Nobody Looks for you in Mexico - Page 7
After a cold and restless night (sleeping doesn’t come easily at 13,000 feet), we stepped into the crisp air and again ran to the volcano’s rim. Rather than dropping down into the crater we slowly picked our way along the jagged ridge, and eventually arrived at the summit. Beyond the veil of the Mexico City haze, the prominent summits of Iztaccihuatl and the violently active Popocatépetl appeared. At 15,000 feet my muscles ached, my lungs burned and my heart attempted to leap from my chest. It was indeed good training.
That evening we drove to the warm, lakefront town of Valle de Bravo, where Holy Week festivities were in full swing. Fireworks exploded over the lake. In the plaza, clowns put on their faces before a growing crowd then performed variations of skits from the Three Stooges and Albert and Costello. The crowd roared with laughter.
Running the cobblestone streets from the central plaza to the outskirts of town, we found a network of dusty trails winding up a small mountain behind the village. Dust billowed out, explosively, with every foot strike. Following several miles on these dusty trails we encountered an athletic complex, where a smallish boxing coach with a punched-in nose roared at two young featherweights. Sit-ups, push-ups, wind-sprints, sit-ups, push-ups, wind-sprints. Jon clicked off a few quick miles in preparation for an upcoming marathon while I stood by with the boxing coach. Noticing Jon’s trailing torso the coach suggested he run with better posture. Jon’s response was to pretend to not speak Spanish.
Our six-day circumambulation of Mexico City and her surrounding volcanoes brought us back to San Miguel on the evening of Good Friday. The holiday which, in America, I’ve experienced as either a non-event or, at most, a solemn one, was being celebrated with fireworks, music, balloons, candy and drinking. Considering the Day of the Dead at the beginning of November, it struck me just then as something uniquely Mexican—the joyous celebration of death.
After some bouncing around we found ourselves at La Cucaracha, where the beer is cheap and the bartenders indifferent. Very little has changed since Kerouac and his beatnik cronies watered here over 50 years ago. On the walls hung crudely painted portraits of bare-breasted women. A jukebox blasted Mariachi music from the corner while the bartender shared a story—an adapted joke, no doubt—with Jon and me:
“A man call me at my house one afternoon ask when the bar open. ‘I open the bar at 8,’ I say. The man he call back sounding a little borracho, you know?, and ask when the bar open. ‘I say I open at 8.’ The man he call back a third time, this time muy borracho and ask me if I can open the bar early today. ‘Estupido borracho!’ I yell at him. ‘You can’t wait to get in?’ ‘I don’t want in to the bar,’ the borracho say to me. ‘I want out!’” The bartender erupted with laughter. That was the last thing I remember from that night.
I awoke on the lawn of a church, and looked over to see the Saturday morning rays slowly cooking Jon in the back seat of the jalopy rental. I was wearing a shirt that said, “I survived the La Cucaracha bathroom,” which I wasn’t entirely sure was true.
We ran the train tracks that afternoon, again, in oppressive, punishing heat. When the hangover gave way to light conversation, we talked about the Beat Generation’s shining prince, Neal Cassady, who lived a rollercoaster life and died alone alongside the rails on a cold night five decades ago. Pneumonia is generally attributed to killing Cassady.
“Not what I heard,” Jon said. “’General congestion of all systems,’ is what they’ve got on file at the hospital.”
“That’s pretty vague,” I replied.
“And he’d been drinking at La Cucaracha that night,” Jon added.