Thursday, August 23, 2007

It Came From Matamoros

Johnny reminded me that he probably has only heard one part of this story, because it is usually told by someone else.

In the following story, names have been changed to protect the guilty.

So back in college Schmandreas, his girlfriend Schmisabel, and I hatched a plan to go to Mexico over xmas break. Disaster would dog our heels. We left Charleston amid the worst rainstorms in 50 years. We were the last car allowed through Memphis on the interstate. I recall seeing a huge lake of water off to the side of the elevated interstate, punctuated by a series of metal rectangles. They were the tops of semi trailers.

We would return from our trip to find the worst ice storm to hit Texas in a century. It was, as we like to call it in Illinois, "a little slick", but Texas drivers had no idea how to deal with it. We stopped at a McDonald's that had not received a meat shipment in 3 days. We backed away slowly. I didn't like the way they were eying the guy on the fry machine. That day, we would drive 8 hours to go 60 miles. The theme for the day was "Road To Nowhere." Why yes, the heater in the car did fail, why do you ask?

But that was later. At this point, we had only seen the first Horseman...

With the interstate closed behind us, we soldiered on, eventually passing through the wilds of Arkansas (We passed Hope, which had not yet been made famous by its most skirt-chasingest resident. "Hope" is, by the way, short for "Hope we aint still in Arkansas.") and into the amateur highway construction system of Texas. At one point Schmandreas jerked the wheel to send our car swerving around a hallucinatory armadillo.

We arrived at the border crossing at Brownsville/Matamoros just in time for the single largest devaluation of the peso. Ever. In the entire history of Mexico. A few days later, the government would cancel New Year's Eve when we were in Mexico City.

In retrospect, we should have seen the Horror From Matamoros coming.

Schmandreas and Schmisabel were savvy world travelers, but I was on my first trip to another country. We all took some precautions. Water should obviously only be consumed after it was fermented into something safer, like Cerveza Carta Blanca, for example. They were paranoid about their food. I was not. Choriqueso? Sure! Broiled cheese and mystery sausage sounds wonderful! A side of what appears to be some sort of Tomb Rot next to my burrito? I'll have to try that! Really, I should have been the victim.

We locked our luggage in the central bus station and went out in pursuit of suitably treated water. We found it in a seedy bar full of hirsute, chunky women and bad disco music, and we closed it down. We staggered off to the Hotel Azteca to rest until the buses ran to Mexico City.

When El Diablo de Los Intestinos came calling, he found Schmandreas, and vented his wrath upon this strange German gringo. Now, the Hotel Azteca was a little down at the heels. It had prewar plumbing, which probably explains why it was so unprepared for the mighty blitz that descended upon it. I think the plumbing may have been Belgian. In any case, it surrendered after only brief resistance. I prefer not to dwell upon what I heard during the time between when Schmandreas entered and when he was able to leave the confines long enough for a hurried conference where it was decided that we should run for the border so Schmandreas could recuperate in relative comfort.

However, it was a long trip back to Brownsville, so I had one more task which I had to complete before we left Mexico. To complete that task, I had to enter the bathroom he had just vacated. Again, I prefer not to dwell upon what I saw when I entered, but the phrase "full to the brim" is one that will forever have different connotations for you than for me.

Schmandreas ends the story when I come back into the room, shaky and pale as a sheet, and tell him, "I've seen worse."

Wherein there is a bit less poo than the rest of the story.

So while Schmandreas cooled his... er... heels in Brownsville, Schmisabel and I made the trek back to El Centro de los Autobuses. We retrieved all of our luggage from the lockers, and made our way back to Brownsville. As a poor college student, I had no luggage, so I had borrowed something from my friend Justin. It was a British Army roll bag of some sort, about 18 inches in diameter and tall enough to hold everything I needed for the week-long trip or, if I were so inclined, a medium-sized body. (Later that trip, Schmandreas, after having been woken to have his luggage searched yet again in the middle of the night, finally lost it, "Why don't they ever search your bag? You could hide a rocket launcher in that thing!") Schmisabel was a girl, so she brought approximately everything she owned. And of course, we split the bags Schmandreas had brought.

We got out of the cab, and because we couldn't find a Sherpa, loaded everything upon our backs. As we passed through the border station, the border guard looked at our passports and our mound of luggage and asked, "How long have you been in Mexico?" I glanced at my watch and absentmindedly lapsed into the kind of honesty that would land me a free cavity search if I were to try it today.

"Um... about an hour?"


vikkitikkitavi said...

Did you have Sam Shepard along for the ride? Because I swear, his play, "Las Turistas"....oh, nevermind.

Writeprocrastinator said...

"But that was later. At this point, we had only seen the first Horseman..."

Ooooh, now that's a line!

Um, the rest of the story? It', inappropriate for the consumption of chocolate-covered cherries.

Flannery Alden said...

Brilliant and hilarious anecdote.

deadspot said...

Was he at the transvestite bar?

Thanks, WP, now I'm sorry I spoiled your snack.

Thanks, Flan. The crazy thing is that all of it is true. It was such a weird trip that it requires no embellishment. Every single disaster happened on that one trip, including the Mexican government canceling New Year's Eve. They were so worried that people might riot because of the currency devaluation that they threatened to arrest groups of more than six people found on the streets that evening. The three of us were downtown, wandering the streets of the largest city in the world on New Year's Eve and it was a complete ghost town. Nobody was on the streets but the cops and us. All the bars and restaurants were open and completely empty. We were like rock stars. They were desperate for customers, but everyone with an ounce of sense was too scared to be out on the streets. Every place we passed offered us free food, free drinks, anything to get us to stop for a while. It was completely surreal.

Johnny Yen said...

It's funny-- I've heard bits and pieces of that story between you, "Schmandreas" and "Shmisabel" over the last 20 years. I think it's the first time I've heard (or read, actually) the whole thing. And the first time I've heard or read it while relatively sober.

What is it about "Schmandreas" and luggage? I'm noted as a "pack too much" guy and he makes me look like a hobo by comparison. One time, he had so damned much luggage that "Schmlynn" and I had to run one of his Trabant-sized suitcases to O'hare early for check-in. We discovered that they'll only check it in 4 or 5 hours early. We did not want to schlep it back home on the el again, so we decided to put it in a coin-operated locker. It turned out it was about a half-inch too big for the locker. With considerable effort, Lynn and I muscled it in anyway, using "BFFI." Of course, later he complained that we'd bent up the suitcase.

deadspot said...

Yeah, what's up with that? As much as he travels, you would think he'd have learned to travel light.

You know, originally, I was going to make the whole "names have been changed" thing into a completely pointless metajoke by actually linking the transparently feeble disguised name to a picture of him from your blog, but I couldn't find one without Lynn, and she doesn't deserve to be implicated in this story, even by association...

This is not even close to the whole "On The Road in Mexico" story, not even the first "On The Road in Mexico" story (we went down the Baja together a couple of years later, and there are a couple of really really good stories in there that put this one to shame...) but I think it pretty much covers the whole Horror From Matamoros story.

I left out a lot of juicy bits from the trip: my mad frostbitten drive through the night at the end of the trip, sleeping with a machete in the Liberty Motel (in the US actually, not Mexico, and with perfectly reasonable justification), my blow to the head in the pyramids at Monte Alban, the suicidal cab drivers of Mexico City, my bus pal the groping, retarded deaf mute (I eventually foisted him off on Andreas an hour or so outside of Mexico City). I'll save them for later. The Liberty Motel is an especially creepy bit.

Oh, and I only hinted at how entertaining it was that Andreas was singled out at every single checkpoint.

The luggage scam he ran in Oaxaca (and blamed on me because I didn't understand enough Spanish to object) isn't in here either, and it's too bad because it would have provided a nice counterpoint to your luggage story. In fact, I'm surprised that you didn't spend a couple of hours listening to him try to wheedle compensation for his damaged luggage out of the authorities at O'Hare... he must be mellowing.

Dale said...

If you ever suggest a road trip, I can't make it. Ever thought of becoming a travel writer? Excellently funny but only because it didn't happen to me.