The year I turned sixteen, I was shocked and thrilled when I wrangled permission from my parents to summer in Mexico – with one caveat: that I’d be kept in tow by the daughter of my mother’s lifelong friend, Judy McCoy. Kathy had ventured south the prior June to attend a gringo-specific university summer session in the state of Jalisco. A relatively unrelated group of high school acquaintances learned of her plans to return and begged to be included. I was first in line.
Kath was an accomplished student and singer who taught me to play the guitar. Conservative Sandy held a job from the age of fourteen, always had cash in her pocket, and chauffeured girls in her beloved Rambler to every football game. Debbie was scattered and artistic, always late. Her disorganized ways were the basis of my early instruction in patience. Younger than the others by a year, I was the wild child everyone could count on to accept a dare and dance on a crowded cafeteria table at high noon.
Sans chaperone, we were gleefully Guadalaraja-bound when our parents put us on a Greyhound bus headed for the Mexicali railroad depot. And, although we knew each other before we left, we truly began this life-changing adventure as four strangers on a train.
The trip took three days by rail. The coach’s air conditioning only pumped cool air while the wheels were in motion, and since the schedule dictated a stop every fifteen minutes along the route, it turned out to be a hot, dusty voyage. We slept upright in our berth, walked the length of the string of cars a hundred times, inhaled candy bars and practiced our Spanish on the native passengers. We photographed beautiful vistas of the interior of Mexico that could only be seen from the window of our railcar – which, by the way, is called a “bogie” in India.
For six weeks we successfully navigated the cities of a foreign country. I fell asleep on the rock seawall in Mazatlan, got thrown off a sailboat in the middle of muddy Lake Chapala, and was frightened by over-served Federales on Puerto Vallarta’s Mismaloya beach, where Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton filmed Night of the Iguana. We ate the world’s most delicious street vendor’s tacos, then held back each others’ hair when we all came down with full-body Montezuma’s Revenge.
I literally had the time of my life.
I screwed up and grew up on that trip. Those bickering, fresh-faced girls were the first of my lifelong women friends, and that expedition turned out to be a mutual initiation into a “team that worked.” I learned the special gift only true buddies offer: they love the spirit of us, they see us perfect. Our lives have taken different routes, but every birthday the phone rings, and when the caller murmurs a simple, “heh heh heh,” I’m back in Mexico, smelling diesel exhaust, a teenager again.
Overall, our vacation was everything I thought it might be, and the journey turned out to be so much more: Training wheels. I like to think that summer began a long, drawn out, often derailed venture of discovery I hope to continue until my last breath. As Lillian Smith said, “No journey carries one far unless, as it extends into the world around us, it goes an equal distance into the world within.”
The girl I was in my youth did not aspire to be a writer. I never imagined I would find myself here, now, working hard to master social media and finish my soon-to-be published book. Lucky me, though, these projects have opened the door to an even more unexpected gift: collaboration. The talented, generous, inspiring, exquisite men and women I’ve met through my online efforts have changed my mind about more than my potential as an author.
I deeply appreciate this chapter of my life, because I feel inspired now by yet another team: authors, friends, peers and supporters who offer encouragement and share tips, good news and best practices. They act as all-around cheerleaders to shout out every blog post and achievement without regard to what it may bring them. They’ve helped me become a better me, a better writer, and a better friend.
I am deeply thankful.
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