For the past 30 years, Larry has been traveling south of the border to party on his birthday. He and his friend Mary McDonald charter a bus and pile all their friends into it for the trip into Baja. I showed up early Saturday morning and threw my bag onto the bus along with everyone else's. I was surprised by the number of bags people packed for an overnight stay.
Roll call was taken (Larry's a teacher), and our money was collected ($15 for the round trip). The Rosarito Beach Hotel ocean-view rooms for two were $89.
As we drove through Point Loma, I couldn't believe how loud the group was on the bus. We sounded as if we were kids on a field trip, though the average age was 40. The e-mail invitation promised the bus would be filled with "teachers, jewelry dealers, filmmakers, musicians, college professors, authors, photographers...and an Elvis impersonator."
The Elvis impersonator I had met at a concert the night before. He was the drummer for the Johnny Cash tribute band Cash'd Out.
Larry handed out candy and again we sounded as if we were kids. We groaned when we saw that it was sugar-free. Leslie, whom I sat next to, had a stash of Dove chocolates, which we devoured. Other people had their own stashes -- coffee, alcohol.
The scenery improved when we got through the border and TJ and out to the coast road. As we drove along the coastline, I saw three men with rifles standing in front of a pottery store. There were sandbags stacked in front of them. Sights like this aren't as worrisome when you are on a crowded bus.
The bus stopped in Puerto Nuevo for lunch. Everyone ordered lobster, and the place gave us a discount for having a large party. The free margaritas were delicious. The fajitas I ordered were not. A mariachi band entertained us, and they were able to play most of the songs we shouted for.
A retired librarian seated at my table told me a little about a student film festival that she curates. Her best stories, however, were about crashing parties. She and a friend used to dress up in fur coats and jewels and crash parties at the Beverly Hills Hotel in the '60s. One time they saw John Wayne going into an event and asked him if he could get them in. He put his arms around them, and they entered. That may be one of the best party-crashing stories of all time.
A couple at my table talked about their trip to Venice. I asked if they rode in a gondola. The woman said yes, but her husband said no. She said, "Yes we did. That's how we got to the hotel." He said, "No, it was a motorboat."
After lunch, we browsed along the sidewalk vendors. It reminded me of a swap meet. Leslie saw TV newsman Larry Himmel and yelled out his name. He came over with his camera crew and asked us how often we came to Puerto Nuevo and how it's changed. I told Himmel that it was my first time there. Another person reported that, years ago, you had to go to people's houses to eat fresh lobster; that you had to go door to door through Puerto Nuevo to find out who caught lobster that day.
Larry had told a story on the bus about his students making a film called No Luck for Fat Duck. It was about a man who cooked the pet duck he had as a boy. When I came across a table filled with animals carved from wood, I decided to buy a duck for Larry. The saleslady said it was $20. As I bargained with her, Leslie said she'd pay half. The saleslady's eyes turned to dollar signs. We purchased the duck for $10.
As the bus departed Puerto Nuevo, I was amazed how the driver negotiated the sharp turns and narrow alleys on the way back to the coast road.
A few passengers told me about a time during a storm that their bus rolled backwards down a hill. Someone on the bus had to climb over the bus driver to put her foot on the brake while everyone evacuated and the bus driver, who scooted out from underneath the woman, placed rocks under the tires, stopping the bus from sliding into the hotel.
While in line to get our room keys, the hotel staff served margaritas. I was concerned about the ice in the drinks because everyone says you shouldn't drink the water. I drank my cocktail before the ice had time to melt. Someone pointed out that I was still drinking water that was mixed in the drink, which didn't stop me from drinking a second one.
We were told that Leonardo DiCaprio stayed in one of the suites here while filming Titanic. I wondered how many hotels around here made that claim.
As I approached the stairs, one of the hotel workers joked, "Don't slip. We don't have insurance."
That afternoon, Larry threw a party in his suite. He had a view of the beach and the pier. There were several horses on the beach. Larry said, "You can rent a horse to ride. They crap a lot on the sand, though. It's awful."
It was Larry's birthday, and his friends brought him gifts. He received a José Cuervo bottle that had lights inside of it. Someone said, "That thing looks like a bomb. We'll be lucky to get it across the border."
Larry went to a nearby market for tequila, and one of the ladies went to get ice. When she came back with a tray full, she said, "The ice man cometh."
As Larry opened his presents, we drank. We looked at photos from previous events and talked about the tortilla toss that would be taking place in a few hours. More on that next week.
Crash your party? Call 619-235-3000 x421 and leave an invitation for Josh Board.