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Mexico, Part 2 – The Chariots of Fire

Mexico, in 1980, wasn’t the healthiest place to do business. The Dirty War was still going on. Key government officials, in the name of keeping peace and tranquility throughout the country, dispatched death squads to capture the hearts and minds of the citizenry by torturing and killing thousands of people they didn’t like. These days, the PC-police prefer we refer to these as “extrajudicial executions” instead of “mass murders.” I don’t know why, either. 

If you can get past the mass murders then you’ll see Mexico’s ruling party for most of the 20th century, the PRI, was exceptionally successful in providing its beloved citizens the benefits we generally associate with large, high-functioning dictatorships: economic chaos, thorough corruption, voter fraud, unbelievable incompetence, extreme poverty, property destruction, domestic terrorism and the standard repression of free speech. I figure, at some point, half the population was under arrest. They weren’t charged with anything. It was just the PRI’s go-to strategy to spread the misery. 

I don’t know if this is still true but, at the time, you could get tossed in the clink if you didn’t sing the Mexican national anthem the “right” way. I think that’s really all you need to know about the country’s government.

And, killing journalists. Oh, man, they had “extrajudicial journalist executions” down to an art form. You got your throat cut before you could even get your press credentials. It’s a tradition that the Mexican government proudly maintains to this day. In 2020, The Guardian voted Mexico, once again, the most dangerous country in the world for journalists. 

The police didn’t have time to investigate any of the murders because they were too busy committing most of the murders. The police recruitment posters must have said, “Tired of the day-to-day humdrum of being a decent human being? Do you enjoy killing people? Would you like to make fun new friends and torture them to death? If you said YES to any of these questions then do we have the job for YOU! So, come on by and learn more today! Bring proof of criminal insanity and your prison record. Experience in homicide, arson, assault, rape, theft, B and E, kidnapping, extortion, child molestation, false imprisonment, terrorism, drug dealing, wreckless endangerment and property destruction preferred but we’re willing to train the right candidate. EEO.”

The word, “Feminicidio,” entered the Mexican vernacular in 1980 due to the horrifying increase in women and girls being murdered for the crime of being female. The Mexican government does nothing to discourage this. Never has.

I was aware of the sad state of affairs when I decided to visit but thought it was a risk worth taking. 

When packing to fly to Mexico in 1980, I had to keep a few things in mind if I didn’t want to get thrown in a Mexican jail cell with 15 guys all named, for the occasion, Juan Garcia. No music cassettes on accounta rock and roll was banned what with it being subversive and having naughty sex stuff in the lyrics.  No books because, depending on the mood of the customs agent, a copy of “Anne of Green Gables” could be considered porn and “The Little Engine That Could” might be viewed as a direct threat to the Catholic Church. No magazines, no newspapers, no t-shirts with words or numbers on them, no jewelry, no medicine (prescription or otherwise), no cameras and no electronic devices as bringing any of these things would indicate my obvious intent to overthrow the government and I’d end up in the big house with my 15 new best friends. 

I had a year of Spanish as a freshman in college but forgot most of it so I brought an English/Spanish translation book for the trip. That was my light reading on the flight.  I thought about that Monty Python skit where some person writes an English/Hungarian translation phrase book but intentionally screws up the translations. As a result, this Hungarian guy walks into a British shop to buy some cigarettes, looks at the book with the intention of saying, in English, “May I buy a pack of cigarettes?” But, he ends up saying, “Please fondle my buttocks.”

I think the airliner was called “Bueno Como Muerto (Good as Dead).” The pilot must’ve had an acute central nervous system disorder. He couldn’t keep the plane straight. He’d veer to one side before over-correcting to the other side before over-correcting the other way for the entire flight. My coffee kept spilling left and right onto my shirt the entire time. Plus, altitude maintenance was a challenge. The plane would drop straight down 200 feet for no reason other than it was exactly when I was attempting to drink the coffee so, instead of going into my mouth, the coffee went up my nose. Of course, the pilot would immediately over-correct causing me to spit the coffee out of my nose directly onto my pants. The flight attendant (referred to as the air hostess at the time) was nice enough to sell me eight shot-bottles of vodka. I had pretty much come to terms with the idea that this flight wasn’t going to end gracefully and I was fully prepared to die. 

I could have prepared for my certain death by asking God to forgive my multitude of sins. I could have written a goodbye note asking everyone I knew to forgive my multitude of sins. I could have asked the air hostess to forgive me for the lovely sins I contemplated each time she walked by. 

Instead, I got drunk. 

Flying was different in 1980. The cabin was completely filled with smoke because airlines allowed smoking back then. Cigar smoke, cigarette smoke, pipe smoke and blue smoke because someone forgot to check the airplane’s oil. Seat belts were pretty much optional which enabled anyone under 8 years old to scramble around on the aisles and over the seats in attempts to steal food from the food-cart and from the other passengers. The pilot was able to land the plane on his 2nd try but slammed the brakes so hard that anything not nailed down flew to the front of the plane and caused the rest of my coffee to spill on my shoes.

When it came to getting off the plane, there was none of this courteously-waiting-for-the-people-in-the-row-ahead-of-you-to-exit nonsense. People just ran over each other to be first off the plane which caused a great crush at the door. 

Unfortunately, we had to wait while airport employees threw all the luggage from the plane onto the tarmac which meant all the suitcases, crates, boxes, livestock and children were now in one big pile.

No one actually opened the door. I think the law of physics finally kicked in and the door just broke off its hinges due to the force of the crowd. Once the door broke off, people burst out of the place where the door used to be, fell down the stairs and landed on the tarmac. Then they made a mad dash to get their suitcases from the luggage pile. People were crawling all over the pile looking for their stuff. Fights broke out as people tried stealing each other’s suitcases.

Thanks to my 8 little vodka shots, I wasn’t looking real sharp. I was covered with coffee stains, my shoelaces were untied, my sunglasses were crooked, half of my shirt was untucked and I had a cigarette hanging off my bottom lip. Plus, I still had coffee coming out of my nose. I wasn’t walking with a whole lot of purpose, either: two steps forward, one step sideways to get my balance, two steps forward, one step backwards to make sure I didn’t fall on my face, two steps forward and so on. 

I found my suitcase and meandered on over to the customs line only to discover there was no line. It was another pile of people crawling over each other to be next to get through customs. I was in no rush because I understood that, as a Yankee-Pig-Dog-American, I’d be getting special treatment from the very happy customs guy who, once we finally met, pointed at the table and said, “Bolso. Ahora. Ahora! Abrelo! Ahora!!”

I put the suitcase on the table and opened it. He tore through everything while maintaining a look of total disgust. Then he got to the approximately 50 coloring books I bought per Lukey’s request. He looked appalled. He picked one up, looked at me and said, “Que carajo?!?!”

This is where my rust with the Spanish language, as well as my extensive inebriation,  became an issue.  I knew what I wanted to say but couldn’t figure out how to say it in Spanish. 

I said, “Libros para colorear, uh, uh, mierda.”

What I meant to say was, “Coloring books.”

What I actually said was, “Books to color your shit in.”

The customs guy asked, “Por qué?”

I replied, “Well, uh, a, uh, proporcionan muchos orgasmos a los niños.”

What I meant to say was, “Kids really enjoy them.”

What I actually said was, “They provide many orgasms for the children.”

The guy looked confused. “Por qué traes estos? Huh?!”

I tried to explain, very slowly, why I was bringing coloring books. I semi-smiled and said, “Uh, yeah, uh, see, engo amigos que quieren, um, enseñar y y y niños y niñas porque, uh, like, hmmm,  quieren colorear los libros con crayones, so,, en los libros donde no dejan arena en la ropa interior.”

What I meant to say was, “My friends teach young children. Coloring books and crayons help them teach the children.”

What I really said was, “I have friends want to teach and and boys and girls because they want to coloring the books with crayons in the books where they keep sand out of their underwear.”

The guy was clearly dazzled by my grasp of the language. He stood and stared into the distance for about 30 seconds and finally said, “Maldito idiota. Empaca tu mierda y piérdete. Maldito Americano.”

I’ll spare you the translation. 

“Right-o. Well, Muccous garcias, et tu, Bruté.”

I always try to be polite. 

My point-of-contact was a teenager called Diego. He was supposed to be holding up a sign with my name on it. I walked around for a long time before spotting a half-asleep, petulant looking young man leaning against a pillar with a cardboard sign at his feet that said, “Draw.”  

I tapped him on the shoulder and asked if he was Diego. He looked at me, pulled a Polaroid picture from his pocket, studied it, studied me and, with the formal verification process concluded, took my suitcase and motioned me to follow. He led me through this tangled mess of cars, pedestrians, chickens (dead and/or alive) and street vendors before we approached something that, from a distance, looked like an antique metal sculpture. Up close, it sort of resembled a car.

Actually, it really was a car. Well, “car” might be stretching it. It was a 1972 Ford Pinto and, as such, was really more a “crime against humanity” than an actual “car.” 

In the 70s, American car manufacturers churned out plenty of wretched cars: the Plymouth Violator, the Dodge Fallacy, the GMC Discharge, the Jeep Languisher II and so on.  But, none of these car models came close to the dumpster fire that was the Ford Pinto. 

Some unique features of the Ford Pinto were:

  1. The entire car body was made out of tin foil.
  2. The available horsepower averaged between zero and negative four.
  3. Sometimes the steering mechanism worked. 
  4. If you gave it a mean look then one of the wheels would fall off.

What really separated the Pinto from the rest of the field was the fact that if you hit the back bumper of the Pinto at a speed in excess of 2 miles per hour then the car would instantly explode leaving nothing but a mushroom cloud in its wake.

As we stood silently admiring that worst car ever produced, Diego pulled a ring of keys out of his pocket, tossed them to me and said, “Usted conduce.  Estoy muy cansado.”

“Do what? Me? Drive? Uh, I mean, no puedo, no debería tener una licencia mexicana, no tengo una y la policía con pelos en la nariz terminará en la cárcel con muchas cosas Juan Gracias, malo, no es una buena, apesta.”

What I meant to say was, “I don’t have a Mexican driver’s license. I don’t want to get pulled over and end up in jail with a bunch of guys called Juan Garcia. Not good.”

What I actually said was, “I can’t shouldn’t Mexican license don’t got one and police with nose hair will dead  end up jail with many plenty Juan thank-yous, bad, not good, sucks.”

Diego shrugged, opened the passenger-side door, threw my suitcase in the back seat and hopped in. 

I think the car started out white but that’s a total guess. It was held together with an abundance of duct-tape to cover up the rust and coat hangers to keep things like the hood from flying off the car while driving.  I thought it would have made a for a great coat hanger TV commercial:

Woman: “Hey, Bob. Look at all the Johnson Coat Hangers holding the neighbor’s car together!”

Man: “That’s right, Becky! No driver should ever be without a 50-pack of Johnson Coat Hangers! You can use ’em to hold down the hood, be a state-of-the-art antenna, keep the rear doors from falling off, hold the wheels in place, secure the top from flying off, make sure that darn engine doesn’t fall out and so much more!!!”

Woman: “Gosh, Bob. Every car owner needs plenty of Johnson Coat Hangers!”

Man: “Heh, heh. You’re so right, Becky! Johnson Coat Hangers are also great for relieving constipation, clearing your sinuses and hitting the kids on the side of the head whenever they’re being total douchebags!”

Woman: “You know, Bob. That’s real value! They’ll make the perfect Christmas gift this year!”

Opening the driver’s side door involved me putting my foot flat on the side of the car and pulling the door as hard as I could which caused a creaking sound that could have been heard in Honduras. 

The car continuously shook, rattled, belched and backfired. That was before you even started the engine. 

It eventually started and I drove while Diego drank beer, slept and gave occasional directions by pointing at the next turn about 8 feet before I needed to make the turn. I think I ran over 12 taco stands and 40 chickens on the drive. I thought it best to stay away from the beer while driving so I opened a can of the Mexican version of Coca-Cola which tasted like two-week-old carbonated cat litter. I took one sip, spit it out and yelled, “Cerveza, cerveza!!! Por favor!!! Ahora!!!”

Diego gave me a beer. I slammed it. He gave me another. And, another. 

As mentioned in the previous chapter, there was no road. Just one continuous road-hazard which took over forever to navigate. The car bitched and moaned the entire time. There was a severe latency issue.  When I hit the brakes, nothing would happen for a couple of seconds before the brakes would start screeching causing the car to shake violently until it stopped which would then cause the engine to turn off.  The steering mechanism, when it worked, had a 5 degree turning capability so making a right hand turn was a 10 minute proposition which meant numerous stops which resulted in the engine turning off. Hitting the accelerator caused the engine to produce the kind of noise you’d associate with 300 jackhammers. The zero-to-sixty speed could have been timed with a sundial.  Plus, all the coat hangers rattled like crazy, smoke came through the air vents, the glove compartment door kept falling off and the horn would randomly blast just before the engine shut off. There were no shock absorbers so every dip in the road resulted in a huge shock which resulted in the car backfiring followed by the engine shutting off.  

The only thing in the car that worked correctly was the AM radio which Diego insisted on playing way too loud. This was highly unfortunate because the popular music in Mexico in 1980 was some of the most hideous crap you could imagine. Every song was a ballad with a very bad opera singer bellowing over a few trumpets and an out-of-tune string section. The subject of the songs were women all named Maria. Maybe it was just a coincidence. Perhaps they were all singing about the same woman who happened to be named Maria. If that was the case then she must have been quite a girl. Anyway, it seems Maria kicked the singer to the curb for a guy who who was deceitful, mean, selfish and ugly but made up for it by being rich so Maria, being quite shallow, fell in love with the rich guy who was only interested in naughty things like doing drugs and having premarital sex. However, the day would come where she’d realize how miserable she was because the rich guy didn’t really love her the way he, the opera singer, did and she’d return to him which is why he would spend every night standing under the moonlight in his cow pasture because he just knew some enchanted evening she’d come running back into his arms. He, the bad opera singer, just knew this day would come. 

Well, I mean, I dunno, perhaps Maria wasn’t a total ditz, after all. Maybe she completed a cost/benefit analysis and came to the conclusion that a life of endless sex, high-class cocaine, expensive vacations and designer clothes was preferable to standing in a pasture with cow manure between her toes in the arms of a pathetic loser.

“Hmmm,” Maria probably thought. “Would I prefer eating caviar, drinking champagne and taking in a Broadway show every night or am I better off in a house with lousy plumbing, eating beans and farting all night with Loser-Boy while watching Celebrity Bowling on a 13″ black and white TV?”

Some decisions are easier than others. 

Anyway, the drive just to get out of Mexico City took a little longer than 4th grade. 

Most of the roads in the city had the requisite markings indicating specific lanes. Lanes on a road are pretty easy to understand. You get in one and you drive in it. If you want to make a left turn then you get in the left lane. If you’re on a two-lane highway then you don’t want to take your half in the middle. Easy.

Well, no, actually. Lanes, at the time, meant nothing in Mexico. If there was room for your car between two other cars then you shoved your way in there. You could be in two different lanes, on a service road, shoulder, slip road, emergency road or half-way into oncoming traffic. Didn’t matter.

To me, this seemed to present a challenge because if you’re on the far right side of a highway that indicates there should be four lanes and you want to turn left soon then you have to navigate across multiple cars none of which are in anything resembling a lane. Turned out the locals were able to overcome this by not caring. When it was time to turn left, you turned left. You could be on the right shoulder of an eight lane highway and immediately turn left. It really didn’t matter. This made intersections a lot of fun because you had cars coming at you from all directions. 

Which brings me to my next point. Intersections, in Mexico, weren’t called intersections. They were called, “Encrucijada de la Muerte [Crossroads of Death],” mostly because half of the traffic lights in Mexico City didn’t work. Mexicans developed a clever way to manage this by, again, not caring. Every driver assumed the traffic lights were there for decoration only. So, the traffic light could be out, could be blinking, could be red, could be green, could be pink with a stripe down the middle or, and I did see this, could be on fire due to faulty wiring. 

So, driving through the intersections was a Mexican version of Russian Roulette except Russian Roulette is much more humane because you have only one bullet for six chambers. The chance of you not blowing your brains out is 83.33%. That’s pretty good. And, okay, let’s say things didn’t turn out as well as you hoped and you failed in not blowing your brains out while playing Russian Roulette. Fine, Negative Nancy, be that way, see if I care. But, look, assuming you’re holding the gun directly on your head, the time between you pulling the trigger and you entering the homeland, so to speak, is really limited. It’s quick. Done.  No mas.

Mexican Roulette was a bitch because you had cars coming at you from all directions whose drivers had no intention of slowing down or stopping because no one’s brakes worked. 

Which brings me to my next point. The cars being driven in Mexico appeared as if they’d been active participants in World War II but hadn’t been serviced since World War I. They all looked like that one weird piece of bacon on the bottom of the package. You had cars with crushed front ends, crushed back ends, crushed doors, dents, rust, missing sideboards, broken mirrors, cracked windshields/no windshields, rear bumpers dragging on the road, bald tires, broken headlights, smoke belching from where the exhaust system used to be, mufflers dragging on the road, more smoke coming from under the hood and sparks flying what with no brake pads (on those very rare moments when someone attempted to apply the brakes). 

Once we got outside city limits, Diego immediately suggested a little side trip to Acapulco where we might complete a rather complicated transaction that involved me giving Diego some American money, Diego giving some guy the money and the guy giving us a healthy amount of weed. Acapulco Gold. I was delighted to oblige. I had heard nothing but good things about Acapulco Gold. I remembered Cheech and Chong’s advertising jingle on the subject:

“No stems, no seeds that you don’t need / Acapulco Gold is [long toke] bad-ass weed.”

As the crow flies, it may be a little over 200 miles from Mexico City to Acapulco. Owing to the Mexican Government’s excellent upkeep of the highway system, the trip took seven hours. 

The first time we stopped for fuel was in the sticks. The gas station consisted of one gas pump next to a very old house with three elderly gentlemen sitting, side-by-side, in front of the house. They could have easily passed as the Three Stooges. Curley had a shotgun on his lap just to ensure good customer service. 

I got out of the car and walked towards the gas pump. The only indication that actual gasoline that might come from the pump was a sign saying, “Ga ol na.”  Seemed close enough for our purposes. I went to pull the nozzle and noticed the guy who looked like Moe from the Three Stooges was standing about 10″ to my left and giving me a deadpan stare. 

Now, this is 1980 and self-service gas stations in The States were just becoming all the rage. Until the late 70s, some poor, dumb slob employed by the gas station had to pump the gas for you and was required to take a 400 year old squeegee so he/she could slop some muddy water onto your windshield and attempt to remove the water by scraping the squeegee across your windshield. Because the rubber side of the squeegee no longer had rubber on it, the net effect was you now had a muddy windshield with long horizontal scratches. Then, for reasons I never understood, he/she insisted on checking the car’s oil level by popping the hood, pulling the dipstick, wiping it off with a towel that hadn’t been washed since the Spanish/American War, putting the now very dirty dipstick back from whence it came and dropping the hood as hard as possible in order to break the hood’s latch.

Fortunately, you now had enough gasoline to drive to a repair shop to get a new windshield, a new hood and an oil change. 

I guess you can see why market acceptance of self-service gas stations was so strong.

It seemed the self-service concept hadn’t reached Mexico which explained Moe standing next to me at point blank range. We stood facing each other in silence, nose-to-nose, for 10 seconds like boxers before a fight. 

I broke the ice. “Sí, oye.  Entonces, necesitas gasolina muy rápido…[no response]…¿Llenas la grieta o hago gas?….[silence]…Uh, ¿ahora tengo gasolina o después?…[still nothing]….Right-o. ¿Monies America es aceptación de dólares?…[more deafening quiet]…Okay. ¿Dónde está el baño con los hombres?”

What I meant to say was, “Hi. We need gasoline. Do you fill the car or do I? Do I pay now or after? Do you take American money? Where is the men’s bathroom?”

What I actually said was, “Yeah, hey. So, uh, You need gasoline alot quick. Do you fill the crack or I make gas? Uh, now I got gas or after? Monies  America is dollars  acceptance? Where is the bathroom with the men?”

The entirety of Moe’s response was, “¿Qué?”

I pulled $3 out of my back pocket and said, “Gasolina?”

Moe grinned, grabbed my money and filled the car with something that may have resembled gasoline. 

After we got back on the road, Diego said he traded a couple beers with Larry for a pack of cigarettes which seemed like a fine idea until I smoked one. It was a Mexican cigarette. I think the name of the brand was “Caca de Bebé [Baby Poop].” If you took a rotting corpse, set it on fire, stood over it and inhaled the smoke then you’d get an idea of the taste. I got ⅓ of the way through the cigarette, pulled over, jumped out of the car, threw up, gargled with some beer, grabbed a pack of Marlboros out of my suitcase and smoked 3 or 4 in a row just to get rid of the rotting corpse taste.

Just before dawn, we arrived in Acapulco. Diego toodled off, with my money, to score some Acapulco Gold. I was still wearing the clothes I wore on the flight and I’m sure I smelt dreadful.  I jumped into some gym shorts and went to the beach.  I started swimming in Acapulco Bay at sunrise. This still qualifies as a lifetime highlight. The sunlight bounced off the bay. There wasn’t a soul in sight. No sounds other than those of the waves rolling into the shore. The water was pristine. I thought about telling Diego to drive to Chiapas by himself and come back to pick me up in about 5 years. I swam for a while and dreamed of a new life on the beach in Acapulco. 

I did finally manage to pry my way out of the bay and started walking back to the car.  I made a stop at a little tiled area where there was a hose, soap, shampoo, conditioner and a mirror. I don’t know who thought to put this little cleaning oasis on the beach but I thought it was a nice touch.

I got back to the car but saw no sign of Diego. I was lying in some grass near the car when I saw Diego sprinting to the car, large brown bag in hand, speaking a mile a minute in Spanish. Clearly agitated and making frantic gestures indicating we needed to get out of Acapulco right now. He threw the bag into the back seat and jumped in the driver’s seat while continuing his Spanish psycho-babble and his spastic arm movements. 

I barely made it to the passenger’s seat before Diego hit the gas.

Not that hitting the gas in the Ford Pinto returned any immediate benefits but, eventually, it managed to pick up some speed. 

Diego continued his ranting in Spanish. Do you remember the I Love Lucy sitcoms where Ricky Riccardo would start a rapid-fire monolog in Spanish whenever Lucy did something supremely stupid?

Well, that was Diego.

I picked up pieces of what he was yelling. I heard him exclaim, “Dios mío,” every 10 seconds or so.  “Mierda,” made an appearance four times per sentence, at least, as did the exclamation, “Está muerto.” 

“Diego, no mas. Stop. Who’s dead? Uh. I mean. ¿Quién está muerto, I mean, muerto dead?”

Diego kept stammering, “Él estaba muerto.  Muerto.  No lo sabía.  Disparo.  Muerto.  ¿qué puedo hacer?  No lo sabía.  Mierda, mierda.  Esto es malo.  Mierda!”

“Whoa, whoa, hang on, Sparky. Who’s dead? ¿Quién está muerto?”

It took awhile before I could piece together the story.  It seems my boy, Diego, went to see his pot-dealing friend with the intention of buying an ounce of Acapulco Gold. Easy enough. The door to his flat was ajar and music was playing. Probably a song about Maria. A song where you want to gently tell the singer, “Amigo, Maria ain’t coming back. She’s outta your life. Gone for good. Not gonna happen. There are, evidently, plenty of Marias in the ocean. Stick your little pole out there and see what you can catch.”

Anyway, Diego walked in and saw his friend, Paulo, lying on a sofa but not looking too well what with having been shot in the head and all. Diego’s expert assessment was his friend was quite dead.

Now, at this point, I might have called the local authorities or family members or, at least, a mutual friend. I mean, someone really should have gotten an update on old Paulo’s current metabolic state.

Instead, Diego, being a really good friend,  rummaged around the flat until he found the dead guy’s entire stash, dumped it into a grocery bag, left, had second thoughts, went back to the flat, took a bottle of tequila and left again. As he left his good yet extremely deceased friend to begin decomposing, he heard a noise that scared him so he ran back to the car. 

I didn’t know the Spanish way to say, “You are really and truly a morality free zone.”

To his credit, Diego was developing a guilty conscience. He even considered going back to provide aid and comfort to his dearly departed friend. 

I didn’t think that was a solid idea. I clearly explained this to him, “¿Qué estúpido puedo traerte? ¿Qué vas a hacer, irte a la cama con él para que tengas una historia?”

What I meant to say was, “How stupid can you get? What are you gonna do, read him a bedtime story?”

What I actually said was, “What stupid can I get you? What are you go do, go in bed with him so you have a story?”

Diego spent a long time trying to figure out what the hell I just said and forgot all about going back to Acapulco.

I looked in the shopping bag. There was around a pound of high-grade pot and a large sealed bottle of tequila. Also, as a nice touch, my boy stole two shot glasses which was, all things considered, rather considerate on his part. 

We weren’t being followed so that was good. Diego rationalized away any guilt by saying that he, Diego, didn’t kill anyone and if Paulo had already shuffled off this metal coil then he, Paulo, really didn’t mind Diego taking all his pot and tequila. Besides, God was probably cool with everything since the only sins he committed were against a guy who was dead so they didn’t count nearly as much. And,  let’s face it, Paulo was most likely going to Hell so it was quite unlikely that God would give a rat’s ass in the first place. 

After much back and forth, Diego agreed we needed to dump the pot. In return, I agreed to not mention any of this to Sara and Lukey. I poured us a couple shots and we toasted the fact that we weren’t dead. I laid back in the passenger’s seat while Diego navigated the continuous road hazard. I could see the Pacific Ocean from time to time. Everything seemed peaceful. There were no signs of death squads or poverty anywhere. Okay, it wasn’t the Upper East Side. I didn’t notice any Jags on the road but the modest houses were in good repair, people moved around at a leisurely pace and the ambience was hardly threatening. Plenty of open space.  The people we drove past looked fine. Happy, even. 

Maybe all the reports about pain and suffering were blown way out of proportion. Most likely by the aid agencies wanting more donations. 

After a while, I closed my eyes and contented myself with profoundly naughty visions vis-à-vis that air hostess. 

I must have slept quite awhile because, when I finally woke up, we were in another hemisphere. There were no ocean views and definitely no cute haciendas with contented families in front of them. We were in a thick forest. In the mountains. I wondered if Diego missed a turn which explained why we ended up on the Appalachian Trail somewhere in the middle of West Virginia.

“Uh, Diego. ¿Dónde the hell estamos?”

Diego, looking very tired, “Oaxaxa. You sleep. Largo tiempo. ¿Conducirías el coche? Por favor.”

“Sí,” was my entire response. And, as requested, I took over driving duties. Oaxaca is the state next to Chiapas so we were heading in the right direction. However, according to Diego, we had to go up country due to a road closure. I figured out was probably due to a half mile long pothole.

We were definitely in the sticks. Plus, the road we were on was built by people who must have been blind because the entire drive involved a rapid series of ridiculous hairpin turns. We drove passed plenty of cars that tried and, based on the condition of the cars, failed to navigate one of the turns. The occupants of those cars probably just stayed in the cars until they dropped dead because a slow death would be much more rewarding than driving on this road.

Scattered along the way were little towns and communities that were in ruins or headed in that general direction. This was the first time I had an unfiltered, first-hand view of abject poverty. Stark, frightening, hopeless, humiliating, crushing poverty. Now, I’m not going to pooh-pooh urban or rural poverty in the States but, in terms of scale, depravity, danger and severity, this was something for which I was utterly unprepared. 

I saw people with nothing except a house that looked like it would cave in at any moment. No money, no shoes, no hospitals, no sanitation, no electricity, no businesses, no food and no hope. Nothing. Those we drove past looked devastated. Their facial expressions were blank but you could see the desperation in their eyes. Some folks were slowly shuffling around. Others were sitting near the side of the road and staring straight ahead. The only people walking around with any purpose were those with guns. 

In a panic, I woke up Diego and said, “¿Que the hell esta pasando aqui? This is a nightmare. Uh, pesadilla.”

His casual response was, “Socialism suck. No money. Muchos barrios marginales. Much poor. Malo.”

“Is it this bad in Arriaga?”

“Sometimes. Depends.”

That really wasn’t the answer I was hoping for.  At that very moment, the Pinto backfired. I thought, Yup. Couldn’t agree more. 

Diego gave me a beer. 

“Ah, yes, right, thank you. Don’t mind if I do.”

Once the shock wore off, my mind ran in a million directions but would always return to one thought:

What the hell have I gotten myself into?

—End of Part Two–

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