We assist a child in defrauding the government
By the second day, everyone but the driver dozed. Beyond the closed windows of our air-conditioned car Mexico unrolled, with her heat and dust and sun and churches and shacks and cactus and fields and cattle and flashes of preternaturally purple and scarlet flowers growing out of hard, dusty ground flickering dream-like between snatches of sleep.
At one point, on a hypnotizingly straight highway, I fell asleep while driving and went off the road, but it was one of those places where you could run off the road for quite a distance and not hit anything important.
Late in the evening of the second day we stopped at Tepic, south of Mazatlan. As we sat in the restaurant a little Mexican boy, maybe ten years old, watched us and tried to get our attention. When we left he came to our car and asked for our toll road receipts. In Mexico, toll roads appear to me indistinguishable from any other sort of road, except for the presence of toll booths, where is collected some arbitrary amount bearing no discernible relation to the length or quality of the road. It would appear, in fact, that these are just ordinary highways on which the government has erected toll stations. And unlike traffic offenses, tolls are not negotiable.
I gave the boy a handful of our toll receipts, thinking to myself how the poor lad must be collecting receipts in lieu of stamps or baseball cards or some more expensive boyish hobby.
He sells them, explained Roger, to other motorists. A driver need only pay a particular toll once a day and then may go back and forth as many times as he wishes, merely by showing a toll receipt for the day. So, my little muchacho was defrauding the government. Admirable initiative for a lad so young.
Then south again, Mexico seeping through the cracks of our car. Cattle on the road, bats flitting through the beam of our headlights. At one point frogs hopping across the road, at another, small snakes slither. A red glow in the night sky from a burning cane field. Mexican music on the radio to keep the driver company while his companions sleep.
It was sometime past midnight when we entered Puerto Vallarta, the car bouncing on the cobbles. Colonial buildings and shop fronts of the restored town, artificially constricted by the bright overhead street lights, looking like a scene from a dream. Then across an arched bridge and south again, the road through a tunnel of trees with scarcely-seen shapes fluttering out of the darkness. We start counting the kilometer markers. No elation: just tiredness.
At 5:30 on our third morning, forty-nine hours after leaving home, we arrive. Even El Patrón, for all his enthusiasm for his new house, just wanted to go to bed. I shake out the bedclothes, for El Patrón has told us that on his last visit the staff, who are soon to be let go, had put a scorpion in his bed to discourage him from buying the house. There was a spider, large and brown but unaggressive, and I chased him off the bed. I was dirty and my feet were swollen, but I could worry about that later. I slept all through that day and following night and through the morning of the day that came after. I would sleep for thirty hours. We were in no hurry and there would be time enough to deal with Mexico.