February 2013

The Mexico Papers – Part 2

Two people living in a ’72 Datsun hatchback, sleeping in police station parking lots, required creative attention to personal space. The front passenger seat, tipped as far back as it would go, was Les’ domain. Pushing the back of the driver’s seat forward against the steering wheel, and then collapsing both back seats gave me a head-in-the-trunk bed.

Crawling into it through the hatchback, I lowered the trunk with a piece of string and tied it, open about two inches, to the clasp. Now I could keep a secret eye on our perimeter, and breathe. If a dangerous perpetrator escaped custody, all I had to do was pull the string to lock us in.

Driving through Texas, I was scared:

“Texans are proud of their lone star state,but, “saw a man in jeans and a check shirt wearing a holster and gun and bullets and a Stetson, no uniform… A lady in the drugstore told us they’ll rip open your car doors and yank you out at a red light in the city… Stove is broken, cooked hot dogs over a garbage fire on a rest stop barbecue grill. Have a lot of garbage by now.”

Does this explain why we went home for the night with Louise after meeting her, Leroy and Paul in a Waxahachie diner?

“Leroy has been married four times. Paul’s wife is gone. He is old, and he’s a great dancer. Louise, 55, is a widow, a really amazing woman whom all the town kids call Mom. She now goes with Leroy, but she and Paul are real show outs at the club where they go dancing… Slept in a real bed. Louise made us Texan biscuits with cream gravy, eggs, bacon, pork chops and coffee for breakfast.”

No intuition was needed to sense these people’s kind generosity. They were also rednecks, “their prejudice open and deep, like hunger…”

We had to reach Mexico City in time to meet my parents — their Canadian embassy contacts would have freelance story ideas — but we had no idea how far south of the border it was. Finding a map finally, 100 miles north of Laredo, we discovered that we still had 850 miles to drive.

“We have to make Laredo tonight… Decide to find a motel on the border side of town. Suddenly there is a bridge. We pay the toll and cross, see the sign ‘Rio Grande’ halfway across. Two policemen are chatting in the middle of the bridge. Then the signs are all in Spanish. People are yelling and blocking the street, cops at every stop light. We are in Mexico with no insurance, no tourist cards! There was no border. We panic, pay another toll and cross back into the U.S. A border guard asks us how long we have been out of the country.”

A long night with Mexican truck drivers, a plane ride into the southern jungle: join me for The Mexico Papers – Part 3 on March 14.
Thanks for visiting,
Jane

The Mexico Papers – Part 1

“Am lying in the back of the Datsun (blue ’72 hatchback,) the smallest mobile home on the road, which now looks like a tenement, towels strung over the windows. Typing on my pillow, (on a salmon pink portable typewriter) braced on elbows, undercarriage dangerously close to Les’ stomach.”  

Cameras can nail an image but word pictures let the reader into the smell-sound-feel of a place. These snapshots of the United States have been buried at the back of my closet for 40 years. Two 23-year old women, we were our way to Mexico, to make our fortunes as a journalist and a photographer.

“Met Fred from New York State, who gave us homemade apple pie and fuel for our Coleman stove… Trying to figure out what is going on in the Arab-Israeli war. A man heard us asking where to buy an Indiana newspaper and gave us his.” Then:

“It was dusk. A half-ton pickup played leapfrog with us on the highway. We turned off to visit nature, found ourselves driving down a lonely road in the bush. Suddenly there was the half-ton behind us. Scared shitless. Turned into a small side road, truck turned in too. ‘Could this really be the end?’ A small cluster of houses appeared. Turned into a driveway. Truck drove on by. Was it a coincidence, was he going home for dinner, or was he following us? We will never know.”


Everyone says the Ozarks is hillbilly country, that you’ll never get out alive, but the friendliness is overwhelming. Bought corn cob pipes, heard Spiro Agnew resigned.

We were staying off the “completely sterile” interstate highways,“trying to get a feel” for this country. “Most of our knowledge of the U.S. comes through tv, movies and songs, but where does truth end and exaggeration begin?”

In a Tuckerman diner, an Arkansas state trooper invited us to sleep in his station’s parking lot. Gratitude, joy, relief! Could there be a safer place to spend the night?

The next night, in Beebe, Arkansas, another scary man followed us, but:

“As long as we stay on the road we are all right. It’s late and we’re tired, but I can drive forever if I have to.” By the time we reached Jacksonville, it was 10:30 pm:

“We find the cop shop downtown, where there is a display of dope pipes in a glass case that also contains tools used by abortionists, and heroin needles, heavy drugs and other artifacts. Find a cop heavily laden with gun, whistle, and other goods. He was scared of us!” He did, however, let us sleep in his parking lot.

Revisiting these word pictures I feel 23 again. Thrilled and appalled. Would I do it again, knowing what I do now? In a heartbeat.

Thanks for visiting. Next time, (
February 21) food, Texas, and a borderless border in The Mexico Papers – Part 2. You can make sure not to miss it by clicking the email button below
Jane