After a year of sacrifice in deference to the coronavirus, I’m filled with yearnings: to leave home without having to wear a mask; to spend time with my family; to see my friends in person; to go out to restaurants, the gym, movie theaters, plays and concerts; to shop in stores; to travel. I yearn to take a walk and breathe freely.
Then I read this among the many articles guiding us on the route to normalcy:
Only about 9% of the US population has been vaccinated. Estimates suggest that it will take between 60% and 80% of the population to get vaccinated before the country achieves herd immunity, and it’s safe for everyone to loosen precautions entirely.
Opinions of our fellow citizens about how to re-enter “normal” society go from one extreme to another and a lot of in-between. On one end are those who think that they have the “all clear” after they receive their vaccine. On the other end are those open to wearing masks and performing excessive handwashing until they can’t remember why they are doing so.
Like many in the middle, I’m relying on messages from the FDA and CDC in order to make my decisions about how I will re-enter the world after being vaccinated for COVID-19.
However, separating the “wheat from the chaff” in messaging is the prevailing challenge of the moment. It can be disconcerting when one is encouraged to trust the science and the data, and then told to “trust the real-world evidence” when there is no empirical data to support this “evidence.” Difficulty in distilling what is fact and what isn’t causes one to question the integrity of some of the voices we’re hearing.
When my skepticism takes up space in my mind, I recall the fact that trust without thinking is not the best platform upon which to make decisions.
Therefore, I plan to continue to listen to the recommendations from sanctioned authorities as well as opinions of friends and acquaintances as I contemplate on how to re-engage more fully with the world. Breathing deeply and slowly while meditating on the joys of free will and individual rights is a good first step in getting to my new normal.
“You would have more time to get other things done if you didn’t write so many thank you notes and letters,” said Joan, my wise administrative assistant in the 1980s.
While reviewing notebooks and journals I’ve kept over the years, I am amazed at the number of times I noted that I was writing a thank you to someone for something or other. For example, shortly after my retirement as NASPA executive director in 2012, I took a trip as part of the association’s exploration of offering professional development to those who provided student services in some of the universities in China.
I was in Shanghai at the Renaissance Hotel after having travelled to several other cities in China when I reviewed my meeting notes and made a list of the people with whom I had met during this visit. My list included 27 names and pertinent information to help me recall who the people were and the occasion of our coming together. These were the people to whom I would be sending thank you letters upon my return to the United States.
When I wrote the letters, the ones that made me smile the most were the ones I wrote to “unofficial” people, such as the exuberant young women students who met me at some station or harbor in pouring rain carrying a bouquet of flowers that were the worse for wear after being drenched by the rain.
As I look back on what was a time-consuming and, to me, necessary chore of writing so many notes of gratitude over the course of my life, I realize that I likely benefitted more from writing these missives of appreciation than the recipients who might have given my message a cursory review at best.
In order to write the message, I had to recall the location, the interaction, and the result of the meeting. I could relive the pleasantness of the moments. Often, there are so many distractions and emotions present during encounters—whether with people we’ve just met, day-to-day colleagues, or long-time friends and family—that keep us from appreciating what is happening in real time. Recalling the experience in quiet contemplation, we can tease out the wonder of the gift of having made this unique human contact. I’m grateful for these memories and writing to express my gratitude on so many occasions has been well worth the “costs” in time and effort.
Having finally navigated out of the pitch-black courtyard after our stay at the unique Posada de la Soledad hotel in Morelia, we were finally on our way. Even after sunrise, it remained dark for quite a while due to heavy cloud cover.
We took turns driving every two hours with a stop in Guadalajara. In my mind’s eye, I can recall scenes in Guadalajara, such as the lovely flower-covered gates and street vendors, but perhaps because our stay was so brief, I didn’t record anything about our visit in my journal.
We powered on to Mazatlán, arriving 12 hours after we began this leg of our road trip. We were fortunate to get a room at the first place we stopped. Our goal was to scrub our bodies, wash our hair, and eat in a nice restaurant. It was in Mazatlán where we ordered fried fish and were surprised when we were served a whole fish including head and tail.
After supper we sat on a concrete wall overlooking the Pacific Ocean and watched the waves for a very long time before retiring for the night.
I don’t know why, but clearly I was in a goofy mood when I wrote this journal entry:
Chuckie and Gwen left Mazatlán at 5:30 a.m. They thought the streets and beaches would be deserted, but they were so wrong. The Pacific, near the shore, was full of bobbing heads of people taking an early morning dip. People were walking the streets as if it were midday.
It took nine hours to drive from Mazatlán to Guaymas. Gwen only drove two of the nine hours. Poor dear Chuckie! The kids ate cookies, peanut butter sandwiches, and tuna with mustard all the way to Guaymas. After finding a room at the Guaymas Inn, with stuffed tummies, they went directly to bed.
We know that today is Sunday because by 7:00 a.m. the highway leading out of Guaymas is relatively free of farmers. Traversing a relatively flat terrain in sunny and warm weather was a joy. We made good time driving, reaching the border around noon. We had to return our tourists’ permits at the Mexico Customs Station, and at U.S. Customs we had to take everything out of the car for inspection. We were lucky that the Customs Officer we had was nice because he didn’t dump our things out like some of the other inspectors did when inspecting the cars of other tourists.
As we drove away from the Customs Station into Nogales, Arizona, Charles started screaming and pointing at stop signs, street signs, and store signs because they were in English! We were laughing and screaming because we were so happy to be back in the good ol’ USA!
We went directly to the AAA office to exchange the little currency we had left. We marveled at the fact that we didn’t have to check to see if we had enough bottles of water because we could just go to a water cooler and drink the water.
Tucson was about an hour’s drive from Nogales. We welcomed the 97-degree temperature in Tucson because we had been cold so much while in Mexico. Our first task was to find a laundromat to wash our dirty clothes. We knew that there would be one near the University of Arizona.
After washing our clothes, we went to a campsite where it cost $2.32 to secure a space to pitch our tent – the Giant Genie. (I have no recollection of why I called the tent the Giant Genie in my journal.) I put the tent poles together while Charles unfolded the canvas. When these tasks were completed, we moved quickly because it looked as if it were going to rain. I began to pump up the air mattresses while Charles put the poles in the tent. Lightning began to flash as the sky grew dark.
Just as Charles got the tent set up, a strong wind began blowing everything away, including the Giant Genie! While I tried to hold down the air mattresses and loose articles, Charles struggled to keep our tent from blowing away, but he wasn’t able to keep one of the poles from breaking. We worked for at least an hour trying to improvise a way to keep the Giant Genie up despite the broken pole.
While we struggled with the tent, the wind and rain turned into a major storm. Drenched, we took the Giant Genie down, let the air out of the mattresses, and repacked the trunk of the car. Wet all over, we drove back into Tucson to an Arby’s where we ordered roast beef sandwiches and milkshakes. We felt better after eating and set out to find a room.
In our hotel room, we had a telephone that we knew how to use. We each called our mothers to let them know that we were back in the United States. I was thrilled to see that there was a television in our room, since there had not been one in any place we stayed while in Mexico. With great anticipation, I turned on the tube. Unfortunately, there was only static. Thoroughly disappointed, we cleaned up and went to bed.
Although we had been drenched the day before and disappointed in not being able to watch television, we were in good spirits at breakfast as we made light conversation with the waitresses who were dressed in cowgirl outfits. We were feeling rested and optimistic as we discussed our options for the day: We could go to the Grand Canyon if we could get another pole for our tent. If we failed at this, we could visit Los Angeles.
After breakfast, we stopped at a service station for gas and selected an option that we had not previously discussed. The service station attendant noticed that our right front tire was low, so he suggested that we let him put the car up on a rack to check the tire for a nail. With sympathy in his facial expression and voice, the attendant told us that we were in for big car trouble. While there was no nail in the tire, he informed us that the front wheel alignment was off and, as a result, our tire was going to be completely destroyed.
Resigned to adjust to this new development, we unpacked the other maps, bought food supplies, and headed east for home. We drove to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and stayed the night.
After a sleepless night because of a storm, we took a tour of the campus of the University of New Mexico before hitting the highway. Impressed by the pueblo-style buildings, we’d never seen a university campus such as this.
We drove for about an hour before stopping for breakfast at the Longhorn Ranch restaurant. The street looked like what we’d seen on television as main street in Dodge City during the days of Dillon, Earp, and Hickock.
After breakfast, we went to the adjacent shop where I bought necklaces made of beads and corn. We sent postcards home, and for the final leg of our road-trip honeymoon, we hit “Highway 66” toward Oklahoma City and did not rest until we got home sweet home!
Not that it makes any difference whether it’s the weekend or not when we don’t have to go to work, but today is Saturday—what is usually a shopping day for us—so why not shop today?
We got up early to drive from Taxco to Cuernavaca, where one of Charles’ aunts who had visited Mexico years before directed us for a particular kind of leather purse for her. Once we were there, it took us about an hour to find the store. There were no leather purses like the one we were supposed to get for Charles’ aunt.
With nothing else to do and feeling less like tourists now, Charles drove us to Mexico City, where we went directly to the San Juan Market. After buying two purses that might be what Charles’ aunt wanted, we decided to shop more at another market, La Merced, where I bought a large sewing basket and a bread basket.
After shopping, we were famished, so we stopped at Kentucky Fried Chicken! This food we understood, and it was a welcome change. Since Charles had driven earlier, I drove back to Taxco, where we just collapsed. We even slept through the supper hour and didn’t wake up until the next morning.
We wake up to a cloudy and rainy day. In fact, given the fact that our hotel is atop a hill, we find ourselves actually in the low-hanging clouds. This was an unusual experience for us.
It rained hard all day, making it impossible for us to get out of our room. We were going stir crazy! Trying to find something to do, Charles repaired a broken handle on the sewing basket we bought the day before, while I washed clothes in cold water in the small wash basin and ironed two shirts and a dress on a tiny square table.
We talked about how we missed eating the foods we were accustomed to back home. We even crafted a seven-day menu, including a lot of artery-blocking foods that were our favorites. Later, we regretted that we had spent a lot of time daydreaming about favorite foods and planning menus before going to dinner at the hotel restaurant because our real dinner was definitely no comparison.
To break up the monotony and to get out of our room, we took a drive after supper before returning for yet another game of Gin Rummy. Our road-trip honeymoon is beginning to drag, though neither of us admits it.
We were up early, excited to get on the road to Acapulco. It was an easy drive, and we were happy that it was warm and sunny after so much rain and cool weather.
Acapulco, itself, and the hotel we planned to stay at were the ultimate destinations for our honeymoon. I had read that our hotel, Las Brisas, was the hotel where the Kennedys had spent their honeymoon. The hotel is high on a hill, commanding a full view of Acapulco Bay and the city of Acapulco. At $45.00 a day, we thought that this must be one of the most expensive hotels in the world—and it was worth every cent!
Everything was painted pink and white. Our pink-and-white cottage, enclosed by a white concrete wall on one side and shrubbery on the other, has its own private swimming pool and terrace facing the ocean. Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages of every type are available in the refrigerator. Breakfast is brought to our cottage every morning and fresh fruits are brought daily, as well. This is living!
Midday, we went to town for a walk-around and a snack. When we returned, we luxuriated poolside before going back to town for supper. What a life!
This must be how the rich and famous live. Waking up around 10:00 a.m. to the smell of coffee and fresh rolls brought to our room is still unreal to us. It is here at Las Brisas where we experienced breakfast in bed for the first time and, possibly the last time, in our lives. With nothing to do but lounge around and play in the pool, we didn’t leave the hotel until midday. Because it was cool, we put sweatshirts on over our swimwear and went to town for lunch.
For our trip to town, I had worn beach walkers, but Charles had not worn any shoes. He was full of regret when the pavement heated up, so we set out looking for sandals. To our surprise, every shop was closed between 1:00 and 4:00 p. m. If we had taken more time to read our tourists’ materials, we would have known about this custom.
Since there were no sandals to be bought this afternoon, and we didn’t want to go back to the hotel yet, we went to the beach. The waves in Acapulco Bay were strong, turbulent, and beautiful. We walked down to the waters’ edge and sat in the sand like two children enjoying the waves as they washed over us leaving us covered with sand and salt.
After a while, we went back up the hill to Las Brisas, where we cleaned up before returning to town for supper. Before retiring for the night, we played our twelfth game of Gin Rummy. The score is six to six. We sure do miss television.
It’s not bad having a birthday in Acapulco ensconced at Las Brisas. We decided to splurge and order lunch from the expensive hotel restaurant. I won’t go into the description of the pepper steak we ordered, but it was not money well spent. We had to go to town for a burger.
We dressed up for our evening meal to celebrate the special occasion at an expensive French restaurant called Normandie’s. We looked forward to this night out with eager anticipation, and we were not disappointed. We had a delicious meal and felt a great sense of satisfaction about the way the day had unfolded as we went back up the hill where we could luxuriate one more night in our pink-and-white cottage.
We got up at 4:00 a.m., checked out of the lovely Las Brisas Hotel, and were on the road by 5:45 a.m. Driving through scenic mountainous country, we ran into low clouds and rain periodically before we arrived at our destination in Morelia.
Our destination was a hotel named Posada de la Soledad. Charles and I liked a lot of the same kinds of things and that’s why our relationship had so little friction. However, this hotel showed us that we didn’t agree on everything.
Charles was fascinated by how unusual the hotel was and I was so disappointed. Before we arrived at the hotel, I decided that I would stay in our room and relax while he went to supper. I was getting concerned about my expanding waistline.
We were taken to our room and let in by a man who took the key with him. There was no key for us and no way for us to lock the door from the inside. Our very cold, high-ceilinged, dark room was large with heavy Spanish-styled dark furnishings. Above the bed was a huge picture of the Virgin Mary gazing down at the bed. The windows were covered with thick wooden doors. When I told Charles that I had changed my mind and would go to supper with him after all, he laughed and said, “Don’t tell me that you’re afraid in a monastery!”
The dark and dank restaurant was in what used to be a dining room for the monks who lived in this monastery. The few of us who were there for supper sat at a long and narrow wooden table in extremely uncomfortable chairs. The flowers that should have brightened the room just made the place more eerie to me because there was a funeral parlor next door, and I could not help but think that the red gladiolas were left over from someone’s funeral.
Ordinarily, I would be reluctant to get up at 4:00 a.m., but not on the day we were to leave the Posada de la Soledad. When we left our room, we were surprised to find that the desk was closed. At all the previous hotels, there seemed to be someone at the desk all night. Since we had paid in advance and had no key to return, we slowly and cautiously moved through a pitch-black courtyard toward what we thought was the exit.
When we reached what seemed to be a door, we found it barricaded! As we stood there shivering from the cold and fear in the dark, we heard a shuffling noise behind us. Unable to see anything because it was as black as night wherever we were, Charles called out in a deep but querulous voice, “Who’s there? I say, Who’s there?” Suddenly a man appeared directly in front of us. Using every word we had ever learned in Spanish, we tried to communicate that we wanted to leave. The man removed the barricade, we gave him a generous tip and moved as rapidly as we could to our car.
The experiences of this day would remain vividly in our minds throughout the remainder of our trip.
We headed out for Taxco in our newly washed car with half a box of stale cookies for lunch. We had been quite specific about not wanting to have our car washed when approached by a man in the courtyard of the hotel the previous evening. Nevertheless, when we walked out of the hotel the next morning, our 1968 dark blue Cutlass with the white vinyl top, was sparkling like new. The Industrious man we had seen the night before made a job for himself in order to earn a little money.
The reason we only had a few stale cookies for our trip was because the hotel we went to for breakfast only made enough lunches for its guests. We shrugged our shoulders and said we would just get all the little hiccups and inconveniences out of the way during the morning so we could have smooth sailing on our journey to Taxco.
I drove the first 100 miles with the windows down enjoying the balmy weather. We were in a good mood as we sang our favorite songs all the way to Cuatla where we stopped for gas. Cuatla is famous for its association with several revolutionary leaders including Emiliano Zapata, one of Charles’ favorite heroes.
We encountered another hiccup in Cuatla when we realized that we didn’t have enough of the right currency to pay for the gas. The local bank was closed, and the hotel we found would not cash a traveler’s check. We eventually found a restaurant that would give us an exchange for our U.S. dollars.
By early evening, we were starving and the road out of Cuatla toward Taxco was unpaved. The towns we passed through were not on the map, and it was getting dark as we maneuvered our way across nearly unnavigable terrain. We eventually realized that we were hopelessly lost. We just kept driving until we came to a stop at a gate, and men in uniforms carrying rifles seemed to appear out of nowhere! There were blinding lights shining through our front windshield and through the side windows. I frankly don’t recall the exchange we had with the men, but we apparently had driven up to an army base. To say that we were frightened in no way describes how scared we were. We must have indicated in some manner that we were headed to Taxco.
We were both shaking as we drove back in the direction from whence we had come. By sheer luck, we finally blundered onto Highway 95. After the experience with the soldiers, we had no inclination to talk, so we sat quietly as we drove the last 20 miles to our destination. We finally began to exhale when we were registering as guests at the Hotel Loma Linda in Taxco.
Yes, we were starving the next morning when we had breakfast at the Hotel Loma Linda. In daylight we made note of our room number, 108, and we knew that this must be our lucky number.
We could see where people lived from the balcony of our hotel room. It was fascinating to see that the houses, like white stacked boxes, were built up and throughout the mountainside.
Taxco is known for its silver. While Charles put the Hemisfair sticker from the San Antonio World’s Fair on our car, I walked next door to a shop that was advertised as a “silver factory.” I was disappointed to see that the prices were so high since I thought it really was a factory. I should have known that the prices would not be good because of all the tour busses outside.
After breakfast, we decided to walk to the center of town, stopping at every silver shop along the way. We marveled at how the streets composed of rocks, stones, and bricks just seemed to naturally grow up into the mountainsides.
After spending the entire day walking around town, we returned to the hotel to inquire about tickets to a famous night club we had heard about called “Las Cantarranas,” translated in English as “The Singing Frogs.” The tickets were not yet available, so we took a drive to locate the place during daylight hours since there were no lights on the highway or roads at night and we didn’t want to end up in a place like we had ended up the night before. The club was open so we went inside to check it out. We wished we hadn’t seen it in the daylight. It was not at all inviting, but we had heard that it was “the” place to go for entertainment.
After dinner at the hotel, there was a thunderstorm, so we had to postpone our night out. It’s a good thing we did because after the most delicious ice cream that we had ever had in our lives, we took turns in the bathroom the rest of the night. We learned later that we had such a reaction because the ice cream was made of goat’s milk. For years after this trip, if we saw any type of food indicating that it was made of goat’s milk, we would recall our Taxco experience and take a pass.
On this day, we headed for silver shops along the highway. All the “Platarias” seemed to have the exact same merchandise. Just before we decided to go back to the hotel, a young man ran out of his shop and literally dragged us inside to show us something “different.” His jewelry was beautiful and unusual because he had blended copper, brass, and silver. He proudly showed us how he executed his craft. Unfortunately, we had spent all the money we had allocated for silver and could not buy any of this unique jewelry.
Other than walking around and shopping at shops for silver, according to our Trip Tik, there was nothing else to see or do. We took an afternoon nap before supper and played Gin Rummy until it was time to dress for our evening out at Las Cantarranas.
That night, we learned that the mansion or hacienda where Las Cantarranas is housed was built in the 1500s. We thought that it had to be the most unique club in the world. While it looked like a pile of ruins in the daylight, it was transformed at night.
Upon entering, we found ourselves in a cave-like room lighted only by candles in brown paper bags placed on top of tree stumps that also served as tables for drinks. Tables and chairs were small and placed close together in front of a raised platform for the band. The platform was also a place where guests could dance if they chose to do so.
After about 45 minutes in the room with the band and some dancing, everyone was led downstairs to a cozy room that had windows. In this room, all the guests sat on padded benches very close to the floor and the raised platform was just large enough for a single chair. After everyone was seated and had been served drinks, the owner of the club came out to welcome the guests, first in Spanish and then in English. After a most effusive welcome, he shared the history of the building. Then he introduced the main attraction. We sat spellbound for about half an hour as we were entertained by a most gifted and marvelous Flamenco guitarist.
Our next stop was outside on a patio. When we were all seated, five gaily decorated men climbed a 70-foot pole that did not appear to be too stable! Four of the men sat on a square that they put together with four wooden boards. The fifth man stood on another piece of wood that was about twelve inches in diameter in the center of the square of boards where the four men were spinning around like they were on a merry-go-round. The man on the 12-inch platform in the center danced on this small piece of wood while playing a flute-like instrument. All the while, the four seated men had been holding torches. Suddenly, while everyone was watching and listening with amazement to the music of the man in the center, the four seated men fell backwards and started spinning around the top of the pole. They were only held by a rope attached to their feet! Now all five men held lighted torches as they spun around down the pole until they reached the ground. As onlookers, we were out of breath just watching this performance.
Next, we were all ushered into another room where entertainers from Trinidad and London put on a very spirited and fun show with a lot of singing and dancing. After this, there was, yet, another space for entertainment! This second patio was built over a natural waterfall, and the loud music and psychedelic lights created the right atmosphere for dancing. When the music stopped, we thought it was time to leave, but not yet. Two male dancers from the Ballet Folklorico topped off a most entertaining evening!
Our last day in Mexico City before going to Puebla, we have only a couple of things on our schedule after getting breakfast at a smorgasbord restaurant called Shirley’s. Still looking forward to every meal, we posit that we’re so hungry all the time because the meal schedule is different than our regular routine of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We need an excuse.
Although we would not entertain the idea today and would be embarrassed to talk about it, we were truly excited about going to a real live bullfight! Told we would need to hire a guide to take us, that’s just what we did, setting out with one other couple for the bullfights. The plan was to spend the entire afternoon at the arena.
Despite rain all afternoon, we were awed by the spectacle of the bullfights. We didn’t know whether the rain was a bad omen or not, but it seemed that things just didn’t go as planned during the bullfights. For example, a bull jumped the high fence to chase a matador’s helper; a picador stuck a bull and was unable to remove the pick, so the poor man was fined; a matador’s cape was caught on a bull’s horns and it looked as if the bull was teasing the matador rather than the other way around. Most disturbing was the fact that three matadors were gored and had to be taken from the arena. We couldn’t say we “enjoyed” the bullfights, but we were certainly intrigued and enlightened about a sport that was completely foreign to us.
The only other plan for this day was to have one more night in the Zocalo, enjoying the lights and sounds of the city with others.
July 8, 1968–Puebla
The next morning, we drove around for two hours before finding the highway to Puebla. Finally arriving in the late afternoon, we checked into the Senorial Hotel. It was not our first choice, but we were happy to find a place since we had no reservation. With nothing to do before dinner, we shopped for onyx since we heard that the city was famous for the quality of the stone here.
We decided to have dinner at the hotel restaurant. Sitting near a large showcase window so we could see outside, instead we seemed to be the main attraction for those passing by. We surmised that the people of Puebla had not seen many “colored” people like us. Entire families would stop, scrutinize us, and talk amongst themselves.
We felt a little like we were back in the United States, especially at the behavior of a White man in the restaurant. When we arrived, the man had just been served a beer. He looked at us with what we interpreted as disdain, to put it mildly. He muttered something under his breath and his neck actually began to bleed. His face reddened and he paid his check without drinking his beer and left the restaurant. Now, he could have been bleeding from a nick when shaving and just lost his taste for the beer, but we couldn’t help but think that he left because of us. We laughed after he left and said that he probably came all the way to Puebla to get away from ‘Negroes,’ and here we were.
We thought we would have steak for dinner. What a mistake! The meat tasted like liver to me, and I couldn’t eat it. Because Charles ate his steak, I teased him that he was eating some of the bulls that we had seen the day before. I think that “bull meat” must have been the cause of Charles’ sleep disturbance that evening. From his sounds and movements, it seemed that he was fighting bulls most of the night, though he never awoke while I barely got any sleep.
Our restless night might be the reason we forgot Charles’ camera when we left Puebla the next morning for Oaxaca. When we discovered that the camera was missing, we turned around and prayed all the way back that it would still be there. Our prayers were answered. After we fetched the camera, we set out again.
July 9, 1968–Oxaca
The drive to Oxaca was long and tedious because of bad roads and many curves around mountains. Charles drove all the way because I could hardly keep my eyes open after not getting much sleep.
We arrived in Oxaca at 2:30 p.m. and were unable to get a room where we had planned to stay. Our second choice was the Hotel Marguerita. We were just in time for a lunch that provided what we called “bulk” but not much flavor. After lunch, we drove to the marketplace. As in Mexico City, there was an abundance of food and colors to excite the senses.
Oxaca is known for the quality of its black pottery. We bought a few pieces for ourselves and added to our load of gifts for friends and family. I bought a nice tote bag for my sister, as well. After driving and walking all around town, we returned to the hotel where we entertained ourselves with a game of Gin Rummy.
We got up at 8:30 and I had the experience of ironing a shirt and a dress on a round table. Despite the struggle, the pressed garments didn’t look too bad. It’s funny how, for years after, I would recall this experience and think about how lucky I was to have an ironing board with edges.
After breakfast, we headed to the San Juan Market on a bus where the sweetest little boy sang beautifully for tips from passengers. Everybody works in Mexico City.
When we arrived at the Market, we walked first through the colorful and naturally odoriferous produce building, which had fruits and vegetables of every description. Next, we walked across the street to the merchandise market. We were amazed at the number of leather goods, baskets, serapes, and silver pieces for sale. We wanted to buy most of what we saw, but we practiced restraint because there was so much more to see.
We left the San Juan Market and took a bus to La Merced, an almost indescribably lush marketplace. There was a huge building with nothing in it but fresh fruits and vegetables. Charles and I had to pray for willpower to keep from buying a tomato, a cantaloupe, or a watermelon. This produce was as beautiful as one could imagine.
Outside and all around the building on the sidewalk were men, women, and children of all ages selling everything from shoes to almonds and peanuts. We went to markets underground and found huge sections of clothes in the most vibrant and beautiful colors we had ever seen. It was almost overwhelming to the senses. In another section, there were more baskets to be sold than we could have imagined existed.
After so much sense stimulation from things to see and buy, we decided to go back to Chalpaultepec Park to visit the Archaeological Museum. Having never been to Central Park in New York City, we marveled at the fact that this Park with so much to see was in the middle of Mexico City.
We didn’t know which bus to take so we took a guess and, WOW, what a bus ride! We thought that if we took a bus on the main street near San Juan Market, it would eventually go back to the Reforma, the main thoroughfare across Mexico City. After we boarded our best-guess bus, the driver turned the bus around and proceeded to drive in the opposite direction than we thought we would be going. We had a map, so we tried to keep some sense of direction by following the bus route on the map. But as soon as we thought we had located our position on the map, our bus driver would turn the bus on two wheels and take off down narrow side streets, careen around circles, and on and on until we had no hope of figuring out our location. We were sure that we went places no tour would ever go and no guide would ever recommend.
On our mad bus ride, we saw the beautiful University of Mexico and lovely houses near the university in an area appropriately named University City. While there were many shops here, as well, we didn’t get off the bus. Since we couldn’t locate where we were on the map and could not communicate with the driver, we decided to enjoy the trip and hope the bus would eventually retrace its route and finally take us to some familiar place.
To our horror, after a long ride, the bus went to the bus terminal with just the two of us left on a bus that earlier had been packed with people like sardines in a can. The bus terminal was a vacant lot that looked like the city dump. Near this place was a series of very small dwellings made of tin and rocks inhabited by some of the poorest people we had ever seen.
There were about five buses ready to leave the terminal, and our language handicap was more apparent than ever as we tried to figure out which one to board. Finally, after pointing at the place we wanted to go on the map, we were directed to a particular bus. Feeling some sense of relief after getting on what we assumed was the right bus, we realized that we didn’t know when or where to get off the bus. We were poor babes in the woods. Luckily, there was a young man on our bus who was at the terminal when we were trying to find out which bus to take, so he knew that we were hopelessly lost. Though he never acknowledged us during the bus ride, when he was getting off the bus, he called out to us and indicated where we should get off the current bus in order to catch another bus.
It took more than half an hour to get on the next bus because of the crowds. We finally reached the Reforma, a place we knew. There, we took a bus back to Chapultepec Park, where we took a tour of the Archaeological Museum. Our tour was in English, and that made a huge difference for us.
It was after the tour when the effects of not eating for eight hours, having anxiety about being lost, and being on our feet for so long began to take their toll on us. We dragged ourselves aboard yet another bus to get back to the hotel. It was such a relief to shower since my deodorant and that of our fellow passengers on the buses failed very early during the day, not to mention having been puked on while on one of the buses.
In deciding where to go for dinner, we considered the fact that we were starving. Gambling on a good restaurant was just too risky, so we returned to the Chalet Suizo. Charles wanted to try a dish he had seen on the menu when we were there before. We arrived to discover that the menu had been changed and what his mouth was watering for was not available. We both enjoyed pepper steaks, however.
After dinner, we decided that there would be no more buses on this day. We walked back to the hotel, and I hand-washed my puked-on clothes in the bathroom sink before we went out again. We went to Las Gitanerias to see Flamenco dancing and to listen to classical music. We decided to splurge and take a taxi to the club only to find that there was no show on this night. We looked on the bright side and said that it was fine because we were dead on our feet.
Evidently the taxis were not empathetic to our plight: After waiting and waiting, we ended up walking back to the hotel. Needless to say, we slept soundly after an exciting day.
Back in the United States, it was Independence Day; in Mexico, it was just another day. This would be the first among many times when traveling beyond our own borders would vividly remind us of the fact that the United States is not the center of the universe around which the rest of the world revolves.
In preparing to leave Ciudad Valles, we found that our morning routine had to accommodate a new experience. Hotel personnel brought to our room a small pitcher of very cold water from the restaurant. We were told that the water in the pitcher was pure but the water from the tap was foul. We learned that we had to brush our teeth and wash as well as possible with the icy water from the small pitcher.
After the brisk wash-up, we enjoyed a great hot breakfast, with delicious coffee, which is always a good sign! Charles had hotcakes and ham, and I had minute steaks and fried potatoes. On the side, we also had what I now realize were probably refried beans, but not knowing what they were at the time, we just let them be.
After our past disappointments in trying to find lunch or snacks along the way, we decided to purchase lunch from the hotel restaurant to take with us. While it wasn’t the barbeque we would have been having at home, the price was right. For 12.50 pesos (US$1.00), we bought a cheese sandwich, boiled egg, small roll, potato chips, bottles of water, and some candy.
Charles had driven most of the day before, so today was my turn. The drive was like a ride on the flying turns at an amusement park. The curves were tight like bed springs and we would have to lean on our sides as we rounded them. The mountains sometimes looked like stumps and clumps of shrubbery, with patches of gardens and rock up and down the mountainside. When we got high enough, we realized that what we thought were shrubs were actually tall trees growing very close together. Some of the trees were growing out of solid pale-colored rocks and slabs of stone. With the shadows, sometimes the pale stones seemed as if they were bleeding a black liquid.
Curving around the mountains, we met oversized buses and trucks, as well as women, men, and children standing in the road selling odds and ends. Highway signs were few and far between, so we never knew what to expect when rounding a curve. There were small dwellings up the sides of the mountains and skinny animals everywhere. Frequently, we saw women washing clothes or bathing children in the clear streams flowing down the sides of the mountains.
Charles and I talked about how even when people were not wearing shoes, the clothes they wore were clean and presentable. What we saw caused us to reflect on how, regardless of the level of one’s means, people can choose how they express their dignity with whatever resources they have.
The higher we drove up into the mountains, the cooler the air was. We turned off the air conditioner and stuck our arms and hands out the windows to touch damp cool puffs of clouds.
When we arrived in Mexico City, we found a place to wash our clothes and had an excellent meal at the Chalet Suizo, a Swiss restaurant. I don’t know what we ate, but the meal was so good that we spoke of this restaurant for years to come.
After dinner we took a walk before retiring to our luxurious Hotel El Presidente. Full stomachs and excitement about being in Mexico City kept us awake. We had not been drinking much water throughout the trip, so we were thrilled when we saw a sign on the faucets in our beautiful bathroom that read “aqua purificado.” Surely this meant pure water. We drank a lot of water that night.
During breakfast at the hotel, we noticed that the water we were served was in a bottle labeled “Mineral Water.” We wondered why they would serve bottled water when there was pure water from the tap. After inquiring about this, we learned that “agua purificado” did not mean we should drink the water! We were informed that if we had wanted drinking water, we should have called room service. Wide-eyed, gagging mentally, and anticipating stomach cramps or worse, we began to laugh—if we had been thinking, we would have realized that if there were no glasses in our room, we were not expected to drink the water. I don’t recall now what makeshift way we were able to drink the water; we probably had empty bottles from our lunch. Leave it to us to tempt fate.
After breakfast we started walking to find the market. We walked for hours through construction work, along side streets, and through rain, but never did find the market. We did, however, visit the Palace of Fine Arts and the Zocalo, and even went into the Cathedral and National Palace near the Zocalo. Since it was raining, we took the bus along Juarez and the Reforma to go to Chalpultepec Gardens. Because the rain was incessant and the air was so cold, we decided to return to the hotel rather than take the tour. Yes, it was cold in July!
We showered at the hotel and dressed for dinner at the “Focalare Restaurant of Italian Cuisine.” Everything was DELICIOUS! By the time we finished dinner, it was almost 9:30 p.m. Since the rain had stopped, we took a bus back to the Zocalo, which was lit up the way we imagined Times Square would be at night. People were all around, and it was exciting just to be there. From there, we went to a famous restaurant on Genova Street to see the Can-Can and have drinks. Great day and evening!
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.
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?”
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.
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!
After 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
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.