At the Greyhound station in Denver panhandlers are very specific when they ask for money; $10 will do. Perhaps they need it to get to wherever they’re going to pan-handle next, or perhaps it’s to fund their chain smoking habit because riders of Greyhound all seem to fall into this category. These two reasons alone are probably why most of us have never used this form of travel. It’s crowded, boring and puts us in close proximity with people who have colorful life stories they believe need to be told. And you become their captive audience.

Unfortunately when you’re slated to move to a tiny border town four hours away from the nearest airport, Greyhound is your cheapest, fastest and maybe you’re only option. And so, my husband recently found himself bound for Texas on a crowded, hot and smelly bus, which was apparently on it’s last leg because it broke down just four hours into the 30 hour trip.

Eight hours later, he found himself on a replacement bus which got him to his first transfer, in Amarillo, then another, in Abilene, and his final one, in Odessa. Each bus was as equally crowded as the one before, making sleep impossible. He watched the flat nothingness (like Nebraska devoid of corn) pass by the window hour after hour. He was regaled by the tales of a man who claimed the passengers on his previous bus had wanted to beat him up because he wouldn’t stop talking. After a couple of hours of the one-sided conversation, Mikey began to understand why they’d felt that way.

I spoke to him once before he caught his last bus transfer headed for the borderland of Texas. We joked that perhaps it would be the most crowded of all; filled with goats and chickens, the way buses always seem to be in the movies. He was pleasantly surprised to find that he was only one of two people on the bus. He stretched out on the back seat, finally able to relax. There were now mountains just visible in the distance but it was getting dark. He felt a growing excitement when he drew closer to our future home, it was different than he’d expected and he hoped that I might actually like it.

A Kung Fu movie flickered across the screen above Mikey’s head compliments of the indomitable driver, a tiny middle-aged Hispanic man, bravely daring to go where we would be frightened to venture. They passed the closest towns to his final destination; 153 and 90 miles away. These towns contain the only hospitals, shopping centers and movie theaters, within reasonable driving distance, this side of the border. One of the theaters is said to have a tiny screen and ceiling fans to cool the patrons. I cannot help but wonder if there is a pianist who plays music to accompany the suspenseful scenes of the movies. And, will we need to call on The Three Amigos?

Mikey had been on the road for 40 hours and it was late. He planned to ask the bus driver if he would drop him off at his motel when they passed by it but then . . . he fell asleep.

This was one of those path altering moments. Some would say it caused him to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I like to believe it allowed him to be in the right place, at the right time . . . for adventure.

When he woke up he realized he’d missed the motel and decided to try his luck at getting the driver to turn around and drop him off, as they weren’t too far past it. “I’m going to that motel back there, in town,” he said.

The driver responded, “You should have told me! I would have dropped you off.” He seemed genuinely disappointed that he couldn’t help Mikey, but the driver couldn’t go back because he had to wait to pick up passengers for the return trip he explained. “But, the taxi will be by in a little while. You could wait for that.”

Mikey said it was only a mile and a half, it seemed silly to wait for a taxi to take him such a short distance so he unloaded his luggage and dragged it laboriously along the gravel road. It was 12:30am on a warm night completely devoid of any sounds. The stars were so bright that he could see by them. After twenty minutes headlights were visible in the distance. The “American Taxi” appeared in the form of a very old and slightly beat-up suburban, piloted by a a small Hispanic lady in her forties with a huge smile.

Did he want a ride, she asked. No, it was only another half a mile. She pressed him, insisted even, a flood of persuasive dialogue pouring out of her mouth. He relented, loaded his baggage in the back of the vehicle and then climbed into the truck. They drove about 100 feet and the engine died.

Silence settled for an imperceptible second and then, “Oh no! Not again!” The taxi driver said this with surprise, as if she was not aware that the car would continue to require gasoline for the duration of it’s life. “We have to go back to Mexico for a minute, we need gas.”

“I don’t have a passport.” Mikey explained.

“That’s okay, you have a driver’s license, right?”

“Yes.”

“You’ll be fine!” The Taxi driver said this enthusiastically as she resurrected the suburban and they puttered off in the direction of the border.

Mikey was not at all sure but he heard the word “Okay,” fill the truck in his own voice.

She chattered happily in Spanish with the elderly Mexican woman in the back seat. The baggage was stacked so high on her lap she had to look around it to respond.

Things were certainly not going according to plan.

Mexico was, well, like another country.
The Texas side of the border was deadly silent and dark but the Mexican streets were filled with people talking, laughing and drinking at outdoor cafes. There was a street race between an old Mustang GTO and lowered Honda Accord, they accelerated around like they were stunt drivers for the Fast and the Furious, bass thumping, not rap, but mariachi music. Children were running in the streets. Stray dogs, which all seemed to look the same, were wandering and laying, as if dead, everywhere. The architecture was ramshackle and brightly painted; reds, oranges, pinks and yellows.

The truck stalled again and Mikey helped his friendly driver push it off the road. It was a moment of reflection for Mikey. He was pushing a battered Suburban off the road, in Mexico, in the middle of the night. What decision had brought him to this point? He could not help but laugh.

Mikey and the driver walked half a mile to the nearest gas station and the Mexican woman remained behind to guard her mountains of baggage. The driver chatted familiarly, explaining her situation to two men at the gas station. They didn’t have a gas can for her so she bought a liter of water and the old men filled it up with gas because apparently in Mexico you’re not allowed to pump your own; it’s a law. They put the liter of gas into the car, returned to the gas station, not fill up, but to put just enough fuel in the tank to allow the  driver another opportunity to declare, “Oh no, not again!” in the near future. They dropped the little Mexican woman at her home and Mikey politely helped her with her gigantic bags.

It was getting late at this point and he was growing worried, because the motel had already called him to see why he was eight hours late and gave the distinct impression that it was not the kind of establishment where he could show up at all hours of the night and expect a room. You know, like a regular hotel.

But, as they drove back to the bridge over the Rio Grande, his motel reservations became the least of his worries. He had to cross back over to the United States without a passport, in the middle of the night. In spite of what his driver said, he knew that it wouldn’t look good. They entered the lane and the CBP [Customs Border Protection] officer approached in his blue uniform, a gun strapped to his belt. He requested Mikey’s passport. Mikey sheepishly offered his driver’s license instead.

The officer spoke slowly. “You are from Illinois and you went to Meixco, without a passport? What were you doing there?” Mikey swallowed and explained his long trip, fraught with peril and adventure, to the borderland to be, “A CBP officer. I start tomorrow.” The officer’s eyebrows raised and he immediately ordered Mikey’s bags to be searched. The taxi driver found the whole ordeal tremendously entertaining and as Mikey was cleared and sent through to Texas she put the truck into gear and told him, with a chuckle, that she was going to write a book based on her adventures as a taxi driver. (I would read that book.)

At 1:30am they pulled up to the surprisingly half-decent looking motel. They walked up to the door where a sign hung declaring, “Ring bell for night clerk.”

There was a hole where the bell should have been.

They banged on doors and windows, like crazy people, trying to rouse somebody. Nobody came to their assistance. (I wouldn’t have answered either.) The taxi driver shrugged and suggested they try alternate lodgings. She drove him to the only other hotel in town, also much nicer than one would expect in the borderland of Texas. The people were friendly and accommodating, in spite of the late hour, and he was finally able to get four hours of sleep before reporting at the Port of Entry where he would begin his new job and our new life.

Have you ever noticed that people use the word, adventure, when they describe a potentially disagreeable situation you, and not they, are facing? I’ve been hearing it a lot lately when I tell people about my future home and life (which to me is not an adventure or a curse, it just is). What I hear in most of their voices behind that word adventure is, “I wouldn’t want to do that.” It seems when applied to my life adventure means “trouble is coming your way.” And maybe that’s true, maybe trouble is coming for me, but if my trouble comes in the form of midnight adventures in Mexico, I’m pretty sure I can get some good writing material from it.

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