Monday, August 14, 2017

Leaving Saltillo, 1975.

I had ridden on so many bus rides coming into Saltillo and leaving Saltillo. It was all so blindingly familiar on the way to Corpus Christi. There was a family in the very back of the bus with the requisite crying children. There were old drunks going nowhere sleeping it off out of eye-shot from the driver. There were middle-aged women going for the day to the wide shopping boulevards of Monterrey to buy a new hat or a new dress, or if their husband had gotten a raise from working so hard at the new Chrysler factory which was pumping out 100 Town and Country minivans an hour on three eight hour shifts, night and day, they would buy both a hat and a dress.

I had taken the window seat in the second row back from the driver, the same seat I sat in on our team bus. Only Hector wasn’t one row up, or Sisto, or some of the boys singing dirty songs into bat handles like a microphone. And Karmen was far far away and getting farther with every turn of the rapidly spinning tires against the dust of the broken asphalt.

Little shacks ran by, some had scrawny chickens in the yard and broken Fords with their hoods up and their engines rusted because the men had given up making them run. Some of the houses had faded Pepsi or Coca-Cola ads painted on their sides and a cooler out front where you could buy a soda and fight a losing fight against the oppression of heat. More of the houses, which were growing fewer and fewer had large initials painted in red, white and green, political signs heralding the advances promised by the corrupt PRI or the PRN. Your only choice was whose corruption would steal from you less and leave you alone more.

I tried again to read my book, a Spanish copy of “The Bridges of San Luis Rey.” It was sweat-stained and without a front cover, but I could not read for the loss of Karmen and the idea that I was going back to my parents’ house and the all that that meant. My head against the dusty glass, the desert streaming by and the loss growing closer as I traveled further away, I fell asleep, a fitful sleep, where I woke with every potholed-jolt on a road that was closer to dirt than paved.

I came across a line from the Bridges that I underlined with a 19-cent Bic I kept with me at all times. It made me think about Karmen. It made me think about what I was leaving as I left Teresa and Hector and Karmen and Saltillo and a world where for the first time in my long-short life I had felt the warmth and glow of love. “The knowledge that she would never be loved in return acted upon her ideas as a tide acts upon cliffs.” I thought about the words for miles and wished I understood what they meant, and how they related to me and to Karmen and to me and Karmen, but I couldn’t unravel them then and I am no better at getting it now.

We rattled into the Monterrey bus station around four and 
I found the information booth with tarnished brass trimming 
standing alone in the center of the high-ceilinged lobby. 
There were pages of newspapers blowing across the floor 
and a low fog of tobacco smoke and men playing cards and 
dominos sitting on upstanding wooden fruit crates. 
Donde puedo obtener el siguiente bus para Corpus Christi?” 
“Where is the next bus to Corpus Christi?” I asked the 
cigarette behind the glass window of the information booth.
“Diez y ocho a cinco y media,” his Chesterfield wobbled. 
Lane 18, at 5:30.
I found a small formica counter in front of a Mexican beanery 
and I picked up a well-worn newspaper from an empty red 
leather stool and sat down at the counter and spread out 
the paper. The counterman came over with a glass of water 
and I ordered three eggs over and potatoes and coffee and 
bacon. I had 45 minutes before the bus, and I hadn’t eaten 
since the morning. I dug into the huevos like my tinny fork 
was a backhoe.
Though there were three empty stools on either side of me, 
I had sat smack in the middle of the seven stool counter, 
an old unshaven man in green workman’s pants sat down 
alongside me. Though my skin was brown from a summer 
in the sun and I wore my Seraperos cap, he read me 
immediately as an Americano.
He put his hands in his pants’ pockets and turned them out 
empty. “You have for a brother a dollar or two. I am hungry,” 
he mumbled.
Though I had only 100 dollars to get me back to New York 
(I had given Karmen the 10,000 pesos I had earned that 
summer) I gave the old man a five. I was hoping he would 
leave—I was in no mood for conversation—but he called the 
counterman over and ordered the same meal I was having, 
the only difference was he ketchupped both his eggs and 
“What here are you doing?” he began. “You are not from.”
“I am returning to New York, by way of Corpus Christi. 
I spent the summer down in Saltillo,” I gestured to my ballcap.
He gobbled at his huevos like he hadn’t seen food in a week. 
He finished his cup of well-sugared coffee in a single gulp and, 
tapping on his cup with his spoon, quickly received a refill.
“You are back going to Texas?” he asked, pronouncing the x 
as an h. 
“Through Texas, I’m going, and through a dozen other states, 
to arrive in New York where I will see my parents again, and 
go to college.”
He mopped up the egg yellow left on his plate with a small 
piece of fried potato. 

“You are leaving your loves in Mexico.” He finished chewing. 
“I can tell you are leaving behind loves.” I thought ahead to 
the 45-hours of bus-ride ahead of me and back to the 
Thornton Wilder I had read a couple hours earlier. 
“The knowledge that she would never be loved in 
return acted upon her ideas as a tide acts upon cliffs.” 
I folded in thirds the paper I had picked up and stuffed it 
in my back pocket. I left an American dollar as a tip for 
the counterman, and gave the rest of a five to my dining 
Though I still had 30 minutes before my bus was to leave, 
the Greyhound was in its bay, idling. I threw my bag into 
the overhead rack and took my usual seat, two back from 
the driver. I thought about the tide, acting on cliffs. 

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