Monday, December 19, 2016

Back to Saltillo.

Forty-two years ago when I headed to Saltillo, Mexico, I first took the New Haven Rail Road down to Grand Central Terminal, then I walked crosstown, with my army-fatigue green canvas duffle slung over my shoulder, to Port Authority.

I had two-hundred dollars with me, $50 in my wallet, and $150 taped inside my canvas sneakers. I had some ratty old clothes, a couple of paperback books, and a letter from my baseball coach, Mr. Babich, as a means of introducing me to however many managers it would take for me to land a job playing ball.

I hustled past Bryant Square park and its legion of heroin addicts. I swung my bag like David his sling, lest some muggers run at me with knives or box cutters. I made it past the porno theatres and the peep shows and finally into the urine-sodden bus terminal. I headed straightaway to the filthy scratched-up bullet-proof plexiglass guarding the indolent ticket-sellers at the Greyhound counter.

My knocking finally roused an old man who was sitting on his stool smoking a cigarette.

“One-way to Corpus Christi.”

“Corpus Christi, Texas?”

“Is there another one?”

“One-way, $37.75. Gate 149. 2:30.”

I paid him the fare, with two twenties, counted my $2.25’s change and looked at my watch. I had two hours to kill before my bus, so I headed to the Orange Julius on the main flight of the terminal for two franks and an orange drink. That killed about 12 minutes and left me with a ten dollar bill of the $50 I had had in my wallet.

On the mezzanine level, I found a small bookstore and I browsed for 30 minutes through the fiction, buying a .75-cent paperback edition of Thomas Wolfe’s “Look Homeward, Angel.” I opened my duffle and squeezed it in among my wrinkled clothing, my Rawlings “Finest in the Field” Brooks Robinson-model infielder’s glove and my Riddell black-leather baseball spikes.

Next-door, I found a liquor store and furtively walked along the aisles until I found a bottle of Early Times bourbon—a two-pint bottle that I could carry in the back pocket of my blue jeans. I avoided making eye-contact with the frown behind the counter; I was only 17 and it was illegal for me to buy liquor, but he took my ten without a word and shoved seven dollars and some change back my way, along with the small bottle in a bottle-sized brown-paper bag.

I left the store with an hour still to kill before my bus. I found a bench unoccupied by drunks or creeps and opened the variously-folded map they had given me of my route to Corpus Christi.

The trip was to take 45 hours in all, 29 stops including transfers in Richmond, Atlanta, Mobile and Houston. I’d be going through places I’d never heard of before, through a world I’d never seen before. Away.

I cracked open my Thomas Wolfe and my Early Times and had a go at each. The bourbon burned as I drank it down, and so did the opening lines of Wolfe. Wolfe always hurt, which is why, even at 17, I loved him.

. . . a stone, a leaf, an unfound door; of a stone, a leaf, a door.
And of all the forgotten faces.

Naked and alone we came into exile.  In her dark womb we did not
know our mother's face; from the prison of her flesh have we come
into the unspeakable and incommunicable prison of this earth.

Which of us has known his brother?  Which of us has looked into his
father's heart?  Which of us has not remained forever prison-pent?
Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone?

O waste of loss, in the hot mazes, lost, among bright stars on this
most weary unbright cinder, lost!  Remembering speechlessly we seek
the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a
stone, a leaf, an unfound door.  Where?  When?

O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.

I walked finally to gate 149 and waited there in line breathing the diesel soot and the summer smell of a billion passengers, passengers going nowhere, passengers going away, passengers like me, running away from homes they never had. I swigged a swig and recited the map I had memorized.

Newark, Newark, DE, Richmond, Raleigh, Charlotte, Spartanburg, Duncan. Greenville, Anderson, Gainesville, Norcross, Atlanta, Columbus, Opelika, Montgomery, Evergreen, Mobile, Baton Rouge, Beaumont Vidor, Houston, Rosenberg. Wharton, El Campo, Victoria, Refugio, Odem Sinton. Corpus Christi. And from there, to Saltillo.

I swigged another swig and found a row near the front with no one next to me. I rested my head against the greasy dust of the window and stared out at the grime as the bus began to roll. And roll. And roll.
Now, it is almost 42 years after my baseball Odyssey and I am returning, once again, wife in tow, to Saltillo. We are flying non-stop to Monterrey—roughly a five-hour flight—then renting a car and driving about an hour to Saltillo. We should be at Teresa’s house, lord willing, by dinnertime.

I tried to persuade my wife to take with me the bus instead of flying. She gave me a look—a look only a man’s wife could give him. And I promptly folded my bus-proffering tent.

We take off in about ten minutes.

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