It happened on a long stretch of road in the middle of Baja California, both sides of the two-lane highway falling off into an empty desert stretching off in either direction as far as you could see. My dad had pulled over to help a family with a stalled vehicle. It was the middle of the night, so I was trying to sleep when the entire world exploded in a spray of gasoline and crunching metal.
The drunk driver smashed his head up pretty good when he slammed into the windshield, but besides that, miraculously, my sisters and I had only a few minor bruises. The rear end of the truck where we had been sleeping was smashed in but still drivable. So, with the injured drunk bleeding on the highway and the family stalled in the middle of nowhere, my dad drove us into town to look for help.
The Mexican police didn’t understand English, and in their misunderstanding about what had happened, they arrested my dad. That night, my sisters and I stayed up all night sitting on a bench outside the police station. The thing that stands out the most about that night was the dogs. The street was filled with a pack of famished dogs. Their ribs were showing as they ran up and down the street all night, barking at cars. I clearly remember the painful cry of a puppy. It’s yelp was cut short when a car ran over it. The car wasn’t moving fast, nor did it slow down when it made contact. It simply kept rolling, treating the dog as a speedbump as it went. Bump, bump.
The next day, my sisters, aged twelve and ten, got ahold of my dad’s wallet and were able to get us a hotel close by. I spent the next several days wandering around the small Mexican town, looking for things to occupy my time.
I probably should have been worried about my dad and what might have happened if he didn’t turn up soon, but I was a kid. I didn’t have the maturity to worry.
My sisters didn’t want to leave the hotel, so I was left to explore the town on my own.
It was hot, so I decided to go swimming. I found a swimming pool, but when I got in, there was some sort of darting creature, about the size of a fist zipping around in the water. It was hard to tell what it was because it was moving so fast, but occasionally, it would pause long enough for me to make out several pointed appendages. I don’t know if this sort of thing was normal down there, but it was enough to convince me to get out of the pool.
Still determined to go swimming, I headed out into the ocean. I was amazed because the entire beach was empty. Not a single person was on the sand or in the water on such a hot day, but I didn’t care. I was too dumb or too young to realize what this meant. After swimming in the warm waves for over an hour, I realized that a man was on the shore, waving his arms frantically and trying to get my attention. At first, I tried to pretend he wasn’t yelling at me, but after a couple minutes, he was impossible to ignore.
Once I got back on shore, the man started yelling at me while pointing at a large pipe hanging out over the water.
I shrugged my shoulders and said the only Spanish words my dad taught me. “No comprendo Español.”
So the man closed his eyes in frustration and seemed to dredge his limited English for a word I would understand.
“Shit!” he yelled while pointing at the pipe. “Shit!”
And then I realized why no one else was sharing this wonderful beach with me on such a hot day. I had been swimming happily in raw sewage for close to two hours.
After that, I figured it would be best to stay away from the water. This same man brought me into his store and convinced me to buy a bag of m-80’s. He gave me a lighter and showed me how to light the fuse. The loud explosion that followed ignited the pyromaniac that lives inside every young boy. I took my bag of fireworks and went in search of a place to use them.
Eventually, I found a dump on the outskirts of town. The place was littered with rusted machine parts and, discarded bottles, oh, and dead bodies.
The dog I had seen killed a couple days earlier was there, rotting beneath a cloud of buzzing flies. I kept my distance and stayed focused on the finer things in life—like blowing shit up.
I found an old car exhaust pipe and converted it to a cannon by dropping a lit m-80 down the pipe and setting old cans over the opening. The cans rocketed several hundred feet in the air. I felt like I had found my calling in life.
In the midst of my artillery fire, I noticed a trio of vultures watching from a dead tree nearby. Whether they were eyeing me or the dead dog, I couldn’t say, but it was enough to spook me out. I headed back into town.
Along the way, I passed by a odd looking building. It was a large blue structure with a strange billboard on top. A ball of curly hair with eyeballs was at the center of two long legs ending in high heels. Beneath this picture, were the only English words I had seen all day. “The Bearded Clam,” it said.
It would be several years later, when I was much older and much less innocent, when the meaning of this place would finally strike me like a hammer blow to the stomach. But, as an eight-year-old kid, I was curious. I decided to go see what was inside this bearded clam place. It must be something interesting considering how it seemed to be the busiest place in town.
I started walking toward the building, and that’s when I saw my dad. He pulled up along side me in his smashed in truck. Sitting beside him with a bandaged head was the drunk driver who had almost killed us.
My dad’s explanation was a little hazy, and I suspect I didn’t grasp most of it because I was so young, but I guess my dad was only let out of jail if he agreed to help the drunk driver pay for all the damages he had caused.
I didn’t think much about it at the time, but years later I would wonder why my dad and this stranger had been driving toward the bearded clam place when they, by pure chance, found me. I asked my dad about it later, but he “couldn’t remember.”
I would have liked to say that my dad’s arrival ended this strange time in Mexico, but it was just the beginning.
Some other time, I’ll have to write about the other bizarre things that happend on this trip in Mexico. Like the night I stumbled upon a lion in the dark, or when I got stabbed, or the time my sisters and I were nearly killed by hammerhead sharks.
It amazes me that this all happened and that we all survived.