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Thursday, February 21, 2002

All the Pretty Kawasakis

I love Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses. I identified pretty thoroughly with the protagonists in the novel.  At least I did in some ways. I, too, go to Mexico from time to time in search of something that I can't find here in the U.S. I get a sense of freedom in Mexico like when I was a kid and we played at somebody's house when their parents weren't home. What a great travel slogan: Come to Mexico, the parents are out playing bridge with the neighbors.

Life is drastically different the second you cross the border. Some people find that a bit frightening. I have always felt more comfortable as an outsider, a stranger, than I do at home here in the U.S. I like being different and that is hard to do when everyone around you speaks your language and has the same shared cultural experiences. That all changes when you cross the border into Mexico.

I didn't grow up around horses like the boys in his story. I was raised on the modern day equivalent: the motorcycle. I learned to ride on my older brother's Kawasaki 250 Enduro. Horses and motorcycles both stand for the same thing in the American psyche: individual freedom and mobility. Like most of American folklore this is more myth than reality but I suppose that is true of folklore everywhere.

Like the characters in the novel, I once lived in San Angelo, Texas.  San Angelo is an oasis in the middle of the middle of Texas desert. Never mind why I was living there—that’s a story for another day—but I knew it was temporary, that it was just a stepping stone to another place. In truth I really loved it there. Part of the reason I loved it there was because I had a beautiful Kawasaki 750GPZ motorcycle. It was the first and only motorcycle I have ever owned. It was just something I needed to get out of my system as a young man, a phase if you will. That bike is the horse in this story and just like McCarthy's novel this tale involves beautiful señoritas and a squalid Mexican jail so keep reading.

My friend Henry and I had a couple days off so we packed a small bag and took off south from San Angelo towards Mexico. We didn't have much of a plan except to get to Mexico where things were cheaper and wilder. We would make firmer plans once we got to Del Rio and the border.

The road south was a beautiful two lane blacktop that wound through canyons and desert. I don't think I ever saw a cop on this highway so I always rode at a pretty fast clip. The biggest danger on this stretch of pavement was in colliding with a turkey buzzard or a turkey. The buzzards would land on the road to eat road kills and couldn't really get out of the way fast enough. You would see them trying desperately to gain draft in their huge wings as you barreled down on them from 1/4 mile away. I'd back off the throttle as I watched the big vulture flap once, twice before it caught a small current to gain a bit of lift. I had a couple of close calls in my time but no direct hits. I hit a small bird once and if I weren't wearing a helmet at the time I would still have it sticking out of my forehead. The jack rabbits on this road were as big as third grade kids but they weren't much of a problem during the day.

Armadillos are everywhere and are the butt of road kill jokes throughout the state. They take the place the opossum rules over most other places, namely that of being the dumbest, slowest critter to ever cross a road. Once you get this far south you begin to notice the huge tarantulas that like to warm themselves up on the highways during the afternoon. On a flat stretch you can see them from 1/2 mile away. Turkeys, coyotes, and deer are also pretty common sights. This wasn't a nature walk; I just point these out as potential road hazards.

The United States ends here with the city of Del Rio on the banks of the river. The Rio Grande, or the Rio Bravo as it is called by Mexicans, isn't really grande or bravo as rivers go. I suppose for winding through a desert it's big. I waded across it once just to say that I did and to feel a bit of solidarity with the millions that do so in search of a better life up north. Hell, just about all of us are wetbacks of one sort or another.

On this day I just rode my bike across the bridge into Ciudad Acuña, a town like pretty much all of the other ones along the border. These towns are all about commerce, more so than most towns. People come here to get stuff they can't get up north. People come here on their last stage when they are leaving Mexico to find a new life in America. Someday I'll get around to interviewing all of my Mexican friends about the day they crossed the border into the U.S. for the first time.

I didn't really want to leave my motorcycle parked in front of the hotel so I drove it up a flight of stairs, down an outside walkway, and parked it in the room. Then I put a mint under its pillow. I bet no cowboy ever brought his horse into his hotel room.

It was a beautiful day and I wanted to really get a feel for old Mexico...what did you say? You want me to shut the fuck up and get to the part where the cops pulled me and my friend out of a whorehouse? Oh, I get it. You're the type that wouldn't read into anything this far unless the subject was going to turn raunchy.

So it's raunchy you want, is it? How about a donkey show? Is that raunchy enough for you. I have bad news for you, folks. Everyone has heard of someone who had a friend who knows somebody who went to a donkey show. I hate to burst your bubble but they are an urban myth. I've spent enough time in these shit-hole towns that I think I would have at least heard of one. OK, granted, I'm, not stumbling around drunk screaming at everyone I pass in the street, "¿Donde está el espectáculo del burro?" (The people at I.U. must be very proud that one of their alums learned enough to translate 'donkey show' into Spanish. Who says a liberal arts education is worthless?).

If there is such a thing as a donkey show I think to enter you should have to pass the same criteria I would apply to boxing matches. If you want to watch two people beat the hell out of each other you should first have to fight someone yourself before entering. If you are such a twisted loser that you would want to watch a donkey show then bend over.

That really is about it for this story. We went to some sort of cathouse/stripper bar and they gave us some drinks with some sort of Mexican magic forget-stuff-and-events powder. I was trying to watch the show when I noticed that there were cops outside trying to stuff my friend Henry into a squad car. If I remember correctly I went out to see if I could be of any assistance and the next thing I know the both of us are in the Ciudad Acuña jail. I really didn't do anything raunchy so if that's what you are looking for you'll have to ask Henry as he was the one who caught the hooker stealing his wallet.

I finally yelled loud enough for them to get the chief of police. I think that they also put something in my drink to make me a belligerent asshole because the chief offered to let us go if I gave him my $13 Casio watch and I told him to fuck off. I don't know why. Had he asked me for it a few hours earlier before he had the power of springing me from jail I would have given him the damn thing. He let us go anyway. We walked out of the jail and I realized I had no fucking idea where I was. I walked back inside and told him to make one of the guards give us a ride back to our hotel (we call guards “screws” in prison). And that was the best day of my life.

Of course it wasn't the best day of my life but from now on I think I'll end all of my stories with that line just because it's so upbeat.

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