Give me a second, I,
I need to get my story straight.
My companions and I were out of breath from the run back to rejoin the group; someone was scolding us about the decision we made; there were three rocks from Mexico stashed away in my pockets and a helicopter flew overhead. We could all see a jeep in the distance driving toward us: border patrol.
I might tell my kids about this one day, I thought. The Spring Break of 2015.
On one-hand, I’m from the United States so what’s the worse that could happen, right? I technically hadn’t broken into the country but instead had momentarily stepped out of it, like a doctor leaving his office. Is that illegal? And if so did I break America’s law or Mexico’s? Surely Uncle Sam would understand that we were just humble college students having the time of our lives, obliviously curious about the other side.
I’ll come back to that.
The story really begins in Oklahoma where me and 40 some odd companions loaded up into charter bus to take a 22 hour roadtrip. Want to know what it’s like to spend 22 hours on a bus?
After the first hour you’ll realize that there is no comfortable position. Slowly your spine becomes brittle; every little thing that your seat-mate does will makes you want to choke them into a spiritual state; the light in your eyes will fade until everything around you is dead and null and the numb that you’ve come to know is the only bliss that you’ll find comfort in for the next 21 hours that you have left.
The destination? San Diego, California.
For me; California is the land of milk and honey; the perfect state; a place where, hopefully, I will settle down and call home. The promised land. I’ve been there before, but I was quite young so I remember little to nothing about it. So to be going there for spring break left me nothing short of ecstatic.
Our first stop was to be Amarillo, Texas – because in America to go west, you must first go … south. I don’t get it either, but the stop itself was much appreciated because, although the bus did have a bathroom on board, peeing whilst on board is about the same difficulty level as Edward Scissorhands eating crab legs. We walked around for a bit, but Texas is Texas so our explorations were short lived and rather tame. But if you’re ever in Texas and you want to have a little fun, try calling it South Oklahoma to all the locals.
They’ll love you for it.
So we loaded back in the bus – as Amarillo was only a pit stop and we weren’t there to stay overnight – and took to the long road once more. There was WiFi on the bus, but it must have been powered by dial-up because you couldn’t accomplish anything of note while surfing the web connected to it. Of course people brought their smart phones, tablets, laptops and other various devices that could sustain attention absent reliable Internet, but I’ve found that even these things become a bore when you’re confined to a space small enough to make your body ache.
Thus, many people relied on the boon of sleep as a haven to pass the time. But I don’t believe that anyone truly slept — only closed their eyes and pretended as hard as they were able that they weren’t on that god damned bus.
As we moved from Texas to New Mexico, the landscape literally changed before our eyes; instead of dull plains and hills expanding boringly as far as the eye could see, suddenly there were true mountains. This was big for me. Apparently in other parts of the U.S. – and the world for that matter – mountains are common place. Where I’m from, there’s a place in the city that we call Turkey Mountain and let me tell you, it’s no mountain. You can just see the downtown skyline when you’re standing on it, but really it’s just a big hill that powerlines run over.
Let that sink in. A power line is running over what we call a mountain.
Needless to say, I was thrilled by the desert terrain that unfolded, capped with peaks, ledges, and other titan formations that all screamed I’m better than that squalor of the midwest that you come from.
I’m being hard on Oklahoma. It’s really not that bad. But I will say that in my interactions with people from the West, it’s genuinely believed that we still ride horses instead of driving cars and these people show me their iPhone’s with the expectation of blowing my mind – like I’ll deem it witchcraft and shun technology from the 21st Century. Like, I get it. Oklahoma’s not the most progressive state in the union, but really? One day I might pretend not to know what cellular devices are and hold it like a small god to fan the fire of this rumor that Oklahoma was just skipped over in the advances of the modern age.
Anyway, we stayed the night in New Mexico, at this cozy little church – I’m pretty sure we slept in the childrens nursery because there were toys everywhere. Equipped with our own inflatable mattresses, sleeping bags, pillows and necessities, we set up camp, broke into groups and cooked dinner for each other.
I’d like to get this off my chest now, I’m a terrible cook; and I’m not sure if any of the people in my group actually knew what they were doing. We oven baked pre-fried chicken strips and fries, and no one was entirely sure if they were finished when we served it to our companions. Hopefully they enjoyed what we gave them. Nobody complained so our group must’ve done alright; though I was nervous that by morning everyone would have explosive diarrhea and only two bathrooms to unload in. We played a dangerous game that day. But fortune favors the bold, my friends.
The next morning, I woke up at 5:00 a.m., to shower. Because like I mentioned before, there were only two bathrooms and 40 of us that needed to use it. Brushed my teeth in the kitchen sink with four other people in order to better manage bathroom traffic and eventually, when all the guys were done with their morning rituals, we relinquished our bathroom to the women of the group because, well you know, they take longer and perform their women rituals and rites in the hours of dawn.
Only a handful of us knew each other when we set out on this epic of a road trip, but we were already sharing the same toilet, cooking each others meals, sleeping in the same rooms; basically we were all married by like day 2. We were still learning each others names, but there was already this sense of … I don’t know, maybe we can call it family.
Maybe a couple years from now, we’ll see each other in passing and simply nod – not saying a word. But I have to believe that we’ll remember that time when we rode a bus to California, slept in churches atop blow-up mattresses or sleeping bags; woke up at the butt crack of dawn most mornings just to compete for the warm water for a shower.
When we were strangers on an adventure,
When we were awkwardly getting to know each other,
When we were volunteers and college students and friends,
When we were young.
To be continued