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A mild August day in Southern Utah is about one hundred and five degrees. Generally if you want to do something outside you need to get up at four in the morning when it is still in the mid-nineties. Occasionally I would go out for a 30 mile ride during the hottest point of these days. The apex of my standard loop was Snow Canyon State Park. Here the road climbs about a thousand feet over four miles. The black tarmac soaking in the sun all day can easily cause a micro climate of one hundred and twenty. On these days my lungs would feel as if somebody had stuck a fire cracker down my throat by the time I hit the top of that hill. I still do not fully understand what drove me to do this to myself, although I posit that it had something to do with Utah’s draconian regulations on alcohol and dancing, which as a result of, there just wasn’t anything else to do.
We left Tetela del Volcan on the last day of February. We were heading for Atlixco. It was hot and dry. I was several days into my third intestinal parasite. My condition was such that had I been in the US (and had something more than bargain bin insurance) I probably would have been on an intravenous drip of medical grade Kool-aide to the tune of a grand per fluid ounce. This not being possible, I was eating a half dozen salted mangoes and drinking two to three gallons of water while riding anywhere from forty to a hundred clicks a day combined with at least a thousand meters of climbing, and mid ninety temps. My lungs were scorching, but because of those rides in Utah I knew that I was far from my limit.
We’d heard from several sources that Bomberos (fire stations) will often offer a free place to rest for folks traveling through Mexico. We decided to see if this was truly the case. The station was located about a mile from the centro. Somehow these negotiations tend to fall on my shoulders and I approach the first person I see and proceed to awkwardly deliver our proposition. The man walks us to the fire chief. I repeat my not-so-well rehearsed line. He calls in the head of public safety. Somebody may have asked if there was any purpose to our journey, such as raising money for cancer or something else that could be considered beneficial for the world as a whole. We did our best to explain that we had absolutely nothing to offer humanity and that this was sort of the reason we were riding bikes as opposed to solving world hunger. After some chatter somebody asked us to follow them and showed us to an empty room on top of the station.
It is important to note at this point that in addition to having pozole (a delicious Mexican corn soup) for lunch, I had drank half a pint of warm milk that had been left over from breakfast and stoking in my panniers under then sun for several hours. Given the state of my intestines I am unable to offer any concrete rationale as to why I would do this beyond the fact that I just don’t think it is right to waste food.
Around the corner from our encampment for the night was the lounge where the firemen sat on couches and watched old Vietnam War movies. Directly behind the lounge was their bunk room. Off to the side of this was the locker room, bathroom, and shower. Soph showered first. I don’t recall whether or not there was hot water. What I do recall is that as I was washing my face I was hit with a sharp cramp in my gut. I quickly took inventory of all my options, I didn't have much time and the bathroom wasn’t one of them. I leaned forward with my arms around my abdomen, not knowing what to do.
“You’re going to shit yourself in this shower,” I thought. I then sighed, accepted my fate, and wondered if I would be able to find a mop without anybody noticing. Then, in a miraculous stroke of luck, I noticed that the cap in the floor drain was not properly secured. I immediately pried the cover off and relieved myself without leaving any trace.
I toweled off, dressed, and walked back through the lounge, waving and saying “hola, mucho gusto,” to everyone as I passed. Soph was inflating our mattress when I returned to our area.
“How are you feeling?”
We bussed into town and she had a lovely dinner in the plaza. I was hiding a small flask of a fermented probiotic drink in my pocket and took occasional shots of this when nobody was looking.
When we returned to the station, a man had built a makeshift office near our bed. His name was Angel. He spoke a bit of English. He asked how we got the idea to stay there. He told us that in twenty six years we were the fifth couple that had come through. He said they were all Americans.
“I wouldn’t let a Mexican stay here,” he said, “They’d probably steal something.”
I let that simmer for a bit. It gave me a sort of “Aha” moment about privilege. A black friend had once said that he felt that when you’re white you get the benefit of the doubt that you’re not up to anything nefarious. He found it amazing how we approach certain situations, like opening a door for somebody, with not just the confidence that they would not suspect a hidden motive, but with a complete lack of consciousness that this is even a possibility. It had never occurred to me that someone might question our credentials when requesting a free place to sleep around the corner from a perfectly good hotel. My general experience is that if you ask nicely you’ll probably get it. And yet here is this man telling us that if we were not just a different color, but his own color, we probably wouldn’t be sleeping there. You hear this narrative of the white guy that ambles through life unaware of the fact that the world is opening every door for him and in some cases laying out a carpet of red roses at his feet. It is hard to lay credence to as we all want to believe that we worked for everything we have. In conversations like this it is hard not to reexamine these issues.
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