Friday, August 25, 2017

A night in Corpus Christi, 1975.

After six hours on a Mexican Greyhound bus, I arrived in Corpus Christi two hours late, just before midnight and walked the six blocks to the same motel I had checked into almost six months earlier when I was heading down to Saltillo back in early June.

With barely more than a dozen words between us, I had shoved $21 across the scratched formica counter and the night manager on duty shoved a key back to me.

“Elevator through the lobby on the left,” he said without looking up.

“Is there someplace to get some dinner?”

“AJs might be open. Take a right out of the front door.”

I found the stairs and hustled up one flight to my little square room. I threw my team duffle on the bed and put on a new t-shirt. I had been wearing the old one for 17 hours since I left Saltillo. I washed my face, and the water in the basin ran brown with the dust that came off. I combed my hair and brushed my teeth then tripped down the steps to find a burger.

The streets of Corpus Christi were wide and empty. The storefronts were gated shut and the only light came from a flickering street lamp a block ahead. In a minute I found AJs, a long rectangle of a place with five vinyl covered stools at a worn counter and six tables for four or two shoved intermittently against the back wall.

I took “The Bridges of San Luis Rey” out of my pocket and leaned on an elbow and waited for the counterman to bring me a menu.

He decided to skip that step. Instead he walked over with a damp rag and wiped the counter in front on me and gave me a distinctly Bronx-like “what’llitbe.”

In five minutes he was back, pulling a bottle of ketchup out of his apron pocket and with a burger and fries in one hand and a vanilla milkshake in the other. He placed them in front of me and went back to the other end of the counter where he scraped clean the grill with a dirty spatula.

“You’re not from around here,” he said over his shoulder, and not stopping his scraping.

I Sam-Spaded an answer, “I’m not from around anywhere.” I took a bite, “But I’m heading back anyway.”

Truth be told, I hated the idea of heading back to the crypt that was my parents’ home and the judgment and petty meannesses they would visit upon me.

“I played last season in the Mexican League,” I chewed. “Down in Saltillo.”

He walked over my way and leaned on the counter, his cigarette dancing off his lower lip like an acrobat.


“Good enough to play,” I answered, “Not good enough to keep playing.”

He laughed at that and went out from behind the counter and walked to the front of the place, straightening chairs and tables as he went. He pulled down the steel storefront and locked it shut with a giant Master lock, the sort which came down like leaves in the fall when it became dark.

I looked at the bill, and left a five on the counter and got up to leave.

“Good night,” he said and he opened the door for me to exit.

Then he put out his hand to shake mine.

“Even if you’re not good enough to keep playing,” he told me, “you keep playing.”

He went back into the joint to out the lights and head home.

And I walked back slowly to my rented room..

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