Riding a Bus in Mexico
Robin H. Christensen
“Joe? Hey, Joe!”
He was ignoring me, but I couldn’t blame him. Peace, and all that goes with it was missing from my soul, not to mention my demeanor and patience. My usual stance of calm ceased to exist. Meditations refused to embrace my command, and I was only minutes away from calling it quits.
It was 1982, and I was sitting in a filthy, crowded train station, which most definitely was not the way I had envisioned my first, on-my-own vacation. No, I had pictured luxury, intrigue, adventure, and in general, the privilege to travel comfy-cozy, but instead, I felt trapped inside an episode of the Twilight Zone.
“Practice patience, Peri.” Joe hollered, obviously mocking me.
“Are you serious? I thought. How much longer does he expect me to wait here?” Really Joe? Isn’t that all we’ve been doing? Waiting? I’m ready to call a cab. I want to go home.
Joe sighed. “What do you want me to do? Beat through corrugated steal?”
His tone, sarcastic, aimed and struck me as intended, which was easy because I felt miserable. Sweat spilled from every pour of my body like a waterfall, so my desire to punch back lacked potency.
Why am I still sitting here? And why did I choose this Mexico thing? I adjusted my watch, Gucci, around my slippery wrist to read the time, a misnomer the ‘Open Hours’ sign neglected to list correctly. “Why don’t you knock on the window?”
Joe, who stood six people back in line, and across three rows of old church pews, was doing his best to ignore my poison-darts glare. He knew that I had something to say, but it wasn’t until he finally caught my stare that I was able to hurl my intentions at him. After all, the train-thing was his idea.
“Why are we still here, Joe? I’m hot. Uncomfortable. It’s a sauna in here. It’s grimy! We could be in Sedona, Joe, twirling our toes in a red, clay mud bath, surrounded by the opulence of nature, God’s way. Bell Rock, Oak Creek Canyon, Cypress trees. Pines. Oh, the scent of pines. Real, trees, Joe. Wine Tasting! We could be Wine Tasting.”
“Oh, Peri –“
“Oh Peri my derriere!” I wasn’t going to let Joe soften me up with his delicious accent, his beautiful green eyes, not even the masculine frame of his almost perfect physic. Not this time! In that moment, I was determined to listen to my gut for once, that still small voice that screamed at me to claim my independence, so I half-stood ready to plead my case. For purposes of dignity, I pulled pieces of my soaking blouse away from my drenched body, positive that the effect would add assertion and sophistication to my plea.
“Don’t Peri me, Joe. I have legitimate questions. Why aren’t we sipping champagne while our luggage is being brought to our First Class sleeping compartment? Are you sure you want to meander by railway through “exotic Mexico?”
I didn’t wait for answers, and although I had more questions, they were not for Joe.
Had I cussed-out the Universe? Flung my good karma across the vast open sea? Maybe it was my negative vibes, or lack of decision that crafted my reality. And why did I choose to sit between two dozing-off men the size of Redwood trees?
Yes. Redwood trees. It was the only available seat when we arrived. Three hours later, a quick survey proved it to be prime real estate; but every moment sandwiched between those two reeking kinsmen, fetched more query, so I wondered… Was this really how I had envisioned my dream vacation? Was this trip really about rebuilding a failing relationship with Joe, or was I running away from another involvement; one that cropped up every three to four years during his journey south, and consequently, during the last break-up between Joe and me?
My mind and sometimes mouth argued lauding ideas that could have corrected my situation; “A trip to Vancouver?” I questioned aloud. “A week in Hawaii?” I cupped my hands around my mouth –“Even the Hotel 6 two miles from home would have provided more leisure than this, Joe.” He wasn’t paying attention, but I was…finally… Should I have gone to Vancouver?
Leaving my seat was impossible, unless I wanted to stand for eons, as Joe had been doing; and never mind that the Hours sign clearly displayed that all ticket windows should have opened before daylight. Still, the motivation to leave my seat increased, as one snoring fellow tried, yet again, to cozy against my shoulder. Ignoring the obvious, I did what any red-blooded American girl would do when trying to practice manners, so I tried to engage my company in some meaningful conversation.
With a deep breath, I hoisted myself toward one fellow and asked, “When will I learn to listen to my intuition? You know, that feeling?” The gent grumbled a bit, but not to my satisfaction, so with a twist at my waist, and with help from my elbows, I pressed against one guy’s chest, and scooted my behind sideways to face my other seatmate.
“Do you really think me foolish for giving this relationship another try? I mean, look at the place? It represents everything that I don’t want: disorder, the lack of fluid planning, incompetence, and walls need to be painted just like at home. Neither gentleman responded, so I continued. “Worse, and like always, I’m doing what he wants me to do.” I careened my neck so as to include both sleeping giants in discovery of my insight, but I still failed to get a response. In fact, one Godzilla had managed to snuggle up to me, and in one swoop, slung both his legs over my knees, but keeping my composure, I continued.
“I suggested we fly First Class. I mean, why not? The fares are cheap and include champagne, snacks and meals. One Travel agent offered a trip that included rental cars, shows, an extra tour, and hotel rooms. Of course that was my idea. San Francisco. How nice that would have been. Don’t you think?”
Not even an eye opened. Rude. I nudged one cat-napper with my left shoulder and the other chum with my right. “I have to admit,” I said twisting once more toward the other, “that Joe’s train idea appealed to me, but look where it’s taken us?” I sighed then lifted, carefully of course, the one gent’s legs off of mine.
“You know, this was the only piece of our trip that Joe insisted on being responsible for planning, so it is no surprise that we sit here in limbo-hell. “I’ll make all the arrangements for departure.” He insisted! And look at us now.”
I thought I heard a murmur of sympathy from Paul Bunyan on the left.
“That’s all you have to say?” That was it! My attempt at friendship was finished. I gave up. I refused my gift of comfort, and my lack of generosity swelled with every whistle, snort, and drooling of Bunyon’s lips. Where were my tissues?
As in pattern now, I could predict his guttural tone, his drooping neck that wobbled my way. It was just the incentive I needed to surrender my seat. Left’s concerto worsened with every dither and bob of his hair-matted head. Right’s folly of yam-yam, smack open, and snuggle-up, threatened my sanity and most definitely, his safety. I refused to be treated like a couch, so with encore, I baulked both of my shoulders only to watch a slow motion timber sink my way from both the east and the west.
After three hours of waiting-in-line-torture, I couldn’t imagine that conditions inside the train station could worsen, but they did. As my left-brain continued its interrogation of my right, the unimaginable chanced before my eyes. Only seconds after the ticket booth opened, Joe, and to our horror, was flung and shoved wayside by a horde of ticket hungry travelers. The audacity that two hundred, or probably forty-nine previously seated people, would spring to foot and claim what had already been staked, bested my patience, and if not for the descent of a bench-buddy about to plant his reeking self against me again, I could have stood in protest citing the unnatural custom of cutting in line.
If the torment of watching Joe lose our just holdings wasn’t enough salt to fester in my already bleeding wounds, the cashier who nonchalantly issued tickets to the mob of line-cutters, really frosted my cake.
“Um. Excuse me?” I hollered waving my arms bear hug style around one of my seat cronies.
Joe, making his way back in line, cupped his hands to his mouth. “I don’t think they understand you, Bonita!” Joe, a Brad Pitt look alike, did not bellow his Bonita in his usual flirtatious tone. His scrumptious accent was serious and lacked the usual tingle-up-my-spine sensation, but I didn’t care. I ignored my spine and scowled at him. To accentuate my fury, I elbowed personal space between my bench buddies and me, before sounding off again.
“Doesn’t anyone wait in line around here? Ma’am? Señora?”
I stretched my neck to eye the cashier who was busy collecting money and ringing out tickets using both hands delivering them left and right. “Why don’t we leave and go to Disneyland. Maybe Yellowstone. The Virgin Islands? How about Seattle? The northwest? I would love to tour the northwest.”
With his place lost once more, Joe rounded the benches, nudged one fellow and began to braid my stuck-to-my-back hair. “Peri, how else would we enjoy my Reunion Party? And what about that volcano in Washington? Mount St. Helens? Everything’s gone. There is nothing-beautiful left to see.
Ah, yes. The Reunion Party…The Reason… For me, Mexico was that place I lived four miles east of with its quaint dusty roads, tortilla and carne asada street vendors, and sidewalk Mariachi’s. It was a quick getaway, a place to play the perfect hostess while touring with visiting family and friends. The culture was old-world and ‘kickback.’ However, in that moment, I was not four miles away from home, nor was I entertaining visiting relatives. I was forty miles west roasting in the utopia of Mexicali, in a crowded train station, where the locals failed to wait their turns in line.
Mexico had once been home for Joe, before taking his American Oath, something he wore proudly in his heart, and on the bumper of his 1958 Ford. “This trip will be an adventure you will always remember. It will be one of those learning experiences you always talk about,” and with a tender voice, he added, “It will be just what we need. I promise, and you will love my dearest friends and my cousins.”
I loved the way Joe pronounced, cousins, or co-sens, but I wasn’t sure about this adventure thing, especially since Joe and I had already called it quits, twice; once, halfway through planning the Mexico trip. I was nervous about meeting his family members because it implied that our relationship was perfect again…but it wasn’t. In fact, I kept wondering when Joe was going to explode. His mood was nicer than usual, almost too nice. As for his friends, I already knew them…sort-of… One spouse from each couple, including Joe and me, had once upon a time lived, worked, or run away from their mother country, to the Estados Unidos, and all had found their American Dreams.
We were to meet Sandra and Juan Russell, who lived in San Francisco, at the train station in Hermosio, Mexico. From there they would join us by train to Guadalajara, where we were scheduled to meet-up with two other couples, Sudie and Luis Alvarez, and Patsy and Cecil Hernandez.
Our travels would take us by means of bus, taxi, or rented car up to the edge of the jungles of Jalisco, where we were to begin a two-day hike to the village of Santa de Clara. Our plan was to stay at a ranch, granted to Sandra’s great-great grandparents, by a king of Spain in the 1800’s.
Sandra and her husband, Juan, both Interior Design majors, met while attending El Camino College, in California. Juan put his degree to work and was looking forward to melting into golden walls of antiquity. Sandra, however, found her niche, and their fortune, in real estate. Her natural sophistication attracted clientele who oozed money. With diligence, she sold her way into Rancho Palos Verdes, Malibu Beach, Beverly, Brea, Woodland Hills, and Hollywood Hills. Having never met the couple in person, I felt I knew them. Sandra and I had become instant friends by way of the Reunion Party plan that arose from almost two years of writing letters, a single atlas mailed back and forth, and a plethora of long distance phone calls.
Another strand of our vacation was to include a tour of Mexico City, to be hosted by Cecil, Patsy, and Cecil’s Uncle Jake Hernandez. Dr. Jake Hernandez was a practicing physician, and worked in one of the most impoverished places in the world. For our stay, Uncle Jake’s job was to reserve rooms at The Don Quixote Suites, located near the French Quarter of Mexico City.
Six years earlier, Uncle Jake had visited Arizona, while attending a conference at the University located in Mexicali. He had wandered into J.C. Penny where both Cecil and Patsy worked, to confirm a last minute family barbecue. Being Uncle Jake, he inquired, again, as to why Cecil still failed to have a woman in his life. Before Cecil could defend himself, Uncle Jake gestured toward Patsy who was stocking folded sweaters and asked, “So what’s wrong with her?”
The barbecue set the stage for the someday nuptials of Patsy and Cecil, but because of J.C. Penney’s ‘No Dating Policy,’ they ended their relationship, almost, each one citing why the other should find work elsewhere. As Cecil would tell, “While crying my eyes out, I fell into an opportunity to manage a fast food restaurant in San Diego. With my heart still heavy, I gunned the engine of my ‘73 Lincoln Marque, to forty-three miles per hour, up out of the desert, and over the mountains to the seaside!”
Cecil settled nicely into a studio apartment on Grape Street,
paying only triple the rent he had in Yuma. Within months he was given another store to manage. One year later, he purchased his own franchise, but still there was something missing. Cecil called it, “The Patsy Piece.” Eventually, Patsy joined Cecil in San Diego. They were married in the lush, front yard of a friend’s home. The scene, I was told, sat under a majestic sun-setting sky in full view of white sandy beaches, and the historic Del Coronado Hotel.
Patsy became a stay at home mom. She was very happy in her role as manager and homemaker for her husband and children. The mantra of the ‘70’s and 80’s to leave your post as wife and mom, to join droves of women who marched to the call of Burn your bra! Leave wife and mother off your resume,’ didn’t phase Patsy one bit. I had not yet met Patsy and Cecil, but I learned during a ‘Get-Acquainted’ chain letter that the three of us attended the same High School. They were two classes ahead of me, so we had things in common: a small town, a department store, and a high school. I was looking forward to meeting them.
Luis and Sudie Alvarez, met Joe while enrolled at a culinary arts school in Los Angeles, California. Sudie, a baker established herself quite prominently inside the cake industry in San Diego and Coronado Island. (Yes, the front yard wedding.) Her specialty was cakes garnished with eatable flowers. Some of her designs utilized water pumps under icing mountains that created meandering, babbling brooks of champagne. As a bona fide ‘make a garden out of a cake buff’, it was Sudie’s idea to reunion among the blooms of Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta.
Luis dreamed of owning his own restaurant someday. His specialty was glazes and liqueurs. After graduating, he tried his hand in management at one of Cecil’s fast foods, but it wasn’t his style. For the time being, or as Joe put it, “between his dreams, he delivers cakes and gofers for Sudie’s Sweets.”
So, the itinerary was set. We would meet in Guadalajara, have dinner, and then meet for breakfast at, Las Flores. From there we would bus or taxi our way to Santa de Clara, Jalisco. In the event that one party arrived late, we incorporated, as Joe called it, “The Window of Time,” so that all could depart together. There was one catch; however. All parties present would wait no more than a day before departure. If a couple were detained, they would adjust their itinerary to meet the others at a later location.
One interesting feature of our trip was going to be the two-day hike through the jungle. I found this idea not only intriguing, but charming as well. Apparently, four-wheeled transportation to the mountainside village was not yet available. I was really looking forward to this trek of our adventure.
After a weeks stay, we planned to head back to Guadalajara in route to Mexico City, then onto Acapulco, followed by a short stay in Puerto Vallarta. Sudie had arranged with Joe’s cousin, to host a Visiting Chefs’ Night at his restaurant that would feature the talents of Sudie, Luis, and Joe along with their corresponding delectable glazes, marinades, and gourmet deserts.
Our next point of interest would take us back to Mexico City, before heading to Guadalajara, where we would say our ‘so-longs’ and take our respective flights back home to somewhere USA.
I was looking forward to our venture, however, I was nervous about spending weeks with people I had yet to meet. All I knew about my would-be traveling companions was learned through pictures and telephone conversations with Sandra and Sudie. I had only spoken with Patsy once, and that was over a year before our trip. Plenty of letters containing tour ideas, reservations, and meet-up locations were detailed with discussion, but I didn’t know them…not really.
And now with our manners in check that dictated we not shove rude people out of the way to secure our rightful place in line gave me a feeling of real unease.
Vancouver. Should I have gone? Had I been too careful in my thinking? Again? I wondered if the choices I had made to give Joe and me another try was in my best interest. Regardless, I knew from experience that whatever lay before me could be a lesson in discovery of self…but would I listen?
As for Joe, well…he could read me inside and out.