Road Trip

Road Trip 10: Driving South of the (U.S.) Border

I always get anxiety when I cross borders. This day was no different. Maybe it was time I got shaken down at a god-forsaken desert border crossing entering Peru 40 years ago. Thankfully, I haven’t had any problems since.

It was still dark when I left the hotel in Cotulla, grabbed breakfast at McDonalds, and filled the car’s gas tank. The gas station, right off I-35 was a sea of white pick-up trucks with equipment filling their cargo beds. Their drivers were filling their coolers with ice, preparing for another day in the oil patch. I too, topped my tank with “cheap” American gas. Gas in Mexico runs about 13.5 pesos/liter or $3.20/gallon.

I decided to cross into Mexico at the new Columbia Bridge about 20 miles north of Laredo. I had heard that crossing there was easier than in town, especially with a car. Because I was traveling about 700 miles into Mexico, my car needed a visa too. The visa is a sticker that you’re supposed to put in the center of the windshield below the mirror. It is coterminous with your immigration visa.

Columbia Bridge border crossing. Mexico is at top of photo. Notice the traffic!

Columbia Bridge border crossing. Mexico is at top of photo. Notice the traffic!

Just like my friends said, the border crossing was easy. I arrived on the Mexican side around 8:45 and was out by 9:15. It was a ghost town. There was no line and only two gringos, including me, getting permits for their vehicles. I got my passport stamped and paid for my car permit. The custom agents, however, were like the Maytag repairmen with not much to do. So, they checked my car and asked me to take out some boxes from the trunk to check. After rummaging through a few boxes of household goods and my suitcase, they decided I was indeed moving my belongings to Lake Chapala.

“Are you driving all that way alone?” One officer disbelievingly asked. I replied in the affirmative, and he shook his head obviously thinking I was nuts.

Relieved, I drove through what seemed an endless road of truck terminals and warehouses, eventually meeting up with Federal Route 85 south of Nuevo Laredo. This highway would eventually take me to Monterrey, where I would head west almost to Saltillo, and then south again.

The toll road south of Nuevo Laredo. Just blue skies and me.

The toll road south of Nuevo Laredo. Just blue skies and me.

Approaching the mountains just north of Monterrey, Mexico

Approaching the mountains just north of Monterrey, Mexico

Driving on the highways in Mexico isn’t much different than in the States – with one exception. Passing. As with most rules of the road in Mexico, they’re suggestions. If you’re passing, oncoming vehicles will generally move to their right to give you more passing room, especially where there’s a shoulder. If you’re overtaking a car going in the same direction, they will generally move to the right too. On 2-lane roads double yellow lines fall into the “suggestion” category. You never know what might be around the next bend.

As you can see from the posted pictures, my first exposure to Mexican roads was the equivalent to an American interstate highway or improved 4-lane highway. I was able to cruise most of the time at 80 mph, and was passed by Mexicans and Gringos as if I were standing still. For most of the trip, passing wasn’t a problem. Of course, there are always exceptions like steep hills with a line of tractor trailers and tandems inching their ways to the top of the grade. Yes Virginia, it is possible to pass a truck going 10 mph safely where there’s a double yellow line.

Mexico is a beautiful country. Once I got about 50 miles south of Nuevo Larado, the Mexican countryside seemed to open up with broad expanses of desert landscape outline with sierra in the far distance. What I learned was that about every 100 miles the scenery changed from desert to canyons to steep valleys back to desert to farmland. For miles the mountains ringed the road, sometimes close and sometimes far into the distance.

I was told to stay on the toll-roads, called Cuotas, as much as possible. Not only were they safer, better maintained, and limited access, but your toll entiled you to free roadside assistance, should you need it from the “Green Angels.”

Roadside Mexican town south of Matehuala early in the morning

Roadside Mexican town south of Matehuala early in the morning

An occasional Mexican roadside village lined the non-toll roads (Libre). They all look the same whether in Qintana Roo, Coahuila, San Luis Potosi, or Jalisco. They were generally dusty congregations of buildings lining the highway – mom and pop restaurants, garages, assorted retail establishments, and the ubiquitous Pemex station.

That first night in Mexico, I stopped at a hotel in a town called Matehuala with a restaurant. It had been recommended by friends, and was about halfway to Lake Chapala from the border. Arriving around 4:00 pm, I took advantage of the short day to enjoy a beer, and an early dinner.

On the road early the next day, the sun was just coming up over the mountains to the east. You could see fog hanging in the valleys providing a white contrast the changing colors of the mountains –purple, red, green. Matisse would have found inspiration.

Cliffs north of the 2-lane toll road west of San Luis Potosi

Cliffs north of the 2-lane toll road west of San Luis Potosi

I bypassed the city of San Luis Potosi, and once again the scenery changed. Huge cliffs rose to the right of the cuota that reminded me of pictures of Utah. It appeared to be great climbing country. Over a few more mountains and through good sized Mexican town, and I was on the outskirts of Guadalajara – just a hop, skip, and jump from home.

But this part of the trip would be the scariest. The southeast end of the circumferential road – the pereferico – merged into the road I needed to take to Lake Chapala. But, it was going the wrong way – toward Guadalajara. The exit had a bus stop and gas station on either side of it so it made it very messy trying to merge into the traffic. It was pretty hairy negotiating entry between busses leaving the bus stop, cars and trucks cruising along the highway, and cars merging into traffic from the gas station.

This sort of intersection happens a lot around Guad. You need to merge going the wrong direction and travel a-ways until you come to a Retorno where you either cross over or under the highway to go the other way. I was pretty close to the airport, and knew that a retorno would come up soon. A half mile later I traveled up and over the highway and found myself going in the right direction. With two major highways coming together, you’ve gotta wonder why they didn’t just build the retorno at the end of the pereferico so you could merge either direction.

It was late lunch time, and I had been saving my appetite for burritos. There’s a Guadalajara institution on the road to Chapala just before you go over the mountains that rim the lake. It’s open 24 hours. All the Mexicans know about it and a few gringos too. I was introduced to it on my trip to Ajijic, by the guy who picked me up at the airport. This would be the first time there since then.

The place is like a cafeteria with indoor and seating. You go through the line where a steam table holds a dozen or more burrito fillings – beef, chicken, pork, veggie, spicy and mild. The server takes a flour tortilla, smears it with refried beans, puts a mound of whatever filling suits your fancy, and rolls it up. You then pick-up a soda, beer, or water at the checkout. It’s all good, cheap, and filling.

Home! Just over the hill.

Home! Just over the hill.

Fortified from a couple of burritos and a beer, I began the last leg of my road trip over the mountains, arriving home around 3:00 pm.

Whew! I made it, a little bit tired, but safe and sound. Every once-in-awhile, you need to shake up your life a little. What an adventure!

Finally, I would get a chance to use the garage door opener.

Road Trip 9: Finding New Jersey…in Texas?

I retraced my steps until I almost got to boring Georgia. Then I turned west to follow I-10 across Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and through Texas to almost Austin. After 13 hours, I stopped in Baton Rouge hoping to catch some Cajun food, and possibly a crawfish boil. The front desk clerk informed me that crawfish were out-of-season. But, I had researched restaurants in the area. So, after plunking down my bags in my room, I went in search of one I had highlighted.

What a disaster! I made a wrong turn getting off the highway and found myself in a questionable Baton Rouge neighborhood. Backtracking, I finally found the LSU campus where I needed to find a cross street. I was just in time for evening classes to be let out. Turning left on the correct street, I drove for, what seemed like an interminable period of time.

I entered the bar/restaurant which looked like a pretty basic neighborhood place. I sat at the bar and ordered a local brew, which it turns out, was the best part of the meal. Next came crawfish etouffee. It arrived as an over-rued glop over what I guess was Cajun rice. I would have taken a picture, but it wasn’t worth the disk space on my camera – gag! After finding a faster way back to my hotel on my iPhone, I was outa there.

Next day I went in search of barbecue – halfway across Texas. After partaking of a free complimentary breakfast, I left Baton Rouge behind and found myself cruising along on what must be one of the world’s longest causeways.

Driving across Louisiana on the I-10 causeway

Driving across Louisiana on the I-10 causeway

Mile after mile, it traversed a swampy netherworld below. I can’t imagine how they built that road, who built it, or how many people were lost to crocodiles, malaria, or whatever mosquito-borne disease.

Louisiana like its southern cousin, Georgia, is rife with billboards advertising all kinds of vice, except that Louisiana added gambling to the mix. You can imagine how refreshing it was to cross the border into Texas and find myself back in New Jersey! From Lake Charles, Louisiana almost all the way the to Houston, I thought I was on the New Jersey Turnpike – or even better, Route 1 in north Jersey. Heavy industry, petrochemical process manufacturing is the business here. It extends for miles. I-10 is even edged by a parallel commercial access road – just like Route 1.

Sailing through Houston, I headed west I-10 toward San Antonio, then left the highway at Columbus and followed Route 71 to just south of Austin. I was in search of a restaurant called Salt Lick in Driftwood. There might have been better barbecue in the Austin area, but I didn’t want to mess with Austin and its traffic.

Fire at Salt Lick

Fire at Salt Lick

Finding the place took me longer than I expected. It’s quite an operation. I’ll bet they could have seated 1000 people there. At 1:30 on a Wednesday there was plenty of room.

Burn Ends Plate at Salt Lick

Burn Ends Plate at Salt Lick

I got a burnt ends plate. Burnt ends is from the point cut of brisket. After smoking for 12-15 hours with the rest of the brisket, it’s removed and allowed to go for a few more. It was pretty good and the portion was big enough to have some leftovers. My only complaint was the sides. The potato salad and cole slaw were passable. But, no barbecue joint should sell baked beans like that. They were one step above the canned variety. With all the trimmings that Salt Lick generates, and a smoker to cook them in, they could have made some spectacular baked beans. Too bad.

Meandering my way to I-35, I headed south again through San Antonio where I found more New Jersey style highway – without the refineries – but with lots of manufacturing nevertheless. I was headed for a town called Cotulla, 70 miles north of the Mexican border.

Cotulla sits on or near the Eagle Ford oil fields. It’s the biggest deposit of oil in North America. The place is booming with new hotels rising faster than oil wells. Brawny workers inhabit the hotels, along with travelers passing by like me. The pick-up trucks with some type of machinery line the parking lots.

After finding a cold beer down the road, I returned to my room, glad that I had some yummy leftovers for dinner.

Road Trip 8: Boring Land of 10,000 Billboards

It was my second day out of New Jersey. I got on the road before the sun came up and the free complimentary breakfast was ready. Thankfully, the coffee was. I stopped for gas and breakfast just north of Chattanooga. I had never been to a Waffle House before. I don’t think I’ll ever go back.

Then I started my own “march through Georgia,” The traffic flowed smoothly until just north of Atlanta. After listening to the traffic reports, I decided to take the circumferential road to the west of the city. It was smooth sailing as I rejoined I-75 south of Atlanta.

Georgia, south of Atlanta is pretty boring. This segment of my trip was so boring I didn’t take any pictures or find any online to spice up this blog post.

No wonder there are so many billboards for “Adult Superstores.” For some, I’m sure, that’s one way to break up the trip. Except for several stretches in western Florida, the interstates in the south are littered with billboards. Advertisements for sex and its paraphernalia, and gambling compete with crosses erected so high they’d put even the most endowed porn actor to shame. It’s almost as though the crosses are placed to rise above the nasty billboards to ward off evil spirits.

I’m sure Lady Bird Johnson, mother of the “Clean Highways Act,” is rolling over in her grave.

Being a northern boy (the word “Yankee” is a name of a baseball team), this stark juxtaposition of sin and religiosity made me wonder. Is this open display of sinful activity why the south is such fertile ground for fundamentalist beliefs? There obviously is need for repentance. Or, is it the other way around? Are people there so repressed that the religionists have inadvertently fostered a counterculture of sin and debauchery?

Leaving boring Georgia behind, I entered boring Florida – flat as flat can be. The only saving grace of this segment of my trip was the clouds over the everglades, changing the light and appearing to be little puffs of whipped cream suspended from the sky. The sun was setting brilliantly as I crossed the I-75 bridge over the Peace River at Punta Gorda.

I stayed with my sister in a town called Bonita Springs, midway between Fort Myers and Naples. The main drag is U.S. Route 41. It parallels I-75, extending from Miami on the east coast across to the west coast and then clear up to boring Georgia. It’s the commercial center of scores of towns it passes through.

In Bonita Springs, the town fathers were probably trying to avoid urban blight when they decided every building and shopping center had to look the same: a boring sand color. What they really needed to do was regulate signage so that it is visible. Signs are the one thing distinguishes one boring set of shops from the next.

They forgot that a large part of the population is either eyesight or driving challenged. It’s too easy to miss the beauty parlor, pet store, or medical supply store. Those businesses cant’ afford a large sign to compete with Walmart. Yours truly missed many turns not sure whether this sand colored shopping center was the correct place to turn…or the next one.

While in Florida I went to see the movie, A Walk in the Woods. It was based on a book of that same name, written by a humorist named Bill Bryson, http://billbrysonbooks.com/ in which he wittily retells his adventures walking the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to  almost Maine. Bryson, must have been quite flattered when they casted Robert Redford to play him in the movie.

Anyway, I’m a Bryson fan, and his journey paralleled my own, albeit going the opposite direction and a bit longer and more arduous. His trip passed through the less boring parts of Georgia and, I’m sure, was more interesting and beautiful than mine. By the way, the book is much better than the movie. In fact, you can skip the movie.

After scoring a couple of bottles of my favorite Belizean rum, One Barrel, which is only available in Florida and two other states, I hopped in the car and headed north…again.

Road Trip 7: On the Road Again – Heading South

I hate I-95 (nothing personal)! In the northeast it’s congested and ugly from Boston to Fredericksburg, VA. In the south it’s flat and boring. There are too many trucks. They keep you alert, but driving on-edge hour after hour is extremely tiring. Cruise control helps where it’s safe enough to use. But given my druthers I’d steer clear of that highway.

So, bright and early on the Tuesday after the reunion, I hit the road again. I had decided to try a different route, heading west out of New Jersey on I-78 to Harrisburg, PA, and then south down I-81. I was headed to Florida to visit with my sister. But first I was going visit Savannah, GA, a city I had never been to and wanted to see. I had plans to stay in Columbia, SC, the first night and move on to Savannah the next day.

However, I needed to make a slight change of plans. While I was gathering material for this blog at my 50th reunion, the people of Columbia were getting inundated with almost 20 inches of water. Roads were closing and bridges were washing away. In fact, I-95 was closed for dozens of miles north of Charleston. I thought about several of my classmates at the reunion who traveled from South Carolina and had to return to whatever mess awaited them.

signs-39691_1280

The day before my drive I got a call from the hotel I was planning to stay at. “I just wanted to let you know,” a hotel employee started to say. “We’re still holding a room for you, but we have no running water and don’t know when we will.”

Tuesday was to be 12-13 hour drive. I couldn’t stand the thought of retiring to a hotel room without running water. Think about it…you can’t wash, brush your teeth, or go to the bathroom. And, how about the restaurants in the area? Would any be open or serving food?

The thought of no free continental breakfast was just too much!

So, I opted out of going to South Carolina, and changed my plans. It was too bad because I wanted to see Savannah, and old high school friends, Bob and Barb, I had talked with at the reunion. They lived in Hilton Head and had invited me to stay with them. They’ve been retired for years. It would have been nice to spend more time with them.

So instead, I set my sights on Knoxville, TN for the first night. My new route would take me on I-75 through Chattanooga and Atlanta on my way to southwestern Florida.

I drove south on I-81 through Virginia, with the Blue Ridge Mountains to my left. Except for some places in Mexico, this was the prettiest part of my trip.

I was starting to get hungry. How lucky can you get? The billboard advertised the “Best Dang BBQ in Virginia” just up ahead. “Hot dang it. I’m gonna have ta check this out,” I said to myself in my best southern accent. I’m a sucker for barbecue. So, I followed my stomach off an unassuming exit in the middle of who knows where.

The Best Dang BBQ in Virginia?

The Best Dang BBQ in Virginia?

The big yellow and black promised tempting delights, but the establishment didn’t look too promising. It was gas station with a convenience store and…a window where you could order your meal and little plastic tables where you could eat it.

I ordered a pulled pork sandwich special with cole slaw and a Coke for $6.99. All the tables were occupied so I took my Q outside and ate it, sitting on a wooden lawn chair. You know, the pulled pork dressed with Carolina BBQ sauce didn’t look very pretty but was pretty good. It wasn’t the best I’ve had, and probably isn’t the best in Virginia, but it definitely hit the spot.

Refreshed, I continued on to Knoxville.

Road Trip 6: 50th Reunion “Senior” Awards

At most of the reunions I’ve been to, there has always been recognition of the class member who traveled the farthest. I thought that living in Mexico might give me a chance to win. However, I’ve learned that classmates who traveled from Seattle actually traveled further than me.

But, this year’s winner traveled all the way from Portugal where she’s been living for the last 40 years. Ironically, the award was a gift card she couldn’t use in Portugal. There were a few other awards too – most of them to do with marriage longevity and propensity to procreate the planet into over-population.

In our senior year of high school we had awards for “Best athlete”, “Best Dressed”, “Most Likely to Succeed”, and a dozen more categories. For the most part, very few of the senior award recipients from high school attended the reunion. I think we could have recognized them, collectively, as “Most Likely Not to Attend the 50th Reunion.”

All these awards got me thinking (that can be dangerous!). Every 50th reunion should have its own “Senior” awards. So, in addition to the paltry few described above, here are a few awards that might be appropriate (or inappropriate) at a 50th Reunion.

How about starting with a few tame ones:

Done the most for humanity

Youngest looking

Best dressed

Most successful (monetarily, professionally, being a good person)

 

And, how about some awards of dubious distinction, such as:

Male with the least hair

Best boob job

Worst face lift

Largest increase in belt size since high school

Oldest Looking

Longest rap sheet

Most obnoxious (after this post, I might be in the running)

Worst dressed

Divorced the most times

Spent the longest time on Match.com

Prettiest wife

Youngest wife

Handsomest husband

Youngest husband

Lowest golf handicap

Highest and lowest cholesterol

Been in therapy the longest

Most in need of therapy

The most money stashed offshore

The smallest social security check

Lived the closest, but didn’t show up

And sadly…

Most likely to die before the next reunion.

Do you have any you’d like to add?

All in jest, of course.

Road Trip 50th Reunion

Road Trip 5: 50th Reunion in New Jersey

High School reunions are strange events, and my high school class is a very unusual phenomenon in the annals of high school reunions. We’ve had reunions every 5 years since that happy day in 1965 when 435 of us at Livingston High School, in New Jersey, were thrust out into the cruel world to commence the rest of our lives. I will admit that I’ve enjoyed every one of those reunions, and look forward to many more.

Over the years we’ve all changed, and some of us have grown up. Over the years, reunions have been a place where I’ve enriched friendships from my adolescent days, and developed new ones with people that I barely knew at the time. It seems we often find more in common with people as adults than ever took the time to find out as kids.

So, it was with a sense of excitement that I left Massachusetts behind, and headed down to “Joisey” for my 50th. I looked forward to reconnecting with the usual folk who had been faithful attendees over the years, as well as with those who had never been to a reunion before and I hadn’t seen since high school.

Over the years, Livingston High School has had some notable alumni. Governor Chris Christie, thriller/detective author, Harlan Coben, and Jason Alexander (of Seinfeld fame) graduated many years later than me. Coben often used Livingston as a setting in several of his novels and referenced many familiar streets and places we all recognize from our youth. Our class has its share of published authors, and very successful people too, but none with the notoriety of Alexander, Christie, or Coben.

I arrived in New Jersey with a wad of nice crisp $20 dollar bills fresh from the ATM and the Stop at Shop in Sturbridge, MA (does anyone have 4 $5 bills for change?). I was to meet a bunch of close friends at “The Landmark,” one of those Livingston eating and drinking institutions used by generations as watering hole. Rumor has it that George Washington passed by on his way to New York.

The Landmark in Livingston, NJ

The Landmark in Livingston, NJ

Lunch was a warm-up for the rest of the weekend. The reunion committee (which has more and more become a “virtual” committee, scattered across the country) had planned several activities leading up to the “main event” on Saturday night. On Saturday morning one of my classmates who spent his career teaching at the high school, arranged a tour of the high school.

Is this School I Went to?

The enrollment at LHS is roughly the same as it was in the ‘60s, but somehow they need what seemed like twice the space. The building now has two TV studios. I’m not sure why a high school needs one – but two? Oddly, the cafeteria was about the same size as it was 50 years ago. With many of the students opting to eat off-campus these days, and fewer probably eating there since Michelle Obama started supervising the menu, the cafeteria might someday become obsolete. Hey, maybe they can build a few TV studios in the space. Then we moved on to what seemed like a field house complete with a new gym, indoor practice areas, and a “fitness and wellness center” that would put God’s Gym or Planet Fitness to shame.

Livingston's monument to student health and fitness

Livingston’s monument to student health and fitness

All in all, the high school tour and an informal lunch afterwards gave some of us an additional chance to connect. The evening’s activities were almost anti-climactic.

Everyone Needs an “Elevator Speech”

When you go to one of these events, there are too many people there to carry on a meaningful conversation with anyone. So you really need to prepare an “elevator speech.” The idea behind an elevator speech is that you can communicate important information to a complete stranger between the time an elevator’s doors close and open – 15-30 seconds at the most (of course, depending on how many floors you go and the speed you).

The question I got asked most often was “why are you living in Mexico?” I had put my whereabouts on the class’s Facebook page and reunion page. The answer to that question could occupy the time it takes to drink a few beers. But, after about 10th time, I had perfected my answer:

“I live in a beautiful place. It’s springtime all year long. The cost of living is about a third of what it is in the states. There’s tons to do, and the people are friendly. Oh…and it’s not here!”

Whew!

“But what about safety?” was always the next question. “There’s more crime in Newark (10 miles away as the crow flies) than anywhere near where I live,” I’d reply. “There are bad places you wouldn’t go wherever you live. It’s no different where I live.”

The evening passed similarly, delivering my elevator speech and listening to those of others. Every once in awhile, I’d get into a more involved conversation. It’s a shame, but three hours is never enough time to catch up on 50 years with even a fraction of the people who attended. I’m very thankful that the pre-reunion activities provided more opportunity.

But we did have time for a little joking around too. One of my friends’ wives staged a “before and after” re-enactment of a picture taken at Seymour’s Luncheonette in, I think, 1964. Alas, Seymour, seen below, in front of me (with a red circle around my face) passed away. Only one of the original classmate posers has passed away, and another couldn’t get to the event. So, several others filled in.

The Guys - Then and Now

The Guys – Then and Now

If you measure success by what percentage of us returned for the festivities, the professional reunion company informed our group that the LHS Class of 1965 set a record: the highest percentage of attendees of any class they worked for.

Remember all the senior awards from high school, like “Best Athlete” and “Most Likely to Succeed.” In my next post, I’ll poke a little fun at them with my own list of “Senior” awards.

 

Photos of LHS provided by NJ.com and is under the copyright of its owners.

Road Trip 4: Clueless at Checkout

It’s funny how some personal interactions can tell you so much about the region of the country you’re in. On my trip, I had several interactions that blew my mind! In the northeast, people often get paranoid about interacting with strangers, and build walls around themselves. This interaction in central Massachusetts is classic!

It was a dreary morning –the second day of October. It had been rainy and cloudy since I left Cape Cod a few days earlier. Having owned a winery, I know that the second week of October is harvest time for Chardonnay, and can’t help but feeling bad for the wine growers in southeast Massachusetts. You do NOT want rain at harvest time.

It was Friday morning, and I was in my car with the trunk and back seat loaded with a ton of things I think I’ll need in Mexico, but probably will never use. Maybe the Villroy-Bosch coffee cups, but probably not the aluminum roasting pan. I was driving down to New Jersey on my way to my 50th high school reunion.

It was early autumn, and the color of the leaves should have been changing. The further inland you are, the earlier the foliage changes color. As I was driving west (inland) down the Mass Pike, I was struck by the lack of color. Apparently, it was a dry summer in Massachusetts, and the weather was being blamed on a late change of foliage and a lack of brilliant colors. When I got to Sturbridge, Mass., I stopped for breakfast.

One of my bank accounts requires at five transactions a month to avoid a service fee. I needed some money, so after breakfast, I found an ATM at a Stop and Shop supermarket up the road. The machine spit out 5 crisp $20 bills.

I needed to comment on what happened next, and didn’t want to forget about it for my blog. I remembered that my iPhone has a voice memo function. So after getting back on the interstate, I recorded the following interaction (but haven’t figured out a way to upload it):

Voice Memo Mic

I went to pick up a snack for the trip and got on line. There was a woman in front of me. The cashier finished ringing up her groceries, and the woman ran her debit card through the terminal to pay for them. She must have asked for cash back, because the cashier proceeded to count out her change in a stack of $5 bills. The woman looked perturbed, and asked the cashier if she had any larger bills.

“No,” the cashier replied. “That’s all there is in the register.”

Standing there watching this transaction with a stack of nice fresh $20 bills in my hand, I thought I’d help the “poor” woman out. Looking at her, I piped in, “I’ll give you a 20 for four of your fives.”

You’d think I’d threatened her life. Not sure how to react, she nervously turned, grabbed her bags, and high-tailed it out of the store.

I’ll bet if I asked the cashier the same question, she’d have accepted my offer. She then would have turned and handed my “unworthy” bills to the woman who would have gladly accepted them.

Maybe it was my Mexican accent? (Not)!

Road Trip 3: Cape Cod

It was a cool crisp afternoon when my son, Mike, picked me up at Boston’s Logan Airport. We drove out to Needham, picked up my car, and did a few errands before meeting my daughter Nina at Chili’s for a drink. I was on my way to Cape Cod for a few days on the beach, and Chili’s was on the way, yet centrally located for Mike and Nina.

We sat and talked and waited out the usually horrendous south shore rush hour traffic. Three drinks and an appetizer-sized flatbread pizza later, sticker shock started to sink in. The bill topped $30, compared to maybe $10 in the Lakeside area.

Cape Cod MapI was going to a cottage condo community called Pilgrim Beach Village (PBV) in the town of North Truro.  North Truro is the last town before Provincetown, at the tip of Cape Cod. It’s about a two hour drive Boston when the traffic is agreeable. Most people recognize the area as they pass by on Route 6. Dozens of cottage colonies line the local parallel road, Route 6A, on one side and the shore of Cape Cod Bay on the other.

Pilgrim Beach Village at sunset. My room was the first window on the left.

Pilgrim Beach Village at sunset

PBV is one of the first such colonies as you drive down the hill on 6A. When my kids were growing up my family used to stay there on Memorial Day weekend. PBV consists of 19 units, some cottages and some motel units. All have an unimpeded view of the bay, Provincetown in the distance, and magnificent sunsets. I reserved a studio unit, #12, on the motel side.

Arriving around 10:00 pm, I fruitlessly looked for a bite to eat, and had to dig into my travel bags for a day-old roll. By this time, I had been up 18 hours, and fell into bed without unpacking. That could wait until the next morning.

I spent the next few days relaxing and making use of PBV’s dumpster to cleat out my car. Now, you have to realize that P-town is a major gathering place for gays and lesbians. It’s main street, Commercial Street, has numerous gay bars, and transvestites work the crowds of tourist to draw them into drag shows. P-town is also a major fishing town inhabited by blue collar fishermen and their families – many with roots in Portugal. I find it remarkable that the two communities seem to peacefully coexist.

One evening, trying to decide what to have for dinner, I found out there is a Barbecue joint in Provincetown. It is called “Two Southern Sissies BBQ.”  I always thought that sexual preference mattered when it came to BBQ. With a name like that, I had to see what these two sissies could cook up. Unfortunately it was a take-out joint, and I really wanted to sit down and have a beer with my Q. I opted for another place and a Portuguese stew.

2 Southern Sissies BBQ, Provincetown, MA

2 Southern Sissies BBQ, Provincetown, MA

Then I moved on to Needham where I stayed with my friend Martha, celebrated kids’ birthdays which are four days apart, and with the help of Mike reduced the size of and payment for my storage locker by 1/3.

As September moved into October, it was time to get this “road trip” on the road. After spending $1400 on maintenance, my car, with its full payload challenging its suspension, was ready to go,. Onward to New Jersey and my 50th high school reunion.

Road Trip 2: Flying North to Boston

As I sit here pondering how to start this post, I asked myself why so many flights leave early in the morning. Duh! I realize it’s to get the planes out of the airport that landed the night before, so that planes leaving early from another airport will have a place to land.

I love to travel – Even if it means getting up at 3 a.m. – Even if it means leaving this beautiful place in Mexico.

There are many reasons to dislike al Quaida. Not the least of which is needing to get to the airport 2-3 hours before your flight leaves. So, having booked a one-way ticket to Boston that leaves at 6:00 am, I’m faced with a very long day…to put it mildly. There are two positives to leaving at this ungodly hour: the fare was good, and I get into Boston early.

On the way to the airport, it’s so early that there’s not another car on the road for the first 10 miles. And, my driver Cristi drops me at the airport right at 4:00 a.m., two hours before my departure.

I’m flying on AeroMexico for the first time. They had recently started non-stop service from Mexico City to Boston. Mexico City is a short hop from Guadalajara. In this part of Mexico, in late September, the sun rises around 7:30. So the first leg of my trip will be in the dark.

There’s something strange and eerie about being in an airport at 4 a.m. Sort of like being at a bus station in the States at any time of the day.

I find the “Migracion” office and get on line. I’m the second one there. A young man with a U.S. passport who barely speaks English is ahead of me. The sign on the window says the office will open “a partir de” 4:30 – that means somewhere around 4:30. The officer up shows around 4:40. Not bad! She stamps my exit form, and I’m off to security.

Taking the elevator upstairs, I find the Starbucks directly across from the escalators. I pull out my morning glory muffin from the Panaderia San Antonio and sip a badly needed joe. I headed to the gate as they start rolling up the gates at the “dufree shop” (not a spelling error).

The 1 hour flight to Mexico City is uneventful. It’s like flying at night…except that it’s morning. Take off in the dark; arrive in the dark.

The airport in Mexico City is bustling at the early hour. Boarding the plane, I’m lucky enough to get a seat without anyone sitting in the middle. As the plane got to cruising altitude, AeroMexico surprised us. Lo and behold, they served us a hot breakfast! Whoa! That was the first time I’ve been offered a meal on a flight in years.

I thought I had forgotten how great airline food is. Bad memories don’t die!

 

Image, similar to my breakfast, by Rocky at: http://upgrd.com/blogs/doublewidesfly/aeromexico-mex-eze.html

Road Trip 1: Am I Crazy?

Over the course of the next few posts, I’ll be chronicling a road trip from New England to Lake Chapala, Mexico. Over a 3-week period, it will take me through 13 states and more than 700 miles into the heart of Mexico.

Why would I undertake such folly alone? Friends in the States can’t understand why I would. Mexico is dangerous. Isn’t it? They can’t understand how millions of Mexicans can take to the highways (yes, they do have highways!) and return home safely without receiving a bullet in the head from the drug cartels.

The other thing I think they find scary is that I’m driving alone. Well, the title of this blog is Retired ‘n’ Single. Besides, unless my traveling companion carries a gun, he or she wouldn’t do much to save me from violence on the road. In the States, random acts of road rage and violence occur almost daily. What’s the big deal?

Maybe they figure that someone riding shotgun would help keep me awake. But, one of the ways I stay awake is to crank up the radio and sing along at the top of my lungs! A travel companion would most likely jump out of the car screaming after the first five miles…or less. Unless they liked to sing too. Scary!

So, I promised anyone who cared that I’d be careful…that I wouldn’t take any unreasonable chances…that I wouldn’t drive at night in Mexico…that I wouldn’t contract any STDs…and that I’d take my vitamins every day. The good news is I’m here to tell you about my road trip.

But, before my road trip, I first needed to fly.