Banditos (Mexico, Part 1)

15 07 2017

I’ve been “blogging” since the mid 90s, but that doesn’t mean everything I’ve ever written is still available.  My previous blog host went *poof* in the night, so I lost a lot of the stuff I have written.  A few entries are still available via the Internet Wayback Machine, and some have even been re-posted here, but the bulk of the narration of my “crazy days” are gone.  So perhaps I should start trying to recreate them – the moments – here.  Now.

How ’bout we start with my one and only Mexico trip?  You know, that time I visited a border town…

So just how far down do you wanna go
We could talk it out over a cup of Joe
And you can look deep in my eyes
Like I was a super-model

My boss and her boyfriend (at the time) invited myself and another work compadre on a trip to the border town of Ciudad Acuna, just across the Rio Grande from Del Rio, Texas.  I was separated from my wife at that time – we were well on our way to the eventual divorce – and I found myself with vacation time to spare.  So why not go?  I’d never left the country before, after all.

(Fun fact:  I started writing this about 2 weeks ago but I was too tired to finish.  Then, just this week, a friend posted a picture on Facebook of a road sign in Del Rio.  The sign noted it was a mere 3 miles to Acuna and I was reminded that I began this entry.  Now is the time to finish it.)

I’ll spare the details, fuzzy as they are, from the drove down.  It was rather uneventful, anyway, save for a funny story about a “West Texas how do you do”.  And even that story would probably be funny to only those of us on the trip.  You see, my friend Chad and I spent the entire drive from DFW to Mexico sitting in the back seat drinking beer.  (Don’t judge, please – this was a long time ago.)  Eventually, Chad got bored (or brave) and just started waving at people.  What I really mean is that he started waving at everyone.

Somewhere south of San Angelo we stopped at a rest area.  Not a rest area like you’d see on an interstate highway, with somewhat proper bathroom facilities, but basically just a pull off on the side of the road with a picnic table or two.  As Mike went into the scrub brush to find a place to pee, Chad and I stayed in the backseat and Chad waved at every passing vehicle.

Eventually, one of these wave recipients turned around to check on us.  The driver was worried that we needed some help.  “Is everything ok?”, he asked when he pulled up next to our truck.  “Yup”, Chad replied.  “Just waving at people.”  (I swear, that is *exactly* what was said.)

The friendly passerby then said “Well, a West Texas ‘how-do-you-do’ to you!” before driving off.  It was almost like visiting a foreign land.  Almost.

We arrived in Del Rio well after sunset, still having to make the border crossing and check into our hotel on the other side of the river, so we commissioned a taxi.  Keep in mind that this trip occurred in 2004 or 2005. Border patrol stringency, even post 9-11, was not yet at 2017 standards.

So give you ID card to the border guard
Your alias says you Captain John Luke Picard
Of the United Federation of Planets
‘Cause they won’t speak English any ways

Luckily, Taxi Jesse was there for us.

Don’t ask me how we found him.  Hell, he might have found us.  All I know is that he was a Mexican national who shuttled people across the border in his “taxi” – a small car of a make I cannot remember.  I will say the vehicle was closer to a Gremlin or Pinto than it was to a Taurus or Escort.  I’d probably not recall Jesse at all if it were not for his business card.

Jesse actually hand wrote/illustrated all his business cards.  Imagine the time it took to do that.  This was one enterprising dude.  It was the size of a typical business card, with his phone number and a crude illustration of a taxi, along with his name – Taxi Jesse.  It’s the only reason I remember so much about him (because I was probably about 12 beers in at the time), so it was definitely an example of his genius.

True to his word, Jesse got us across the border.  Highway 239 in Texas turned into Miguel Hidalgo in Acuna, and our hotel was probably only a quarter of a mile from the actual river crossing on that same road.  For the first (and only) time in my life, I checked into a hotel like I was buying tickets at a movie theater.  There was no lobby, only a street front window manned by a dude who acted like he had better things to do.  We walked up the stairs to our rooms – Deanna and Mike in one, Chad and I in the other – and then set off to find beer.  (Again, please don’t judge.)

It was pretty late so we were just looking for a package store.  You know, somewhere we could buy a couple of 12 packs and take them back to the room(s) while decompressing from the 6 hour drive.  I’m not sure if you know this, but 7-11s are not on every corner in Mexico – even a border town.  We walked for quite a while, venturing further into the city proper, and never once came upon a bodega for us to stock up on drinks.

We finally gave up our quest to find “beer to go” just as we happened upon a bar several streets away from the river.  Suffering from a bad case of the “give ups”, we sauntered into the cantina wanting only a cold beer.  Or six.

Everybody knows that the world is full of stupid people
So meet me at the mission at midnight
We’ll divy up there
Everybody knows that the world is full of stupid people

It was like a movie when we entered.  Not a heroic one, mind you.  More like an “oh, shit” one.  As we crossed the threshold into the bar, all eyes immediately turned to us.  Hardened eyes, those of people accustomed to hard labor (or perhaps worse?) who had no use for outsiders – which we clearly were.

Mental gymnastics told us that it would be better for us to continue into the bar instead of fleeing in fear.  After all, we didn’t want to offend.  All we wanted was a beer or six.  Each.

We found a table rather easily (closest to the door, obviously) and sat down.  We were soon visited by one waitress to take our order and two women of dubious distinction who took seats next to Chad and myself.  Both of these women placed a drink order along with ours like it was expected.

We (wisely) did not argue.

The woman who sat next to me placed one hand on my thigh and the other on my pack of cigarettes that I’d set upon the table.  Her thigh hand was lazy, but the cigarette hand helped itself to one of my smokes.  Drinks were delivered to the table, and an uncomfortable silence descended upon us gringos.  Until Chad broke it.

I fear that I’m now going to interrupt this story with a plea – a plea for proper punctuation.  Before our trip down to Mexico, I sent Mike an email (since he was the only one in the traveling party who had been there before) to ask if it was better to carry cash (I was worried about getting mugged) or if our debit cards were a better bet.

His reply?  “No cash is better”

I took that to mean that we should not carry cash, and I relayed that message to Chad before we set off.  Unfortunately, it did not take long at all (hotel check in) to realize that Mike left a comma out of his reply.  It should have read “No, cash is better.”

Cash is king in Mexico, so Chad and I were left with almost no money except what was available on our debit cards in US banks.  For want of a comma, all hell was about to break loose.

After drinks were delivered to our table, Chad (in hilarious broken Spanish) attempted to ask our two new lady friends if there was an ATM nearby.  He was doing the pantomime of inserting a card into a machine, which I’m sure these ladies found quite confusing.  Or interesting, perhaps?

And that is how Chad ended up leaving the cantina with a strange woman in search of an ATM.  I stayed with my new “friend”, along with Mike and Deanna.  We all nursed our drinks as long as we could (except for the wench), waiting for Chad to return, until it became obvious that something had gone horribly wrong.  Chad had been gone too long.

Mike, veteran of previous Mexico trips, was tired of waiting.  And maybe a bit worried, too.  He told Deanna and I to sit tight while he went to look for our wayward tripmate.  So I was left sitting at a table with my boss and a Mexican strumpet,

I don’t know how long we sat there.  It might have only been only 15 minutes, but it felt like at least an hour.  After some time, Deanna and I decided to ditch the joint.  We figured that Chad and Mike knew where our hotel was, so they would certainly find us there.  Eventually.

As soon as we walked outside the cantina, we saw Mike walking rapidly toward us, all the while motioning us back inside.  If the gesture wasn’t enough, he was also saying “Get back inside!”  We retreated back to our table and soon heard the story of Chad’s travails.

Chad’s “woman” did indeed lead him to an ATM.  And that is when the federales descended upon him.  Here he was – a blond American at an ATM with a “known” prostitute giving him instructions (in a language he could not understand).  And that is when Mike found him, too.

Mike immediately pulled out his wallet (he did not know where to put an important comma but he knew that he could/should carry cash) and asked how much it would take to make the entire incident – harmless as it was – go away.  Much to his surprise, the cops refused his offer and backed away.  He and Chad then hurried back to the scary bar that had suddenly turned into our safe zone.

We all savored one more beer before heading back to our hotel if for no other reason than to waste time and to allow the police to find something else to occupy their time.  Surely this would be our only close call with bad news while in Acuna, right?

Wrong.

So I got the pistol
So I get the Pesos
Yeah that seems fair
– “Banditos”, The Refreshments

 

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