We had 4 weeks of winter break. My friend T and I had finished War and Peace after a 2 week reading marathon in preparation for the coming seminars. The opening question for the first of a the series was destined to be short, brief and brilliant. Mr. Sachs would ask us, “War AND Peace. Bread AND butter. What kind of ‘and’ is that?” As soon as T and myself were finished reading we “borrowed without asking” my parents’ GMC suburban, grabbed our buddy K and drove from the Bay Area to Imperial Beach on the boarder with Tijuana, Mexico by nightfall exhausted looking for a place to sleep. None of us had ever been across the boarder so we decided to wait until morning to cross it. The suburban was large with three rows of couch-like seats. We drove up on a beach, having no clue as to where we were, and sacked out. Close to midnight the police showed up and asked us what we were doing. I knew that the GMC, affectionately known as Big Red, would not be reported stolen at least until morning because I had my youngest brother cover for me, telling our parents I was staying at a friend’s house and then telling them the truth in the morning. The officer was actually quite friendly once he found out we were students on winter break. He told us we couldn’t sleep in the car on the beach and gave detailed directions to a nearby campground where we could stay that night. He also asked us to deliver a message of love and longing to Ranger Judy who worked at that campground. We told him we would if we saw her and we were back on the road, still partially drunk and high. When we made it to the campground we just pulled into a parking space and sacked out again. At dawn we tried to skip out on paying the overnight-fee but were caught just before exiting the campground by none other than ranger Judy who was extremely nonplussed at the love message from the officer. She made us pay the fee which we had conveniently stored in the registration envelope and stuck under the windshield wiper. We told her we didn’t know where to put it. She knew we were lying, took the money and sent us on our way.
It was early and crossing the border was easy, we breezed through. At the first toll stop/check point we threw the money in the funnel-bucket. As we exited the toll booth the first thing we saw was a burnt car with a dead charred body in the driver’s seat halfway through the windshield lying on the hood and a bunch of federales with machine guns standing around. K, who never seemed to be afraid of anything, let out a cry that was somewhere between a coyote and a 3 month old baby screaming for its mother. T was driving and just kept on going. We blew through Rosarito and headed east at Ensenada zipping all the way to San Felipe, stopping only for a quick beach excursion, the charred corpse still fresh in our minds. As dusk settled into night we arrived in San Felipe with no clue as to where we would stay or what we would do so we went to only bar we could find. After 1 beer I headed back to Big Red to get some shut-eye. An hour or two later I was awoken by K clamoring into the suburban, slamming the doors and yelling, “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!”.
“What’s the matter? I asked.”
“I punched T in the face.”
“What the fuck for?” I asked groggily, not caring very much. They were fighting over a woman, a married woman at that. Probably one of the few females in the entirety of San Felipe. This brought to mind the first time I introduced these two guys to each other. I had failed out of private school my freshman year of high school and “was not invited to return” for my sophomore year. My folks gave me the choice of military school or an evangelical boarding school in Watsonville that had a surf club. I know what comes out when you put meat in a meat grinder so I figured I’d take my chances with God and bible-thumping lunatics. After staying mostly out of trouble, or at least not getting caught, my folks allowed me to attend public high school for my last two years. After a few months of public school, for whatever reason, I realized that I was incredibly ignorant not just about academic achievement but about how the world worked and a host of other things. This profound sense of ignorance spurred me to find someone, someone intelligent both academically and in a worldly sort of way. I asked around my surfer and stoner friends. Who is the smartest guy you know? The answer from multiple sources was T. This guy was taking college level science classes and, for reasons that will be about to be elucidated, was the de facto epicenter of a group of kids known as “The Posse”. I immediately introduced myself and we became good friends. T had, hands down, the best living arrangement a high school student could possibly have. He lived with his father, an brilliant hard working scientist that spent half of every month in another state working on nuclear energy. So T had his apartment to himself for 2 weeks nearly every month. And for those two weeks it was video games, alcohol, ganja and mayhem of epic proportions. This secret world was known by many but only open to a select few. T was smart enough not to go blurting out his secret independence thoughtlessly. There were parties and most of the posse was conspicuously absent for the clean-up before his dad returned. I had become friends with K through a different route, friend of a friend sort of thing, and he was a mechanical genius who built at least 2 vehicles and was always creating and showing off his technical prowess: winches for 4 wheeling, guns, a three person slingshot, potato cannon, a bong that had a nitrous oxide carb – he was always working on something. I asked K one day if he knew T and he said he’d heard of him but didn’t know him. So, it happening to be one of those 2 week stints of freedom, I took K to T’s place for a fateful meeting. They hit it off right away with the video games, the beer and the weed all in good supply. The I remembered I had to get to work at the bakery. So I left. The next day at school neither T or K where in attendance. It turns out they had been busted trying to lift a nitrous tank from a dentist’s office.
Eventually T returned from the bar, drunk, pissed off and alone. We all crashed and in the morning forgot all about the conflict. Looking at a map I noticed there was a road heading back to highway 1 on the pacific side of Baja, nearer to surfing. Neither T nor K had any interest in surfing but I persuaded them that this would be a good loop. We had driven into San Felipe from the North and now we headed south with a very poor idea of how to get back to Highway1. We were almost out of money and had a full tank of petrol. Our old map led us on a 163 mile off road adventure. Big Red was 4 wheel drive and we pretty much ruined the transmission driving through sandy arroyos and terrible terrain. At one point we thought we had come upon an inland sea not on the maps but it turned out to be an enormous patch of plastic bags rolling through the desert – tumble garbage. Just as night had fallen we arrived back on Highway 1 and went north. The highway was paved but there is no shoulder only a steep v-shaped ditch to keep cattle from wandering on to the road. Sometime before midnight, T was driving. K and I were asleep. We were going about 60 when, all of a sudden, there was a cow in the middle of the road! How we did not perish right then and there from driving into one of the ditches or mangling ourselves on a cow is a testament to the excellent driving skills, honed by hours of video game playing, of T. He managed to save us from death or injury by maneuvering around the cow screeching tires and temporarily tilting on 2 wheels.
We decided to camp for the night so picked, at random, a sandy side road in the direction of the beach. We had pasta, a bottle of tequila, and half a case of Tecate. As we drove through the dunes the stars were out in full glory with no light pollution to obscure them. Once at the mighty pacific we ate and I started drinking the tequila as if it were water. Half an hour later I was blathering on about what great friends we were and how we were going to have so many adventures and blah blah blah. T and K were both not amused. At the point were I was saying, “I love you guys! You guys are the best!”, they decided I was too drunk and that we should get back on the road an continue North. We had less than ten dollars between us; barely enough for fuel to get across the boarder. I protested, not being interested in getting back in Big Red but they tossed me in the back seat and took off. I passed out before we were back over the first dune.
When I came to the car was stopped. K had been driving but was not in the driver’s seat and a man was leaning into the window on the passenger side saying “¿Cuánto? ¿Cuánto?” He was pointing at the cd player that played through the tape deck. T said “No. No. Not for sale.” I realized I was going to vomit and pushed myself up from lying down in the back seat and jumped out the side door. What I briefly saw was K and two other men in green army fatigues with M-16 machine guns on their shoulders standing around an oil drum with large rocks in it that they had poured gasoline on for a fire to keep warm on the clear winter night. Just as I floundered out of the suburban a different federale swung open the back doors of Big red to reveal what was left of the Tecate and plastic handle of tequila. I doubled over and began to vomit at the feet of yet another police in green with a machine gun slung over his shoulder. There was a house nearby and a young child had just exited. In the crisp desert night the only sounds were of me puking and the screen door slamming shut behind the child. I looked up, everyone was looking at me.
It was at that critical moment K pointed at me and said, “Tequila!” and started laughing.
Soon everyone was having a laugh at my expense, even the kid who had slammed the squeaky screen door. The federales took our alcohol and sent us on our way. Stupid gringo kids – we could have been thrown in prison or kidnapped and ransomed to our parents across the border but in this instance, because of K’s quick thinking, because of the universality of humor that crosses cultural barriers, and because of dumb-fucking-luck we were able to limp back into California running on fumes. We eventually made it back to the Bay Area where I faced dire consequences for stealing Big Red and ruining its 4 wheel drive transmission.