Monthly Archives: August 2020

Crossing the Border

read previous: “Escaping 1968”

July 2, 1968

We are so excited! Eager to get on our way to Mexico! We’d never traveled anywhere and now were traveling beyond the borders of the United States. At breakfast, we didn’t even mind that the Holiday Inn restaurant kitchen cooked our bacon on a grill that had obviously not been cleaned after grilling onions on it the night before.

We thought we were getting out before the crowds at the border, but when we arrived at the customs station everyone else was there too. There were at least 200 people ahead of us. It felt like we were in the Tower of Babel; we really wished that we had paid more attention in our high school Spanish classes. The first officer to help us spoke only Spanish; when he realized we spoke only English, he summoned another officer who spoke some English. Charles was so excited to hear English that when the officer asked him a question to which the response would have been “yes,” or “si” in Spanish, Charles responded with a French, “oui.” I teased him about this for years.

After two hours, we had our papers and were able to cross into Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, just across the border from Laredo, Texas. We navigated through streets that were crowded with cars and people. We couldn’t believe how many stores were along the way. Houses were more than a little modest, built of stone and wood.

MountainView

Mountain view

When we reached the highway, we found that it was too narrow for passing. As we approached signs, I was busily looking up the translations to make sure we were following the map. We could see part of the Sierra Madre Mountains from the highway. The views were breathtakingly beautiful. Hills, steep mountains, patches of shrubbery that looked like nappy or kinky Afros, cacti, stumps of trees, tall trees with pineapple-shaped bark on the trunks and palm-like tops.

We would be in the valley for a while, and then ascend into the mountains with solid rock on both sides of the highway for a distance, and then the rock would give way to a corduroy of green on the mountain sides. As we traveled down the mountain sides into the valleys, it was as if the palm trees that surrounded us were thousands of people with outstretched arms worshiping the sun.

It was 2:30 in the afternoon when we arrived in Monterrey, Mexico. We had no trouble finding the Ramada Inn because it was on top of a mountain. We were impressed! After the onion bacon at our last hotel restaurant, we decided to go into town to eat. Although there was a language barrier, the people worked with us to try to communicate, and we were more than grateful for their kindness.

Since there was no TV or radio in our hotel room, we thought we would buy some playing cards to pass the time when we were bored. Try explaining playing cards to a shopkeeper when you don’t speak the language. Thinking that we had bought a deck of playing cards, we later discovered that what we bought was a set of cards to play a game like Bingo, which would have further necessitated a special table. Charles, being the wizard that he was, devised a makeshift deck since the number of cards worked. That night, we played the first of many games of Gin Rummy with the strangest cards.

July 3, 1968

Leaving Monterrey, we were fascinated at how the mountainsides were covered with colorful houses. We traveled on Highway 85 to Ciudad Valles. Driving this highway was a challenge because it wound around the outer rims of mountains. It was also extremely narrow with even narrower bridges making it only possible for one car to cross at a time. In addition to slowing considerably because of all the curves around the mountains, we shared the highway with goats, horses, and sometimes people walking. We made a game of imagining what the goats and cows who stopped in front of our car to stare at us might be saying: “What are you doing here?” “Are you lost or something?”

HotelValles

Hotel Valles

Relieved to leave the highway, we arrived in Ciudad Valles just after 5:00 p.m. Hotel Valles was a pleasant change from the vanilla Holiday and Ramada Inns. It had been around for a while and was quite elegant in its own way. Built of stone with curved archways on the outside, the inside revealed high ceilings, and the space for our bedroom, vestibule, and bathroom was larger than our entire apartment back home.

Too early for supper, we explored the town on foot and became something of a main attraction to the locals. We were famished, having eaten a lunch consisting only of a coke and something resembling a Hostess cupcake so stale that it scratched our throats when we swallowed. We tried what we thought were potato chips, pappas fritos. We only needed to try one to realize that our digestive system would not be able to handle the heavy grease-soaked pig skins.

Our hotel restaurant was our salvation. The food was so good at supper, we thought we had died and gone to heaven. Charles had filet mignon and I had baked ham Hawaiian style. If I had to pick a theme for our road-trip honeymoon, it would be food. With all the culture and history surrounding us, the most memorable events for me involved food.

Thoroughly satiated and dead on our feet, we retired to our room, where I rolled my hair and Charles reviewed the AAA book.

Next stop, Mexico City!

Escaping 1968

It’s 1968, and there is so much to be sad and angry about. I wake up every morning realizing that it’s not a bad dream or a nightmare: the nation is still enmeshed in the Vietnam War and the assassinations of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in April and Robert F. Kennedy in June were all-too-real. It is just too much.

Rounding the bend of our first year of marriage, a hard year of teaching high school students, and living in an apartment where a mouse left tracks on our stove after eating our cherry pie that we left to cool while we went to the laundromat, Charles and I strained toward that clearing that would be a long summer vacation. We had diligently saved money from every paycheck for our postponed honeymoon, bought a new car, and headed southwest out of Chicago for our road-trip honeymoon.

Charles used to tease me about inviting other people to go with us when went out for fun. He would ask me with a smile, “Are you afraid to be alone with me?” He wouldn’t be surprised that I’m inviting you to go on our honeymoon with us. Just as we escaped from 1968, wouldn’t you like to get away from the sadness and anger of 2020?

We divided up the driving so neither of us would drive more than 200 miles at a time. The first stop was Miller’s Trailer Camp somewhere between Carthage and Joplin, Missouri. Charles is the outdoor type and had been quite excited about getting all the equipment to do some camping along the way. The closest I had ever come to camping was having a tailgate picnic in a park.

The campsite was cute with a little white house with red trim for the store and two more red and white houses for the showers and toilettes. We pitched our tent under a beautiful oak tree surrounded by white peonies. The temperature had been in the 90s during the day and was below 50 degrees at night. It was so cold!

TripTikAfter sleeping outdoors in the cold, I woke up the next morning with a sore throat. I could barely talk and had a headache. I felt awful! We packed up our tent and headed for Tulsa, Oklahoma. We visited the sites recommended in our AAA TripTik. Determined to keep to our trip plan, we pushed on to Dallas, Texas. When we arrived, we discovered that the Lions International had booked every room in town. After driving around looking for a room for more than two hours, we considered our options. We couldn’t stay at another campsite because I knew I was going to die if we did.

Our only option was to drive on to Arlington, Texas, where we found a room at the Clayton House Motel. We were excited to eat at a local Mexican restaurant, but my cold symptoms were so severe, we had to leave to find medicine. Notwithstanding the fact that the cold was getting worse—a throat so sore I could barely swallow, a stiff neck, and feeling sick all over—we enjoyed the sightseeing in Dallas the next day.

In Austin, we dropped our bags in our room at the Roadway Inn and went out for Kentucky Fried Chicken since my throat was feeling somewhat better. Although I could swallow without much pain, I was far from being free of the cold. I could not stop coughing and just knew that I would cough myself to death right there in Austin. Despite lack of sleep and exhaustion from all the coughing, we kept to our sightseeing plan in the capital before heading west to Johnson City, Texas, population 854, where we peered into the three open rooms of very modest  accommodations at the house where President Lyndon B. Johnson had lived in from 1913 to 1934.

About an hour after leaving Johnson City, we arrived in San Antonio and went directly to the motel. Upon entering our room, the dampness and stuffiness set me off on a coughing fit so bad that Charles took me to a hospital. Going to a hospital emergency room with a cough is a bad idea. We returned to our room and I continued to cough, feeling bad for Charles having to endure my coughing and complaining. While I didn’t sleep at all, I guess Charles was so tired he could even sleep through my hacking cough. We found a doctor in San Antonio the next morning, but after seeing the doctor’s office and being around the very sick people in the waiting area, I decided that it was better to die from the cough than from some other disease I might contract from the doctor’s office.

Charles looking out from the top of the Tower of the Americas

Charles looking out from the top of the Tower of the Americas

One of our major destination stops was in San Antonio. We were excited about going to the 1968 Hemisfair—that year’s World’s Fair, themed “The Confluence of Civilizations in the Americas.” We loved going to the top of the “Tower of the Americas” where we could look out over the entire fairgrounds. We visited all the pavilions and toured the fairgrounds by both train and boat. We were most fascinated by the Laterna Magica, a Czech movie house in three dimensions—what we now call multimedia. The Hemisfair exceeded our expectations. We loved it!

Considering our tight budget, it had been difficult to find good places to eat along our journey. That is, until we discovered Earl Abel’s. We ate every meal there while in San Antonio. Food never tasted so good!

Next stop, Laredo, Texas, where we went directly to the AAA office to get our tourists’ papers. Leaving the office to get gas, there was a sudden downpour so heavy that we had to pull to the side of the road. While waiting for the rain to slacken, Charles glanced over our hotel reservations for Monterrey, Mexico. We laughed at ourselves when he discovered that we yokels were about to drive into Mexico on July 1, when our hotel reservation was not until July 2. We were so glad he discovered this before we crossed the border and had no place to stay for the night. Thank goodness we could stay another night in Laredo. We were able to get a room at the Holiday Inn, and we had supper in the hotel restaurant. We didn’t even complain when our main course arrived a full hour after our salad and beverage were served.

After two weeks in which we had not seen any folks that looked like us, we met a “Negro” couple in the Holiday Inn restaurant. They came to our table and introduced themselves, and we ended up visiting with them in their room after dinner. They were from Detroit and were making their fourth trip to Mexico.

After being in our room for a while, we realized that I was not coughing! There was no odor or damp smell either. We thought we’d celebrate. We needed ice cream! Charles went out in search of the treat, but the only flavor he could find was banana nut. Now, I had eaten so much banana nut bread in college—a charitable gift for poor colored students from an old couple in Charleston—that I’d said I would never eat banana nut anything again. But this was different. We were able to get spoons from the hotel restaurant and, with great anticipation, prepared to dig in. The ice cream was so old that when we opened it, we discovered just ice and soft nuts. No cream anywhere. We could not stop laughing.

July 2, 1968, heading for the border…