Preparing to leave home for two months is a logistical nightmare, especially if you happen to be the caretaker of particularly cranky and and idiosyncratic animals, water system, and vehicles. The last season has been fraught with vehicle and cat sitter and financial and travel companion drama that has nettled me into a few black moments. More than once I became entirely convinced that the trip south would not happen at all and that we’d be stuck in Oregon for another winter to nurse our sorrows and dream of milanesa sandwiches. I could write an epic drama or perhaps a farce about the ups-and-downs of planning for this trip, but it might dissuade you from ever considering a road trip to Mexico, so I’ll lightly skip away from the dire prelude. (I have been reading Moby Dick. Can you tell?)
On a stormy December afternoon, Rich and I climbed into our 92 Ford Econoline, Chuey, . Rich made the mistake of looking at the electric window on the driver’s side. The window promptly slid down and no amount of fiddling and cursing could make it roll back up. The matter thus settled, we headed out for a night of travel up a windswept coast in a van with no heater or defroster. Rich got so cold that I resorted to digging for a pair of gardening gloves I had intended as his Christmas present. I had forgotten my winter coat and hat, but was able to swaddle myself in three hooded sweatshirts and a quilt. This experience reinforced the wisdom of our most recent plan: park Chuey for the winter at a friend’s house in Sonoma County and rely on one of our old friends, the estimable Miss Lousianne.
Many years ago, our friend Tia found Miss Lousianne in New Orleans and imported her to California, where she lives on a remote mountain top. When she is not traveling, that is. In 2010, we all drove Miss Lousianne (who is a 1987 Dodge van) to Mexico. Tia, who has long been suspicious of Chuey and his Zeppelin reliant mechanics, had been for some time advising us to borrow Miss Lousianne again. A few days before our departure she’d phoned to say that she would not be able to make the trip. Then she made a poetic speech and said that (mindful of the spirit of the late great Steve Rogers and his great love for vans) she wanted me to adopt Miss Lousianne permanently. Perhaps, she inferred delicately, now that I had a “new” van, I’d be able to rid myself of the infernal Chuey. Great, I thought. Now we’ll have two vans. Maybe they’ll mate and we’ll get a vanagan out of the deal.
Amidst all this van wrangling, Miss Lousianne’s devoted mechanic, our dear friend Frank Holton, died in a car accident and we further delayed our trip in order to attend his memorial in California. Frank was an old friend of Steve’s and they were cut of the same cloth: big gentle souls prone to maniacal chuckling and unorthodox solutions to mechanical problems. But where my dad was something of a dabbler, Frank was a true specialist. For our 2010 expedition he fixed Miss Lousianne up so well that we managed the entire trip to Jalisco and back without a single breakdown, which had to be some kind of a record for our family.
So today we descended from the dripping and fog snared mountains of Sonoma County in Miss Lousianne to embark on the Frank Holton Memorial Road trip. As I write this we are wending our way across the interminable expanse of Central California. Below the squeak of wind shield wipers, Miss Lousianne’s motor growls comfortably and Rich and I eye the desolate winter farmland and speculate about the chance of finding a decent meal. On the road again…