Mexico Excursion:
Best of Times; Worst of Times

Shortly after I retired from active practice of ophthalmology, one of my best friends, Allen, and his fiancé were planning a pre-honeymoon celebration to visit one of his co-workers’ extended family in San Felipe, Mexico. The two men had worked together in Allen’s local construction company. Together they had tackled all sorts of small jobs, created larger renovation projects and even built several complete houses in Kitsap County. They had also done multiple renovations for me over long periods of time.
For about 3 years, Antonio’s wife and their four children lived in my three bedroom rental next to my clinic. I had met his parents when they visited on Bainbridge and had treated Linnea and me and several others to an amazing Mexican feast of the largest and most delicious shrimp I’ve ever seen or eaten.
Prior to Allen’s planned wedding in September, Antonio indicated to me that his expression of a ‘thank you’ and wedding gift to our mutual friends was to have them visit his home and meet other family members in San Felipe. He wanted me to help him drive so that Allen and his fiancé may have more time together. Though summer had begun and school was out of session already, Linnea was still working, completing her Guidance Counselor’s duties with the school district. I agreed to go along with great anticipation to serve as a co-driver. I had already met many of the Antonio’s large family and was looking forward to reconnecting with his Papa and Mama in their environment as well as meeting his other siblings whom I had heard much about. This Mexican family reminded me of cultural similarities to my own family and our background.

The departure date was set; we were to leave Antonio’s house around 10 am. He was also planning to tow a trailer of building materials and window supplies to complete his house in San Felipe. Linnea dropped me off on her way to work around 8:30 so that I might help with the loading; we found Antonio’s yard to be in total disarray: car tires and trailer hitch parts scattered about and luggage and clothing spread everywhere. I asked, ‘are we not to leave at 10?’ The response was, ‘We’ll leave when we leave! Cool it!’ I was totally astonished and inquired ‘how can I help?’ Antonio ordered me to move this and that and to pack the luggage while he was changed the tires and welded the hitch to the truck. Later, Allen and his fiancé also arrived to help. By noon, I contacted Linnea and asked if she’d get some lunch for all of us. Having seen what she had in the morning, she was not at all surprised that we had not departed. We took a short lunch break and continued working. After work, Linnea brought us dinner and was sent on a last minute run to Ace Hardware (6:59 pm right before they closed) for an essential tool. Ultimately, we left Bainbridge around 10 pm. Linnea suggested that we wait to leave the following morning but Antonio insisted that we leave then and that he preferred night driving. I slept in the back of the truck while the other two men drove. Apparently the truck was not in the best of shape because the oil pressure and the transmission lights kept coming on and it was making ‘serious mechanical noises.’ They drove fast and slow erratically. I just tried sleeping intermittently, expecting my turn later. When I awoke, it was during the middle of the night and we were near/at Junction City, OR, at Antonio’s sister, Nora’s, house. We awakened and surprised all of them, but they very graciously welcomed us and allowed us to spread ourselves about so we could rest.

The next day, Antonio announced that the truck’s transmission was burned out and needed rebuilding. He was referred to a man who ‘promised’ that he could rebuild it in about 20 hours and that the job would be completed in just one day. The car was handed over to him. To me, that man appeared to have been high on Methamphetamine.

The following day, when we went to pick up the vehicle, auto pieces were everywhere and the condition of the truck was a total mess, obviously useless. We wasted another whole day. We spent the night again at Nora’s house. The next day Antonio decided we simply had to acquire another vehicle, a used Ford 150 truck with a hitch. He found one at a car dealer and asked me to do his negotiation. The truck was listed for $3050. He said that if we could get it for $2200, it’d be good. I used all my Chinese bartering skills and got the dealer to agree to our price only to learn that Antonio didn’t have the money. If we were to continue our road trip, I realized later that I was going to have to lend Antonio the money to purchase another vehicle. An additional night was spent at Junction City.

The following day Antonio drove all around the neighborhood in his sister’s car while I enjoyed myself conversing with Nora and her family. I was having a good time. Suddenly, Antonio showed up saying that he found the ‘perfect’ truck, for sale by owner, and wanted me to go and negotiate once more. I phoned Linnea to transfer funds from our savings to my checking and came up with a $2050 as the balance in our account. The sign on the truck window said ‘Price $2500!!! NO Negotiation.’ We went to that house and I discovered that this truck was a very dear possession of the man who lovingly took care of it for years; he especially enjoyed taking his grandson hunting in the fall each season. But unfortunately his Diabetes had now disabled him so that he could no longer climb up and down into the vehicle. Furthermore, he needed money for continued medications, thus his reluctance but necessity to sell the truck. I shared my medical knowledge and advised him re: diabetes and offered him pointers in diet, neuropathy and pain control. But I also told him that I only had $2000 to spend right then and that I’d send him the remainder after I returned home from my trip. He provided the ownership paper, gave me the keys and said that the only defect he knew of was that radiator may need to be replaced very soon. We drove away with his prized procession.

After arriving back at his sister’s place, Antonio immediately ordered all of us to pack up and get ready to leave in 15 minutes. He hooked the trailer to the truck with all its contents and we drove away having said a short ‘good bye.’ Nora had already planned supper for all of us but that idea was totally disregarded much to my dismay.

We took turns driving at varying speeds and monitoring the water temperature gauge intently. I noted that the heat gauge acted erratically. I drove through the Oregon Siskiyou Pass into northern California. Expectedly, the heat gauge indicator went up very quickly while climbing uphill and rapidly cooled while cruising down hill. Antonio was very concerned about the truck overheating; he literally yelled and screamed at me whenever the water gauge wavered merely a quarter from his demanded range, even if there were large trucks hazardously rushing too close behind us! While I’ve often had unpleasant times with back seat drivers giving me criticisms, no one had ever shouted at, belittled or dictated my driving as I experienced that night! Moreover, I was afraid to give up the driving to him for I was quite certain that he was inebriated. If it weren’t for a desire to please my ‘honeymoon friends’ and as well as my highly anticipated joy of meeting the extended Mexican family, I was seriously thinking of stopping at the next airport and flying back home.

Finally Antonio made a remark that really ticked me off. He said, ‘Oh, that’s right, unlike us, you are a well to do doctor who has always driven new vehicles. You never had to drive old trucks; spoiled people like you never had to pay any attention or monitor how old used cars perform.’ Obviously he wasn’t aware of my background of being an immigrant pastor’s kid that definitely had familiarity with older cars; however, I never drove them on a 2500 mile trip. I didn’t respond to his statement, but remained silent and concentrated on the heat gauge. Three hours later, after having crossed the pass and eventually reached sufficient distance into California, I relinquished the driver’s seat and went to the back of the truck camper to sleep. I never drove that truck again even though I was listed as the owner.

Allen and Antonio drove non-stop and we arrived in San Diego mid morning. I had moved into the cab of the truck and was asleep again. My three friends went shopping choosing not to disturb me while I slept soundly. They locked the truck, closed the windows and left, unaware of the southern California weather. I was awakened by the heat, sweating like a dog, and noted the temperature gauge at the nearby bank was already reading 97 degrees. In the car it must have been 115+. It still puzzles me as to why I was unable to open any of the doors or windows and just had to wait for them to return. I contemplated breaking a window, but was fearful of Antonio’s temper. Luckily it was not too long before they returned. Truly, I had fears of dying of heat exhaustion!

Antonio went shopping in the little town and acquired sufficient quantities of his favorite beverage, tomato juice to be mixed with Mexican beer. He also got some Mexican Coke for me. By mid afternoon we set out fishing. The catch was abundant. The yellow tuna were all about 2 feet long and took the bait as quickly as we could put our lines into the water. Fishing was fun. After we filled our two coolers with fish we headed back to camp for the night.

The next day we returned to San Felipe. The sea was much calmer, but still bumpy, even sitting on cushions my bottom hurt the entire trip back. It was quite hot and large quantities of Cerveza Bienvenido a Corona with tomato juice were consumed; I drank my 6 pack of Coke. We all felt very free, having fun, telling jokes and laughing loudly. At times, Antonio was partying hard and carelessly fell into the water on several occasions. The water was warm and he was a swimmer. I was the only one scared even with a life jacket on. Eventually we returned to Antonio’s parents’ house and again Papa filleted our fresh catch and cooked them to perfection; we were well fed.

The following day, Sunday, was confirmation for one of Antonio’s nieces. He declared that we’d celebrate and have a big party that evening at 7 pm. The women cleaned the patio, the men scrubbed the grills, and the children decorated the venue with balloons and handmade signs. Mexican steak and fish were all prepared. Since Antonio was the leader of the pack, we all had to wait for him before we could eat. He finally showed up at 10; that was disappointing. I discovered that there was a Chinese restaurant in San Felipe. As my thank you, I invited the entire extended family of about 24 people and arranged a dinner to be served by that restaurant. The Chinese food was served very fresh but had no resemblance to any real Chinese food I’ve ever encountered. Nonetheless, the family enjoyed the meal and thanked me profusely. I invited them to visit me on Bainbridge Island and I’d serve them some genuine Chinese food.

By comparison, the trip back home was uneventful. Technically, I was still the owner of the truck but had no desire to keep it. Antonio needed it for transportation so we agreed on a project that he could do for me to work off the debt. Regrettably, that fell through and my friend Allen stepped in to finish the job, bringing closure to this memorable road trip. I have always remembered this journey as one of the best adventures I’ve ever had, and as well as one of my worst experiences of any road trips I’ve taken.

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