So, we were were lost in the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert on a blistering summer afternoon and had just blown our second tire on some really, really bad potholes. Even Nubbie – ever patient – was looking a little stressed. 2,200 miles into a Mexican road trip, on our way home, and she was beginning to think that her garden, our bed, the latest New Yorker and a glass of wine were looking like a better deal than our current gig. We were in the middle of nowhere – I saw a couple of buildings a 1/4 of a mile down the road and managed to limp to them. Bingo! a llantera – a guy who fixes tires. He was able to get the spare working again but the original was shot. In the restaurant next door I found Israel, back from 10 years working construction in the U.S. of A.
Well, that’s what he said. The more I learned about Israel, the more complicated and cryptic his story became. There were children in Arizona and a woman who might or might not be his wife. There were relatives all over the U.S. but an urgent need to get back to this flyblown place. And, his clothes and tattoos were 100% narcotraficante.
No matter, Israel was our angel: I jumped into his pickup truck and we headed to the nearest town where, at the second hardware store, we found the exact replacement tire. The llantera installed it and we were back on the road. Gracias a Dio!
We’d spent two weeks on the road, blowing through California to Tucson, crossing the border at Nogales and heading South. Through Hermasillo, down the East coast of the Sea of Cortez to Mazatlan, a tourist spot whose tone is a little careworn. And in July, very, very hot. A popular spot, Herman Melville stayed there in 1844 while serving in the U.S. Navy. The State Department gives it a bad rap: the city’s State is home to the notorious Sinaloa Cartel. (I particularly like the description of three types of kidnapping: as an American consumer, I expect to be offered choices.)
Then, East to cooler climes, up 8,500 feet over the incredibly rugged Sierra Occidental – across the Devil’s Backbone – taking 115 bridges and 60 tunnels to get to Durango, high on the Altiplano. Durango and its environs look like – well – where a Western would be filmed (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was filmed here in 1966.). And to Zacatecas.
Zacatecas was founded by the Spaniards in the mid 1500s, before Shakespeare was born, to access the large amounts of silver ore nearby; over the next three centuries, the town produced much of wealth that Spain pulled in from its colonies. (Canadian mining companies continue to work the motherlode).
The town sits at 8,000 feet so, although tropical, it is never more than about 70 degrees. The Centro Historico retains its narrow, winding cobbled streets, squares and plazas, and has numerous churches. We would fall asleep at night to the sound of single bells from nearby churches announcing evening prayers. The perfect Nubbie temperature.
Lexie finished college in the Spring with an internship in Northern Alberta working with aboriginal single teen moms, most with alcohol, meth or heroin issues. Gnarly. She spent the summer working with a bunch of twenty somethings managing a small, remote hiking lodge in the Canadian Rockies. Lake O’hara Lodge was built by Swiss mountain guides brought in by the railway in the 1800s to develop tourism. It sits amidst pristeen lakes, meadows and glaciers and folks make the most of a fragile and truncated summer there.
She got into snow and ice climbing, ascending a number of nearby peaks and learned all about service (she worked in housekeeping and in the restaurant.) Lexie liked the outdoors so much that she opted to teach skiing this winter in Colorado. She bought her first car (That seems like a very American rite of passage) and in October, she and I drove it to Steamboat Springs from Alameda.
Through rural California, across Nevada and Utah, doglegging through Wyoming and into Western Colorado. Truck stops, ranches, mobile homes, oilfields, masses of semis on the road. Deplorables country: Lexie and I had some good conversations about why folks vote the way they do and how rarefied our point of view can be, living in one of the coastal bubbles.
I love driving across America: the drum of tires on the road, the smell of diesel and cigarettes at the truckstops, the caffeinated buzz of long hours behind the wheel, the weirdly levelling experience of all being on the move, of all going somewhere.
Liam worked with his partners to launch a new line of skateboards, which, despite a random slowdown in the industry, is doing well. More about Prism here. And, the obligatory scary video here.
[vimeo 179609065 w=640 h=360]
He really enjoys Oakland and his ‘hood, a rather crusty locale around the corner from the East Bay Rats Motorcycle Club (Nicely described in a memoir about a guy who ran the club: Bullies: a Friendship.) Liam is the go-to guy for local spots to eat and the finest dive bar accessible after 2 AM, and is very loyal to his circle of friends, including Jake, who has just released some fine new hip hop tracks (A little rude.). A couple of weeks ago, Liam was delayed getting to a music event late one evening in an old warehouse in East Oakland and arrived just in time to see it being consumed in flames. 35 some odd folks died that night – the place was a fire trap of live work spaces, old vehicles, squatters and illegal wiring.
Much to his mother’s despair, Liam purchased a Triumph Bonneville 900 – a really fine looking motorcycle, which he ordered in a matt black. He took me on a ride, popping onto the freeway at a fair clip. Scared the bejeezuz out of me.
I spent two Saturdays recently baking with the guy that taught my class a few years ago. Mac is a magnificent baker and makes what is difficult and complicated look smooth and easy. He bakes beautiful bread and viennoiserie for a couple of farmers markets in San Francisco and helped me figure out some small, simple ways to improve the quality of the sourdough I bake.
I would like to tell you about Nubbie, but if I did, someone would have to kill me. She is visible in this photograph from my birthday camping trip in May: any more than this, and I would have to join Edward Snowden in Moscow as a fugitive.
It seems fitting to close with the words of a Mexican mystic who lived not far from Zacatecas, in San Luis Potosi, raising nine children as a widow, during the turbulent Mexican Revolution.
Love is the soul of every life of prayer and of every good work.
– Concepcion Cabrera de Armida
Blessings to you and your family this holiday season.