I've gone the 2000 miles from the US border to Southern Mexico more than fifteen times. Every journey brings back a host of memories. Of, say, the fifteen or so roadblocks on the highway. The soldiers who tell us they are looking for drugs and guns, but, more often, they are seem to be seeking what's known here as the "mordida." The appropriate phrase is, Hay par' una coca? --- a little spare change please for a Coca-Cola. The hint is that if the mordida is not forthcoming, one might be subjected to a long, hot, painful search, there at the side of the dusty road, under the sun, there just north of the Tropic of Cancer.
Then there is the memory of getting lost in Toluca, a strange sink-hole of a city due west of Mexico City; a place where gringoes tend to get lost at rush hour and where they also collect and store, in long queues, the 30,000 buses just in from the capital, busses filled to the brim with people, busses that scarcely move, busses that work like roadblocks in the streets, there in Calle Obregón where you and I had the misfortune to take a wrong turn; busses that apparently are rooted to the spot for a few eternities, never to move so that you and I will die of ennui, all the while breathing in great healthful gulps of diesel fumes, there on the dark streets of miserable Toluca.
Then there's that scrotum-
tightening memory of hurrying up a hill on the tiny two-lane road nestled in the steep hills south of Morelia, and just as we near the crest suddenly there before us, bearing down on us at high speed are two trucks, big trucks, side-by-side, one of them a Pemex truck presumably filled with several thousand gallons of high octane gasoline, both trucks coming at us and not very far away, not far at all --- not far from you and me and what's left of our hearts and, presumably, souls.
Off to the left up is a great stone cliff that rises up into the heavenly blue of the infinite sky. Off to the right, maybe a foot or so from where we are just beginning to cross ourselves and intone the prayers is another cliff --- but this one down, a direct fall of some 1,000 feet. Directly before us: eternity. Over to the left, the same. Straight down: the lovely valley, the same. Calm sheep, happy cows, merry goats --- tranquil green pastures. Way down there somewhere.
Somehow, this Fellini of the Gran Prix of Life made an instant decision, figured that there was just barely enough room between Pemex truck and edge-of-cliff for my little VW to pass without falling into the infinite chasm below. I swerved to the right, tires shrieked in complaint, rocks banged noisily against the sides of the car, stones battered the undercarriage with a shriek and a grind, I hung onto the steering wheel for dear life, you did the Hail Marys, there was an eruption of dust, the smell of burning rubber...and in two seconds those murderous bastards were past, barreling on down the hill, without even a friendly toot of the horn for our troubles.
- Q: So what did you do? Except to make peace with your Maker. (Although, as Thoreau famously said, on his deathbed --- "I didn't know we were at war.")
- A: I didn't do anything. I didn't have to. Someone else stepped in, took over all the directorial moves --- the Fellini of the highway, who appears behind the camera to set the scene. The Super-Director who, even if you gave me an hour, a week, a year, I couldn't possibly match.
Salvadore, my friend and fellow passenger, told me that as he looked straight into the eyes of death, he, being a fallen Catholic, suddenly, and without a moment's doubt, returned, after all these many years, to the warm and caring arms of his almost forgotten but now again beloved Mother Church, under whose auspices he crossed himself and made several penitent promises, dozens of Hail Marys. And then he put his hands over his eyes.
Me? I remember nothing. I let Fellini do all the work. Except that, after, at last, my battle-scarred car came safely to rest, some three inches from the Free Fall Valley below, I was engulfed not with an overwhelming feeling of relief, not one of praise-
the- gods, but one of all-consuming rage. That some drunken ninny, in a fifteen-ton pile of metal, had elected to pass another, just at the crest of one of the narrowest of two lane roads in the Western World, just outside Morelia ---not caring a whit that there was a kindly gringo geezer and friend, both hoping for a few more decades on this sweet earth.
No. Instead of gratitude, I was filled with hot desire to turn the car around and chase that son-of-a-bitch, pull him over, give him a piece of my mind. My Spanish may be limited, but, by God, my friends and workers here have given me a rich blue vocabulary of appropriate words to be used at times of extremity, so that I can fill the air, when necessary, with the likes of "pinche" and "verga" and "chingadera," a language that anyone, even a blind insensitive stupid goddamn Mexican truck driver would readily understand.--- Carlos Amantea