The following is an excerpt from Chapter 9 of Masturbating With Strangers…
My strides began to quicken as I heard the fireworks building towards the finale. I could hear the crowd cheering from the deck of the ship. I was tempted to stop for a moment to see if I could distinguish a familiar voice, for one last listen, but I knew any hesitation threatened to rob me of my courage. So I pressed forward towards a string of cab drivers hollering things like ‘hola gringo,’ ‘viajar conmigo,’ ‘vamos,’ and ‘hey guy, hey guy, we go.’ I quickly assessed the cab drivers trying to determine who was the most trustworthy based on their facial features, tone of voice, build and age. I found there was very little I could read about them in the night air, which was only illuminated by the flurry of fireworks. So I settled on the one that spoke the most English.
After a short Spanglish filled negotiation I managed to drive down the price to 800 pesos for my four hour trip to Guadalajara. I knew the rough price it should cost based upon my review of Lonely Planet articles on the internet, and like any well-informed tourist I anchored myself well below the amount I was willing to pay. I could have fought further by employing the most effective negotiation tool for an ex-pattie, which was walking away, but I decided 800 pesos would be acceptable. Not to mention I wanted to stay in the cab driver’s good graces, lest he should be tempted to plot a robbery, rape or murder upon my gringo ass.
“Welcomes you Puerto Vallarta, amigo,” My portly cab man resembled an old tired version of Fernando Valenzuela. He had soft gray streaks running through his bushy mustache and sideburns. He could barely muster a smile as he opened my door for me. I took my backpack off my shoulder then stepped into the back seat. The upholstery was so worn that gaping holes exposed the cotton filled inner linings. The portly cab driver moved slowly around to the front, and flopped down into the driver’s seat letting out a long working-man’s sigh. A raspy sputtering roar came from the engine as he turned the key in the ignition.
He glanced back at me in the rear view mirror, our eyes both filled with distrust, while the reflection of the chaotic finale of the fireworks danced in the background illuminating our passing ice cold glances. A last gasp of erratic and continuous fireworks shot up into the sky like heating seeking missiles, one chasing after the other, hell bent on catching the last, until their imminent journey full of light came to a swift and crackling fate, burning out brightly, fading far before they could ever reach their desired destination. Soon the flurry of passion from the finale subsided gently into the smoke-filled skyline. The sparkling remnants of those final explosions fizzled into the hollow night, their restless ambition lost upon human eyes, and their lofty dreams forever trapped in an invisible purgatory of what ifs.
My portly cab driver lit a cigarette. He turned the knob on his radio, and out of some sort of cosmic obedience to the virility of American entertainment- the voice of Whitney Houston began to sing. “Didn’t We Almost Have It All.” I felt a part of myself fading into the background, but I couldn’t turn back. I couldn’t look back at what I was leaving behind. Otherwise I would lose myself in an unmanned voyage down the recesses of my own mind, privy to all sorts of implications of failure, stalked by alternate universes, and prey to a self-imposed insanity from clarifying the magnitude of it all. I couldn’t acknowledge that I would be missed. I couldn’t acknowledge that at that very moment, my friend Trevor likely stood with his back to the fireworks, fully aware that we had shared our last look, and trying to catch one more glimpse of a friend he so frequently betrayed. Perhaps, he was hoping for some penance of his past sins by deterring me from my half-cocked idea to flee the country that bred me. He would have no such peace and my head would remain facing forward. Now there was only the path and the vigilance it required to ensure that my portly cab driver stayed on the main road to Guadalajara.
The gloves were off. I could no longer be saved by late night phone calls to my parents, the generosity of friends, or even a trustworthy justice system. No I was now in another land. A world where my own vulnerability could make me a king, because now I could finally prove my own worth free of bullshit standards of success. I would no longer be measured by the prestige of the university I attended, the model like features of my girlfriend or the zeroes on my paycheck. Now my worth was based on my ability to survive. The training wheels were off. I torched the safety net, and there was not an emergency exit in sight. There were no more shoulders to cry on or even a language to depend on. Yes now was the time to achieve my true greatness and to build the legend of the lone white wanderer. A man always in search of the best adventure the foreign lands had to offer, and willing to sacrifice it all to ensure that his spirit was always the freest one in the room.