By Rich Wright
Posted on June 27, 2008
I call my truck Rolling Thunder. Thunder for short. Thunder was carved from a solid block of Detroit steel by union craftsmen, back when the number to the right of the decimal point for gasoline was tenths of a penny. Thunder weighs 4,000 pounds and burns 400 cubic inches of vaporized gasoline every cycle, 2,000 cycles a minute, and the straight pipes rumble, like rolling thunder.
Now we're nudging four bucks a gallon. Ouch.
I tried taking the bus to work. I got there late.
With buses you give up the convenience of a car, the door to door and leave when you want. A minute late and you wait for the next one, twenty five minutes on my route, if they're running on schedule or at least consistently late. And when you get to the bus stop you never know when the last one came and when the next one's due, except maybe at five a.m., because after that the schedule is pretty much out the window.
I took the bus to Juarez the other day, just to see. The aduana came on board and looked in my bag, I think because there were only four of us on board and he felt like he was there anyway.
I've been on more buses than you have. I used to take the Mexican buses, Chihuahenses or Tres Estrellas or Bola de Oro. These days they have movies on DVD and lots of tv sets. In those days you improved your Spanish reading trashy comic book novelas full of sex and violence. The buses stopped at improbable locations. People got on or off at dirt road intersections with bulging nylon bags stacked four high or no luggage at all. Drinking wasn't allowed on those buses, so you'd take swigs from your tequila bottle holding your cowboy hat up so the bus driver wouldn't see, always tequila and never beer because beer made you pee.
The bus drivers were like the captains of ships. They were the law on board. The best seat, in the front on the right, was reserved for the other driver. They drove in shifts, one at the wheel and the other in the best seat, or standing on the steps, or sleeping in the cajuela, downstairs in the luggage bin, on a foam mattress under acrylic blankets with another blanket folded for a pillow. When the shift change came the drivers would switch without stopping, negotiating the over/under with three hands on the wheel and then one and then two again.
On one bus the driver had a sign up front that read God is my Pilot for I am Blind.
I took the bus to Creel one time on New Year's Day, and they said the driver was drunk and they had to find another one, but I think they just waited for him to sober up enough. The locals take the bus to Cuahtemoc and then get on the Ch al P, the Chihuahua al Pacifico, the train that runs through the Copper Canyon. That's the quickest or cheapest or most comfortable way, or all three or pick any two.
These days Mexican buses run from El Paso to the heartland, too, to Denver or Las Vegas or East L.A. You can get on the bus in South El Paso and get off in East L.A. and think you just went around the block. In El Paso you can buy a ticket to Greeley, Colorado, with a transfer in Denver. There's a meat packing plant in Greeley. In this country the other driver sleeps in a box in the cabin for which the bus company gave up, grudgingly, I guess, four paying seats. On the route to Denver the only regular stop is in Albuquerque. If you want to get on in Los Lunas, or Raton, or Santa Fe, you have to call ahead to make arrangements, and the bus will pick you up in a convenience store parking lot or at a MacDonald's. At the bus station in Alburquerque a DEA agent comes on board and flashes his gold federal badge and asks your citizenship and can he look in your carry on luggage, unless he knows you're an American and might be familiar with the constitution. He can't risk a refusal and let the cat out of the bag, that you can say no.
The movies on these Mexican buses are family fare, Spanish, mostly, but sometimes English. You don't get the good B movies, the ones with four minutes without dialog, cat and mouse gunfights in warehouses and scrub brush, whining ricochets and slow, agonizing, lurching deaths. The ten hour ride to Denver is two movies, mostly, but sometimes three, unless you take the overnight, where everybody sleeps, and you disembark in the cold mountain air at dawn in downtown Denver, everybody blowing fog and wrapping up, and your girlfriend at the time is waiting for you to drive you home and take you to bed.
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