Thursday, February 18, 2010

wheels on el camino



We are what we eat.


So goes the 60s adage.


But we are also what we read.


I have been reading PJ O'Rourke's Driving Like Crazy -- a compilation of reworked articles for automobile magazines.  I just finished an article he wrote about Rent-a-Wreck while he was living in Los Angeles in the 1980s.

The founder of the company rented him a 1967 289 Mustang that PJ quickly learned was a hot little machine on the hilly roads of Benedict Canyon.  He won every race with far "sportier" cars, losing only one -- to "a Mexican in a Chevy pickup full of yard-care tools and cheering children."  (That is a smile of recognition you see on my face.)


On Tuesday, I drove to Manzanillo to pick up my final mail delivery before a quick trip to Oregon this week.


The drive should taken less than an hour.  Two-lane highway.  Several villages.  A bushel worth of topes.


But it can take up to two hours under bad conditions.  Farm machinery.  Farm animals.  Dogs (but almost never cats, an animal not much appreciated in Mexico). Oil tankers.  Local buses.  RVs driven by retirees from Texas or British Columbia.  Any of them can double the drive time.


But not on Tuesday.  The drive down was the usual mixed bag of an elderly farmer moving his John Deere to another field and Juan Gotpesos speeding along at 200 kph in his father's Ferrari.  About an hour to get there.


The drive back was a bit different.  Just before you get on the main highway, there is a long stretch of beach along Santiago Bay sprinkled with restaurants and small hotels.  Everyone speeds on that road -- four lanes, very little cross traffic (but what cross traffic there is is deadly).  But on Tuesday, the Mario Andretti School of Driving must have released its latest graduates. 


I ended up in a group of about five cars -- all sporty, late models -- zooming along at 110 kph.  In town, mind you.


When we hit the highway, it was as if someone had dropped the green flag.  We were off and running -- drafting on one another.


Driving is not a communal sport in Mexico.  In fact, competitive is probably not even the concept.  Libertarian on speed (literally) may be better.


But we drove along as tight as a NASCAR pack.  No need to pass.  Because we were moving along as fast as any group of cars I have encountered on that highway.


When we encountered a slower non-member, we passed as a unit.


If you do not drive in Mexico, you cannot appreciate the exhilarating grace of cars passing one another on a two-lane highway with large trucks racing down on you from the opposite direction.  A German autobahn engineer would say it cannot work.  But it does.  And it did.*

I kept wishing that the kid in the Ferrari would show up again simply so we could clean his gear box.


We went through foothills.  Villages.  Farmland.  Always together.  Always drafting.  Like some metallic beast from Star Trek.  Even one police check point -- where we merely elicited smiles of appreciation and thumbs up.  It really was a guy thing.


Like all good relationships, we eventually broke apart.  Two cars peeled off in a steep left bank to the airport.  I pulled into my taxiway at Melaque.  I like to think that the other two are still drafting north.  Somewhere around Huron, South Dakota, I would think.



* -- I took the photograph at the top of the post while driving along in formation. 
I wish I had a photograph of our passing maneuver.  But it was difficult enough to get the shot I did.  Next time, you can be the passenger -- and photographer.

10 comments:

Mic said...

Once a flight god - always a flight god....even on the ground. LOL

Laurie said...

I take umbrage. I use the road up to the Valle de Angeles (definitely a misnamed place - high altitude) as my personal Indy 500 course. Both up and down, I only slow for burros or little old ladies crossing. Also my ride to work is sweet (end of the 4 lane expressway almost circling the city) I regulary take it at 100 kph. Fun. Not a guy thing only.

Anonymous said...

Your post today reminds me of one of the reasons I turned my boat haulin F-350 around outside of Monterrey. Driving (minus navigator) in Mexico is not for the faint of heart. Situational awareness...that's the ticket on Mexico's roads.
Saludos,
Francisco

Tancho said...

Unless someone has driven down here, it is almost impossible to describe the awe one gets when you try to decipher the rational of needing to get a head of an already rapidly moving vehicle.
Especially on blind curves. I have often considered getting into the roadside cross business. You know, something with a lightweight PVC or Fiberglass construction, with a small solar panel which would run the LED's all night......
Of course there would be a discount for families.....

Chrissy y Keith said...

ahhh, times like that are rare indeed.

MxSailor said...

I will, I will!

I know of what you speak, Steve. Just drove down to Barra in a "new to us" 1999 Nissan Quest with the Z-engine (2.3 liter beastie- it does 80 mph without breaking 3000 rpm).

Bonnie will singing at Maya on Saturday. Hoped I would see you there. Are you on your trip now?

Joe S. said...

Cool man, maybe you really didn't make up all that Air Force stuff.

Liz said...

Sounds like fun. Definately NOT a guy thing. Love the drafting part.
The cops here would probably NOT give us a thumbs up though.
Can you say "blue lights"?
:)))
Mata ne
Liz

Steve Cotton said...

Mic -- Thank you, ma'am.

Laurie -- Honduras may be more liberal about such matters, but my part of Mexico is a male driving preserve. Our little draft team was a testosterone only club. But I know sex is not determinative. Had my mother been here, she would have cleaned all of our clocks.

Francisco -- I never feel as alive doing anything as when I drive in Mexico. It is exhilarating knowing that death is just a wheel turn away.

Tancho -- Don't forget the chip that will play ranchero music at all hours of the day and night.

Chrissy -- I will miss driving down here when I return to the regimented lanes of the north.

MxSailor -- Just got back. I am in Manzanillo today. Back to Melaque this afternoon.

Joe -- It is just like flying -- but more dangerous.

Liz -- Our police seem to use their lights as flashing decorations. One of these days I expect to be stopped and learn about the joys of road-side negotiations.

Steve Cotton said...

Mic -- Thank you, ma'am.

Laurie -- Honduras may be more liberal about such matters, but my part of Mexico is a male driving preserve. Our little draft team was a testosterone only club. But I know sex is not determinative. Had my mother been here, she would have cleaned all of our clocks.

Francisco -- I never feel as alive doing anything as when I drive in Mexico. It is exhilarating knowing that death is just a wheel turn away.

Tancho -- Don't forget the chip that will play ranchero music at all hours of the day and night.

Chrissy -- I will miss driving down here when I return to the regimented lanes of the north.

MxSailor -- Just got back. I am in Manzanillo today. Back to Melaque this afternoon.

Joe -- It is just like flying -- but more dangerous.

Liz -- Our police seem to use their lights as flashing decorations. One of these days I expect to be stopped and learn about the joys of road-side negotiations.