Excerpt from THE KID FROM SANTA FE

Posted by on Dec 24, 2017 in Blog | 2 comments

From Alturas I headed to Mexico, stopped in Bakersfield for the night.. When I came out of the motel next morning the Buick Regal sat on its hubs. I looked around to see if it’d happened to anyone else, then went over to the office. The desk clerk said he didn’t know anything about it.
I said, “I didn’t either until I walked out of my room five minutes ago.”
He said they weren’t liable, “the sign says so.” He pointed at it. I’d been looking for a little more concern like “Aw, gee, no kidding? Took three wheels and how could that happen? Isn’t that the pits?”
I asked if he’d call the police for me.
“Could, but they never came for things like this.”
“What do they come for?”
“Beatings, killing, stuff like that,” he said.
“Oh,” I said. He seemed pretty unconcerned.
“It’s not my problem,” he said. “There’s a wrecking yard outside Bakersfield a few miles over there. Maybe you can find some replacements.”
I hitched a ride over and described the model and year. The man said he’d look around. Ten minutes later he returned in his golf cart with four wheels in the back.
“You’re in luck,” he said, big smile.
I asked for a ride back to the motel after paying and he said he’d have the boy drive me.
Putting the wheels on the car, they looked familiar. The last one had a kind of swastika design on the tire wall where it’d rubbed against a curb. No, that wasn’t it. It’d gone flat as I was driving a few months ago in Alturas and had that mark on it when I stopped to change the tire.
I knew as I worked that this was a pretty potent sign not to go to Bahía de Los Angeles in Baja. Safer to stay here. But I didn’t want safer. With my stolen wheels back on, I headed south.

I picked up a Mexican woman at the turnoff to Bahía from Highway 1. She was going to clean some houses in the village. She lived over there beyond that ridge. She hitched into Bahía three times a week. We talked in her language and it felt better. I like Spanish and Spaniards and Mexicans, anything Latino.
The light was startling as we drove east in the late afternoon. We came over a rise and there was this cluster of islands far off, catching the light in a way that made them extra three-dimensional and radiant as if they were alive.

The woman said the government had big hopes for Bahía: they’d put in a mile-long landing strip and planned lots of hotels and a connecting toll road across the peninsula to a port on the Pacific side so people could ferry their boats back and forth from the Sea of Cortez without having to go around the tip of Baja.
I’d heard Bahía was this quiet little paradise of fishermen and low-key life—now I was expecting Acapulco. But when we came down the hill overlooking the bay it was really no more than a sprawling marina with trailer parks and a few low buildings as cornerstones of hope for the tourist center being designed in Mexico City. I dropped her off and found a plain room with bed, rickety chair and table, and a pitcher of water and wash pan.
It took half an hour to walk the town in all four directions, another hour to walk the marinas and trailer parks, and it was getting dark by the time I returned from the air strip, which turned out to be exactly that and no more, a wide asphalt strip already crumbling. There were no foundations for a terminal, not even those promissory signs: Soon Opening, Terminals A-F, Restaurants, Condos, Nightclubs, Rental Cars and Aviation Tower, or Rent to Own.

Across the Sea of Cortez from here was the village of San Carlos the Mexican government had been developing over forty years, but the land itself had refused. The waters refused. The spirit of the place and the people refused. A Club Med came and went. A hurricane came and blew down everything the government’d put up, took away the ancient terraced camper park overlooking the port.
When the movie Catch 22 was made in San Carlos, things tilted away from the land’s power to keep things as they were. Things had been improved for the movie company. There was a two-mile-long four-lane going into San Carlos along a tropical-treed boulevard next to a deep bay edged by crescent beaches. Ahead were jagged castle rocks. One was called the Caracól with a small village on top, the other a signature landmark called the Tetas de Cabra, looking either like the teats of a goat on her back or the fingers of a drowning man reaching to heaven as he sinks away, depending on your mood.

In Bahía, mariachi music played with country and western through the night, braying laughter and boozy singing, slamming of trailer doors, boat motors starting up, sometimes a crystalline phrase of Spanish blessing the desecration of a place imagined by the gods in mellower times. I like squalor and chaos so I could’ve joined them easily at another time, but I was in freefall, an empty man with no desire to kill fish or drink myself into a stupor with good-timing guys and gals. I wanted to do that alone. Sometime. Not now.

I took off early the next morning. Along the road back I saw a turnoff north that cut thirty miles off my getting back to Highway 1 and took it. The road was narrower than the one I’d come in on and along stretches were big boulders in place of shoulders. If you ever got a flat, there was no way you could get off the road. Where there were no boulders there was a sheer drop to the desert floor. Back then the Mexican highway departments didn’t plan roads with drivers in mind, only vehicles. What happened to you was your business—their’s were roads.
I passed another old American car, an Olds 88, just as big and heavy as mine, with Baja plates, but when I passed him he passed me back right away. He had a bigger engine. He settled in ahead of me and slowed down to where we were doing twenty. I fell back. He fell back. I needed a long run to pass him but there was no way to pull over, and when I stopped in my lane he did, too, just ahead.
He got going first and I hung back until he was far ahead enough for me to make a run. As I came up on him at ninety he floored it and we were abreast, but there wasn’t the power to pull ahead and he wouldn’t let me fall behind. I couldn’t see his face. He had on a dark hat, but I could see big teeth in a big smile.
A big truck was coming toward us fast on the straightaway. The smile stayed there. Now we were doing ten miles an hour side by side and he had me covered. On both sides of the road were boulders. I pushed the accelerator to the floor and so did he. Just when a head-on was inevitable he let me squeeze around him, we clicked bumpers and molecules of paint from the Buick line-danced with molecules of the Freightliner.

The Olds pulled around me again and slowed to thirty, so I followed him obediently until he turned off at a Y. He touched the brim of his hat in salute and there was the smile again, still no face…
 

2 Comments

  1. Que loco eres, Juanito…

    • When you come to a Y in the road, why not just take it?