Through the town of Nogales there is a wall. On one side of said wall is Nogales, Arizona, and on the other is Nogales, Sonora. That, mis agmigos, is Mexico.
I’m going to tell you a story, not because I’m proud of it, but because it happened. There is a lot of culture, art and shopping to be enjoyed in Nogales, Mexico, but this post isn’t about it. This post is about my night as an Ugly American and all that that entails. If you visit Nogales, Mexico, on any given day you will see many of me – far worse really, and no, it’s not your vision. Finish your tequila.
The key here is that the drinking age in Mexico is 18. It is not enforced. At any given time you will likely find the bars and clubs filled with 17-year-old kids from Tucson. There isn’t a lot to do between high school and turning 21, remember? Driving an hour on a dark highway to drink heavily was always a popular decision. Driving back home, at some ungodly, drunken hour was stupid and constant. I want to tell you that everyone used a designated driver, and often we did, but I’m guessing the practice wasn’t common enough – probably still isn’t. If ever there was a poster-child for lowering the drinking age in the states, that stretch of I-19 is it. What I’m saying here is don’t drink and drive.
We were young and we had been in Mexico for a few hours. There may have been a bar fight, complete with thrown chairs and bottles to the head, or that may have been a different night. There may have been a dozen Federales with automatic weapons pointed at us, suggesting we return to the border, or that too may have been a blur of cheap beer and reckless abandonment.
I do recall standing on a street corner with a group of five guitar players. I was on lead vocals and they humored me through such hits as Hotel California and I Want to Hold Your Hand. I sang in English and they did the back-up vocals in Spanish. I wish I had a recording of that. I was drunk and they were sober. A crowd gathered and threw coins in their open guitar cases. I bought them each a pack of smokes from some 6-year-old with a tray of cigarettes and gum slung around his neck. Turns out none of us smoked. The child thanked me and ran down the sidewalk.
My friends showed up at some point, from somewhere, and someone suggested that we find the proverbial “donkey show”. You know what I’m talking about.
We wandered on foot deep into the city, further than we ever had before. We stumbled past the traps of tourism and into neighborhoods that were not accustomed to packs of drunk American idiots.
The long walk cost us our numbers. There were only two of us now, despite our entire party consisting of 10. The others had melted into their own doorways and neon-lit promises.
We walked into a random well-lit lobby, past security guards, through a metal detector, and up clean, white stairs of marble. We had just become wedding crashers.
Who knows how long we abused the open bar and danced with their dates. We did it, and I had to peel my friend off of a lovely young lady when my inner-clock started to ring its alarm. It rang with the sound of fear.
We went out the way we had come in, down the clean, white stairs of marble, past the station where once there was security, and through the metal detector, knocking it over in the process.
The streets were empty. Our friends were gone. The lights were off. We were alone. I turned to my friend and realized that it was me that was alone. He was gone.
I thought to return to the party, assuming he had run back in, and in doing so I tripped over a large object on the ground. It was my friend, passed out and looking amazingly comfortable.
It must have been four in the morning. There wasn’t a light in any direction. There were no signs, no markers, no sounds. I stood in the middle of a street in Mexico, holding my drunken friend in my arms, and I was lost.
I walked for quite some time. Occasionally my friend would stir, open his eyes and demand I put him down. Moments later he would fall flat on his face and back into my arms.
There was an old man sleeping in a doorway. The sound of me, breathing heavily and cursing my burden, must have startled him. I asked him, in terrible Spanish, how to find the border. At some point he pointed, and with nothing else to do I walked in that direction.
It could have been twenty minutes, it could have been an hour. The darkness grew darker and the street grew rougher. Soon I was walking on dirt, through brush and undergrowth.
I walked straight into the wall – although at this point it was, technically, a fence. The fence, 10′ tall and topped with barbed wire, was the only thing between us and America. It was overwhelming. I turned and walked along it.
Finally I saw it. The glow of the pending sunrise had provided me with a ticket home, and it was a hole. A hole in the fence between two lands.
I shoved my friend through it. I climbed through after him. I stood in the middle of a desert in America, holding my drunken friend in my arms, and I was lost.
At some point I put him down for the last time and we walked together across the top of a hill. Below us we would find people, and among them our friends, sleeping soundly in their cars.
The moral of the story? There are several and I hope they’re fairly obvious.