I arrived in Corpus Christi, dusty hot Corpus Christi, at just before noon. I took a beat up rental company bus to a beat up rental company lot and rented a Ford Fusion from the lady behind the counter. We spoke in Spanish, her native tongue, as if in preparation for my sojourn south to Saltillo.
Whereas I usually waive all insurances when I rent a car—partly because you’re normally covered by regular car insurance and the insurance your credit card company provides. However, going to Saltillo, which has seen a huge rise in crime since I played there, I thought I’d be better off with the extra coverage. The last thing I need is being billed some thousands of dollars for a stolen car or an intact car with all four tires and rims stripped.
I also stowed my gear in the trunk, not the passenger seat or back seat. This was also a precaution against the rising tide of criminality. In Saltillo, they will throw a brick through your window and grab your gold chains or your handbags. Times, they say, are tough all over. And no tougher than they are in Mexico, where it seems unemployment is high and the price of life is low.
I found a radio station that seemed tolerable, a bit of country-western yodeling followed by half a dozen ads for local car dealers, then steered the machine out of Corpus Christi down southwest on I37, crossing the Rio Grande—where Trump wants to build his $40 billion wall—and I crossed the border not far from an ugly strip of semi-abandoned concrete near a town called Falcon Heights.
Around the border, I merged the Ford onto Mexican route 54, through the green city of Monterey, then on another hour or so through the dried dust of the Coahuila desert, dotted by sun-bleached, nearly unreadable old-wooden billboards urging drivers and their passengers to drink Pepsi, or drink Coke or drink this cerveza or that. Nearly as prevalent were the old political billboards for PAN, the National Action Party, or PRD, the Party of the Democratic Revolution or most prevalent, PRI, the Institutional Revolutionary Party. We passed them all, and a million crushed beer cans and onto the smoky industrial soot of Saltillo. Saltillo, Home Sooty Home.
I entered Saltillo and drove past the Camino Real Saltillo hotel on the Boulevard los Fundadores, where my teammates would be staying and then made a right on the Boulveard Morelos and down to Calle Viente, and the home I lived in 41 summers ago, that of Hector and Teresa Quesadilla.
I pulled the Ford into the small driveway and as I removed my duffle from the trunk, out came Teresa, huddled over and shuffling and with her a taller, younger Indian woman wearing a white linen dress. Without giving her too much consideration since I was interested solely in seeing Teresa, I assumed the other woman was her caretaker—Teresa is over 80 now, and last I saw her, two New Years’ ago, when she was presiding over Hector’s death, she looked old and frail. I walked to her, dropped my bag and hugged her like I would have hugged my mother, had I had one.
When Teresa and I released from our hug, the other woman offered her hand and then she spoke.
“Jorge, no me reconocen.”
I looked at her more closely.
“Karmen,” I said dumbly. “Karmen Rodriguez.”
It was Karmen Rodriguez, the girl in the white dress from 41 summers ago. We walked, the three of us, into the house.
We had catching up to do. A lot of catching up.