Windshield television, northern Mexico
OK, early afternoon, rolling at a steady 75 over the great, flat, dry lands of northern Mexico pocked with dry brown scrub like frozen mortar explosions and white, white clouds all cottony in blue, blue sky that looks as if it might want to swallow the earth. We are sailing toward Nogales on the Arizona border to make an honest man of Peter, our trusty 2006 Corolla.
Peter is a sign of the times. Globalization. A Japanese car born in Canada, torn from the womb of some clicking cybernetic factory, sent to the slave marts of the United States, and sold into perpetual servitude to me, who drove him to central Mexico. There’s probably some sort of civil- rights issue here. I’d send a letter to EEOC, except they probably don’t have anyone who can read.
Anyway, the wind rushes cool through the window and I’ve got a forty-ounce Teccate between my knees and Lola Beltrán emotes from the radio and it is a Very Mexican Moment. In Mexico you can do seventy-five because the cops don’t care and as long as the driver isn’t drunk, they probably figure the passenger ought to be. I mean, why waste an opportunity?
Deep in the tortuous entrails of the Mexican bureaucracy is embedded the idea that at a certain point a gringo has to become Permanente, which is some sort of migratory thing, and then you can’t have US plates on your chariot. At this point Peter is nattily attired in South Dakota tags. Half the gringo expats in Messico have South Dakota plates. It‘s because you can register in South Dakota by mail, and the Mexicans don’t care whether the tags are expired. There are places along the shore of Lake Chapala in central Mexico where you could think you were in Lincoln, or whatever is the capital of South Dakota.
So much for the flat part of north Mexico. Some time later — this isn’t real chronological — we got Peter his Mexican nationality, at which point he became Pedro. We also discovered that Nogales, like most border burgs, was a dismal collection of superb pot holes. We had decided that since we were up north we might as well go to la Barranca del Cobre, Copper Canyon. To do this we had to go to Los Mochis, at one end of this phenomenal god-like trench. More on this in a moment.
To get there you drive forever through the Sierra Madre Occidental, narco country, dry brown mountains with roads twisted enough to make Liberace seem straight. Vi did sixteen straight hours of this, being of one blood with the blear-eyed crazed transcontinental drivers of the Sixties, except that she does it without chemical alterants. I’m not sure that’s proper. Anyway, curves, curves, and high precipices, so that you could write your memoirs before you hit bottom. Swoosh, swoosh, always pulling gs.
Something about hot, wild, gnarled country without rules and laws appeals deeply to men and certain Mexican women. Nobody is there. You are alone with the world. It isn’t that you want to do anything bad, or anything at all. It’s that you could do it, if you thought of it. Nobody is watching.
At one point we stopped on a narrow winding road with no more shoulders than an accountant, and did nothing. Dry brown emptiness and scrub and isolation stretching forever. For twenty minutes there was no sound but the wind. No vehicle passed.
I thought of something that Alexander Solzhenitsyn said. Having escaped the Soviet Union, where the government constantly spied on citizens, he found himself alone in his car, parked by some empty road out west. He stood by the road in sprawling desert and reflected, amazed, that nobody knew where he was, and nobody cared. Today of course he would be tracked by cell phone, his email read, his web browsing recorded and analyzed, and his use of his credit card duly stored.
I’m rambling. Twelve hours a day on the road will do that to you, even if you aren’t dropping speed. Especially if you aren’t dropping speed.
You have go to Copper Canyon. Wait. Don’t. If too many people go, there’ll be a theme park about Pancho Villa, and fat people will come from Rhode Island with their shrieking larvae drifting toward functional illiteracy. They should be encouraged to go to Disney World instead, or a sausage-packing plant.
Fred does good shirts, if nothing else.
Nothing, anywhere, approaches the great, gaping, deep, rocky hugeness of the Barranca. The Grand Canyon is more gorgeous, but by comparison a minor dent, a pockmark, in the earth. Everywhere are sheer drops of hundreds of feet to giant pines that look like dots in the distant earth. Rock formations rise vertically forever like huge buildings, shattered pediments and cracked capitals. Over it hangs a somber quiet broken only by the wind. I hope the human race dies before it can screw up this place.
Pretty fair rocks, if you like rocks.
I wondered how existence seemed to the Tarahumara Indians, some of whom still live in the canyon, and how it must have seemed a thousand years ago when there was nothing but the canyon. It would have been easy to believe in God or gods, to feel ourselves in the presence of something bigger than ourselves, something that might even be able to get along without us.
We wandered the rim a bit, feeling very small, and then drove off into reality toward Torreon.
Having again driven all day, we pulled into Torreon at two a.m. and looked for the Calvete Hotel, at which we had made a reservation online. The night was darker than an anchorman’s mind, the city low and industrial with only gas stations and convenience stores as outposts of light. Like schizophrenics we obeyed the little voice that ruled us, the woman trapped in a Garmin GPS. “A la izqierda en Lopez Mateos, entonces….” Yeah, OK, lady.
Yes ma’am. Bossy little dominatrix.
Turn by turn we burrowed deeper into the bleakness of tire warehouses and empty lots. I was impressed, though uneasy. The small square lady hanging on the windshield knew even the obscurest streets, and named them correctly. It did seem odd though that a major hotel would live among warehouses.
Finally she announced that we had arrived at the Calvete Hotel. It was a diesel repair shop. Maybe Garmin needs to try a bit harder.