Looking out my Backdoor: 'Riding Along in My Automobile'


Last updated 5/13/2021 at 10:05am

We Americans are so tethered to our cars. It’s as though there is an umbilical cord between our brains and the ignition switch.

When I first moved to Mexico, driving my vehicle stuffed to the roof with bare essentials, I lived in the fair-sized city of Mazatlan. In the first six months, I drove my van exactly one time. Public transportation in most of Mexico is good, easy and inexpensive.

I was there on a six-month tourist visa so my trusty van and I had to exit Mexico. On returning to Mazatlan, I patted my sweet long-time companion, shed a micro-tear, and left her in the care of a friend. Over the next six months, with our umbilical cord stretched the limit, I did some figuring.

It simply didn’t make sense on my extremely limited income (Ah, dumb decisions of my past!) to maintain a motor vehicle. So I arranged for a friend to take her, and she is still chugging merrily along. I have visitation rights. It was a good decision and I’ve no regrets.

When I moved from Mazatlan to Etzatlan, a pueblo, not a city, I found public transportation to be not so easy or diverse, yet adequate for my needs and wants.

Back in April, a year ago, my Montana Driver’s License expired. Due to surgery plus COVID, travel was out of the question. I’d already renewed online the one time allowed. There was not a thing I could do but watch my license expire. May it rest in peace. I would just have to take the whole test again whenever I returned. I felt my long-severed umbilical cord twang.

Oh, the uncounted hours, lying awake in the small hours of night, terrified of taking a driving test. Silly waste of my time. I’ve been licensed to drive in Montana, Utah, Oregon, Illinois and Washington, all in the days before reciprocal licensing agreements. I know how to take a test!

Additional night worries included, how could I rent a car? Should I even bother with a license; after all, I don’t own a car? What if a friend needed me to drive-share? None of those worries were yet applicable. But I worried them nonetheless.

Then the memories clicked in, memories of road trips throughout the northwest and into Canada. Memories with friends and memories of solitary trips. Memories of the times I veered off onto a side road simply to see where the road took me. What! No more road trips?

No more inspiration from Chuck Berry? No more “riding along in my automobile.” No more “cruising and playing the radio, with no particular place to go.”

Remember, during this year plus change of being without a license, I’ve not had the urge or need to get into a car and drive anywhere. That didn’t stop my head from making up dire stories in the middle of the night.

When a solution to my quandary walked around the corner, I immediately said “Yes, take me along.”

Michelle had arranged for our friend and gardener, Leo, to accompany her to the office in Ahualulco to apply for a license. Without hesitation, I jumped into the back seat, a clutch of paperwork in hand.

We arrived at 8:15 and were second in line waiting for the office door to open at 9. We were unaware of a back door, but no matter. At 9:15 we who were waiting were yet another form to fill out. We waited. Talked. Everybody in line was masked and respectful.

Once we were called into the office, we found the procedure to be quite similar to anywhere in the U.S. Paperwork, copies, signatures, photos, fingerprints. After a short wait in the inner courtyard, walking, stretching our legs, at nearly 11, our brand-shiny new licenses were printed and handed to us.

I nearly cried, my photo looked so good, well, un-criminal-like. My first thought was that I can now rent a car when I need one. I can drive wherever the urge takes me. I’m not dependent on public transportation in places there is none. I won’t need to rely on the good graces of friends and family. Woo-hoo! I can drive again.

We are a very small community here. By evening I had heard that Leo had told the few of us remaining that I now had my Mexican Driver’s License. He went on to speculate that now that I am vaccinated and have my License, perhaps next week, I might be talked into buying a car.

Leo obviously thinks in terms of “Driving Miss Daisy.” With himself as chauffer, he thinks we will explore all of Mexico. I’m not the only one who makes up stories!


Sondra Ashton grew up in Harlem but spent most of her adult life out of state. She returned to see the Hi-Line with a perspective of delight. After several years back in Harlem, Ashton is seeking new experiences in Etzatlan, Mexico. Once a Montanan, always. Read Ashton’s essays and other work at http://montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com/. Email [email protected]


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