Leaving is Such a Sweet Song

Mexico
April 1979

On the weekend I went to pick up the truck. I thought that we would have to tow it over to Wayne’s, but once we put in a newly charged battery and some fresh gas it started right up. We used Wayne’s 4-wheel drive Ramcharger to tow it the rest of the way out of the snow bank. I actually drove the damn thing home! Tom was right, it was covered in rust and it was ugly a hell.

In the week that followed I called around to junk yards trying to find a camper shell. I was lucky enough to find one. It was under a pile of old car parts. It had split at the four corners, I guessed from the weight, and was flattened out like it was an life-size cardboard cutout of a camper top. I asked the guy what he wanted for it, and he said $25. Wow, I thought now we’re on a role. Once my Dad and I pulled it free we found that remarkably 3 out of the 4 windows were not even broken!

Back at my Dad’s place we put it back together as best we could and then mounted it on the back of the truck. We both said that we felt that it was a good match for the truck. Although I got the feeling that Dad was being more facetious than happy for me. The rust spots were really starting to show now. There were even some pretty good sized holes starting to form. We decided to try to cover them up with nice neat horizontal rows of gray duct tape. We stood back to admire our handy work. It was staring to come along.

My brother is a kind of genius with stereos, and in no time at all he had hooked one up. We built small wooden boxes to house the speakers and bolted them to the inside of the door panels. As an afterthought, we added a piece of metal mesh so that I wouldn’t put my foot through the speakers.

In the prior weeks I had raided every neighbor of their unused, unwanted items. I now had a pretty nice pile of dishes and games and radios and toys and such. In addition, I had the ever growing pile of junk tools that I had been bringing home from Blackhawk Molding. I built a bed in the back of the camper, and one day when I was at work, my Dad built a floor to roof cabinet, complete with shelves and a door.

I spent the last few evenings at Wayne’s making tape recording of any record that he thought I might like. Everything was now complete. My plan was now a reality and I was ready to go. No one really believed it would be possible for me to leave after being back in the states for as little as a month and a half, maybe I didn’t even believe it, but with the help of family and friends this was really going to happen.

Finally the day came and I said my good-byes. I didn’t really begin to be excited until I left the Expressways of Chicago behind and hit the open highway. I pulled over to survey the situation and I saw the huge pile of cassette tapes on the floor. I randomly picked one. Iit was Elton John’s “Good-bye Yellow Brick Road.”

When are you gonna come down?
When are you going to land?
I should have stayed on the farm.
I should have listened to my old man.

The first night I stopped at a road side park in Missouri. As I crawled in the back of the camper shell it started to snow. I got under some old wool army blankets. I was cold as hell, but hell I knew that I had a big grin on my face, but the smile was short lived as the realization of the situation hit me. Here I was in the middle of Bumfuck, USA with so much junk that not even the garbage man would take it. I had no friends, very little money and I’m in a truck that just a few weeks ago was a frozen popsicle! Oh my god, what have I done? Stay focused I thought. If you can make it to Mexico before the truck breaks down you will be all right. Then you can trade stuff for repairs. But what if it breaks down before I get there? Then what am I going to do for money. $360 does not go to far when you have over 1500 miles to go.

That night Elton John lulled me to sleep as I chanted, “Just get me to Mexico! Just get me to Mexico!”

In the morning there was a good inch of snow on the ground. Fortunately the truck started right up, and it had a good heater to boot. I drove south like the dickens all the next day. Every little sound that the truck made sent me into another fit of paranoia. I finally just turned up the stereo real loud just so I wouldn’t have to listen.

Remember that at the border was where my trouble had started. Did you think that I had forgotten? It was with great apprehension that I approached the border patrol. In the end every thing went OK. Oh, I did have a little trouble crossing into Mexico with all this “stuff.” I had tried to hide as much as I could, but there was only so much that I could do. Any fool could see that mix masters, bread pans and toys were not what the average young male tourist carried, and my boarder officer was no exception.
“Para que llavas tantos cosas?” (Why are you carrying so much stuff?) he suspiciously asked me.

“Porque soy puro gringo y me necasitas muchas cosas,” (Because I am a Gringo and I need a lot of stuff.) I said giving him a wink and a hand shake filled with 5 one dollar bills.

When I finally entered Mexico it was time for a cervesa, and then another round of singing, and then another cervesa, and then–well, you get the idea, until I had a whole row of cans and bottles lined up along the dashboard. I had begun to sing louder, and drive slower.

Now I was driving so very slowly, weaving from lane to lane, that I turned off the road, I think I bumped a small tree, because I was now stopped. As I laid down on the front seat, thinking about how warm it was in the Mexican sunshine, and how beautiful it was to be alive and well and free again. I thought to myself that now might be a good time to play back that jail house horror movie. In the background I heard voices singing.

So goodbye yellow brick road,
Where the dogs of society howl.
You can’t plant me in your penthouse,
I’m going back to my plough

Before I passed out, I thought that I didn’t really need to repeat that movie, now or ever. The smile on my face was big, and it lasted through the night and on into the many happy months that followed.

I was 32 years old!