A trip to Mexico.September 14, 2008
It was dry dirt. Maybe it was silt. The smell didn’t ring true in my mind. Anytime dirt had been awkwardly up my nose, it had been moist. More than moist, it had always been pungent and fertile. Dirt, which if left alone, could have spewed forth all sorts of life. The dry silt was void of that sense. It was more like a collection of decades of dust, from all the worlds’ tabletops, dumped at the spot where I laid. The fine, loose particles were dancing with every breath, the little vortices of air whipping them around, sending them clinging to every fine hair on my face and deep into my nose. The dirt made it itch, but I didn’t dare try to touch it. A small circle of cool, that unmistakable sensation of steel, sapped the heat from the back of my neck, and convinced me that it may not have been the perfect time.
The Sun had risen for us over Tempe, as it had over dozens of different places, down the east coast then west, over the past few months. Thousands of miles of whirring asphalt had swept under the creaky Jeep, which, for all its high mileage and mysterious noises, hadn’t given us reason to question its loyalty. It had been treated well, and it returned the favor.
We hadn’t seen Seamus since the summer before and were anxious to see him before his graduation from A.S.U. that spring. We were all friends, good friends, through the last couple of years of high school. We’d shared more than enough Jeagermeister and Keystone Light to blabber secrets to one another that we all trusted would never spill into anyone else’s ears. Time was always well spent together, whether it were howling laughter or sedated silence.
We arrived a couple days before A.S.U. released its fifty thousand party hungry students in every direction for spring break. Everywhere, we could see excitement creeping into the eyes and conversations of the youthful masses strewn about under the sun shielding umbrellas and canopies that each of the scores of cafes and bars that peppered the main drag, used to attract the free spending students. Seamus was no different, he knew just where to go, and by the hurried and expressive way he described our target, we assumed the same glee that rose from the campus like a titter tatter filled fog of expectant surprise.
After a couple nights exuberant release in, around, and out of countless bars and after parties, we set out south, cutting a path under the arc of the oppressive desert sun. Although our car trip was going to be short, relative to some days’ drives the previous couple of months, we took turns driving. Seamus insisted on his turn first, visibly excited to be behind the wheel of the country-crossing beast of a Jeep. Clint took us over the Mexican border, leaving me with the final leg.
I guided us over the thin, slowly undulating, sun bleached ribbon of tar, that somehow Mexico had classified as a national highway. Occasionally, a weathered stucco structure, surely worthy of a bright yellow ‘condemned’ notice, with its faded ‘Coca-Cola’ or beer sign, would pass by the open windows of the Jeep, giving a hint of desperation, rather than capitalist intent.
After mile upon mile of an arid, desolate moonscape, life crept back into sight. Ever more small homes and low buildings passed us by. People milled about slowly in the harsh, dry heat. I could see children running and flailing about, playing games of soccer with well-worn balls, not inflated enough to bounce, only to roll. The so-called highway eased into a main road, not unlike one might find in a small city in the poor, deep south, lacking the pretense of frivolity, yet providing all the basics of life. Small groups of men sat in seeming silence, casually smoking, looking more interested in us than anything else. We had arrived in Puerto Penasco, the name was romantic, but the sight left the words hollow.
Seamus unjumbled a piece of notepaper, and directed us surprisingly quickly to a well-worn back street where our motel sat in the shadow of an imposing brick warehouse. We piled out of the Jeep, into the office, handing over our shares of the fifty dollars for the full week’s fee. We took our time unloading our bags, stopping to stretch and stand after the six-hour drive.
The sun was setting, and the thought of getting to a night club that overlooked the Gulf of California, overtook our idleness. We hurriedly changed, not ignoring the expected bunches of college girls we hoped to see. Driving was debated, but we knew we’d be in no shape to aim the truck back to the motel later that night, so we chose to walk. It was better that way, besides, Seamus had been there before and knew a shortcut.
It was dark, except the dull glow from the windows of the dull concrete homes. The dirt street tilted downward toward the ocean, a clue that Seamus hadn’t gotten us lost. We sauntered along, not wanting to get sweaty before getting to the club, joking and filled with excited hope of careless debauchery. A crossroads appeared, both streets heading slightly downhill. We paused to choose which seemed like the better one. Beside us, at one corner, a group of trees stood on a vacant lot. They were scraggly, but the only ones I had seen all day. We made our decision, and started on our way, oblivious to what had crept behind us.
“Down!” An unexpected voice cried out.
We turned toward it. Four tee shirt clad Mexicans stared back, the glint of metal in each of their hands. Our arms shot up automatically. We didn’t get down. We stood there, paralyzed with sudden fear. Two raised their pistols, the others their knives. They came toward us silently, muscles taut with nerves. A tense, wordless conversation of instincts ensued as they dug frantically into our pockets, mining out all our possessions. Two took hold of my shoulders and tossed me to the ground. My arms stayed straight as my chest pounded into the ground. The dirt, silt really, clung to my skin. I could feel one of them kneeling on my back, the sharp point of his knife pinching my ribs. The cold barrel of a gun pushed against the back of my neck, shaking as he unstrapped my watch.
It seemed like a second, or maybe an hour. The blur of time stopped as I was left, then untouched, on the dusty ground. We gathered our wits, taking in the image of the young men running into the only patch of woods we’d seen all day, finally looking at each other in stunned silence. We let our feet pound beneath us, sweat gathering along our brows, until we came to the neon illuminated night club. A blood stain grew from my ribs, not big enough to cause alarm, but enough to remind me what had just occurred was real. I had had a gun to the back of my head, a knife readying to enter my lungs. More than six hundred dollars, and a good watch, were probably being argued over as I stood with a dusty, blood-stained shirt, outside a club. It was a strange feeling, forgiving people so soon. They had so little, yet the world was just as big for them as it was for us. My money and things were just that, there was no indignity done to me. I was part of a great adventure, one that had taken me to places and events that not many get to see. They hadn’t taken that, they had, surprisingly, given me more than I could’ve hoped.