Chapter 40

When I get into the truck the driver finishes writing something down on a clipboard then puts it away under his seat. He’s a nice enough fifty-ish looking guy with short dark hair and a thin, wiry frame. His uniform is jeans, a t-shirt, and black boots. He looks kind enough. His forehead is developing some good, deep wrinkles and his mustache is very thick and dark.

As he pumps some pedals on the floor and shifts I notice his window is rolled down. I’m guessing the air conditioning probably doesn’t work. When he finishes shifting, he looks over at me and smiles. It was a kind smile. A smile that seemed to say, “don’t worry little buddy, I’ll get you to California.”  I, of course, returned his smile with a, “duh, thank you,” smile of my own. Well, a, “thank you,” smile, anyway. I’m pretty sure the, “duh,” was implied.

After about ten minutes of silence, I notice a definite tension in the air. I never knew this before, but sitting in a confined space with someone you don’t know, just inches away from you, is a little unnerving. I can’t think of anything to talk about. He doesn’t look too interested in starting any conversations, so another hour or so goes by until the silence between us begins to drown out the radio.

While I’m on the subject of radio, I’m beginning to think I can tell the difference between some of the songs, although a lot of them are still just variations on the same theme. Come to think of it, isn’t that what makes a musical style? Rap has that explosive base that wants to rip your car apart, and they rhyme everything to death. Country music singers have that twang to their words and those whining pedal steel guitars.

Okay, I’m stalling. It’s about time to break the ice so we both can relax a bit. It’s obvious this guy is as stubborn as they come.

“La musica es moo-ey bueno.” I tell him, letting him know my appreciation for his music selection.

“Si.”

That’s it? Si? Is it me? Maybe this guy just doesn’t talk. “Como se llama?” I ask, not wanting to stop and fall back into the silence thing again.

“Guillermo Mendoza.”

Short and to the point. This is a no-nonsense kind of guy. “Yo soy Pancho.” I don’t know what else to do if he doesn’t start talking, maybe we—

“Pancho? Solo Pancho?”

Does he want to know my whole name? This might not be good. Actually, when was it ever good? I mean except at the family reunion thing. ”Pancho . . .” My poor Spanish is going to get unmasked any second now. He looks at me sideways and says something about the “Policia.” Oh, he thinks I won’t tell him my name because I’m wanted by the police. “No, no Policia.” If I don’t tell him now he’ll probably wonder who the heck he has sitting next to him in his truck a hundred miles from anywhere. Okay, here goes, “Villa.” I try to look serious, and stare straight ahead, but I can see him putting it together; we’re only a foot apart.

“No problema.”

Wow, that was easy. He probably doesn’t want to press the issue. “Tiene trabajo en los Estados Unidos?”

“Si.” I have a job back home.

“Donde?”

Hey, it’s working. He’s finally beginning to open up and talk. We’ll be friends before this ride is over. “Taco Bell.”

My face slams into the dashboard. Tires are skipping and chirping on the road below us. Obviously somehow I have offended him. He’s talking so quickly and motioning for me to get out. I can’t get a word in edgewise. Where the heck are we? Is he serious? He wants me to get out now? In the middle of nowhere? “Okay, okay.”

I open the door and jump down to the ground and hear him yell a few things I actually do know the meaning of. He shuts the door and drives off. I try to piece together the last thing he said. It was something about me being a famous worker at Taco Bell. I should have just stayed quiet. Or maybe I should have told him I have the blood.

Yeah, just drop me off in the middle of nowhere. Right here will do. Thanks!

Where am I and how far am I from the border?  Maybe I can walk to it from here.

 

 

It’s been about an hour since I got dropped off and I begin to feel defeated, and kind of tired. I’m in the middle of nowhere without food or water, and it’s almost dark. I hear a car driving up and turn around to face it. I stick out my thumb, just like they do in the movies. I expect the car to keep going by like we always do when we see a hitchhiker back home. The car slows down as it passes me, and I can see several people inside.

It looked like a whole family in an old, faded blue two door Honda Accord. And it’s stopping. Wow, I got a ride—first time! I run to the car and look inside. It’s full of people and blankets. There’s no way I can fit in there.

“Hey, um Gracias for the ayuda, perro . . . no tienay . . . room. I mean . . .” The driver and father of the family cuts me off in mid sentence.

“No, si se puede, si,” he insists, and the mother gets out of the front seat in the back with the three kids. The youngest, a boy, is now sitting on the oldest daughter’s lap. I am expected to take up the whole front seat while they sit cramped in the back? This isn’t going to be awkward. They did this with startling precision, so I presume they do this all the time, but still . . .

I try to beg off, but they won’t hear of it, and now I’m feeling sorry for them, as they sit, packed in like twelve toes in a pointed shoe, and I’m here stalling. What have I gotten myself into? I knew when you hitchhike, the drivers don’t have to pick you up, but I didn’t know that putting your thumb in the air means you have to take the ride if the car stops for you. I guess I should have thought about that earlier.

Maybe if I tell them my name and where I work, they’ll drive off.

Okay, okay, I’ll get in. ”Gracias.” Their smiles are pleading for me to hurry up.

We get our introductions out of the way early, and not really wanting a replay of the last ride, I tell them my name is Frank. That lets them know that I’m American and don’t speak much Spanish. This seems to work pretty good. I wish I would’ve thought of this before. I thought my Mexican name would be acceptable here in Mexico. It was more than good enough in Guadalajara, but nowhere else it seems. I wonder if Jose Cuervo has trouble hitch-hiking too.

Mr. Delgado is a happy man, about thirty or so, with dark black hair and a thick, neatly trimmed mustache. His wife, Rosario, is a pretty kind of plain, and they both have the bodies of people who work hard for a living: thin and strong. The teenage girl has long and straight black hair that falls about her shoulders. She is shy and quiet. The three-year-old boy, Julio, is a bundle of kinetic energy. He climbs and squirms and slithers his way from one lap to another, while the middle girl watches in stone cold silence.

Mike J Quinn About Mike J Quinn
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