In 1973, I hauled my duffel bag stuffed with bikinis (yes, itsy bitsy bikinis), towels, sleeping bag, mess kit, and summer reading on a greyhound from San Rafael to meet my then boyfriend Kirby in Elko, Nevada. Kirby came from Ketchum, Idaho in his beater VW bug—the Spud Mobile. We were headed south to Old Mexico, but first we had to stop at Kirby’s grandmother’s winter home—she was a snowbird—in Sun City, Arizona “to check on things.” Actually to borrow her pickup with a camper shell on the back.
We were vampires, sleeping in the air-conditioning all day, only appearing outside after dark when the temperature cooled off to 95. We saw a lot of the late night golf course, a popular hang-out for the over sixty and after ten o’clock set. I didn’t see much more of Sun City other than the grocery store and gas station, but we managed to outfit our expedition and get underway in about five days. Seriously under-capitalized and under-prepared.
We crossed the Nogales border at dawn on August 8, and made Kino Bay by the full heat of the day. We pitched camp perched on an empty bluff over a beach where gulls circled and called and took inventory of our equipment and supplies. Folding chairs. Check. Camp stove and fuel. Check. Tarps and nylon rope. Check. Flipflops. Check. Pancack mix, eggs, beer, watermelon. Check. Reading material: Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut, Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, The Odessa File by Frederick Forsyth, The Abortion: An Historical Romance by Richard Brautigan and Tom Robbins’s Another Roadside Attracton. Check. I sat down in one of the folding chairs and got to work on Jonathan Livinston Seagull. Kirby popped a cold one.
The next time I looked up (the book engaged me) we’d made Mazatlán. We found a palm shaded trailer park outside of town right on the beach and sank roots. The place was half filled with characters from The States. One hippie woman, living in her school bus with her small, naked children, kept a pet coatimundi, a south American cousin to the raccoon, that thrived on rum and coke and liked to sleep in a hammock with me. Old Tom told us stories about anything and everything, mostly his exploits in the war. We bought fresh fruits, vegetables and marijuana from Raul who drove his horse drawn cart to the trailer park every other day. We paid him $20 for a medio kilo. I cut out a lid of the best buds then sold the rest to the surfer dudes who arrived a few days later for $20 and a bottle of rum. Everyone was happy, especially Kirby and the coatimundi, who did not smoke pot.
For a month we swam, snorkled, ate fresh fish, saw the sights and finished our summer reading in the hammock. We went to the disco, took a boat ride to the island, and ate at the Shrimp Bucket. Until we ran low on money.
Time to head home.
Kirby drove straight up to the border, and I dumped the baggie of pot out the window before we crossed. We spent all but a few dollars on gas in Nogales, AZ to get us to Sun City. The desert, so fragrant and wide open with limitless possibility on the way down had turned inhospitable—an endless dun-colored landscape, dangerous and foreboding. But we were kids, and when we’d spent all but our last dollar at the breakfast counter in The Silver Dollar Casino in who-knows-where Nevada, I invested it in the giant dollar slot machine and won fifty silver dollars.
In 1973 it was enough to get home.
Meet me in Mexico!