The Bus South
By: Jeff Knight
The lights on the taco truck flashed in rhythm to Cumbia music. I could smell carnitas, onions and tortillas cooking. I could see a young couple sitting laughing as they ate tacos at a table set up near the truck. The young man wore a white t shirt with a gold chain around his neck and a ball cap with the bill ironed flat with a logo of JC on the front. The girl had black hair pulled back tight and was wearing a black tank top with words WAR crossed out on the front. I heard a female's voice yell number 32 in English then in Spanish as she looked out from inside the taco truck. The logo on the side of the truck said Mario's e Maria's Tacos in letters so big they filled the side of the truck, painted in the colors of the Mexican flag, red, green and white. Maria looked out at me and said "hey you, white boy you going to order or not we ain't got all night ya know" I know Maria is joking with me I have known Maria and Mario since they were 10 or 12. Their dad and I started working together over 15 years ago. I helped them buy and set up this taco truck, in fact they just paid off their last installment 2 months ago. I was happy to be able to turn the title over to them. Mario learned to cook from his mother and also took cooking lessons and some recipes from my wife. There is always a line of people at this truck there maybe other food trucks here tonight at this weekly food truck and fellowship event put on by the community, but there is only one truck that serves tacos, the best tacos.
"Hey Maria, como este?" "Bien, Pedro" my name is Peter but Maria has always used the Spanish version of my name. "What can we make for you" She ask. "Dos carnitas e dos tripas, con todo, por favor" I answer. She takes my payment and ask when am I returning to Mexico. I respond "soon, taking the bus this time from Nogales." She looks at me with concern. "The bus? Why would a gringo take the bus to Guadalajara?" I look at her and say "going for the story…going for the experience". Her look says it all everyone knows the bus trip can be long and is not the safe way to travel in Mexico. Maria takes the next order. I go and sit down near the young couple sipping on my bottle of Mexican Coke. If you going to eat real tacos got to have a Mexican Coke. The young girl in the antiwar tank top reaches out and takes her boyfriend's hand in hers. I over hear her say "I don't want you to leave, I know you have to go see your abuela, but you should fly." He looks at her and pulls his hand away, looks down at the table and runs his hand over his face. He looks at her "you know I cant fly." "The only way in is the way I go with my primo in his truck you know that."
My order is called I go to the pick up window and Mario hands me my plate. "good to see you Peter" he says. "Maria says your heading south soon." I look at him and say "yeah be getting on the bus next week." He pulls a dish towel off his shoulder and wipes the sweat from his forehead. "The bus? Are you loco? Dose your wife know? What dose she think?" I look at him then look at my plate. "Hey where is my grilled jalapeño and cebollas? It is obvious I have side stepped the question. He hands me another plate with all the extras I always have with my tacos. "Sorry Jefe, we need to talk" as he points his finger at my chest, then taps his temple, "Pensar amigo" His words echo in my heart and remained me of the words from my first boss who would say in his Dutch Indonesian accent "Think maan".
I sit down at the picnic table just as Veronica finishes cleaning it off. Veronica is 19 and has been working for Mario for 2 months. Her story is sad and complicated, but one would not know it by her smile and warm vivacious personality. She smiles at me and ask how my daughter is doing. Veronica stayed with my wife and I for a few weeks when she was recovering from a difficult break up from a abusive relationship. I am happy to see her doing well and working for Mario and Maria. She needs the support and strength they can offer. I think about Mario's question as I take a bite out of my carnitas taco, then a bite of the pepper. What Maria and Mario say about taking the bus is not the best way to travel is true. When my wife Samantha finds out, and she will, I will have some explaining to do. The price of a story is something only an author can understand. No matter what, I know sometimes the difficult and challenging way is the only way. If the ocean did not have waves where would the people surf?
What I didn't say to Mario is what bus I was taking. If any of them knew that my hippie Kombi was 'the bus' and the young guy at the table was going to ride shot gun I am sure they would find a way to stop us. I gave the young man with the JC hat a nod as I met his eyes. He nodded back acknowledging me. I had met him about a week ago when I took my bus into have some work done by Juan's VW. As I was looking at the conversions I had added JC was the person doing the modifications. He asked me "getting her ready for a trip?" I looked at him as he wiped down his tools. "Yeah heading south." He asked "how far south". I responded Jalisco, Mexico but no one needs to know." He looked at me and said lets go outside." He told me his story about his grandmother being sick and may not have long to live. He told me how both his parents had died in a car crash when he was 12. His grandparents became his parents. He told me he owed everything to his grandmother's love and prayers. So I asked him if he wanted to go with me and help out a bit with gas and driving. He said sure. I told him I had a few things to get together and if it all worked out I would get a message to him. I handed him a flyer about the food truck meet and fellowship that I was a promoter for. "If it is a go look for me here on Friday night around seven. Mario E Maria Tacos is where I usually hang out."
Now here we were, plans made. Vaya con Dios. We both had our reasons for slipping over the border, sometimes this is the way things have to go to make the world go around.
The bird knows no borders and has no limits other than the limit of her endurance. Oh that I could take flight and fly with her. When I look down at the land all I see is where the land meets the water. The only divide I see is what divides what can live on land and what can live in the sea. But, I am a bird and have the air that no one can divide but God.
Jeff Knight 5/2021