Archives for posts with tag: Adventure

The thing about the suburb depicted in Tim Burton’s film, Edward Scissorhands, is not that it’s wrong, it’s just that it’s weird. There is a surreal quality to it that is unsettling. The viewer enters the neighborhood like Edward, as an outsider. But, everything in life seen from the outside is slightly skewed because until you are on the inside, it’s impossible to understand what the reality, and not the perception of reality, actually is.

I am constantly reminding myself of that fact since my arrival on the border. In the past eleven years we have moved eleven times and to make those numbers even more impressive, six of those eleven years were spent in just two residences. I know that when you uproot yourself there is an adjustment before you feel like you belong, before weird seems normal. My adjustment here on the fringes of the country is going to take a bit longer.

Although Mikey warned me that Roswell, New Mexico was not impressive, I didn’t believe him. It was only as I drove down the main street through town that I realized how right he’d been. My disappointment was colossal. There was nothing supernatural or even campy about it, unless you consider endless concrete strip malls strange. To me it was simply wrong that they existed in that mythical place. The presence of their characterless uniformity made Roswell exactly like everywhere else when I had wanted it to be so much more. After The Boy and I arrived at our hotel I searched for an alien themed restaurant to treat myself and The Boy after our long trek and revive my fading romanticism of the town [probably rooted in this guilty pleasure from my teenage years.] I am sorry to tell you, there are none. I stopped on my way out the next morning to take a picture of Alien Zone, which is just a block down from the International Alien Museum and Research Center, but by then the damage had already been done, my disillusionment was complete. The flock of sheep standing beneath irrigation sprinklers in the thick morning fog a few miles outside of Roswell was the eeriest thing about it.

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A couple of hours later I saw an animal dart into the street toward a truck a few yards ahead of me, I wasn’t sure what it was, but I saw it return to the side of the road after the truck swerved out of the way. As I drew up to the crouching form, a crazed looking dog ran straight at me as I was traveling 75 mph to, as I could best ascertain, herd my car. I slowed and then stopped, completely unnerved by the maniacal animal who stared straight into my eyes, challenging me. I was grateful there were large pieces of metal and glass between me and the possibly rabid dog. I slowly edged around it and, it let me, I guess satisfied that my little white car was not, in fact, a stray sheep. I looked in my rearview mirror as I drove away and saw that it resumed it’s ready-to-pounce stance on the side of the highway.

I spent hours on a badly paved two lane road passing oil drills bobbing up and down, kowtowing to imaginary Kings with only The Boy and semi trucks for company. At one point my directions became almost impossible to follow and I worried that I’d become lost. Then I remembered I was going to the border of Mexico, as long as I was driving south, I’d get there eventually.

I entered West Texas and things suddenly began to change. The flat expanse with no houses, towns or people spotted by spiky cactuses turned into rolling hills and then mountains with distant ranches tucked between them. It was a surprise and it was beautiful. We stopped on the side of the road to take a picture and when I stepped out of the car, the air was warm and fresh, more at home on a spring day than mid-December.

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I wound through yellow fields of grass dotted with rocks and cacti. In a sunny valley, I gave a bicycle adventurer, who was literally 100 miles from anything, a wide berth as I passed him and he waved cheerfully wishing us well on our way.

It was strange, it was different, but I loved it.

Small towns with West Texas charm sprouted every 50 to 100 miles. Border Patrol trucks became more frequent and the grassy fields turned to beautiful tree-less deserts guarded by cows and to my amusement, a pair of camels. An ancient white-washed Mexican church appeared in a ghost town set between two hills, it’s bell tower rising high above a handful of foreign deciduous trees with bright yellow leaves. It is wide, open and beautiful here. I kept saying to myself, “West Texas, I think I love you.” I was unexpectedly elated.

The feeling continued until I turned at the mountains that led to our new town. Our town is . . . less picturesque than everything around it, but it is our new home. The Boy was very pleased when he realized, “We live in Radiator Springs!”

We spent our first night reunited as a family in a comfortable trailer but a house had recently become available and we would be moving the next day.

When we drove down the street of our new neighborhood for the first time I could not help but notice that the houses were all exactly the same, just with varying shades of what I considered odd color choices. The two other government neighborhoods have charming nicknames (the one directly behind us is “the snake pit”). I asked Mikey if this neighborhood had a name. There wasn’t one that he knew of. Edward Scissorhands, I told him.

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My New Neighborhood

edward scissorhands - pastel houses[1]

Edward’s New Neighborhood

It isn’t just the neighborhood that feels reminiscent of the movie, it is my position as an outsider and the overwhelming novelty of my surroundings. Everything here is foreign to me. I am not only outside the culture of the town, but I am also new to the culture of the government law enforcement presence here. I really felt like I’d just come down from my secluded gothic mansion on the hill. The landscape, the people, the language is all so foreign. It is like I am living in another country, although Mexico is still another mile down the road.

Walking through our new, very comfortable, house felt like being on a movie set. I surmised the house had been built in the 60’s but later discovered that it’s only ten years old. The Army Corps, who built it, seemed to have mastered time travel, going back decades to find light fixtures, vent covers and bathroom tiles from eras long past. It seemed to fit perfectly in this odd world and I loved it.

At church on Sunday (it’s 90 miles away and we have to pass through a Border Patrol check point to get there) somebody said, “Oh, you live in the gated community?” I smiled inwardly, amused that anyone would consider an eight foot chain-link fence topped with barbed wire to be a “gated community.” I think the word “compound” is more accurate. The children, who abandon their bicycles everywhere, climb to the summit of the neighborhood rock pile with the Mexican mountains as the backdrop of their “King of the Mountain” victory.

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(That’s Mexico in the distance.)

The night is often filled with the chorus of the three-legged Chihuahua gang that patrols our neighborhood during the day. They hobble around looking tiny but formidable, a thorn stuck in one of each of their paws, too macho to ask for help. (I am slightly concerned our resident Schnauzers are going to be peer pressured into joining them.)

The nearest big box store, a non-super Walmart, is 150 miles away, the nearest one after that is four hours in the opposite direction. But, we can “shop” at our own Prada store (100 miles away and actually just an art installation) and we only have to drive 60 miles to watch hipsters hobnobbing at art galleries.

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It is a strange world we’ve entered. There is much to love, much to be amazed by, and much to learn. . . but the fish out of water feeling is still there. I still feel like Edward, wide-eyed and overwhelmed, completely naive to the way things work around here. Although I do not have scissors for hands, I am certainly as pale as Edward is to the majority of the town residents. Nearly everyone here speaks Spanish. The old Mexican cowboys frequently try to engage The Boy and I at the Post Office but the only thing I’ve been able to decipher, as I smile and nod, is, Feliz Año. The people of West Texas are very generous and friendly. We have happily been ambushed by two of our neighbors carrying impressive displays of cookies and friendly welcomes. At the library, the grocery store and the city offices they graciously (and impressively) switch to English for me but I know that as long as they do that, I will remain, like Edward, on the outside.

But, I don’t really want my life to emulate the end of that movie. I don’t want to run back to my gothic mansion with a mob of angry suburbanites . . . or cowboys after me. I want weird to become normal. I want to belong.

(If you have never seen Edward Scissorhands and want to see the entire plot of the movie in two minutes, check out this trailer here. The strangeness really captures my current fish out of water, surreal existence.)

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.