There is a detour getting into town. Just after we pass the airport, heading towards the centro, the pavement ends. We drive through a haze of dust.
Packed gravel replaces the dust. I hear shards ricocheting around the wheel-wells. The air clears. One can feel the sun, even in the car; and the brightness stings the eyes. Now the smooth sound of pavement. We pick up speed. I can see the water, again. My spirit rises.
We pull onto the Malecón. The busy street is full of people. On the left, no shops obstruct the view of the bay, just a two-foot high wall marking the end of the broad sidewalk. A few people promenade along at a leisurely pace.
On the right, people move along with purpose, having to pay attention to other people moving along the busy sidewalk, and those going into and coming out of shops.
We pass a booth with a sign: ‘Turistico’. “Let’s get a map.”
He pulls down a lane. It dead-ends fifty feet down. Water laps across the stony shore. He turns the car around, and stops at the edge of the Malecón, the right turn-signal on. He looks into the traffic, thinks better of it, and backs the car up to a parking spot on the left side of the lane, four inches off the four feet high stone wall. He climbs out of the window. “I’ll be just a minute.”
It’s so hot. I get out of the car. It’s even hotter in the full manic sun. I pull off my shirt and walk around the car. The back bumper is less than an inch off a small car. The front end juts out from the end of the lane, partially obstructing the sidewalk, but no one seems upset about it.
I scan the shops along the Malecón. I pull my shirt on, cross the street and go into a likely looking shop. I get six cold bottles from a fridge. By the time I’ve paid for them, they are dripping with condensation.
I get back to the car, and take off my shirt to lay it against the hot glass. I take the cigar from the roof where I set it down, and crack the first beer. The parade continues.
The sun beats down. I feel dizzy. My stomach is aching again. I dig out some dried fruit and mixed seeds from the glove box; and chomp at it aggressively. Catching myself, I chew it slowly and deliberately. I down the second half of the beer, and I feel better. I take another handful of dried apricots.
The frenzy of the people makes me restless; I want to get in on it. But I know I have to get on with the dreaded administration; I want to get a place, do whatever administrative stuff can be done, then jump into the bay.
“Oakie-dokey. We’re in business.”
“What’s the business?”
“The Ferry Terminal is twenty clicks thad-a-way.” He’s pointing to my left, past the Malecón. “I got a map.” He grins. “I couldn’t quite understand what she was saying something about a PER-ME-TOE. She kept on saying it, PER-ME-TOE, PER-ME-TOE, import, something. Do you have to import the car, or something like that?”
“Yeah, that’s it; I figured it out when we were talking to Don, last night. I got some brews. I’ll drive, and you can drink. They’re still cold, but I didn’t get any ice; so…”.
“Always get ice.”
“It was a pinch situation; I reacted instinctively. I saw beer, and I went to it. I didn’t lock the car, I couldn’t go wandering around looking for ice, this time.”
He grins wryly. “Yeah.”
I pull the shirt on, carefully, around the burning cigar held by my teeth. I climb in the driver window. I turn the car on, and put the left signal on, and seize the window between ongoing traffic and pedestrians.
John digs around behind the seat. He emerges with a cigar. I turn the car left on to the , and accelerate. He laughs, cuts the end from the corona, and fires it up with the brazing torch. He takes some smoke, and exhales it, with satisfaction. “That’s better.”
“I have to eat.”
“Have some trail mix.”
“I did. I saved that last bit for you. It’s right behind you.”
He turns and looks on the floor of the back seat, his beer held between his feet.
“We’ll come back and get some chow, eh?”
The ferry terminal is a huge building. It’s busy inside. We’re directed to a door at the west end. People are lined up along a broad hallway leading to three kiosks. People lie on the floor, some on straw mats. I hear a discussion in English; a young Japanese man is speaking with two women; they sound Scandinavian. “Would you tell me what this line is for?”
He says, “This is for a seat on the ferry.”
“When is it going?”
“Will everybody get on?”
“Oh no. I don’t think so. I think the boat is full already.”
“No, it’s not full,” one of the women says. Her companion nods.
“Well, I think it’s full.”
“Where are you going?”
“That’s where I want to go.”
“Do you know if there is space for cars?”
“You have a car?”
“You can go to that window, the last one.”
There’s a line of three people.
“Thank you. See you, maybe.”
I rejoin John. “We can go to that window.” I point, but it’s hardly visible from where we are at the back in the line.
“I’ll stay here, so we don’t lose the spot in case there’s a problem.”
There is only one person in the line, ahead of me. After a brief conversation with the woman, he goes.
There is good news, and bad news. I’ll probably be able to get on the boat, with my car. The bad news is, I need the temporary importation permit to get the reservation. To get that, all I have to do is bring photocopies of the automobile ownership, my passport, and my tourist card, by 3 p.m. We don’t have any tourist cards. Only an immigration office can issue a tourist card; there’s one in the city and one at the airport. She’s not sure if the downtown office is open on Sunday. <<Probably not>>, she says.
It’s 3:30. “¿No es possible, hoy?”
She shakes her head, pointing at a clock on the wall. <<It opens at 8:30 in the morning.>> She circles the location on the map that I brought from the car. <<Then, bring all the photocopies here. Good luck.>>
I walk back to John. “Let’s go.”
“What? Did you get it?”
“No. Now, they’re closed. We have to get the temporary importation permit. To get that we need tourist cards. They are only issued at immigration offices. There’s one downtown, probably not open, according to her, and one at the airport, might be open, but probably isn’t.”
“Well, let’s go get it, and come back.”
I don’t want to go racing back into town then another twenty clicks out to the airport. I need food, but this has got to be done; John has put up with a lot of my shit.
The downtown office is closed. We continue out to the airport, navigating the single dirt track detour. But nothing is open, not even the bar. I want to eat and find a place to sleep. John is agitated that we can’t get the administration completed. “Fuck!”
We go to a tourist rock and roll restaurant and bar on the Malecón. As she is showing us to the table, I ask her to bring two beers and two orders of fried fish.
She brings the beer right away. I order two more as she sets them down.
The fish arrives. I can’t help, but scarf it down, I hardly even tasted it. But, I feel the energy entering my system. We get another round and go.
I feel a lot better, but it’s already starting to get dark.
We cruise westward along the Malecón. I point to a ritzy-looking marina hotel. “I’m looking for a beautiful, horny, twenty something, with a thing for Canucks.”
“Yeah, when yuh find her, make sure she has a younger sister.”
We break into laugher. I pull into the parking lot. “Yuh never know. I’m hoping mommy and daddy have flown back to the states for a few days, and the sisters, or, best friends, don’t want to sleep alone on daddy’s yacht.”
We walk into the lobby. It’s $360 USD per night. I gaze around furtively at the comings and goings in the lobby. But my saviour is not there. I turn to go, but stop short because there’s an older woman with a sailor’s cap right in front of me. For a moment I wonder how big her boat is.
“Uh, I beg your pardon ma’am.”
A large, sunburnt fifty-something man joins her.
“Where yuh from?” He’s a big guy. He has a sailor cap on his sunburnt head.
“Hal, Hal Griffith. This is my wife, and co-captain, Eleanor.”
He offers his hand; I clasp it and shake.
Eleanor nods at me, smiling.
“I’m Dean Cassady.”
John notices the exchange. He comes over. “This is my co-pilot, John.”
Hal shakes his hand, while Eleanor nods greeting.
“John Fulton, pleased to make your acquaintance.”
“What brings you to La Paz, fellas?”
“Just passing through.”
“We’re driving to Costa Rica. Thought it would be quicker to take the boat over to the mainland rather than driving all the way back up the Baja.”
He snickers. “You got that right. That’s a long way.”
“Yeah, and I’ve already seen it once. We’re trying to get to Costa Rica before the end of the month, for New Year’s Eve.”
“Oh, that’ll be good, I bet yuh. How long yuh stayin’ in La Paz?”
“That depends on how long it’s gonna take to get the temporary importation permit for my car.”
“Uh huh. I bet the boats are pretty booked up, this time of year. Yuh be lucky tuh git a spot before Christmas. This’d be the busiest time of year.”
“I’ll get a temporary importation permit tomorrow. Tonight, all I need is a place to stay.”
“Well, there are some places you could try…” They list off some names. John draws a map; Captain Hal suggests modifications as he scrawls.
Eleanor tells me about circumnavigating the world. There’s an entire community that moves from one port to another based on the weather patterns over the course of the year.
We’re standing in front of the car. It is dark now, there’s not even a glimmer on the western horizon. “I had one just like it, great car!”
“It’s got us this far.”
“It’ll get you there.”
I try to follow the map, but there aren’t any street names posted. John navigates: “left, right, left, left again, pull over.” He gets out and jogs around a corner.
Ten minutes later, he’s back. “That map is useless,” John says pointing to the tourist map with all the lines and notes.
“What do you think we should do?”
He points at some lines on the map. “If we go back to the Malecón, we turn a right here, go here, and there is a hotel, here”, he says pointing to a dot on the map.
I can’t understand a thing on the map. “Back to the Malecón. It’s this way, right?.” We drive for two minutes.
“This has got to be the place. Do you wanna go?”
“Go for it, if you want.”
Twenty minutes pass. I’m starting to feel a bit anxious. But he returns a few minutes later. “Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, no problems.” He’s mildly happy.
“Did they have to look into every room to check it out?”
“No. The place is a block-and-a-half that way, and a block that way,” pointing first west, then south, back, away from the Malecón. “I couldn’t find it, so I walked out to the Malecón, back to this street,” he’s pointing to his map again, “and in here. It’s exactly where it’s supposed to be.”
I drive. He tells me when to turn.
We check at half a dozen places for accommodation, without finding a spot. Finally, taking the tip from a deskman at a full apartment-hotel complex, we arrive at El Moro. It’s almost across the street from the yacht club, just a bit further along the east end of the Malecón. We get the most basic suite available, it’s a two bedroom suite for $60 for the night. A young guy directs me, as I drive the car into, a gated yard. He locks the gate behind me, and shows me the short cut, through the property, back to the reception.
John is sleeping on the couch. I take a shower and change into cleaner clothes. I walked out to the bar, between two swimming pools, and watch a soccer match on the TV.
After an hour, I go back to the room. John is ready to go. We walk out, westward towards the centro, along the Malecón.
The town is abuzz. Many people walk in the streets; most of them look local. “I like it here.”
We pick up some tacos from one of many street vendors. “I’m going into that internet café and check my email.”
“Okay, I’ll just take a look around, and see if there’s any kind of trouble to get into. An hour?”
“That should be good. I’ll be in there, or nearby.”
I look for the web site that FR Lee said he was going to set up with the notes I gave him before I left Toronto. The first entry is an image of my hand-written notes, including the rings of coffee stains:
“this 13th day of November 1999
I’m lounging around the Wroc Hotel.
I’ve just made espresso and put a tablespoon of hot cream in it. I sip it and immediately I can feel it spreading through my body, flowing out from under my mouth and now, from my stomach. It’s 10:45 a.m. I listen to ‘Darkness’.
I smell toast burning.
I know I could be happier if I could recognize all of the hidden gems occurring, when they happen around me. Usually I’m dwelling on a variety of abstract concepts, or thinking about how I’m going to get what done, when.
The pressures to behave certain ways in society are pervasive. But something is very wrong. The prescribed behaviours, postures and approaches to life are not working out the way they were supposed to.
I’ve followed the prescribed path. Growing up, as I became more aware of such things, happiness seemed the implied result of following that path. I did everything that I was supposed to. Initially, I enjoyed what seemed like freedom, to do as I pleased with the increasing amount of money that I was able to obtain, in exchange for my time, concentration and, as I see it now, behaving according to some unwritten code about how to be, and what to do.
A few years ago, a girlfriend, who’d left to travel around the world, gave me a great excuse to get out when she called daily for me to meet her in Australia. I set up a vacation, and left as soon as I had it arranged.
I liked Australia from the moment I arrived. She worked on me, too, every day reminding me how short six weeks was. After a few weeks, I sent a fax to an office at the corner of Bay Street and King Street, at the heart of the Canadian banking industry, in downtown Toronto, submitting my resignation. Two days later, she said she would be going home, back to Toronto, after all.
I got a place just off the beach, in Bondi. I lived with three escapees from mother England. I came to understand that the vocation of nightclub doorman was dominated by Londoners, and they knew almost every one of them in the city. I surfed every day. Everywhere I went, I met beautiful and friendly Australian women, attracted to my ‘exotic’ Canadian accent.
Eventually, ‘they’ caught up to me. One of the big consulting firms contacted me; they had a fast-track position for me. I was just starting to have money concerns, so I took it. As soon as I had signed the contract, they told me I was to work from their Melbourne office, to build the practice there, even though the job, the largest consulting job in the country, was in Adelaide.
The taxi picked me up from my as yet unfurnished apartment in St. Kilda at 05h45 Monday morning, to take me out to the airport. I’d work until eight in the evening, then run back to my fulltime hotel room, change into workout gear, and run to the gym. When finished working out, I’d have to run back to the hotel to order dinner before the hotel kitchen closed for the night, at 9:30 p.m. Usually I passed out on the bed, surfing the hundred channels on the television. I’d be back in the office at eight the next morning. Friday, I’d leave work at 5:30 p.m., take a cab from the office directly to the airport. I’d get back to Melbourne in the dark, late Friday night.
I slept most of the weekend in Melbourne, even though I hadn’t got a chance to buy sheets.
I flew around, several trips a week. I gazed longingly at a tropical island vista, in the airline flight magazine, right next to an article about Y2K. It made me remember, as a child, wondering what it would be like at the end of the century; it had seemed so far away, then.
I already felt the chains, keeping me from… freedom. Right there on that plane I plotted an unhurried tour to major cities in the last year of the millennium. I’d stay a few weeks at a time, watching people from cafés and bars. I wanted to see how people would behave. I wanted to see if, when nothing more could be done, if people would lighten up and relax and enjoy, regardless of whether or not the world, as they knew it, would survive or not. I was hoping for that feeling that came late on the Christmas Eves of my youth, when the last store shut in the evening, and the consumerist frenzy ended. People, no longer capable of doing what they had been driven to do, just did whatever they wanted. There was such tranquil calm, conspicuous by the absence of manic-obsessive shopping frenzy.
Something else happened to me then, flying high, above the clouds, down under. I remember doing the math: how much I could make, how my life would be, where it would it get me? What amount of money is worth giving up your ‘now’, for the next twenty years, and more, of your life? I was living the prescribed path, my ‘now’ traded in, as it were. I’d got the business degree at university. I went from one success and promotion to another in the business world. Now, I was next in line for the keys to the executive shitter, but the cost! When would I be able to get my life, my ‘now’, back? Where is the finish line?
I realized nothing could be worth this trade; anything supporting this lie must be false!
The job and I didn’t stay together very long, after that.
Eventually, I returned to Canada, only to be re-inserted in the treadmill, leading nowhere, to pay the bills that I ran up, supporting my work habit.
While I didn’t forget it, the plan I’d hatched slowly whittled away as 1999 came, and started passing. But I never let go of the idea. The feeling that this… existence, just can’t be all there is, has been working on me, making it more and more difficult to endure the tedious anal-retentive brown nose drivel in meetings that aren’t necessary beyond providing a grandstand for that type to sound off, and hear their own voice. Ugh!
The plan yet lives! Albeit, not as grand as the original. But it’s a niche I’ve carved from the system, a hope at least.
My associate, FR Lee, has asked me repeatedly to scrawl several passages of material to post on a web site that he created as part of a web design course he’s been taking at university.
This is it, the start.
I’ll be amicably leaving the job in two weeks. I want to be safely away from the first world, by December 31st, hopefully with a view back; so I can watch what happens.
After putting these words down, and seeing it for what it is, I don’t think I’ll be able to get much work done in the office today. There’s no point in going, and feeling guilty about charging them.
I’ll make another coffee.”
It seems so melodramatic to me now. But it gets the general idea across.
I write an email to FR, in case he wants to post it to the web site. I add those people who’ve given me their email address to get updates along the way.
"HELLO: Johnny and I are currently in the town of La Paz, after an excellent drive down the Baja. The east coast on the Sea of Cortés is fantastic, especially around the town of Loreto, and the cool coves south of there. La Paz is a cool town, not too touristy. I wish I could just hang out here for a while. But I never got one of the required documents for the car (I now refer to it as ‘el tiberon’ – the shark). So I have to get that administration done here before we can get on a boat to cross to the mainland. It is supposed to be doable, but the holiday season is in full swing, and we haven’t been able to get it done yet. I wouldn’t mind being stranded here for a while, but John’s got a flight to catch from SJ on the 29th. It could be interesting. The weather is great, hot clear days and cool evenings. We’ve met great helpful people, all the way down, and enjoying an abundance of beautiful sights in short skirts, strolling past sidewalk café perches. Check out the web site of the trip at: www.deancassady.com . I’ll try to get stuff up, onto it, as we go along. Send me an email, if you feel like it. dean"
I wonder what it’s like back there, now. I remember hassling around to get out of Toronto. The last days of work; I couldn’t concentrate. I begrudged every moment in the gears of the corporate machinery.
On the last day I was supposed to be at work, I went to buy the car. It took a lot longer than I had planned for. I didn’t make it into the office until noon. I stayed just long enough to walk around and chat everybody up; so they couldn’t over-look my having been there.
Then I went to an appointment, set up by FR Lee, to get photographed by his girlfriend, so he could put some images on the web site.
Then there was the ‘surprise’ send-off party by the office crowd. I got there late. As the party began to gain its own consciousness, the more gentile bowed out. I shed the last hangers-on at 3:00 a.m., when I noticed how close I was to the residence of an occasional companion; she wasn’t upset by the late call, and made quick work of the last of my the resolve to leave the next day.
It was getting light on Saturday morning, when I got back to the pad. I thought I’d spend a day recuperating before leaving Sunday. But I fell into a grey blur of procrastination and depression, which brought me into December.
Ess was supposed to have been taking care of my place, but he’d been missing in action for a couple weeks. He finally surfaced in the morning on the Friday, December 3rd. I gave him the espresso I was making for myself, and made another.
He finished building the bike, so I could take one with me, then he helped me finish packing the car. The conversation was scant.
It was a grey, drizzling afternoon, as I passed the western boundary of the greater metropolitan area of Toronto, on Highway 401. I felt utterly unprepared. But here I am at the southern tip of the Baja!
Now I am having to pay the price for wrenching myself out. But the getting out is the big thing.
It’s getting late. I wonder where John is?
I print the entry about being in Detroit, so I can look it over. I walk out of the café and start down the street. The energy is dissipating around me, by the second. I can see John, now. He’s watching an ensemble of two playing in the street. I join him. But they finish their number and start packing up.
We wander around on the back streets. But everything has slowed. At midnight we call it quits and walk back to the hotel.
* * *
“We got to get a move on. Your food will be on the table in the café, in five minutes. Let’s go; you gottuh get up, now!”
I hear the door close.
I join him in the small café attached to the restaurant. He’s looking at the print out for my entry from Detroit, with a woman; she’s pretty. She’s got a French accent, and tosses her brown locks around, with well-practiced ease.
He points at me, without taking his eyes from her, “he speaks French.”
“That is superb. You write zhat?”
“Oui. ça y est!”
“Read it for me.”
“This part here, at the beginning,” I point to the opening paragraph, “in a different font from the rest, is an email from him. That’s a photo of him.”
I point at John. The image looks like liquid mercury in a strong wind. “He should read it.”
My research thus far reveals challenges await us on our journey hence my engineering intuition tells me to make appropriate preparations accordingly.
Armament, armour, sustenance, medicine, equipment, barter-ables and disguises may be prudent material for the journey.
I will begin assembly of the imperatives and review content imminently.
It seems that our opponents carry AK47s in Mexico, Machetes in Honduras and El Salvador, Corn Cobs and BFMGs (Big Fucking Machine Guns) in Guatemala.
Perhaps I could borrow my buddy’s Russian Assault Rifle for the trip – for posterity’s sake.
I laugh at that.
I read the entry:
“When I got to John’s place, I could have crashed right away, without ceremony.
“Where are the cigars?”
“I’ve got them somewhere in this stuff.”
“How’s Johnny Miller?”
“He’s a miracle of life, smoking cigars and drinking booze constantly. Here they are. There’s a can for you.”
“What about the road?”
“I got two more cans.”
“It’ll have to do.” He laughs.
We smoked the cigars and drank beer until I couldn’t keep my eyes open. It didn’t take too long.
In the morning, December 4th 1999, a Saturday, I follow him to the garage of his mechanic, Mike. We leave the car there, then he takes me to his favourite greasy spoon restaurant in downtown Royal Oak. He chats up the waitress, Siian. She neglects everybody else in the restaurant telling us about her plan to get out of Royal Oak. The other patrons started groaning, staring at us. John laughs, suggesting she ought to quit and drive down to Mexico. She says she’d really ‘be into it’, if the ride came along.
Back at the garage, Mike says the car is just about perfect. He recommends a full-sized spare and sends us to the junk yard around the corner. We walk over.
‘Shorty’s Automotive Parts since 1973’, the sign reads. The guy at the counter shows many miles in the creases on his face. He must be over sixty, but he still has a full head of black hair, the lucky bastard. I tell him that Mike sent us, and what I’m looking for. Through a glassless window behind him, there is a huge bald man moving parts around. He calls through, behind him, “Jimmy; wheel; 88 Caprice Estate. Bring one of each pattern.”
“Okay, just a minute.”
He brings two wheels out. Shorty inspects them. He shows me both. “Is it this one, or that one?”
“I don’t know.” I turn to John, “which one?”
“I don’t know.”
“I’ll walk back to Mike’s and find out.”
I walk back to Mike’s. He takes the hubcap off. “I don’t need those hubcaps either, Mike. Can you use them?”
“Yeah, I’ll find them a home. They’re nice hubcaps.”
They are fancy chrome-spoked ones. I like the way the car looks, somehow more… rugged? Anyways, I’d never take them; they’ll attract attention.
Back at Shorty’s, the three of them are seated on stools. Jimmy is eating a sandwich. Pointing his finger right in the centre of John’s chest, Shorty says to Johnny, “don’t do it!”
“No”, he says, “people disappear from down in those parts.” He inspects a semi-clean glass, pours from a half-full twenty-sixer, and holds it out to me; he doesn’t break stride in the dispensation of advice. He pulls at the bottom lid of a lame dark brown eye. I nod solemnly and down the rough bourbon. He refills my glass. I point to the wheel I need, then down it.
He hands the wheel to me, looking me in the eye; “take it. Take care.”
We spend the rest of the day driving around, getting, ‘supplies’. John had lined up a sweet deal on a little notebook computer. His buddy Roger works at a store where they sell hi-fi stuff and, more importantly for me, off-lease computers from large companies. We picked it up, and he threw in a carrying bag. We made plans to hook up and watch the game in the evening.
In the evening, we take twelve bottles of beer and pick up Lebanese food on the way over to Roger’s place.
The movie, ‘The Wall’, is playing on a large screen, which covers an entire wall. The music is loud. Roger belts out the lyrics to the song in time, rolling a couple of joints, glancing up at the television, keeping an eye on the Red Wings hockey game, playing in a small, 30 centimeter-wide, inset frame.
When the game is over, we walk out into the foggy night. Roger pauses at the centre of the intersection of a four-way stop. I look back, hearing him giggling, as he trots to catch back up with us; flares start shooting up from a small package on the road. He’s chuckling uncontrollably. The intersection is obscured now, in blazing brightness of smoke and fog. We keep walking. Horns start sounding as the traffic jams.
The bar is crowded. It’s not too interesting. I can hardly move. I’d like to go with a girl, but I can hardly breathe, and it is too loud to hear anything. We leave towards closing.
Roger leads us down an alley way and in through a fire door. We enter a bar with a pool table. It’s not very busy, but there is plenty of activity.
We drink a round. Roger can hardly sit straight. I’m not interested in any more drink. We walk out to the laneway behind the bar.
He hands me a small plastic bag with three small buds in it.
“Have a good drive. Remember, AK47, very durable.”
In the morning we loaded the car, and drive back to the greasy spoon. Siian is there. I asked her if she had all of her stuff ready to go. She doesn’t. I offer to go and get it, but she declines.
John shakes my hand, through the window. “Okay, I’ll see you in Cali.”
I drive out of town.
Dark, menacing shades of grey sharpen as the rain stops; I put the window up, it’s got colder…”
I stop reading.
“It is fantastic. You should write a book!”
It seems lame to me now, reading aloud. I’ll have to send a re-write, fixing the past and present tense, and taking out the marijuana stuff; I don’t want to get Roger in trouble.
Maybe she sees doubt in my face; she looks me straight in the eyes, “really, I really like it.”
I smile back at her.
“How do you like the meal?”
“I like it. This is a nice little spot. Do you know how the… They have espresso?” I blurt out, as I notice the machine.
“Is it any good?” I look her in the eyes.
“Mais, oui monsieur. I’ll make you one right now.”
She gets up and moves behind the counter.
“This is her place?”
“She’s a cutie. Too bad about the scuba-diving husband.”
“It doesn’t look like it’s slowing you down.”
The coffee is good.
The administrative centre of town is several streets in from the Malecón, behind the pedestrian zone. We get the tourist cards, without too much pain. But they couldn’t issue the temporary importation permit. We have to go back to the ferry terminal, for that.
We go directly, out to the terminal.
The terminal is packed with people. John goes to get in line for tickets, I go to get the permit. I get it almost straight away, no problem.
I look around for John. It’s noisy, dark, and hot. Tempers flare. I find the line for passenger tickets, he’s most of the way to the front.
“What duyuh think?”
“This is the line for passengers. You have to go over there, and around the corner to kiosk 2 for the car.”
A young Asian man in front of us in the line, turns and says, “you’ll never get on the boat. It’s full.”
I lean over to John, “I think I’ve got déjà vu.”
I walk over to get the ticket for the car. There is only one guy at the kiosk, I’m the first in line. The sallow, starched clerk beyond the glass is not having much fun. “Passporte por favor.”
I hand him all of the documentation. He sifts through it, sorting them. Then he inspects each one in order.
Everything is smooth until, <<¿What is this?!?>>
I can’t understand what the problem is, but he’s not too pleased about something; he’s waving John’s tourist card.
“Ah, pardon señor, esto mi amigo.” I indicate the other card, “esto para mi.”
He looks up with a critical stare. He looks at the documentations, shifting back and forth, checking a detail here and a detail there. He makes a few tentative taps on a keyboard, and looks at the screen to confirm his work. He takes a paper form from a drawer, looks it over briefly, and starts to fill it out.
Occasionally he taps the keys of the keyboard. After a few minutes, he presses a button on the keyboard, and then straightens a form coming out of the dot-matrix tractor-feed printer. The buzz of the print head pins on the paper tickles my ears. He removes the outside edges, and the carbon between the pages, then inspects them. Satisfied, he lines up all of the documentation, places it on the counter, and pushes it towards me. He writes ‘3pm’ on the bottom of the page, and circles it.
<<Take this form,>> he lifts the top form, and places his finger on the second one. <<Take this to the cashier and pay. Kiosk 12, at the end,>> he indicates around the corner and to the end by stabbing the air repeatedly in the same direction. “Mira,” he says, pointing to the ‘3pm’ with the circle around it on the top page, <<you get your tickets at three, go to kiosk 4, with this one,>> he points to the pink one again. <<When you pay, the cashier will stamp it and give you a receipt.>> I wait. <<This is the reservation for your car, but you have to get the ticket still, but it won’t be open>> he looks at his watch <<until 3. They are taking lunch, now.>>
<<¿Will I be able to get a ticket?>>
<<You have the reservation, you’ll be able to get the ticket. Just be there at 3 o’clock with the cashier receipt, and a stamp on this.>> He points to the pink form again. <<You won’t have any problems.>> He pushes the documentation about a centimetre more towards me; I am dismissed.
“Gracias. Gracias hombre.” I take my stuff and turn to go. There are four people waiting in line behind me.
As I come around the corner, I see John at the window, talking to the clerk.
“Good timing. Can I have your passport for a minute?” I hand it to him. “We’ll be lounging in the lounge seats.” After a moment, he returns it to me. He holds up a sheaf of papers of various sizes, and stuffs them into several different pockets. “How did your business go?”
I hold up my wad of official paperwork. “I got the reservation, but I gotta go pay at the cashier, number twelve. Then I gotta get the ticket for the car, at number 4, but not until 3 p.m., because they’re at lunch, and won’t be back until then.”
“Wow! Good work.” He laughs.
We walk over to number 12. There are four people there in line ahead of us.
“I’m going to take a walk around. I’ll be back in what, ten?” I nod; he walks off.
I pay, take my receipts, and look around for John.
He’s walking over. “All done?”
“We’re good until three.”
“That’ll be enough time to go and get our stuff at the hotel.”
“Yeah. No problem.”
I’m happily surprised that the car is still there. We even have time to spare. John wants to get some booze; so we drive into La Paz. He stops across the street from a gift shop along the Malecón. I can see inside, it has two walls of booze. “I’ll wait here.”
I get onto the hood and lie back in the sun.
After twenty minutes, I’m bored. I pull my shirt on and walk across the street, into the chilly store.
John’s speaking with an old guy. I walk over to them at the cash.
“Hola amigo, mio. Dean, this is Raymond Keller. Ray, Dean.”
“Just call me Ray.”
He offers hand. I shake the limp thing; it’s cool and sweaty. “How it goin’?”
“Oh, it’s goin’ great. How can you complain? I love it here. I love this town.”
“Down here on vacation, are yuh?”
“Well, uh, I sort of… moved from Malibu, uh, about a year ago. I love it down here. It’s easier to know where you stand with people; you know what I mean? Not like back home.”
“Yeah, I think I know what you mean.”
“The weather is great. …”, and on he continues, the torrent of alcohol vapours not quite covering the unmistakable aroma of stale urine.
“Ray,” says John, “thanks for the advice.”
“Yeah, see yuh, Ray. Pura vida.”
“Have a great trip.”
“Didn’t you get any?”
“Naw, according to Ray, there’s nothing good in there.” He nods towards another shop, “this one is good.”
All of the walls are lined with booze. He starts looking through the first wall, all tequila. I wander around, bored. I look at rum, then whiskey. John’s got a bottle. He’s going towards the cash. Hallalujah! We can finally get out of here. I’m worried about the precarious parking spot.
There’s that smell again.
“No, no, not that one!”
What’s the commotion?!
Uh! It’s that guy, Ray, again. And John indulges him.
So it goes, detailed consultations on booze, for forty-five minutes.
Finally, three bottles are paid for. I probably need food, now. At least we’re free of his clutches, out of the store, and moving to car. “Buddy has a lot to say about booze, dude.”
“Yeah, but useful. Hey, do you mind if I drive?”
I toss him the keys.
He turns on the car and pulls out into traffic.
Right away there’s a pickup truck with flashing lights, behind us.
“Fuck! What did we do?!?”
“Nuthin’, we didn’t do anything wrong; I came to a full, almost over the top stop, at that stop sign!” He pulls the car over.
A uniformed guy walks to the car. I put the window down.
He pauses, gently shaking his head. <<¿Where are you going with this car?>>
I tell him that we are taking the boat, “por el barco.”
<<That is a pity, because the administration for this serious incident, down at the station, will take some time. That is unfortunate. But the law is the law.>> He sighs, empathetically.
He takes out a piece of paper, unfolds it, and shows it to me. It’s a worn photocopy, listing offences and fine amounts. He points to one item, nodding at me. His finger goes from words, dot, dot, dot, to an amount, 344 pesos. He shakes his head wearing a sympathetic expression. It seems almost comical, but my heart is pounding and I feel my sweat cooling, but not stopping; cold drips roll down my back.
<<Fail to stop; it is a very serious offense.>>
I stare at him. I don’t know what to do. It is obvious, even to me, what is going on. The pattern is similar to what happened in Tijuana.
He asks for the papers. I provided them. He goes back to the truck, and his partner.
“What did we do?”
“He says ‘fail to stop’.”
“I stopped. Didn’t I stop?”
“He probably noticed us, because we stopped. It doesn’t matter.”
“Did I or didn’t I?”
“I can’t really remember; but I definitely don’t remember not stopping. It doesn’t matter. What’s your cash situation like?”
He pulls out a wad of American notes, and starts counting them. “A hundred and thirty-five. Let’s bribe them.”
“I’m trying, but I don’t know how to… start the negotiations. I don’t want to get bagged for ‘attempted bribery’… .”
“We got to get on that boat!”
He comes back to the car, briskly. He does not have my papers with him. He confirms the situation; yes, I’m fucked. It’s a serious offense, “muy serioso”.
He pauses. Seconds drag by. Then wistfully, he says <<¿if there was anything that could be done? …>>.
<<The law is an important one. It must be enforced.>>
I want my passport. I want John’s passport. I feel my sweat pooling, in… uncomfortable places. I feel the heat at every spot the sun touches my skin.
He looks bored and irritated. <<It is a very serious offense. You will have to come to the station to pay the fine, and complete the administration.>>
<<It is going to take much time.>>
I don’t know how to play this game; I’ll have to go and try to get through it in time to get to the boat.
They drive. We follow, inland, away the bay. It’s a small road. There is no traffic. The truck pulls over on to the right shoulder, and stops in a cloud of dust.
“They want to do a deal.”
“They want to do a deal.”
Both of them walk back. This new one suggests that we clear the whole thing up in a simpler way. He says that they can take care of the problem, and avoid the inconvenience of going to the station for all of us. His tone is gracious, and respectful, but there is a harder undertone in it. He wants to do business, and be done with it. So do I. The cost is only 300 pesos.
<<You were breaking the law.>>
They are willing to help us out, even though they don’t have to. <<This way, it won’t be necessary to miss the boat.>>
John hands him the money. He counts it, quickly and discreetly. He nods and waves us on.
We park in the small café parking lot, at the front of the hotel. I walk to the room. Clothes are folded neatly, sitting on the table. I take a pair of my pants from the small pile; they’re still warm on the bottom side.
John catches up to me, after stopping at the café, “how’s Honey?”
“She wasn’t there. But she’s going to be right back.”
“Clean laundry is nice. I love this place.”
“I talked to the cleaning lady last night and took her all of the dirty stuff I could find.” He’s laughing.
“You are the fucking bomb! Clean laundry is nice!”
We take all the stuff, to load it in the car.
“Adios Johnny, hasta pronto,” a pleasant voice calls out. Two of the cleaning ladies wave from the outside corridor, above.
“Mucho gracias señoras. Muchos gracias. Arrivederci.”
We load the car, and walk into the café. She shows us the lunch she’s prepared us. John takes it with a look of surprise.
I’m eager to go. John is stalling. He cosies up to her. I can see in his eyes, he’s trying to figure out a reason not to leave right away.
John walks over to the refrigerator and takes out three six-packs of cans. He inquires about ice, then walks out to the car. A young man hands me two bags of ice. John returns with the large cooler. He loads it with the ice, beer, and food.
He’s got his camera. He herds the patrona and me out to the steps, in front of the café. I take some shots of the two of them. Then the man who gave me the ice takes two frames of the three of us. She hugs John and kisses him on the cheeks, then she turns to me. I look her in the eyes. She’s been so nice to us.
“Reviens, “ she says as she kisses me.
“Merci, cherie. Si je pourrais”; I’ll come back, if I can.
It’s a smooth ride out to the terminal; the weather is perfect.
At the terminal, the kiosks are lined up. But we get the ticket for the car, with little problem. We have to pay the guy outside, who assesses the car size, five dollars for saying that the car is one inch shorter than he says it is.
It’s 3:15. The clerk at the kiosk told me to be prepared to load the car two hours before the scheduled departure time of 9 p.m.
We pull out of the terminal complex, turning left, away from La Paz. A signs says ‘Playa Balandra, 3km’. About 3km down the road, we pull into a large, empty parking lot.
There is a bay, surrounded by cliffs, with a broad pale sandy beach. Finally, the beach!
I walk out half a kilometre in the cool azure water; the water comes high on my thighs. The sun blazes brightly, but the wind is strong and cooling. I taste the salt. It’s beautiful here; it’s like a dreamscape. Finally, I made it!
I look back towards the beach. I see dust fly up behind a shiny car speeding into the parking lot, punctuated by a large cloud as it stops abruptly. I walk towards the shore. I see John coming around the point on the right. I wait and we walk to the shore, together, not speaking.
“It looks like an Ontario plate.” I hand him the binoculars.
He hands them back to me.
“There is another group there, too.”
The wind gusts and sprays a mist of fine droplets, rolling over me in waves. The sand gives off scant heat.
A vigorous middle-aged couple get out of the car. The man calls out in English with a strong Quebecois accent, “where are you from?”
We trade stories. They’re from Quebec. They keep an address in Ontario, because the taxes are lower. I mention the delay with the police, and the cost to get out of it. He launches into a tirade against paying bribes or caving in to any extortions.
She continues, in their tag-team, paying the bribe reinforces the pattern. It will cause the situation to get worse. He shakes his head, scowls, and stomps around, animating her words.
During the exchange, two younger couples linger briefly at the periphery, before joining the group.
On the side, I say, “would you like a beer?” I look around to each. They all nod.
“Ja. That would be great.” He has a German accent.
I get the beer, it’s beading with sweat as I pass them around, opening them as I go.
The Quebecois retakes the stage. He explains what to do in an extortion situation. Play dumb. Never let on, if you speak Spanish. Always be polite. Say, that if you have to pay something, you are prepared to cooperate fully. Request a full receipt, including the issuing person’s name and identification number. Explain that you have contacted the consulate before leaving and you were told that you should not have to pay for anything, but if you did, to submit the receipts to them for a full re-imbursement.
“The only roads you should drive on at night are the toll roads, others are unsafe.”
We carry on through another round. Wispy clouds fill the sky, now. The wind is picking up, overpowering the waning strength of the sun.
The daylight is almost gone, so soon.
All the new friends leave.
I run out into the water. I’m a long way out by the time the water is deep enough. I dive, and swim under for a hundred feet. From under the surface, the purple-red dusk glows forebodingly above. I breach and breathe, then immediately dive back under for another hundred feet of the velvety caress, in the bosom of the sea. I glide to the surface and breathe looking into the fading embers of the sun.
Back at the shore, I dry off with my shirt, and pull on my pants.
Dusk is over, the full black of night reigns now. I’m cold. I turn on the heater as we drive out of the parking lot.
We arrive at the terminal; it’s 6:30 p.m. I stop at a gate. A man in a booth inspects the documentation I hand to him, then raises the gate. I drive the car through, and position it at the end of one of the lines of cars, as directed by the man waving a flashlight.
John takes out the bottle of greenish tequila. He pours a capful and hands it to me. It’s not too bad. I feel relaxed. “We made it, dude.” I rummage around for the two tin cups behind the seat, but my hand finds the cooler first. I take two beers from it, and uncap them. John comes up with two glasses, limes and a shaker of salt.
The payback from all of the waiting around, in town.
He set up on the hood of the car. “This is a road trip.” He laughs and hands me a shooter, filled to the rim. We bang shots back and munch on trail mix and dried apricots.
“Dude, I’m glad you could make it on this expedition. Salud.” Bang, bang, down they go.
“Not bad.” I nod; it’s not bad. He pours another round.
“Here’s to the successful completion of the administration.” He laughs. “Salud.” He holds his high for a moment then bangs it back.
I look at mine, carefully. I lick the salt off my hand. “Salud.” I drink it steadily down to taste it, then bite lime. I chase it with the beer. “Is there any food I can get easily? What’s the easiest thing to get?”
“I’ll get it for you. I know exactly where it is.” He pulls out the cooler bag, hauls it onto the trunk, unzips it, and hands me a quiche.
I forgot all about it! The Honey made the picnic lunch for us.
“You should try chewing sometime.”
“It’s just come upon me; the scourge, man. I wasn’t paying attention to it. I’m just about done this one,” I say referring to the empty beer, “yuh want another?”
“Yup.” He nods as he pours two more tequilas.
I grab two more beers. Hand one to John then down about a quarter of mine.
At 9:00 p.m. I drive the car up a very steep gangplank onto the boat.
A short time passes, and we float out, on to the Sea of Cortés. The subtle rocking of the boat calms me. I’m happy that it’s somebody else’s job to drive. We light up a couple of cigars, and drink tequila and beer on the back bumper of the car.
We secure the car, and walk towards the passenger lounge. I notice that most of the truck drivers have already staked out spots on the floor, with thin mats. In the lounge chair, I experiment with a variety of sitting and lying configurations, but the seat is perfectly designed; there is no possibility of comfort.
We take turns getting food from the galley; it’s quite good, much better than I had expected.
The lights of shore get smaller and smaller, before vanishing altogether. My back aches. I can’t stop thinking about the comparative comfort of the futon in the back of my car. I look at one of the many signs prohibiting staying in the cars; so I go carefully, trying to avoid detection.
I rearrange the cargo to access the futon; no one has seen me yet. I get in and turn on the electrical and lower the windows, half an inch, then lie down.
Fifteen sweaty minutes pass. It’s hot in here.
I see flashlights outside. I remain still. Sweat rolls down my skin.
A guy comes over and knocks on the car window.
The jig is up, I go quietly. He’s good-natured about it; he doesn’t hassle me at all. I pour two cups of tequila and share a drink with him before heading back to the torture chamber.
John is in the lounge. He moves in slow motion. The place is more crowded then before. I muscle my way in, to reclaim my seat.
I try to sleep. I doze, close to the surface, but the pain in my back won’t allow me to get properly under. I’m tired, but it’s not going to happen like this.
I look over to see if John is awake, but he’s gone. I get up, and go out to the deck.
It’s cold in the wind. There’s another guy looking down into the spray. He introduces himself as Nuñez. He’s a truck driver from Santa Rosalia. He’d had a bakery there, but broke up with his wife, and she got everything; he got out of it with only enough to buy a small transport truck.
He sparks up a joint and shares it with me.
We talk, half in Spanish, half in English, about how the monetary system is used to control the population and how it is leading to a complete breakdown of society. I tell him about the book I intend to write, and some of the issues that I hope to include.
<<¿What is this>>, I ask Nunez, the obsessive pursuit of profit over all other considerations, <<if not the loss of the soul?>>
“¡Que malo para todo!”
I enjoy exchanging ideas with him, but after a while, I can’t concentrate anymore. I don’t know if it’s closer to 2:45 a.m., or 4:25 a.m. I say goodbye and stumble inside.
I lay down on the floor, in a two-foot gap between the wall of the cabin and the rows of chairs, and shut my eyes. The roll of the boat… is… comforting… .
* * *
I open my eyes. There is some activity in the cabin. I doze on.
My eyes are open again, looking through the porthole I can see that the sky is dark. I doze.
I can’t sleep anymore; there’s too much going on. I find an empty chair and sit in it. The pain helps me to collect my wits.
John comes in, says he slept on a bench on the deck. He looks like it.
He walks to the galley and returns with two coffees. I take mine out, onto the deck, I was already just about paralyzed with back pain in the chairs. The sky is lightening on the horizon. A small boat pulls alongside and someone boards the ferry.
The sky lightens; I can see the distant shore.
The sun rises. It’s beautiful and warm as the boat pulls into the slot, at Topolobampo.
I drive the car off and stop it at the immense terminal building. It’s practically deserted. We take turns cleaning up in the restroom.
I put the car into ‘Drive’, and press down on the accelerator.
. “Darkness” song written by Steward Copeland and recorded by the band, The Police, produced by The Police and Hugh Padgham ©1982 A&M Music®
. “The Wall” aka “Pink Floyd The Wall”, released 1982, Director Alan Parker, associated with the album “The Wall” by Pink Floyd, released November 30, 1979
. “dot matrix”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dot_matrix_printing : “ … uses a print head that moves back-and-forth, or in an up-and-down motion, on the page and prints by impact, striking an ink-soaked cloth ribbon against the paper,”
. “tractor-feed”: http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/T/tractor_feed.html : “A method of feeding paper through a printer. Tractor-feed printers have two sprocketed wheels on either side of the printer that fit into holes in the paper. As the wheels revolve, the paper is pulled through the printer.”; typically using paper perforated symmetrically on the portrait orientation; outside the paper dimension is a thin strip containing holes through which the tractor driver on the printer advances the page; this was a common printer design in North America before the turn of the century