Baja Mexico: The Journey of Almost No Return – Chapter 19: Many Times Upon a Time in Mexico (Mexican Roulette)

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Day 05

Cabo San Lucas, BCS

Tuesday, August 30th:

Please call me, baby- wherever you are. (image by unknown)
Please call me, baby- wherever you are.
(image by unknown)

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.

Ciudad Juarez: When you're here, you're dead!! (image by
Ciudad Juarez:
When you’re here, you’re dead!!
(image by

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.

Wishful Thinking

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.

I got a six-shooter Yo, mean hombre. (image by
I got a six-shooter
Yo, mean hombre.
(image by

Mexican Roulette

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.

Whoever sold you those suits had a sense of humor. (image by
Whoever sold you those suits had a sense of humor.
(image by

Eight Hair

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 “eight ball”?

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.

Alley Oops

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.

Vive le FasTrak. (image by
Fuck this- next time I’m using the “FasTrak Only” lane .
(image by

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.

Where trouble melts like lemon drops High above the chimney top That's where you'll find me (image by
Where trouble melts like lemon drops
High above the chimney tops
That’s where you’ll find me
(image by

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.

... and the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true. (image by
… and the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.
(image by

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.




Previous: Chapter 18: Just Like Living in Paradise

Next: Chapter 20: Down on Squid Roe