PHOENIX — Around noon we left Hermosillo after much needed rest and pointed our direction north to the Nogales border. Hermosillo is one of my favorite last stops before leaving Mexico, it’s easy, so easy, to find hotels, restaurants, its proximity to the autopista in unbeatable and there’s just a general ease for the I imagine the many overnight business travelers both Mexican and American. The day was supposed to be our shortest day of travel and our biggest feat would be crossing the border into the U.S. It couldn’t be any more difficult than the Talisman or Tecun Uman crossings, so the stress level was very low.
Brad was ecstatic about coming home after a whole year of being away from the US. I just had anxiety, as I’ve always had in my life when crossing the border into the US. What if they say no? What if the citizenship laws have changed and mine is total void? Has my stay expired? All these questions have crowded my mind most of my life as an immigrant crossing the border. This time, these questions I’ve always asked myself in fearing access to the US came and went quickly and, then, for once a statement emerged: So what if they say you can’t come in? So you go back home, you go back to Guatemala. I smiled when while we waited patiently in a well-organized line of mostly trucks and new cars parked at theses sophisticated lanes lined with steel and tons of surveillance equipment, cameras, laser tracking, and stuff that made me feel like we were about to drive through plutonium. I told Brad we needed to cancel our Mexican permit and get stamped out. He waved his hand and said, “Don’t worry, they’ll know what to do.” That’s what I’m always afraid of with Americans, the skipping of certain vital details that impacted Central Americans.
We waited patiently for half and hour, getting the remnants of the informal economy to clean our windshields, sell us churros, wooden crosses and saints, a few elderly people asking for alms and people in wheelchairs. The signs were in English and Spanish and when it came our turn to talk to the US border agent, I was surprised to hear English again, spoken clearly, gruffly and so direct. I let Brad to the talking and we were asked to pull in for an inspection. We weren’t surprised because in the past couple of days by not having a ton of luggage with us and trying to be low profile, we became very high profile and went through about 5 complete inspections at various checkpoints. Agents didn’t understand how we could have so few bags after being gone a year and they asked us tons of questions.
Where are you coming from? Where are you headed? Where do you live? You LIVE in Guatemala? Why? This one always made me laugh. Because that’s where I’m from and where my family is. But you also live in California? Yes, that’s right. What kind of work do you do? Designer and journalist. “Okay, please pull in here on the right, we need to do an inspection.” We didn’t mind, we both enjoyed grading how well they inspected our car.
Outside of Mazatlan one of the agents actually pulled up both back seats, took out our bags (strangely no one look in our bags or in the Thule on the top of the car, in the US they definitely made us open up the G5 box and the Thule). I asked him if he found any money under there, “not one peso, ma’am.” We all laughed and I told him that he’d done the best inspection yet. He smiled and said, “I’ve never had anyone tell me that.”
That same stretch Brad had his first taste of Pozole, with the thick layers of pig fat pouring right off the garbanzo beans and corn. As we were about to pick up speed I had seen the small chairs and tables lined up outside this food stall and I said, “there’s food there.” It’s the one phrase Brad will screech wheels and doing crazy u-turns to not miss where my finger is pointing. Sure enough, this woman about four times my size, with forearms about the thickness of my thighs (Brad’s words) an a stained apron tied around her trunk for a wait was stirring a huge burned pot in the middle of the hottest day we’d experienced in our drive. Brad watched her and then asked what she was making. She looked at him and cracked a side smile by saying “Pozole.” She kept stirring while Brad found the words to get her to feed him whatever she had in that pot. The two other women who sat next to her were half as big, but they were obviously related and found humor in this gringo salivating at their vat of mystery. I came out from the bathroom just in time to see the last bites of mystery go down Brad’s chute. The woman cackled. Brad looked up from his bowl, his mouth still dripping: “What?”
Back at the border crossing with the U.S. I was convinced that border agents’ uniforms came with Ray Ban sunglasses because all of them had them. Like The Man With No Eyes in “Cool Hand Luke,” there was nothing beyond the glass. We did, however, get a thorough inspection and then the guards finished up with us and let us put our stuff back to its place. We cruised out of there and saw our first speed limit sign in English. From that moment on Brad acquired this ease in all his movements and in his face. Like some veil had been lifted. He didn’t have to read or speak Spanish for the next three months, and he was back home. His home, my other home. Yes, it was easier, the roads were impeccable, there were no tolls, we didn’t have to stop for speed bumps and people had become cars, exchanged limbs, skin and faces for metal, glass and paint. Things were easier, but less human.
When we got not the freeway bound towards Phoenix we realized we weren’t going to make it in time for political conversing and dinner with our friends, so we looked for a place to eat. Brad spotted a 1950’s diner and immediately pulled off the freeway and into the parking lot. “DUDE! Let’s eat there!” It seemed appropriate, let’s go eat somewhere that reminded us of an America that used to be and have nostalgia with our milkshakes and apple pie, except I had a margarita. We sat next to the jukebox and didn’t think to even put a quarter in.