a trip to mexico

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  • The Hudson Review, Inc

    A Trip to MexicoAuthor(s): Robert McDowellSource: The Hudson Review, Vol. 41, No. 4 (Winter, 1989), pp. 645-660Published by: The Hudson Review, IncStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3851040 .Accessed: 21/06/2014 21:30

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    A Trip to Mexico

    he train pulled out of Nogales. Jack stepped back from the link-up as the train gathered speed and slid open the heavy

    door to the car. Walking down the aisle past chattering Mexican families discussing the goods they'd loaded up on in the border town, Jack spotted his big Jewish friend Martin and Irene.

    They were sitting knee to knee beside their luggage and had saved him a hard seat. Because Irene was Jack's girl he sat down beside her. She scooted over against the luggage and squeezed his knee.

    "Isn't this great?" she said. "So long to Los Estados Unidos," Martin said.

    Jack said, "Got the cards?" Martin nodded, pulling a pack of

    Hoyle from his coat pocket. Removing the deck he shuffled and dealt out the cards for three-handed gin.

    As he went through the motions, losing game after game, Jack thought what a strange thing it was to be on a train in Mexico. The day before the three housemates had burned

    through the afternoon drinking Bloody Marys on their deck in West L. A. It was Irene's idea to do this. Because she was ten

    years older than Jack and Martin, she always came up with the best ideas. Because she was restless and easily bored they did a lot of crazy things. Not that it was crazy to be going to Mexico. But it was dicey getting Irene's sister to call up their bosses on Monday with the message that they wouldn't be in to work for a week. "Jobs are a dime a dozen, but Mexico is forever," Irene had said. Jack tried not to think of the unemployment that

    might be facing him when he got back. "Gin," Martin said, laying down his cards. "Deal me out," Jack said. "You two play." "You can't quit now," Irene said. "I drove all night. I'm whipped." Jack put his head back and

    fell asleep.

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    When he came to the train had shuddered to a stop. "Where are we?" he asked. "Hermosillo," Irene said. She was looking out the window

    and Jack leaned over to look around her shoulder. The scene outside was dry and dusty, as if the village had just come out of a kiln.

    "Sort of looks like parts of East L.A.," Martin said. A woman with one arm cradling a basket came up to the open window and spoke to them in Spanish. Irene spoke Spanish back.

    "What does she want? Money?" Jack said. "She wants to know if we want to buy shrimp tamales." "I'll try that," Martin said. "I'm starved." He fished out some

    pesos and handed them through the window. "Gracias," the woman said. As she smiled, handing up a

    bundle of oily paper, they saw that she was missing two front teeth. She took the pesos and moved on down the train. Martin

    opened the oily bundle on his lap and passed out the tamales. "You sure these are shrimp?" Jack asked. "Not cat meat?" "Gulf prawns," Irene said.

    "They're good," Martin said. He licked his fingers and

    unwrapped a second tamale. Jack took a big bite out of his. He chewed a bit then pulled something hard out of his mouth.

    "They're still in their shells," Jack said. "When in Rome . . ." Irene said, polishing off her tamale.

    By the time the train reached San Bias, Jack thought he was

    dying. The heat was serious, and the slow swaying of the train made him feel almost seasick. He thought Irene was kidding when she'd said that the trip would take about twenty hours.

    Twenty hours to go nine hundred miles? Ridiculous, he'd

    thought. Once in the States it had taken him twenty-seven hours to travel the same distance by Greyhound bus. Everyone knows that trains are faster than busses. When he pointed this out to Irene, she smiled and said, "This is a Mexican train."

    Outside the train window the land looked hostile, unchang- ing. Jack wished for some greenery, a single tree, but the same barren landscape passed slowly by. In Culiachan the train was boarded by a band of Federales. They marched through the car in their sweat-stained khakis, ammunition belts crisscrossing their chests and rifles slung over their shoulders, and disap-

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    peared into the next car. Jack craned his neck to watch them go then turned back.

    "Should we feel safer with them on board?" "Just don't hassle them," Irene said. "Don't worry," Jack said. "Let's try those cards again." The train arrived in Mazatlan in the middle of the night.

    They stood in the station and smoked cigarettes and argued. Because they were being spontaneous, because they had made no plans, they had no hotel to go to. All three were exhausted and sticky in their clothes. Martin and Jack needed to shave. Out on the street a small nervous man came up to them and asked in Spanish if they needed a taxi. Irene asked him to take them to an inexpensive but nice hotel in town and the two

    agreed on the fare. The taxi was a battered black '62 Chevy. Jack sat up front

    with the driver and Martin and Irene piled into the back with the luggage because the driver couldn't get the trunk open. Either the car's shocks were gone or the roads were badly pitted, but the ride was bumpy. Twice Jack flew off the seat and

    rapped his head on the roof. After the second time Jack cursed. The driver said something in Spanish and Irene answered. In

    English she said, "We're almost there." Ten minutes later they stopped in front of a low stucco

    building that took up half a city block. A series of numbered doors lined the wall facing them. They all got out of the cab and the driver rang the night buzzer. In a minute a sleepy guy with a sloppy moustache came out. The driver said something in

    Spanish, then Irene said something. Irene paid the driver and followed the other man into the office. When Irene came out she held up a key and walked down the wall of doors.

    "Number six," she said. Martin and Jack picked up the luggage and followed her.

    Inside Martin switched on a lamp between the two beds. The room was nothing special. The floor was bare concrete. There was nothing in the room besides two beds and a small table with the lamp on it. Beyond the second bed was a doorless doorway to a small room with a toilet and sink in it. When Jack went in to pee he saw that the toilet bowl was heavily stained. The water was brown. Pulling the chain to flush it he thought how he never imagined staying in such a joint. But he was still queasy

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    from the train and cab rides and he needed sleep. Undressing, he climbed into bed beside Irene. Martin was already in the other bed. The sheets felt like sandpaper, and Jack asked Irene if she'd checked for bugs. "Go to sleep," she said, and turned out the light.

    They lay there in the dark for about a minute when all of them heard it.

    "What the hell is that," Jack said. It sounded like hundreds of thick toenails clacking madly on the floor. Jack leaned over Irene and switched on the light. The clacking stopped. All three sat up in their beds and stared at the floor. On the concrete were hundreds of motionless roaches the size of

    potato bugs or bigger. They had come out of the walls in the dark and advanced in a closing circle on the beds. "That does it," Jack said. "I ain't staying." Martin picked up a shoe and threw it at the bugs. They clattered back into the walls. Jack jumped out of bed and got dressed. "We can't stay," he said. "I'll be outside."

    When Irene and Martin came out with the luggage Irene said, "Where's your sense of adventure?"

    "Go tell the guy. Get our money." Jack said. While Jack and Martin waited, Irene woke up the guy and

    went inside. "I called a cab," she said when she came out. "Did you get our money?" "He wouldn't do that." Jack wanted to go into the office and

    have it out with the guy, but Irene and Martin stopped him. He didn't know Spanish, they reminded him, what good would it do.

    "In Mexico a deal's a deal," Irene said. A half-hour later they checked into the Rio, one of the