Traveling Mercies*

Posted by jlubans on January 24, 2023

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Caption: The diffident Ms. Molly - formerly inaccessible - now a daily visitor.

In the Kingdom of Complaint attempts at humor are D.O.A. And, is there anywhere a greater source of complaining than in air travel?
Indeed, I will hop, skip, and jump over the grievances, laments, gripes, grumbles, squawks, and bleats to which all long-distance travelers feel entitled.
So, let me tell you about the fun parts of my recent trip to Todos Santos in Baja California, Mexico.
You know, a window seat is not always bad. It beats the middle seat. On the flight down from Portland, Oregon our stop over was Salt Lake City.
The plane began its descent far out and so I got to see miles and miles of the Great Salt Lake. I’d read about it and heard about it, but had never seen it.
It’s remarkable in its large pools of water and lack of habitation hedged in by what look like small mountains. How the pioneers must have wondered.
I’ve been to the vast and inviting SLC airport once before, less than a year ago on my way to Latvia. I liked it then and like it even more now. After a mile or more of walking from our arrival gate to our departure gate (no complaint – I needed the walk) we were hungry.
We’d skipped breakfast in Portland. Not far from our departure gate was a large open area with several restaurants. Yes, one was serving breakfast. The hostess walked us over to a table pointed to a worn decal in the middle of the table (the QR code) telling us, “Use your phone to order and to pay.
She left us and we must have looked bemused, bewitched and bewildered for a middle-aged waitress came over, plunked herself down in a chair and offered to teach us how to use the QR code. Or, like an angel from on high, “Do you just want to tell me; I can take your order.
You can imagine which option, after rising at 3AM, we chose!
Surprisingly, like the nimble fat man
breakfast was very good.
Hunger abated, we were ready for the plane to Mexico.
My seat mate to Cabo (our destination) was a doppelgänger for Danny DeVito with a flowered shirt, pie hat, and shorts, man-spreading into my space.
I promptly, without asking permission, put down the arm rest between our seats – if not then, when?
No complaint. I was amused at how much he looked like Matilda’s father in the Roald Dahl film.
Speaking of movies, on planes I rarely view anything more than the flight tracker. I have a disdain for the movies offered, although, I must confess, I do find myself caging views at other people’s screens starring Sylvester, Clint, Tom, and Bruce.
This time, I clicked on Lyle, Lyle the Crocodile film. I knew the 1965 book and was wondering how it would be made into a film.
I was more than engaged with the foot tapping salsa dance routines, led by the ebullient Javier Bardem alongside crocodile Lyle. Bardem’s role (Hector P. Valenti)
was not in the book, as I recall. In any case he played a passé vaudevillian and the original human friend to Lyle.
All ends happily, of course, with Lyle going on vacation with his new human family. Set in NYC, there were countless scenes of places I’ve been while walking about in the best tradition of the flaneur.
After landing at Cabo in the mid-afternoon, we headed to Customs.
It was not just our plane’s passengers but several others. There were ten switchback lanes with about 50 travelers in each, so a total of 500 in the hall.
We were to pass each other ten times. I wondered if there were a better way; what would Frederick Taylor (the Scientific Management man) do? How would he organize this 500 person conga line?
I amused myself by imaging a twilight zone experience where we never saw the same person more than once instead of the mandated ten times.
Or, psychedelically, if we saw the same people, they would be wearing different clothes or making different facial expressions.
Gaining parole from Customs (I gave the wrong flight number to the agent – but he only grinned wryly) we arrived in Baggage.
And there, amidst several rows of neatly arranged luggage, was our bag, waiting for us.
Out the door and on our way!
At the local car rental the “hail-fellow well-met” tummler greeted me like a long-lost relative and regaled me as a boulevardier of some repute.
Mockingly, he accused me of running off with the cute senorita and abandoning my wife at the counter. Esta bien, no?
Well, better to be cajoled for an old roué than a senescent infant. Alas, that’s probably around the corner.
The car rental guy did give me some good advice: “Remember it’s a straight road to Todos Santos from the airport, sort of.
I should have listened.
Now for three years running, I left the straight and narrow, and took the wrong turn and had to U-turn back after 5 miles of going the wrong way.
Slow learner.
El Pescador is not far from Todos Santos. It’s a small fishing village but with a lot of activity on the one main road, the highway north to Todos Santos and to La Paz. Poorly lit, I have seen dozens of men, women and children on the side of the road waiting for rides on busses or on truck or cars. People cross the highway all the time with cattle trucks roaring past, belching diesel. An obvious need for traffic calming.
In town, the speed limit is 15 kph. It is only obeyed by gringos like me. Locals whiz through at 60 or 80 kph.
As a first effort at speed reduction, the government had installed on the side of the highway a plywood cut-out of a police car. At night, it would look like the real thing. Of course, as soon as the locals figured it out, they went back to speeding.
So, since our last visit, the government had put in rumble strips, not just a few, but over 30s strips to get your attention and to wake up the borracho driver.
If the rumble strips don’t get you to slow down, there’s still a ways to go, a ten yard stretch of pavement that rattles one’s bones. If you are still running, it’s the high jump for you, a “sleeping policeman” (tope) on the pavement that make you do an Evel Knievel and land in the distant pass.
After 16 hours of transport, we arrive in Todos Santos, at our Hotelito. There’s the joy of arrival, of seeing Jenny, the owner. With drinks outside under the stars, I realize the sensation of not moving, not next-stepping, the sense of arrival.
And a new friend made, Molly, the tiger-striped cat. Usually distant – one of Jenny’s many strays - tonight she wants her cheeks rubbed and curls up a foot or so away.
On a sad note – even when trying to be funny, reality prevails -Jenny’s extraordinary pig, Collette – a celebrity in Todos Santos and beyond – has died as of a few days ago. ¡Qué lástima!
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*Listen to Emily Scott Robinson sing Traveling Mercies, here.
Copyright John Lubans all text and photo, 2023.
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