Sunday, August 28, 2016

That Endless Skyway

I sat in very early morning traffic in Aguascalientes, watching the men that swill gas, only to light it and blow fire from their mouths for money.  At six-thirty AM, I wasn't sure how they managed it.

It had been a long night.  I left La Cruz de Huancaxtle around three PM the previous afternoon.  It was time to go, though I had paid to stay in our rental for several more days.  I needed to head back, or I knew my mind might cave in on itself .  I had a goal of driving about six hours, so that I could make it to Texas the following day and to Atlanta the next.  I launched out, without a map or any kind of real directions, showing my first mistake of complacency and getting too used to Mexico being my own backyard.  I packed up the house, packed up Lola and headed out, rigging the doors shut on the rental and putting the key in a weird slot in the wall.   I almost left clothes in the dryer.

I was making good time, until hitting major traffic while trying to surpass Guadalajara, Mexico's second largest city, which is saying a lot because Mexico's largest city is one of the biggest cities in the world.  I was bored, frustrated, tapping on the gas while Lola waited patiently in the back seat.  The sun was going down.  I watched a Disney- Cinderella style horse and carriage pass by on the side of the congested road, filled with some sort of green hay instead of a princess or corny couple.  I tapped my phone for directions to by-pass the traffic.  It wouldn't work.  I had a signal, but Google Maps couldn't find a server.  I was worried I had gone over my data amount and finally called my mom.  I didn't want to, she divorced my step-dad in April and I knew this was supposed to be the day he moved out.

"Mom?" I asked.
"How are you?"
"Oh my God, this day has been exhausting....".
"I hate to ask you this but can you call AT&T for me?  I have tried direct dialing them and it won't go through and my data has been cut off and I am stuck in Guadalajara and don't know where to go.....".
As I sat in traffic while my mom texted me, asking my social security number and various other details to get my data back on.
"You have plenty of data!" she told me.  "They said it was a 'glitch' that your phone wasn't working....".

So, my mom fixed it and it worked and I got out of Guadalajara.  I drove smoothly on the highway, relieved to be moving again.  I followed Google maps.  Suddenly, things started looking familiar again.  Why was I back in Tonalá?   Why was I back in Guadalajara?  An hour after exiting, I was thrust into the city center of Guadalajara again.  I studied there one summer more than a decade ago, but was not too keen on reminiscing as I drove past my old university and favorite taco stands in the dark, trying to get the fuck back on the road.  I was stuck in the myriad of streets, completely clueless as to how to get back to the northern highway.  And, there was more traffic.  I was completely reliant on street signs, as Google Maps had dipped out again.  It was getting later, pushing eleven.

As I sat at a traffic light, several men infiltrated the road, spraying dirty water on windshields and "cleaning them off" for money.  People used to do this in Atlanta during the early nineties.  I watched one man eyeball and run straight for the gringo-lady car.  I would gladly give them money just to leave me alone, mainly because Lola goes psycho if anyone goes near the car or touches the windshield.  As soon as I saw him coming, I rolled down the window and started imploring in Spanish that he not touch the car.  Being a misogynistic shit face, he did what ever he wanted.  Lola went insane.  Now, I was screaming in Spanish and in English for him to get the fuck away, before Lola broke a window and ate his face off.  He kept doing what he was doing.  I turned on the windshield wipers.  That stopped him.

He stood by the driver's side of the car, instructing me to to roll the window down.  Obviously, he hadn't understood yet that I don't just take directions from weird men on the street, even though I have a vagina.  He upped his voice as I watched him through the window, yelling in perfect English:
I smiled at him.  That was actually my goal.

I drove through the night, finally exiting Guadalajara and driving on the same northern highway I had been on hours earlier and toward the dog friendly hotel where I had a reservation.  Alec started calling.
"Yes.  I am still driving."
"Hilary, you are being stupid.  You are going to get kidnapped.  Even those super gringo expatriates don't drive around at night."
"I am doing my best."
He started texting me names of hotels.  Alec doesn't usually text and I thought his concern was sweet.  But I kept driving.
I passed through a toll booth.  I was surprised at the fond look of the young woman working the booth, grinning, asking about Lola.  I was still rattled by the guy in Guadalajara and appreciated someone that seemed to approve of what I was doing - strange gringo woman alone with dog in a Honda on a dangerous highway in the middle of the night, acting pretty natural and innocuous.  Clueless might be the better word.  The second toll booth was similar, this time a male that appreciated Lola as my "guardian".

I knew I would never make it to my destination and pulled into one of the towns Alec recommended.  I stopped at an OXXO and bought water for Lola and me and proceeded inward.  It was a strangely medieval town with a massive church in the middle; it reminded me more of France than of Spain or Mexico.  As I drove through the town looking for the pet friendly hotel that Alec had found on the internet, a noticed a few men on motorcycles following us.  I ignored them, but every time I made a turn they were on our bumper.  Lola didn't like it.  I didn't like it either.  Finally, I exited the town.  As I came up to the last red light, one of the motorcycle men pulled up beside me, and I lowered the window.
"No, I'm good, I don't need to hire your as a guide." I stated, as Lola went feral.
I turned to the right, just to get rid of him and drove back on the highway out of the town.  I saw a small hotel with the lights on and pulled off.  The entire family, complete with elementary age children, was sitting in the lobby.
"Do you have any rooms?"  I asked. "And, do you allow dogs?"
"How big of a dog?"
"A very large dog."
"As long as it doesn't bark all night."
"She won't."
The woman looked to her husband.
"Charge her 250." he stated, asking fifty peso below the rate the was published on a little board with white, stick on letters. 
They helped me carry my bag and all of Lola's stuff upstairs, even though the wife was terrified of Lola.
Lola and I took a quick walk around the area to let her pee, while I looked over my shoulder for the motorcycle men.  I would find out in the morning that I had inadvertently dropped the car keys and my iPhone brick next to the driver's side door.  Lola and I went upstairs.

I set up the fan in front of the bed and Lola and I jumped in.   Lola cemented herself next to my side.  Both girls on the run slept like we were dead for almost five hours.  

Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Rowers Kept on Rowing

We woke and drove south, receiving a two hundred dollar ticket in a Texas speed trap before hitting the Mexican border.  As usual, the gates to Mexico were wide open and people were waving us in.  If we had tried to back out, the spikes in the road would have ripped up our tires.

Nuevo Laredo went much smoother than the year before and we passed through, got our paperwork and made our way to Saltillo, again staying in the same hotel as the year before and even getting tacos from the same awesome taco stand at the end of the driving day.  It was reassuring and delicious.   It was Mexico, and we were back.

We took an alternative route the third day through the "Devil's Backbone", a newly constructed series of roads, tunnels and bridges that cut from Saltillo to Mazatlán on a renovated donkey trail that only drug smugglers used to use.  We wanted to visit Durango and ride over the highest suspension bridge around, and well, try a new route.  We arrived at our small room in Mazatlán that night and made it to our house rental in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle the following day.

The time flew quickly.  We went to the beaches and ate at the restaurants in our sleepy town.  We played with Lola in the walled in yard of our luxurious yet flawed rental home.  We made margaritas and read books by our incredible pool.  I re-read "The Goldfinch" and talked Alec and a friend from school into reading it with my simultaneously.  As much as I loved the pool and being in Mexico, some of my happiest times were spent cuddled with Alec and Lola in our bed in the air-conditioned room of the house, watching Chef's Table on Netflix, knowing that we could stay up as late as we wanted and sleep as late as we wanted the next morning.

During the first week of our stay in La Cruz, the Orlando massacre occurred.  I woke the next morning to find a series of texts on my phone; my niece had also been violently attacked the same night by someone that was supposed to care about her.  My niece, Emma.  The child I saw born and who has been at my side ever since, whether she liked it or not.  The one that just graduated from high school.  The one that should have the world at her fingertips, as her oyster.  The beginning of everything.  The excitement of everything.  Something no one or thing should get to damper or shit on. 

He knocked her front teeth out.
It would set the tone for the summer. 

Thorazine on the Bayou

The first Saturday of June, the car was packed, Lola was buckled in, the new tires shined on the car, and we pulled out of the driveway and headed west, Mexican car permit and Lola's International Travel document safely tucked into the pocket on the passenger side door.

There was a sense of deja vu as we pulled onto the same highway on a similar looking day almost a year to the date later, just days after the school year ended, the plastic Virgin of Guadalupe medallion swinging from the rear view mirror on its dental floss string in the same familiar motion.

Things quickly changed.

The first day should be a "manageable" twelve hours, but the previous year we hit horrendous road work and traffic and twelve hours quickly changed to eighteen.  A different problem presented itself this time when as soon as Alabama, rain clouds appeared.  Being adults, we are versed in driving in the rain, but Lola has an almost violent reaction to windshield wipers.  Soon their use was necessary and Lola became so hysterical that she managed to pull loose from her seat belt and breach the barrier her crate created between the front and back seats.  We pulled off onto the side of the highway, cars whipping beside us from the narrow shoulder and a frightened Pit Bull scrambling over both occupants of the front seats.  It was pouring rain. 

I moved to the backseat and managed to get Lola back there with me.  I tried to calm her, but she continued barking for a solid ten minutes.  Violently.  The whites of her eyes were turning red.

"Look, if you can stay back there with her and keep her from getting up front, I say we just drive and she'll bark herself out."
"Okay." I responded, wrapping my arms tightly around Lola in both a hug and a hold.

Alec pulled onto the highway, windshield wipers flapping in the heavy rain.  Lola was barking hysterically and jumping all over me, the long bony legs that support her ninety-five pound body digging and bruising my legs and arms, her toenails tearing holes in my shorts.  It hurt, but I was more upset by how unhappy and afraid she was.  It was not subsiding.  Then I saw the blood.  It coated her teeth and coagulated at the side of her mouth.  It was on the back of the seat.

"Pull over!  She's hurt!!  She's hurting herself!!!"  I screamed.
Alec got us off the highway and into a gas station parking lot.  I pulled out the sedative the vet had given us for the trip.  We had never tried one before, but I knew from experience how Lola is with certain situations and I had asked the vet for something to calm her anxieties, but only when necessary, not some sort of doggie Prozac for the long term.  Slowly she calmed down and began to slump onto my lap and lay her head on my arms. After a half an hour, Alec carefully crept out onto the road again, turning on the windshield wipers.  Lola didn't react, but laid heavily in my arms, eyes blinking.

We rode like that most of the day until somewhere in Louisiana, Lola re-positioned herself, pressing her butt toward me and her head in the opposite direction. Her eyes remained fluttery.  I reluctantly looked up the medicine I had given Lola, knowing I was not going to like what I saw.  I was surprised that I hadn't read up on it before asking for a sedative from the vet, maybe a willful dissonance on my part or that things were busy and I thought the whole thing was pretty standard.

I discovered I had basically given my dog Thorazine, a One Flew Over the Cookoo's Nest-type type tranquilizer commonly used and abused on psychotics in the fifties.  I glanced at Lola's half-cast eyes as the late afternoon sun reappeared over the Louisiana bayou.
"Don't freak out, Hilary,"  I reprimanded myself mentally.
"People use this drug all the time, vets prescribe it, you are neurotic and overly protective of your dog."
I glanced back at my phone.
"The drug actually doesn't sedate the dog...."  I read.
"But makes the dog unable to move its body while the mind remains perfectly aware of what is happening.  The dog is simply physically unable to respond to the fear it feels.  Often, the dog will become more fearful after the event because of the experience."

As darkness arrived in Texas, Lola began to stir, rising up unsteadily on her feet.  We were both glad to see her.  She wore her "Scott Walker Face", or a Forest Gump-like look of dim eyes and a slight tongue protrusion that we assume someone that had experienced shock therapy or some sort of cognitive impairment might exhibit.  We pulled into the hotel, the same one as last year, and carefully exited the car with Lola.

She seemed more cognizant of the notion of a hotel than the year before and jumped up on the big bed, without the questioning look of "Why did we trade in a whole house and a yard for just one room?" and sprawled out.  At least the twelve hour drive was only a sixteen this year instead of an eighteen.

We climbed in the bed on either side of her.  Lola pressed herself toward me and lay glued to my side throughout the night, only shifting to make sure her head was laying squarely in my arms.