You can always tell when people think you’re a knucklehead. Their voice goes up at the end of their sentence. Try it.
“You’re going… SKY-DIVING?”
“You ate… SUSHI?”
“You’re going to school in… THAT ?
“You went to Vegas and did… WHAT?”
And my favorite:
“You’re going to drive to… MEXICO?”
Followed by the leave-no-doubt-affirmation:
“Are you a knucklehead, or what?”
Love the, “Or what” part.
To true Baja rats, “driving the Baja” evokes some great sensorial memories. Having taken the wheel several dozen times from border-to-tip and back, to me, the drives were truly an adventure back in the day.
Once you passed the border checkpoint, you could just feel that you had left everything unimportant behind. Back there… back with freeways and office buildings… crowds and social vampires sucking out your essence.
Now you were in “the Baja.”
Cassettes or 8-track cartridges littered the inside of the truck. Jackson Brown or the Eagles eased me down the highway and my dog cocked an eyebrow every time I hit a s sloppy high note. Generally, he was more interested in the bag of Doritos on my lap while I sipped out of a real Coke bottle picked up at a roadside Mexican mercadito. “I’ve got 7 women on my mind….”
Stashed among my fishing, diving and camping gear were cans of motor oil, rope, duct tape, gas can, flashlights, ice chest, tarp, flares, two extra tires, a shovel, extra hoses and, the most important thing… toilet paper! “Well, I’m standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, I’m such a fine site to see….”
You prepared for the worst. You hoped for the best. Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.
And everything including me, powdered with a good layer of Baja dust. On the dashboard. On the seats. On my lips. On the dog. The grit of La Frontera “It’s a girl my Lord in a flatbed Ford….”
You got there when you got there. If your head was right, you realized that you’re south of the border so you’re already there. No stress, Dude. Already there.
You stopped when you stopped. Slept in the truck, pitched a tent or paid a few bucks for a room with a single light bulb and a great taco stand out front with plastic seats and a smiling senora searing chunks of beef and spooning up salsa to die for.
You had a general idea of where you needed to be but often a side road beckoned to a deserted beach or spectacular vista. Sometimes the side road was a necessity. You had no choice as parts of the highway simply weren’t there. Washed out or under construction. Potholes the size of your car. Rocks and goats. Cows and arroyos. You got used to the word, “Desviacion” (Detour) posted on a makeshift sign.
Time was measured by the sun coming up and the sun going down and the growl in your tummy or the thirst in your mouth. The sun gave no quarter.
Gas was sold by a guy with a hand pump and a 55-gallon drum. You strained it through a t-shirt and were grateful it was available. You didn’t argue about the price. No, he didn’t offer to wash your window or check under the hood.
You drove as fast or as slow as you dared. There were no shoulders. Wrecks could be seen at the bottom or deep canyons where other intrepid vehicle before you didn’t make the turn. Trucks coming the opposite way came close enough to see the color of the other drive’s eyes.
And that’s how we rolled back in the day. The trip WAS the destination. It was the whole point… being on the road. Whether you reached your destination was almost secondary. You KNEW you’d be seeing gorgeous beaches and incredible mountains. You were going to eat some great street food and make new friends along the way. Every day was going to be it’s own “Kodak moment!”
But now… fast forward in the time machine.
There’s now pretty much a super highway from border to tip. Mostly four-lanes of good highway. And there’s mini-super markets along the way. And actual gas stations with real pumps. The Mexican government has “green angels” driving up and down the peninsula checking for and offering mechanical aid to tourist cards that might have problems along the way. In the major towns, you’ll find the golden arches and the colonel from Kentucky smiles down from his red and white bucket.
Chain hotels dot the landscape and if that’s not your style actual developed campgrounds beckon your stay. Police along the way greet you with smiles and are instructed in “tourism sensitivity.” “Tenga un buen viaje senor. Bienenidos a Baja.” (Have a great trip and welcome to Baja, Sir!”)
Car parts? If you need them, Walmart and Auto Zone are here now.
It’s just the way it is now … for better or worse.
But, in between all of that, there’s still adventure. There are still deserted white beaches and aqua waters. Somewhere along the way is a palm tree next to a palapa with a hammock waiting. Just for you. And you know it as you tool down the road. You have no doubt.
And, the only snow you see will be in your ice chest or in a margarita glass. Shoes not optional. Shoes are discouraged!
“You’re going to… MEXICO?”
“Yea, I’m going to Mexico. And I’m driving. Don’t be a knucklehead. Come with me!”
And the DVD player kicks in….” Take It Easy….”