My Old Man had been on the bum during the Depression: rode the rails; picked fruit in the Imperial Valley; logged in Montana; worked on the Grand Coulee dam; assistant manager of a theater in Portland, Oregon (told Alan Ladd where to find a speak-easy); worked on a government survey ship in the Gulf of Alaska. Jailed briefly once or twice. Later, he went to Guadalcanal and Bougainville (“Bo-gun-vill” as he—and many others–pronounced it), then was a ski-bum in Sun Valley. Drove a cab in the red-light district of Anchorage. Before and after he settled down. Knocked all the front teeth out of a tug-boat captain who had disrespected my Mom. (You could tell because there was a gap in the subsequent bite marks on his left bicep.)
Then there was wormy-me. Skinny with thick glasses, not athletic, shy beyond belief, and wrapped really tight. Got tired of that “me” and decided to change it. One part of that change came in my senior year of college. My room-mate and I decided to drive from Seattle to Mexico for Christmas Break. Drive down to San Diego, cross at Tijuana, go down the Baja to Cabo San Lucas, take the ferry to Puerta Vallarta. Basically, I said “Yes” instead of my lifetime default-setting of “No.”
Was a great trip, too, but not necessarily in the ways you would think. I was also chasing a girl, so we stopped in LA. To no avail. Then we bunked-in at somebody’s house in San Diego. I bought the Sunday morning paper and sat in a park to read it when the earth began to shake. I was reading a story about how Mexican narcs were killing gringo tourists. Crossed the border in a scene very different from “Sicario.” More like “The Getaway.” Already memorable or repressible experiences.
Anyway, we drove down the Baja. Pulled off the road to sleep. Picked a bad spot. (Come on, it was dark.) Next morning we got stuck in the sand. Took hours, and the help of some passing Mexicans, to get unstuck.
Later on, we needed to gas up. Stopped in this little village in the middle of nowhere. Put some oil in as well, but the people seemed intent on closing up in a hurry. Didn’t bother to get the funnel back. Gave us full cash change, not part of it in Chiclets. Too busy putting up the shutters. So we drove on south out of town. “Strange Lands and Friendly People.”
Come around the first bend out of town and there’s a road-block. “Oh, that explains it,” I later thought. Bunch of Mexican soldiers and a big guy in a tan suit with cowboy boots and a straw cowboy hat. My friend is driving and I’m in the passenger seat. “Choo got any marijuana?” he asks. We assured him that we did not. As the conversation continued, I glanced out the side window. Mexican soldier standing there pointing an M-16 at my head. Muzzle is about 6 inches from my face. Thing is, it didn’t look like the entrance to a tunnel and he didn’t look like an agate-eyed killer. Which only made me more edgy because accidents can happen. Also, I’d just read that story about narcs killing gringos. And here we were in the middle of nowhere. So, that’s why everyone back at the gas station had been so eager to see our heels. Huh, live and learn. I bit down hard. OK, my eyes probably got real wide as well.
Anyway, after a while, he let us go. We drove slowly until around the next bend. Once out of sight, we floored it.
 Later, we had a brief passage and I wanted to marry her. She had more sense than that. She died of ovarian cancer on the same day that my Mom passed in 2011.