Jeff Smith 6 p.m., Oct. 8
- Community Blog
- Living in El Fin Del Mundo
A Mule for the Road
Somebody once told me that common sense is worth a fortune. Unfortunately, I am a cheapskate so that's probably why I don't have any. I think I'll buy a mule. Not a handsome mule. I wouldn't want his features to overshadow mine, and since decades of rough living has left my appearance a bit frayed, it wouldn't take much. No, I don't want a handsome mule. I just want a good looking mule. That way, when my mule and I are walking to the local grocery store to purchase some munchies, folks will point at my mule and holler; "Say, that's a mighty fine looking mule you got there, neighbor!"
' The dirt roads that traverse my palatial wooden shack in El Fin del Mundo are steep and rutted. Nobody rides bicycles in my neighborhood. It is impossible to do on a daily basis. Commuting to and from town, or across the border by ten speed/ beach cruiser, is not an option. I suppose if you had one of those expensive mountain bikes and strong leg muscles you might be able to get back up the hills. But who wants to fight that battle after a long day at work. Motorcycles are a possibility but they're not my favorite. It's rural and quiet up here. The nights are as silent as they are dark. During the day, the loudest noises you here are barking dogs and stereos playing corridos. I like to call it 'writer's quiet.' Packs of roaring motorcycles would destroy the ambiance of the street. I'm kind of glad most folks are to poor and sensible to own one. It would be like in the United States, where people drive their cars to the corner store to buy a carton of milk. Here in El Fin del Mundo, automobiles and feet are the two most common forms of transportation. It helps quite a bit if your vehicle is a four wheel drive, or your shoes are double soled. Especially when it rains and the dirt roads morph into quagmires. I remember one morning about four am. The rain had been falling in buckets for a couple of days and deep crevices had been cut into the roads by the streams of water gushing down the hills. I didn't realize how deep the ruts were until I saw a car, nose down in one. The car was vertical and only the rear half was visible. The rain was falling hard and I wasn't so much driving down the hill as sliding. I wished the trapped driver luck as I half drove and half slid down the road. I didn't wish him to much luck because I needed some for me. The dust, heat and wind in El Fin del Mundo tears automobiles up. You can never keep them clean and maintenance is a bitch. Nevertheless, I am a native of Los Angeles and in the City of Angeles, 'only losers walk.' I don't agree with that last statement but it is the sad truth. It took me a long time to shake the addiction that so many Southern Californians have to driving their own ride. When I was a kid, if you were poor and growing up in Los Angeles, chances were there was a freeway near your house. I grew up a block away from where the 710/Long Beach and 5/Santa Ana freeways intersect. From the day I left the hospital in my mother's arms the sound of freeway traffic was my lullaby The first car I owned was a 62 Ford Falcon that I bought off of my grandfather in 1978. It was made the same year that I was born and nobody sat prouder than I, in my beat up, box shaped "hunk of junk" as my grandmother called it. After that came a lowrider 68 Caprice, a hippie 74 Ford Econoline van, three pick up trucks (one was an El Camino) during my construction worker years and finally a little Suzuki Grand Vitara mini SUV. She was a sweet little burgundy thing. What you'd call a 'soccer mom' looking vehicle. I loved it for its inconspicuousness. That was when I realized I'd come full circle. From a lime green and canary yellow Ford van with a bed, ice box and shag carpeting that just screamed "bust this stoner!" To a soccer mom mini SUV that barely whispered 'wallflower'. It was when I understood how subtly middle age can creep up on you. My cars have meant a lot to me. Giving up my car was like giving up a big, personal chunk of my American heart. It's a feeling that only a car culture understands. But I want to practice what I preach and that is; "Peace on a clean planet." We still have a family car. I have never driven it even though I paid for half of it. When it's not being repaired, the little white Mitsubishi gets driven by my girlfriend's older son. When we first bought the car, he'd always toss me the keys if we were going to the store and I would always toss them right back. "No thanks," was all I'd say. I think it puzzled him that I had gone from someone who never let anybody drive 'his car,' to someone who never drove the 'family car.' Fortunately for us, he loves to drive and doesn't mind taxiing his mother and I around. It is amazing how differently you view your surroundings when you're not zipping through it in an automobile. You notice a lot more of the world when you travel by foot, bus, or just sitting shotgun in the family car. As a young man living in Los Angeles, I would spend an hour driving home from a local factory job that would have taken me forty-five minutes to walk. Why you ask? Because I wanted to be sooo-LA-coool. When I lived in Murrietta I would drive to my job site in El Cajon. That commute is called the I-15 nightmare and no amount of adding lanes is going to change it because you still have to deal with the street traffic any time you exit the corridor. Two to three hours wasted on the I-15 became three to four hours wasted in line at San Ysidro when I moved to Tijuana. One day I just couldn't take it anymore. Here in Mexico it was a bit easier to cure myself of auto-dependence. Who am I kidding. It was tough as hell. I felt like a cowboy without a horse. All bowlegged with nowhere to go. The first time that I stood at a bus stop in Las Playas de Tijuana, I didn't know that you have to 'hail' the specific type and color of transportation you were seeking. They won't stop if you don't. Many different bus companies operate in Tijuana. Not to mention the taxis and shuttle vans. Most commuters tend to gather at street corners while awaiting their specific transportation to come along. From within this growing cluster of humans each rider must flag down the type of commuter service they want. For example; You might be waiting for the blue and white bus. The guy on one side of you is waiting for a white and orange taxi and the gal behind you is waiting for a bronze on white shuttle van. None of whom are going to stop for anybody unless you flag them down. I stood around feeling like 'Stupider from Jupiter' for almost an hour before I figured it out. Going cold turkey from a lifetime behind the wheel to being a permanent passenger was worse than kicking crack cocaine. You sweat a lot more in the beginning from all the walking to bus routes. My dilemma was compounded by the fact that I had to learn two different transportation systems, in two different cities, in two different countries, in two different languages. Try doing that first thing in the morning when all you've had for breakfast are two cups of black coffee and a pan dulce. Not an easy task for a simple minded peon like myself. I still don't have it all down but by trial and error I'm getting it done. But that brings me back to the mule. You see, the one thing I miss most about having my own ride was the carrying capacity. I would rather take the bus, or even sometimes just walk to the supermarket in town but I always wind up with more bags tha I can comfortably carry. That's where my mule comes in. I wouldn't be riding the long eared fellow. I'd just need him to help me carry our groceries. Of course I don't want a handsome mule... Coffee's Ready, Gotta Go!!!