Rough Draft - A Chapter from
Riding a Bus in Mexico
There is something delightful about silver-stream zippers that when pulled upon, reveal thick, feather soft sleeping bags, sometime a pillow, puffed with perfection.
And there is something whimsical about wearing jeans tucked into heavy hiking boots that sport multicolored toe-socks, cuffed slightly over the top-tier of shoelace.
But in that moment, standing stranded outside a dilapidated nowhere liquor store somewhere in a Mexican jungle, alone, I didn’t feel the magic, the lovely, or the delight.
And as for whimsy? My polished pedicure was buried under dirty mud slicked Birkenstock’s, and my borrowed jacket didn’t exactly provide warmth and comfort over my light blue halter-top and navy pinstriped short, shorts. And, I was terrified.
Every monster in the world came out that night. Some screamed and chattered from treetops. Others trotted on jungle paths snapping twigs under soft-pad paws. A few howled (werewolves!) But most hugged gallon jugs of liquor. Their silhouettes shown against crackling embers jagged like tree-branch beasts. A sip, a swig, it didn’t matter. More was in store, once the shop doors opened.
The more pleasant, beyond drunk, sang and strummed guitars, sloshing their words and fumbling their fingers over slightly untuned strings. I stood there unable to comprehend how I could get left behind, yet again.
Even Joe, must be frantic by now.
I quieted my mind and searched for solution. I remembered a piece of required reading during in the fifth grade about a cowboy named Shane. He was an outcast, and always sat with his back to the wall. I thought that sound advice in my situation, and chose my territory against the exterior wall of the store. From my vantage point, I could see almost every direction. I was safe from rouge drunks. Shane would have been proud.
With some assurance of safety, I settled in not so nicely. I was afraid and the moon didn’t help. It loomed through the soft sway of canopy, and with it, long, crooked shadow-claws stretched across the ribbon of highway and up mountainsides.
My worry and fear didn’t end there. Nomads and drifters surrounded me, plopping to the ground, mumbling and fumbling through bags filled with junk food, but mostly drink. The only things familiar to me were the stars, the cold, and two other intoxicated men the cashier had battled with earlier that night. For some reason, one decided to keep me company.
The gentleman, who had not seen the inside of a shower in weeks, offered me a drink from his almost empty bottle.
“No, thank you.”
Being a considerate guy, he wiped off the mouth of the bottle on his crusty sleeve and offered again, holding the bottle close to my face.
“No. I don’t drink that stuff. Go.” For more clarity, I shooed my hand. It worked. He swaggered away, but unfortunately, only to make room for my next date. He was wearing a long, trench coat . . . lovely . . .
“No. As I told the other gentleman, I don’t drink that stuff.”
So what does he do? He caps his gallon of Vodka, and lifts from inside his coat a fifth of Tequila. He aimed a flashlight from underneath the bottle to highlight his display. While pretending to read the label, I noticed his hands. They were soft and his nails were manicured. His coat was clean. Obviously, he was not a local.
“It looks like a good brand, and domestic, but I don’t drink. I never touch the stuff.” He unscrewed the cap and reached under his coat and he delivered two plastic party cups.
“I am impressed, but gracias, no. I never touch that stuff.”
He finally spoke…in Spanish. His tone, and style of speech was eloquent like Dr. Jake’s. With gesture of hand toward the sky, he continued to converse. I decided that he was talking about the stars, the frigid air and of course, sharing a drink.
He set his flashlight on the ground, but not before giving it a click to emit more light. I could see that his clothes were clean and maybe expensive. He reached, again, inside his coat and this time brought out two pictures. One was a photo of three women, and the other a single shot of the eldest woman.
“Your esposa?” I asked pointing to the woman whose hair was piled high on her head.
He confirmed with a smile and a nod.
“And la hija and la hija?” I asked pointing to each young lady.
“Si, si. Doce. Catorce.” He said pointing to each.
“Ah. Twelve and fourteen. They are beautiful–bonita.”
He nodded in agreement. He talked a bit more and then asked again through charade, if I wanted a drink.
“No. Gracias. No.” Then he smiled. His act was the same. He reached inside and across his coat, but this time he twisted a bit before bring-out a corkscrew and next a half carafe of wine.
“What a fabulous idea. A roving bartender.”
Once again and like a trained concierge, he held enough light against the bottle so that I might read the label.
“I see that the vineyard is from Ensenada. It’s a good one. I’ve enjoyed a few glasses myself, but I never touch the stuff. No thank you.”
Of course he ignored me and commenced to set the corkscrew. Within seconds, it popped.
“Champagne?” I asked. He indicated no and moved the bottle under my nose tipping it slowly right and left.
“Ah. Wine, and no doubt, a good one, but I don’t drink. No booze, no wine, no bubbly. Never have, never will.”
Language barrier or no, I was a bad liar. He poured two glasses and then reached into his coat one more time and brought a third plastic tumbler.
“Three?” I said. “Really, wine is enough. I don’t drink the hard stuff.”
From out of the shadows, a woman once hidden behind the curtain of night, appeared on perfect cue. “You are the woman–the pictures!” Her husband, like a magic man, produced the photos almost out of thin air.
“Yes.” I said pointing at her tiny portrait. “That’s you!” She held out her hand and I shook it wildly. Both she and her husband laughed and chortled through excited conversation. With our cups almost filled, we toasted something. I chose to believe that we were celebrating our safety, the adventure, and the fact that my angels had stopped ignoring me…