July 11, 2013 |

I now own half a car in Mexico

Recently I spent two weeks in Puerto Penasco, state of Sonora, northern Mexico, in a neighborhood which reminded me of Harlem when I was growing up, dirt streets and all. My friend Lupe had gone there from Mazatlan to work for a few weeks. Business was slow in Mazatlan but hopping in Penasco, so his company said. They would provide transportation north and an apartment. He invited me to visit him and see more of Mexico.

Lupe arrived in Penasco three days before me. His “apartment” was a 10-foot by 10-foot room with blue walls, one of six in a row, on the backside of the landlady’s property. “That’s OK,” I said. “I’m coming to visit you, not an apartment.”

Meanwhile he asked a buddy if he could borrow a car to show me around. No, but he had one for sale. Being mechanically inclined, Lupe looked it over and handed his friend 5,000 pesos for a Dodge Grand Caravan. He could sell it when he returned to Mazatlan. Aw, shucks, this sweet man bought a car for me.

The car sat in a locked compound in Sonoyita, a border town an hour north of Penasco. Lupe knew he had two days work to get the car ready to drive. He could take the shuttle after work to change oil, pump tires, charge the battery, all those things he could do himself. For nine frustrating days, Lupe was unable to reach the compound owner so he could get our car. We walked everywhere. We walked a lot.

Finally Lupe got the car and took time off, grabbed tools and took the early shuttle to Sonoyita. He drove the car home, pleased with his purchase. Then we went to the government office in Penasco to start the paperwork.

We had no idea how our last three days together would be spent. Since the car was going to live in Mazatlan in Sinaloa, it would have to be registered nationally, rather than just in Sonora. Registration had to take place at one of the border towns. It has something to do with convoluted (my word) import laws. For $60, U.S. the government agent at the office told Lupe that it took three days in Sonoyita but could be done in three hours if we went to San Luis Rio Colorado. Oh, and one had to pay in U.S. dollars. $900. Which neither of us had in our pockets.

But, I had my credit cards. The nice man at American Express had told me once that if I were ever stranded anywhere, all I had to do was call for help. Any bank would give me the money. We spent the remainder of that day going to banks. No, to American Express. No, to Visa. Any bank but not in Mexico.

We decided to go anyway, a day trip. We got up early and crossed the desert to San Luis Rio Colorado. First we went to the office that handled the registrations. Then, thinking it might work closer to the border, we tried to get money at four banks, to no avail. But, wait. All I had to do was walk across the border, find a bank, and walk back. The last thing I said was, “I hope my cellphone doesn’t quit when I cross the border.”

I crossed the border, walked about six blocks to a bank, exited in two minutes with a fistful of U.S. dollars. I crossed back into Mexico. No Lupe. The rule is, when lost, which I figured must apply here, stay put. Which I did. I turned into a large grease spot on the concrete, in the 118 degree sun, texting furiously. Meanwhile, Lupe was waiting two blocks away, where he had been told I would exit, wondering why I wouldn’t answer his texts.

After an hour, I hailed a cab, “Take me to the Cathedral.” It seemed logical to me. It was a place I knew. I sat a few minutes on a bench in the town square. Then I recognized the café where we’d had breakfast. Our car was parked across the street. To the left was the office with the paperwork. I found the office, asked the girl to call Lupe and downed two liters of water. I was hot. Take that any way you want.

We hung around the office until closing. “Manana,” they said. We had the clothes on our backs. We began hunting a hotel. The first was cheap but awful. The second, gated, guarded and expensive, worse than the first. Like in the fairy-tale, the third was just right. I wanted to move in. We bought tooth brushes. Next day, “manana” again. I missed my flight home. The second night I scrubbed our sweaty clothing at the little sink. We talked a lot. We laughed a lot. Third day, it always takes three days when one is stuck in a fairy-tale, we drove back to Penasco in our new car, registered, legal and, oh, so broke.

(Sondra Ashton graduated from Harlem High School in 1963 and left for good. She finds, upon her return, that things are a little different. Keep in touch with her at http://montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com.)

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