The bedroom was plush, and the luxury it offered undeniable. I sat alone at my desk poking at computer keys in an effort to produce something worthy of print.
The servants would be knocking soon. By now they knew how I took coffee and eggs and no longer had call to inquire before delivery.
Dressed in shorts on this warm January day, I stood and walked through the sliding-glass door then passed a hanging rout-iron bench before stopping at the third-floor porch-rail and pausing to look out. The three-story house had been built with each floor stepping neatly back up the mountain. The first floor was only a garage that held one late model BMW motorcycle, two SUVs and my 1988 Harley- Davidson, Electra Glide, safely behind electric gates. This garage roof acted as a deck for the second story above. The deck, with its umbrella-covered tables and metal chairs set beside a small swimming pool, served as a fine lounge area for the parties that often took place here.
I looked beyond…
The city that fanned away from the mountain’s base was spread out widely and in its midst the narrow streets that ran between tall buildings were filled with auto and motorcycle traffic. Beyond this, the vast desert seemed to go on forever. On the street below me, two oxen pulled a homemade cart and its passengers slowly past. Behind them a man and two young girls acted as shepherd to a large herd of goats. I thought then of the flattened mountain peak that sat a half-mile up and behind the house and the 1,600-year- old Mayan city located there that now offered only a silent mystery to the tourists who visited.
The old Harley and I were a long way from home.
How did I, a rag-tag, wondering scooter gypsy, end up here? It had all started some months back….
The little potholed road had alternated between a landscape of desert, beachfront, mountains, and dense tropical jungle for a couple thousand miles and had brought an almost endless procession of strange sights. In typical fashion, I’d made camp in any spot I’d cared to along the highways of this strange land. Often I’d slept in vast banana or mango forests and had truly enjoyed the unabashed contrast of this, at least to my western eye, strangely surreal world.
Eventually I found myself in the high-desert city of Oaxaca, and not far from the boarder of Guatemala. Hungry to hear clean English, and hoping for a nice place to stay for a while, as I’d grown tired of travel lately, I’d settled among the trucks and RVs that inhabit the city’s only campground. This sparsely occupied place held mostly Americans and Canadians with a sprinkling of Germans, Frenchmen, Australians, etc. One was an American girl named Eve. She’d been here for a month and was traveling solo to the country of Belize in her old van. Eve was 72-years old.
My days soon became a routine of working on this computer by morning then hangin’ with the other campers, or tramping around the city by afternoon and evening.
All towns of this country have a central park that’s used for a variety of events or just hanging out, and it was there that I’d met a group of young local guys. Some spoke a little English and I was quickly accepted into their crowd. These boys hooked up every night to cruse the city in search of parties and women. They knew all the places and I was repeatedly led through the back doors of bars and parties to enjoy a buffet of experiences the likes of which few tourists are privilege to encounter.
The Central Saloon’s a main local hangout and it was there that I leaned against a wall looking out through the fog of dimly lit cigarette smoke. To the rock-n-roll of a powerful sound system the dance floor moved in a blur of color as beautiful women, often dressed to the nines, danced with—or ground against—their men. Tonight was standing room only.
Caught in the moment, I moved to the music while eyeballing the floor for a prospective dance partner. An older woman who appeared American moved methodically through the crowd. She was alone. As she danced past I purposefully bumped into her. After turning to investigate this offence, she smiled and pulled me onto the floor. Momentarily I said, “You’re American.”
“No amigo,” she replied, “Mexicano.” I did not believe her.
Throughout the night she returned to drag me onto the floor. Later, she showed up with her 27-year-old son in tow.
“What’s your name?” he said in broken English.
Introductions went around. I’d been wrong, Martha truly was Mexican. At his mother’s direction, Bernardo invited me to their house for the night—if I cared to come. It was an opportunity I could not pass up. So the old Harley had followed the Mexican’s brand new SUV to this big house and I had stayed the first night.
Although it started as a sexual thing, very quickly Martha and I had realized that we liked each other very much and within a week’s time she’d driven that fancy SUV down to the campground and moved me into her home. It was a typical “poor-white-boy meets rich-Mexican-girl” story. Over a month had passed since that night and still I stood upon her top deck looking out over the city.
Hearing a familiar sound, I looked down in time to see a late-model Softail pass—an unusual sight in this place. There are those who ride Harleys here, of course, and a few motorcycle clubs even sponsor a variety of biker events. This far south however, one finds himself immersed in “Old Mexico” where the motorcycle is generally considered a utility vehicle. The average bike is 125cc two-stroke (economical and simple) and it’s not uncommon to see a man riding with his wife, two kids, and groceries, aboard.
The sound of Martha stepping onto the deck interrupted my thoughts. Turning to look I was again rewarded with that same warm smile I’d come to expect of her. I smiled back. Her family business was real estate. Although all took part in the business, Martha herself had built this modest empire from the ashes of poverty long ago, and she alone retained the status of Land Kingpin. Her personality was one of easy expectance and fun loving gaiety.
Martha was a hard person not to like.
Her desire had been to study English, as was my own to learn Spanish, and we’d spent many hours talking. In time we had come to understand one another pretty well.
Once Martha’d learned that I could drive a car (an activity she cared little for) I had become a “chauffeur” of sorts and had escorted her about town on business and pleasure ventures in the SUV.
I’d been living as a favored person among a prominent Mexican family and this strange circumstance had taken me far across the barriers of language and culture. I’d been led through a plethora of back doors as restaurant owners locked their late-night entryways keeping only one table open as they joined my hosts while offering the most unusual of cuisine for my western appraisal. Martha allowed me to pay for absolutely nothing—ever! A great many fiestas had taken place at the house as the “American celebrity” had been introduced to a host of unusual people. Some of these spoke clean English and often translated for me. Servants cleaned and cooked as I lived the easy life of Riley. It was totally weird—and wonderful—to say the very least.
But Martha had come to ask a favor and she took a seat beside. “My sister and I have to survey a piece of land today and we’ll be meeting with a bunch of men who’ll do the work.” she said. “The thing is that we must pay them with booze. It’s what they want. It will be only myself, my sister, Lulu (the sister’s 16-year-old daughter), and a bunch of drunken men. Bernardo’s out of town and cannot be there. So…will you come along to keep an eye on things for us?”
Now how could I say no?
It was the afternoon of that very day that, at Martha’s direction, I parked the SUV beside the tiny dirt road that resided some miles out of town. It was a lonely piece of desert with few trees and many weeds. Soon Nancy (Martha’s sister) pulled her little red economy-car in and killed the motor. Lulu was with her. For a time we all stood to laugh at each other’s jokes and wait. For what exactly, I didn’t know. I never knew what was going on in this mysterious country. But I didn’t much care anymore; I’d simply take the mystery as it came and see where the road to weirdness led next.
Today I’d not be disappointed.
Before long a beat up Datsun police truck pulled in and a bunch of dudes jumped from the bed. The hatches of both our vehicles were then opened to reveal the fabric of an alcoholic’s paradise.
The booze began to flow.
All, except Lulu and I, began the process of getting plastered. Soon—measuring tape and beer bottles in hand—the huarache clad survey crew plodded off across the field. All seemed friendly as I smiled and did the watchdog thing. But I soon tired of this game and took to giving the teenaged Lulu driving lessons in her mom’s car.
When the work was finished, I again took the driver’s seat as Martha grabbed the passenger’s side. Turning to a disturbance, I noted the three rough looking hombres who piled drunkenly into the back seat. I looked to Martha. She only shrugged and pointed onward.
Soon I was ordered into the dirt driveway of an obscure restaurant as Nancy’s car pulled up the rear while carrying three more drunk-dudes in her backseat.
Everyone piled out.
Our large party…and I do mean party…cruised inside and plopped around a big table. The chicks began ordering food as they bellowed loudly and matched drink for drink with their so-called amigos.
I had no idea what was happening.
But the food came anyway…great piles of it…as did the beer and tequila shots. And the party raged on as I smiled in attempt to conceal bewilderment. Eventually Martha turned to say, “You know Scotty…we’re sitting with the City Counsel.” I appraised the dudes anew. But they’d caught Martha’s Pidgin English and all stared at me. Yea… But there they were, faces work dirty, old worn cloths and soiled sandals—the City friggin’ Counsel.
I grinned to acknowledge their prestige and, after a toast to commemorate, the fiesta resumed. Martha whispered to me then, “It is necessary to party with these men, for if they consider you friend your paperwork will go right through; but if they do not then no amount of money will save your business from permanent postponement. I kid you not.” I noted then how Nancy would turn her laughing party-face from her hosts and throw me a comically despairing look of indignant boredom. I tried not to laugh.
In a while, the sun set upon our little party.
Later, both vehicles approached the courthouse steps where we sought to deposit our amigos and say goodnight. But much to the girl’s dismay we were made to come inside as the men produced their own stash of Tecate…and the party continued. So I sat in the courthouse and watched huarache clad feet draped over desktops as this strange exhibit of Mexican politics continued. I was having a blast!
It was late when finally we returned home.
I snickered at Martha’s hangover as she swayed dizzily over morning coffee. She retorted with a dirty look then changed expression as she sought yet another favor. “I must move a sum of money from the bank today Scotty. Will you come along again please?” The bodyguard job continued.
The money was in a small suitcase as we crossed the mall from bank to the café Italiano (the Mexican Star Bucks) to meet Nancy. We sat before fancy latté drinks as the girls counted their money. There was a lot.
The following day both Martha and her ever-jovial sister were hangin’ at the house. So I said to them, “You know, if you girls liked to party more you’d be even richer.”
“What?” they giggled in confusion.
“Well”, I continued, “what I see is that if you party real hard tonight then tomorrow you’ll have a suitcase full of money!”
They laughed till their guts ached at that one. But that’s what I saw.
While in Oaxaca Martha had a local dentist fix my teeth. Then came the day my motorcycle needed a tire and we took a three-day SUV trip to the distant city of Puebla to retrieve one. New rubber could have been procured in Oaxaca but Martha loved the big city and wished to visit the street famous for its 30-something bars and bands. But again she was afraid to go alone. Back to the chaperone job I went.
After better than two months in the lap of Mexican luxury, my feet again grew itchy. It was time to go. Hoping to avoid commotion I changed my oil and otherwise readied the bike with measured discretion.
After many appeals to stay, I finally lit out in a north/easterly direction across the Sierra Madre Mountains. It would take an entire week and one crazy flood to finally reach the boarder. But then that’s another story….
--Scooter Tramp Scotty
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