HITCH-HIKING by Nancy McBride
Central Mexico, 2002--
My friends were both dulled and miserable with heavy head colds. Their eyelids were heavy, their expressions slack. Their patience and humor was gone, their fevers rising. And, now, suddenly, their friend, Carl’s car’s alternator had died. It died in the desert, in Mexico, about two hours away from the airport, in Leon, where we three were headed home, they to Virginia, and me to Boston. I’d been visiting them for a few weeks at their home in San Miguel de Allende.
They’d begged Carl to use their, more reliable, car and he’d refused, assuring them his clunker was up to the trip, and he thought he’d do some errands near the airport, and stay overnight.
At first they thought he was out of gas, but I knew it was the alternator. Once you’ve had an alternator go on you, you know, and no fussing around fixes it. You need a new or rebuilt one installed. Period.
They were all upset. There was lots of discussion, going round and round, with tempers rising. The car windows were steaming up, germs proliferating, windows closed. It was pouring rain, not usual for this time of year. Now what?
There was no question in my mind, we’d just hitchhike, that’s what! Their friend could do the same, in the other direction, to get a tow, back home. Meanwhile we had a plane to catch! I was focused.
Braving the elements, I leapt out of the car, and put out my thumb each time a car approached, well, a vehicle would be a better term, for the first guy that stopped was driving a white pick-up truck. It had a little shelter on the truck bed, housing a medium-sized pig, and lots of fresh hay. Bingo! We were set, and he was willing!
Well, I could do that! We’d had a pig growing up. Perfect. But my friends, emphatically, would have nothing to do with that. As if they had choices! They were no help, all feverish, snotty, and just plain whiney. Good luck to them. “This was no time to be choosey.” I muttered to myself. I thanked the farmer, anyway. He shrugged and went on. For another half-hour or so, I was still standing in the rain, dejected, soaked, and none of the few cars going by even slowed down.
Finally, a brand new, dark-colored, van zoomed by, ignoring me, then pulled over to a stop a bit further down the road. A moment later, it backed up to where I was. The windows were all tinted, so I couldn’t see in. Then the driver lowered the passenger side window. He and his passenger were Mexican men in their 40s, serious, dark, swarthy, and they wore the predictable dark glasses. I can’t tell about people when they wear dark glasses. I have to see their eyes.
They asked what we needed, and I told them. They conferred and agreed to take us.
Not asking this time, I went and told my friends that we had a ride, and to get the luggage and come. Our time was short. We were lucky. Obviously, it was going to be another two-hour ride, and these guys would be going out of their way to help the three of us!
If looks could have killed. They were obviously not happy with my choice! Too bad, amigos.
My friends were hardly polite greeting them, nor proffered their thanks, as we crammed into the back seat, our luggage stuffed behind us. We spun out, spewing gravel, and lurched onto the road! I could tell by my friends’ worried expressions they were very afraid of these saviors! They seemed frozen, and were holding hands like their lives depended on it. It finally dawned on me that they both thought these guys were drug-runners, and they were going to fleece us, then murder us, and dump our bodies in the desert.
That had never occurred to me, and I would go to hell for my impetuousness! We’d see soon enough.
Finally, after about one hour, the tension was high with no one speaking (and my friends spoke fluent Spanish). The men’s responses to my early attempts at pigeon Spanish were grunts.
The driver, who’d been driving at breakneck speed, suddenly tore off on an exit with no warning, tires screeching. My friend Derrick’s eyes opened wide, horrified, seeing “THE END!” The driver glanced up, looked at my friend’s face in the rear view mirror, and said, “Petrol?” (Like, is that OK with you Mr. Freak-out?)
That finally broke the ice, and we all laughed. We three chipped in to fill up his tank with our last pesos, and we were on our way. The last hour was spent sharing stories, and relaxing with them. And, yes, we made our flight home.