Tía Matty started making noise in the kitchen sometime between 2 and 3AM. I rolled over on the sofa and pulled the thick fuzzy Sponge Bob blanket over my head. (That blanket’s gotten me through some bad nights). My aunt let her movements and clanking become gradually louder until finally my alarm went off at three. My Abuela and I were to take a bus to Idaho Falls to catch the 5:35 flight to Denver, where we would get a connecting flight to L.A. There, some time late tonight, we would get on a first class southbound international bus to Mazatlan. But we’d only ride half way, because my grandparents lived in Guaymas.
“Ya levántate,” urged Tía Matty. Get up. “There’s chocolate caliente on the counter.”
As if a classic cup of Mexican hot cocoa wasn’t motivation enough, she yanked the pillow from under my head. I reached for my phone and checked if I had any messages from Cindy. I had stayed up texting her til one. There was one last kissy emoji I hadn’t seen. A few days earlier, for our one month “anniversary,” I had taken her to spend the afternoon at Jackson Hole. We parked near a bridge over Flat Creek to watch the sun set over the range peaks. There, hugging her waist and kissing her neck, I swore my unconditional love to her in foggy whispers and declared myself the happiest 17 year old on earth. We went to the movies after dinner to watch Breaking Dawn and she let me rest my hand between her legs. It was a really good film. From what I saw, anyway.
It was now 3:05 and I was still sitting on the sofa. I rolled up my blankets and knocked on my bedroom door. “Mamá is in the bathroom. You can get dressed in there,” my aunt said. “Hurry up.” I could have gotten up at two and she’d be hurrying me up. I had already packed everything I needed for my two-week trip. Two pairs of jeans. It was warm down there so about ten short-sleeved shirts. My laptop I’d manage to buy at a thrift store. It’s crazy how little you actually need to get by. When we don’t travel, we constantly try to pile the world onto our shelves and plaster its landscapes across our walls. But we were designed to wander. A reliance on stuff isn’t evolution. It’s more like devolution. Relying on less- that is progress. Eventually I would rely on myself and not my aunt. I’d have my own family and they’d all rely on me. And I wouldn’t buy them tons on stuff, like I never had. I would teach them to rely on themselves, too, and then other people who are really hurting can rely on people like us. People ’round here who’d seen me grow up would see me then and say- “That George was a nobody. They say his dad was a drug-dealer. But he’s really made a name for himself. If you need your car fixed, take it to George. If he don’t fix it, he won’t charge you labor.”
We waddled with the luggage through the frost to the driveway. My aunt turned on the motor and we waited in silence for my grandma. Five minutes later, we were still waiting. “Go see what’s taking her so long.”
“It’s like fifteen degrees outside. I ain’t going back out.”
“George.” Her tone had that threatening inflection parents give to their voice when they’re lining up an ass-beating for you.
“It won’t make any difference unless I physically carry her out of the house.”
She honked on the horn.
“Tía, the neighbors!”
“Oh, our neighborhood’s so nice, I hope they don’t kick us out.”
I got out and went to look for my grandma.
“Abuela, ya es tarde.” It’s late.
“Es que no encuentro la caja de cigarrillos para tu abuelo.” She couldn’t find the box of cigarettes she’d gotten for Grandpa.
I told her my aunt probably threw it out and urged her out the door. She turned around and went back to the bathroom to grab her toothbrush.
When we finally got buckled into the station wagon, my aunt put it in reverse and nothing happened.
“Qué la fregada.” My aunt hit the steering wheel and the horn blew again.
“You tell me.”
I wiggled the gear selector. “It’s gotta be the transmission.”
My aunt pulled on her hair. “I knew I should’ve bought the flight insurance. Mom’s always running late.”
“No digas que estoy vieja, tarugo.” Don’t call me old, dummy. She was slow physically but was all there mentally.
“Sorry, Abuela. Don’t panic. I’m gonna call Meztli.”
We lugged all the baggage back inside. Meztli didn’t answer until the third try.
“Why you gotta interrupt my beauty sleep?”
“Yo Meztli, we need a ride.” I explained what had happened.
“She doesn’t drive!”
“She’s got brothers. Your cuñados.”
“Oh come on Meztli. Just this once.”
“Slave for life.”
“I can’t do that.” I waited a few seconds while she mulled it over in her head.
“It just kinda feels like- like there’s nothing in it for me.”
“I guess my bad karma has been piling up for a while. Ugh. Fine. I’ll be there in five.”
But I did call Cindy. And I had Meztli pick her up on our way to the airport. And I made my grandma switch seats with me so Cindy and I could cuddle for the next hour. Meztli was very mature about the whole thing, mostly because of her high regard for the elderly.
We got to the TSA line where Meztli asked me for gas money. Cindy kissed me good luck and then pulled me back in for a “happy new years” kiss. I saw Meztli rolling her eyes out of the corner of my eye. I reached over and pulled her hoodie over her face.
I’d never been on a flight before and the ride to Denver was a bumpy one, but my grandma slept through it, so I figured we weren’t gonna die unless she woke up.
At the Denver airport, Grandma asked me to go buy Grandpa another box of cigarettes. I argued with her and refused to go. Finally, she went herself, except she wound up getting him two boxes since they were duty-free.
We exited LAX around 4PM and that gave us about five hours before we had to board the international bus. Grandma knew all the best taco stands downtown and we hit them all. Her cough had gone away altogether as soon as we had left the frigid cold.
It was at a taco stand at the Plazita Olvera that I met Elias. He was following a Chivas-America soccer game on an old mounted television and I asked him what half they were in. Turned out, he was also on his way to the train station. So the three of us rode a cab there. Then all three of us walked up to the same bus stop, and it turned out he was also headed to Guaymas, to do some sort of missionary work for his church.
Not gonna lie. Elias and I had a lot in common. I mean, he had parents and had grown up in Santa Monica, and was a full on adult- like 22 years old. But he had an auto shop down in Guaymas, where he’d been living for the last couple years. He was really into soccer and video games- though he took the latter to a more serious level than I did. And he liked to write too, except he wrote songs.
The next morning, the sun crept up the orange desert plains and the mesas on the horizon seemed to catch on fire. Elias pulled his guitar case out from above the seats and started singing some popular Mexican folk songs. Someone started to pass a hat around and I put a five in it. He really got all the passengers into it, especially my grandma. I couldn’t imagine ever being on a singing bus back home. Not even when I was in elementary school. I just smiled in awe.
“Musicians may be poor but I’ll tell you one thing, we’ll never starve to death,” he said as he got back in his seat beside me. “The bus makes a long breakfast stop in Hermosillo. Let me treat you and your grandma to this great burrito place. You know, they don’t sell burritos south of Hermosillo.”
“You better stick by me, Buddy, or you’ll wind up smuggling drugs and not even know it.”
So that’s what I did, and upon his advice, I took a couple burritos for the road.