Some people like loose ends tied up . In my last post I mentioned a trip to Mexico and an event one night that requires some explanation . For those who like to dot all of the eyes and cross all of the tees , here it is.
I went with a friend of mine , Jim ( Jaime ) , on a trip around Mexico in Jim’s pickup truck . Jaime lived in Mexico at the time . He lived in a dusty agricultural city named after a one-armed general of Mexican Revolution days , Obregon . He was teaching anthropology then , and the plan was to take photos of ancient Mexico . We’d spend a month rolling around the countryside with a camera .
His sixteen-year-old nephew came along . The sixteen year old’s father gave him one supreme commandment before we left : Don’t drink beer . It was like God’s telling those two in the Garden of Eden : Don’t eat the apple . Whatever else you do , no apples . I’m sure the kid never ever had a beer in his life , and never intended to .
That’s off topic , I know , about the beer . We teased the kid for a few days . Told him there’d be that place , that dry little village , where there’d be no soda . None of us were drinking the Mexican water . ” You’ll die for a sip of a cold Mexican beer ,” said Uncle Jimmy. It wasn’t fair , really .
It all came back to bite Jim and me when we , indeed , got to that isolated dry , parched , dusty village . No soda . Cold beer .
” Let me have a sip of your beer , Uncle Jimmy .”
” Your father forbid it , ” Jim told him a couple of times. ” No beer !” But , what’re ya gonna do ?
And I ‘ll get back to my story now [ nothing to do with beer ] :
We were way out in the middle of nowhere as the sun was going down . No town , no village , no house for several miles . No farms ; just dry chaparral spreading to the darkened horizons . We decided we’d better set up camp for the night . When the dark night comes in places like that , it covers like a blanket .
My brother Tom was with us , then . He had flown in from LA to Mexico City . We met him there and spent a couple of days in a hotel . Tom was fresh from his new job as a hospital administrator . Now we were mid-nowhere somewhere south of Mexico City and circling around in the truck , making tight circles in hope of finding a clear level spot to spread our sleeping bags .
Tom was insisting that we find a hotel . He’d pay , he said . Jim was repeating that there wasn’t a hotel for hundreds of miles , and he wasn’t exaggerating .
Some time later , as we were spreading out our sleeping bags , the nephew began saying that he heard “signals” .
” Birds ,” I said . Sounded like birds. The kid’s been watching too many movies , I thought . The Indians always signal with bird noises in the old movies . ” Just birds “.
But , as it turned out , the kid was absolutely right . Out of the edges of the darkness came , suddenly , six or eight nervous hombres swinging beat -up rifles and shouting ” Manos arriba ! ”
Our manos went arriba right away . It was the prudent thing to do . These guys were more scared than we were , it seemed to me . Most of them didn’t appear to have much control of the rifles that continued to swing back and forth .
I stood as still as possible with hands up . Just like in the movies . Tom was making little jumps toward the sky with his hands up and he was saying “Americanos ! Americanos ! ” I don’t think it was helping matters. It reminds me of the Brit and I in Paris , waving our passports in the air , and me shouting ” American citizen!” . The Paris thing , though , didn’t put our lives in danger from untrained and scared gunman .
Meanwhile , Jaime was talking calmly in Spanish to the hombres . At some point he was pointing at a can of bug repellent that we had brought with us . There was a long discussion about it that I couldn’t follow in Spanish . This seemed , somehow , to do the trick , though . Everyone calmed down . A few more exchanged words and the guys were gone .
What was that all about ?
Turns out there was a prison across the road from where we intended to sleep . The guards had seen our headlights making circles and had figured that we intended to stage an breakout . Jaime had calmly explained our situation to them and , pointing to the bug repellent, asked why we would bring bug repellent to a breakout . And that did the trick . They , in addition , promised to protect us that night .
Tom began a new plea for a hotel , to no avail . I’m pretty sure he was on guard all through the rest of that night .
And , to wind it all up about the nephew and the beer : The sixteen-year-old was drinking beer like the best of us , one here , one there , throughout Mexico . Jim told me that we needed to keep him away from a phone for a couple of days at first , because he’d call his father and his father would fly down to get the kid . We weren’t overdoing it with beer drinking , but Daddy wasn’t happy later when the truth came out . God wasn’t so happy about the apple stuff, either , I hear . .