Thirty-one years ago, Caty and I honeymooned in Mexico. We lived in the high country of central Idaho, 6 miles from town on a hill overlooking the Gold Fork of the Payette River. It was January and we were butt deep in snow, so we scraped the ice from our car, skidded a hundred miles to Boise, then flew to Los Angeles International where we boarded a small Aero Mexico jet headed to San Jose del Cabo, Baja California. During that voyage I learned a couple of ways to manage stress the Latin way.

It was raining hard in LA and the flight was delayed on the tarmac. The aircraft was not quite a flying culvert, but it was smaller than average, with two seats on each side of the aisle. We were hunkered in the back third of the plane. Across the aisle and forward were two middle-aged women who fidgeted and discussed rather loudly how much they hated to fly. That persisted for 10 minutes until the one on the aisle jumped up, pointed the roof of the plane and yelled “Oh my God!” There was a leak somewhere in the skin of the plane and a slow drip had developed that was landing on the arm of her seat.

The solo flight attendant was a young woman in a rather restrictive uniform wearing higher heels than I would have chosen for her occupation. She responded to the commotion, looked over the situation, smiled and said “Una momenta, por favor,” then wove her way forward to her station behind the pilots. The nervous pair began to fret about not meeting their tour guides in San Jose because of having to wait while the mechanics fixed the airplane.

They needn’t have worried. A couple of minutes later the flight attendant came back down the aisle carrying a box of Kleenex with the top torn off. She carefully balanced it on the seat arm, directly under the leak, smiled again and said “No problema,” then went about her business.

Despite the leak, the airplane flew without falling apart. We rented a Volkswagen in San Jose then headed north, up the coast of the Sea of Cortez, bouncing over dirt roads and across arroyos, to Bahia los Frailes, Bay of the Friars, where we pitched a tent on the beach. South of us half a mile were some snazzy white stucco homes that probably were seasonal refuges for other English speakers, but we were the only gringos in the bay.

Our fellow beach mates were 10 fishermen who hopped into three open boats early each morning, spent half an hour netting bait from the bay, then disappeared over the eastern horizon until almost dark when they would ride the high tide, run the boats way up on the sand, then unload their day’s catch into a refrigerated van.

Caty spent the days in the clear warm sea marveling at the water critters. I hunkered in the shade and digested Mexican comic books, which are soft pornographic novels. Shreds of my collegiate studies in Greek, Latin, German and Spanish were still floating around between my ears so I could decipher most of the words.

Between the fisherfolks’ camp and our tent was a palm-thatched, open-air structure where Raul and Dominga operated a bar and cafe. It was equipped with a small propane refrigerator stocked with beer and pop, a back shelf of tequila and bourbon and a kitchen stove. Dominga cooked while Raul schmoozed. The food was wonderful, especially the machaca made from shark meat dried over the barbwire fence between our camp and the rich folks’ winter homes.

We were there only a few days. One mid-afternoon I wandered up to the cafe for another cane sugar Pepsi in a battle weary bottle and noticed the left front tire of Raul’s pickup was totally flat. I asked if he had a jack to use on the flat and he shook his head. I told him there probably was some sort of lifting mechanism in our rented VW and he was more than welcome to borrow it. He smiled and said, “Gracias, but we do not need a jack.”

I needn’t have worried. A half an hour later I watched Carlos, their teenage son, as he rolled a large rock from the arroyo and placed it under the front axle of the truck. He loosened the lug nuts, used a shovel to dig around and under the flat tire, removed the lug nuts, pulled off the old wheel and tire, replaced it with the spare and lug nuts, backfilled and tamped the excavation around the spare, tightened the lug nuts, then hopped in the truck and backed off the rock. No problema.

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J.D. Smith is an accomplished writer and jack-of-all-trades. He lives in Athena.

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