The first day on our scenic detour through the Baja Peninsula was an exercise in holding my breath and shoving phantom brake pedals through the floor of the passenger side of Roshanna Van. I left my fingernails imbedded in the dash. My friend Lupe corkscrewed us up impossible peaks on an itsy-bitsy two-lane with no shoulders, not even a white line in places, a transport truck on every curve. He was focused but calm.
One might say I was the slightest bit tense. Lupe’s friends had told him that it took two days to drive from Sonoyta at the border to Mazatlan, same to Los Cabos. In kilometers, close. Wrong comparison. Corkscrew mountain goat-path trails versus four-lane modern toll road. When we stopped for the night, I knew how far we had not come. My title was holder and folder of the map.
I had committed to a trip I didn’t really want to take. That night I rooted around in my bag of survival tricks for an old friend I had not seen for years. I searched nooks and crannies. I turned the bag upside down and shook it violently. I heard a wee small voice say, “Sorry, he doesn’t work here anymore.” I was devastated. I needed him. Self-pity had pulled me out of some rough spots in my past. Into, out of, who can say?
The following day, as we snaked our way around more mountains, I grieved the loss of everything in my recent life, including self-pity. Lupe said, “You are awfully quiet. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” I lied.
“Come on.” (He said this with a ‘you-can’t-fool-me’ lilt.) “You have a little bit of attitude.” (How dare he say something like that? He doesn’t know me well enough.)
“I’m feeling disconnected from everything and everyone I ever knew.” Then I pulled out my fake-positive smile mask and continued, “But I’ll be okay. Tomorrow I will feel differently.”
“I feel the same way,” Lupe said. “My friends told me, ‘Straight roads, easy drive, lots of beautiful towns where you will want to stop and stay.” (Later those words became our touchstone joke of the week.)
But the jokey part didn’t happen right away. First I grew fangs and claws. First I had to glare at Lupe and compare his disconnect to my disconnect. Mine was much bigger, more crushing and dramatic. Just ask me. How dare he think our situations anything near similar.
About then is when I realized I had lost my sense of humor. Misplacing my humor is more devastating than losing my money and underwear in Los Vegas. I had slipped into black-and-white (no rainbow hues), either/or (no alternatives), all good/all bad (no everyday in-between) judgmental thinking. I hate myself when I do that. But not until I had hated my friend for just a few kilometers.
To add insult to injury, he began talking about my Roshanna Van in an intimate way. “She likes me,” he said. “She is like the kiss of a butterfly. (Now he’s a poet?) I think maybe she likes me better than she likes you,” he teased. One thing I really like about Lupe is his dry wit, his wry way of thinking. Normally, I like his quirky humor which compliments mine.
But when my own humor hides behind a wall, I detest being teased. “I have a 20-year relationship with my sweet Roshanna Van. She’s not going to let the first pretty face that comes along turn her head. She and I are buddies.” I slammed a metaphorical door.
Oops. I heard myself. Heard all my icky fears and ugly attitudes. I cried, apologized, laughed. That was the turning point of the trip.
Two days of mountains, two days of desert, and a final day’s drive along highway with glimpses of spectacular beaches and we entered Cabo San Lucas, my sense of humor restored, mostly restored.
Still, my friend said, “I see your face. I hear your voice. I know you try but you are not really happy. Let’s go on to Mazatlan and get you settled.
We took the ferry from La Paz, an 18-hour trip across the beautiful Gulf of California. I am so glad I didn’t have to drive Roshanna Van down the steep ramps into the lowest of five levels of vehicle decks in the hold.
Today I am in Mazatlan. I have an apartment, a nest from which to search for a house. Once more, I feel centered, connected. Today I’m going to Cerritos for fried fish freshly flopped out of the ocean, grilled over open flames, under cobbled together make-shift shelters on the beach. Home again.
(Sondra Ashton graduated from Harlem High School in 1963 and left for good. She finds, upon her return, that things are a little different. Now, she's headed on a new journey. She's moving to Mexico. Keep in touch with her at http://montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com.)