Yesterday I got in my car and learned that it does not go over 98. Sorry brother John, I could not punch it to 100 the way you did in the family Buick on route 35 about 50 years ago.
I almost did not leave yesterday afternoon. A few days before. I took my 2004 Mazda 3 to the taller. I went alone, because I am tired of asking people for favors, for translating this world to me. I knew where to go because Chip, my favor granter, had taken me there before to help me solve the kerklunking problem in the front end of my car. No problemo—it was just the muffler rusting off of its bracket. I got a friend to set up an appointment to fix me mufle. Aliesha and I ventured to the mufle place and one hour and 20 bucks later, I had a fixed muffler. The kerklunk, however, remained.
So two days before my crazy drive to San Padre, Texas, I decided to get this problem fixed. With Google translate in hand, I got el mechanico to drive around Tampico with me to listen. We got back to the shop and crawled under the car to see what the problem was. My mechanic language is worse than my Spanish, but it was obvious that lots of major struts and other things that hold cars together had rusted out. I decided to make the huge financial investment to get the car fixed. It was not as simple as it sounds.
I am at the stage in my language learning when I understand what people say, but there is a lag time. For example, when someone speaks, I am about two words behind. So when the men in the office tried to get my information for fixing the car, I managed to display a woman with the brain of one of the nuts or bolts they planned on using to fix my car. Como te nombre? Number? Shit, I have a new cell phone that I never use, and I have no idea what the number is. “No lo se. No lo se,” I replied holding my head. My lag time passed after they had plenty of time to start laughing with me. Nombre – name, not number. After I told them my name, they did ask me my number, I honestly did not know. (So they called my number and we figured it out.) You can only imagine the conversation I was having with el mechanico as we drove around listening to the thunk in my car.
I will skip the details of how I found out that my car was ready, how I drove around with el mechanico, and crawled under my car to check it out (in a snug fitting skirt, which I have taken to wearing cuz it makes me feel good).
Right then I decided. I am skipping town the minute I get out of work. Who cares if I will travel through the most dangerous part of Mexico, alone, in my tight skirt, with just one head light, and a dubious muffler repair? I needed to get the hell out of Dodge. And I got the hell out in a BIG way. I did the Google map thing. Why? Because it made me feel like I knew what I was doing, that I had a purpose, that I was responsible. Google maps got me out of Tampico. Then I saw a sign for Matamoros and followed it. I cranked Jason Mraz because that was all that I had loaded on my phone (arrogant son of a bitch he is, but enough to keep me moving). I cranked it because that is what I needed to do. Pedal to the medal.
As I drove the scenery became more and beautiful, which is not hard to do when leaving a city like Tampico. In Mexico this means that you know the ocean is somewhere to the right, that the fuzzy green mountains in the distance look like perfect triangles, and the only thing in between are some big bulls with humps on their backs running the show, and occasional village (?), dogs and scrap. There were no one legged men on this trip. In fact there were no men, women, or any other signs of human life after a while. The road was good, better than most. No topes, an occasional landslide, few pot holes. As the road became more barren, I had an I-don’t-think-I-should-be-here-feeling. But I knew I was headed north, and I would hit the border at some point as long as the road did not just stop in the middle of nowhere. And I still had enough daylight as long as I did not have to turn around.
I saw some of the biggest snakes I have ever seen sunbathing on the tarmac—what did they have to lose, nobody but me was crazy enough to drive this road. I thought that maybe no one was driving the road because it was so reportedly dangerous that no one dared drive it. I saw a huge bull (white with a hump and a scraggly beard), ambling along. He had found a hole in a fence somewhere, but what did it matter, there was no risk of getting hit by the one Mazda hitting 98 on that road. The birds were beautiful, the sky held the clouds in the west, and the sea air brushed my window.
I knew I should have turned around when I realized that I owned the road… when I wondered where everyone else went. Where could they have gone? There was no place to go. I drove under a modern bridge that held a modern road, but it was closed and the turn off to it was impassable anyway. The road, however, was smooth despite globs of manure, debris from farm carts, random rocks, the big turtles and the snakes. I kept seeing signs about REPARATION, but everything in Mexico is under repair, and I was on a mission. NORTH or bust. When the road turned to dirt, I considered turning around, but… I told myself I would drive to the next mountain to get a view.
I did finally turn around. I considered asking the first sign of civilization that I saw – a man on a donkey—where to go, but I probably would not have understood him anyway, and for those of you who have ever punched high speeds on a clean road in Mexico, with no one to get in your way, it is not as if anyone would want to stop for anything. When I came the first turn off, I took a hairpin right, slowed down, and felt good about my decision. I pulled along two guys working on a car and asked them the way to Matamoras. Derecho y izquierda. Easier than GOOGLE I thought as I chucked the directions into the back seat.
Eventually, I found a town and MX route 180. I made one Oxxo stop for a dinner of peanuts with lime, Reeces Peanut Butter Cups, and Orange soda. I finally made it to Matamoras, which was rough going with one headlight. It got dark an hour earlier than I anticipated. There should be an allowance for those who drive with one headlight at night. We have to use our high beams. Have a little mercy on those who cannot get it together to replace their 200 dollar head light. When I saw a sign for Puente International, I followed it. It didn’t feel right, but how could I possibly miss the border to the USA? I pulled up along one car and asked if I was on the right path to Brownsville and got the negative finger shake (there are two finger shakes in Mexico—yes, which is a wiggling, crooked index finger, and no, a straight wiggling index finger. I didn’t believe him, so I asked the next van I saw and they drove me to the border, because most, if not all, Mexicans would do that for you.
When the border is in sight—within 500 meters--- you are still in Mexico, no one speaks English, the topes are still there, and so is the constant, is-it-okay-that-my window-won’t-roll-up-feeling. I was so close, but I followed a truck. When I pulled up to the exit to the bridge that crosses to the states, my car was way below the window because I was supposed to be in a truck. The last Mexican person I saw before I got on that bridge, laughed with me as a looked up and realized my mistake. He got out and helped me drive the wrong way back to get into the car lane. Only one truck faced me head on during this maneuver.
If you have never lived in a third world country, it might be hard for you to understand the feeling of crossing the border to the US. It is emotional, and the feeling wraps itself around my heart until I speak to the first American, who is usually a young border crossing guard with a Texas accent. It is as if you want to weep, but that is not the emotion. It is a weep love emotion.
(A little aside: I have been sitting in the Grapevine Café in San Padre, Texas for the past four hours writing to wise women, making life changing decisions, blasting Spotify (including Carol King, I am not embarrassed to say.) I would love to see a time lapse, people coming and going, me laughing, crying, rockin’ out to anyone from Carol King to Crash Test Dummies. I am not sure if I would still be considered middle aged because I do not have grey hair yet (no dye, just no grey), but whatever age I am in must be a weird one to watch).
I am not sure when it started, but one day I stopped. And part of me died that day. I stopped being me. I am sure it did not happen on one particular day, but I have been mourning that part of me for a long time. Too long. The good news is that when I was punching 98 on the road, I let go of that part of me that died, and something else woke up. It has been an emotional day—one with the support of wise women, a cool café with spotty internet, four cups of real coffee.
I think, because I am just shy of knowing, that I will stay in Tampico for another year, so that I can save some money and organize my hike up the Pacific Coast Trail starting on June 20, 2016. This is a tentative plan because I have not started my research into what it takes to do such a thing. But it is a plan nonetheless and it makes me want to sing!