I explain to the best of my ability that the offer is acceptable to me, except no tengo alguno efectivo ahora (I don’t have any cash on me at the moment). The dude responds that he’s fine with following us to a cajero automático (ATM).
We ponder this for a moment: Are we better off tipping our hand now, and risking having everything we’re holding taken away from us; or are we better off trying our luck with the bank machine, and hoping these dudes don’t stick some chrome in our grills and demand the balance of our bank accounts? Then it hits me: there’s less money in my bank account than in my wallet! Brilliant!
Suddenly these are some dice I think I’m comfortable rolling.
Up and ATM
Less than five minutes later we are once again making our way down the dirt road towards Highway 1; and soon we are turning back out onto the pavement and resuming our southward trajectory, albeit with a Mexican monster truck up our ass and looking for money. Our money. Whatever- a deal’s a deal.
The car makes it down the dirt road to the ocean without any real difficulty. Passing by little fishing villages and various beach encampments, we cruise the dusty road alongside the water until a beach calls out to us. Chalk pulls the car up onto the hard ground near the edge of the sand. Perfect...
“Actually, why don’t you pull the car up another ten or fifteen feet.”
“I don’t know, so we can see the car better from the beach?”
“You’ll be able to see the car fine from down there.”
But whatever. He pulls the car forward anyway.
The Sand. It Burns.
After spending thirty minutes laying in the 110-degree sand furiously trying to dig the car out with no success whatsoever, I can’t help but ask myself… What thefuck possible reason could I have had to insist that the car needed to be ten feet closer to the water?
There is no shade for miles, no offshore breeze to speak of. The atmosphere breaths not. Every few minutes we have to run down to the water and hurl ourselves into the ocean, but only to immediately return to the car to resume digging in vain. You can’t see under the car. In fact, if you open a door, you carve out one wing of a sand angel.
Okay, this is not sustainable- time for outside help. But then, we are stranded in deep sand on a remote beach in a remote corner of a sparsely-populated part of Mexico’s least peopled state. What to do?
Back To The Village
Well, there was this shitbag little fishing village a few miles back. Maybe that’s the call.
We lock up the car and set off on foot, hoping to find more than a bald chassis when we return. The giant dunes roll and swoop; and at the troughs between them we keep losing our bearings. But you know: keep the ocean on your left, and the dirt road on your right, and head north until you hit either the water, the road, or the little village where the two meet.
It’s The American Way
An hour later we come upon a seaside clearing partially encircled by RVs bearing U.S. plates: Arizona, Texas, Colorado. Each one has, parked next to it, a jeep, a quadrunner, or an all-wheel-drive pickup. In the center of the crescent, a group of middle-aged white men sit in lawn chairs with beverages, beneath gigantic beach umbrellas. Viewing them from afar, they don’t look like they came here to meet 30-whatever-year-old American dudes.
The eyes are rolling before I even get a word out. Immediately I know how all of these men vote. I explain my case: that we got stuck in sand just a couple of miles down the road, and it would be really easy to pull us out, and would any of them please help us.
None of the Americans will help us. “Sorry, this is my vacation”, says one of them, speaking for the group, as evidenced by the nods of assent which accompany his declaration.
“Really? It would only take 20 minutes. Please sir, we are in a real jam here.” I look around for a flag to salute. There actually is one mounted on one of the RVs; but I leave it alone.
“Sorry son, you boys can’t just come out here unprepared and expect people to bail you out when you get yourselves into a little trouble.”
There is absolutely no question about how these guys vote. “Okay well fuck you very much then.” They ignore me.
After all, we’re not even here.
Put a Roof On The Sucka
Another twenty or thirty minutes of walking arrives us at the aforementioned “fishing village”, which up close is revealed to be no more than a tiny little shack, with another one kinda near it.
Actually, can something be technically called a shack if it doesn’t have a roof? At any rate, it’s a structure of some sort; and more importantly, there’s a pickup truck parked in front it.
A barking dog announces our approach, and then appears from out behind the back of the “house”. He’s a mini black lab; and he’s just doing his job, goddammit. Good boy. A bedraggled hombre steps out of his four-walled enclosure and into the open, greeting us in Spanish. He’s missing a few teeth, skin torched by a lifetime spent under a pitiless sun; and his head is wrapped in a bandana. No shirt.
It Takes a Village… of One
If it’s possible to look at a guy and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he definitely doesn’t know any English, then this guy is the poster child for that possibility. Anyway, hopefully he speaks the international language of “Our truck got stuck in the sand a few miles away and can you please help us?”
He does! Give it up for hand gestures and mannerisms! The guy seems to perceive clearly enough what it is we need. Then again, what other kind of problem could anybody be conceivably having out here?
The guy grabs a really strong rope with metal clips at each end and throws it in the back of the pickup, then motions us into the front seat. His demeanor suggests that this is the most exciting thing to happen to him in years.
Hound Around Town
We go bouncing down the “driveway” and out onto the same dirt road we drove in on a couple hours ago; and as we do so, the most amazing thing happens:
The dog, unspeakably jacked at the opportunity to run wild, leads us directly back to Chalk’s car. I mean, the fuckin’ thing literally runs in front of the truck, showing the way. And it’s not like we’re cuing him in any way, either- and it can’t be that he’s simply following our scent back to the car, seeing as how we came over the dunes, and not by the road, to reach his homestead. Though the dog is running with everything he’s got, at times he is so close to the front bumper of the truck that we can’t see his entire body; yet the dude never slows down or shows even the slightest fear for the dog’s safety. And the dog demonstrates that there is in fact no such need. The guy babbles at us excitedly, though by now it’s perfectly obvious that we don’t know anywhere near enough Spanish to allow for this level of spirited conversation. But this only makes his incessant yammering that much more entertaining and memorable.
Ten minutes later we roll up to Chalk’s car, still laying in the sand, fully castrated. We never even gave the guy one directional instruction; there was no need- the dog had this from the start. The dog leaps around in front of Chalk’s car as if he’s high on Costco crack-jerky, practically doing back flips of exhilaration and clearly saying to us “Here’s your car!”
Give ‘Em Enough Rope
We have to dig down in the sand several inches just to get to a part of the undercarriage of Chalk’s car that can safely bear the pressure of a tow line without warping or breaking.
Two seconds later Chalk’s car is back in the spot he’d originally parked in- the one I had insisted could be improved with a twenty-foot forward roll. The guy unhooks his rope and chucks it back into the bed of the truck. He starts profusely thanking us- or at least it seems like that’s what he’s doing. When I offer him some money, he refuses, with a gesture that clearly conveys “Don’t worry about it! Happy to help!”
“Te gusta cerveza?” (“Do you like beer?”)
“Ah, sí sí sí!” (“Yes! Yes! Yes!”)
I pull a couple of piss-warm Tecates out of our ice-free cooler and offer them to him, adding a gesture of apology meant to convey acknowledgment of the fact that warm shit-beer doesn’t really constitute a sufficiently fitting gift for the critical service he has just provided. He motions to only accept one beer; but I insist; so he takes both, and then promptly offers one of them back to me to drink (Chalk doesn’t drink beer).
Fuck it. Well-played. I accept his kind offer, and the next few minutes are spent standing around in the scorching late-afternoon sun, sipping piss out of cans, and communicating in the international language of “Thanks for helping us/ You’re welcome, thank you for the beer/ No, thank you/ Ah, sí sí sí!”
The hombre finishes his beer, tosses the can into the nearby scrub brush, puts the dog into the cab of the truck, and drives off, hand waving furiously out the window as if he’ll never forget us. We definitely won’t forget him, anyway.
We resume our southbound trajectory along the coastal dirt road.