by Scooter Tramp Scotty Kerekes
Michelle’s shapely body held a playful spirit that loved life’s freedoms, simple adventure, and thought nothing of trading excess luxury for the gain of such things. She was an unusual chick, and her motorcycle, the old Shadow, held all of Michelle’s worldly possessions strapped to its rack and saddlebags. This was the real world of the modern-day drifter.
Behind us lay the city of New Orleans and ahead the big state of Texas. I looked to the Louisiana coastline now. The road was small and the striking beauty of such sparsely inhabited forest and coastline was fine as we rode slowly below a gentle sky of moderate weather. At night we simply made camp upon the land of our choosing.
Winter would be upon us soon.
For those who travel by bike and spend most nights in camp it’s the cold months that always push us south, so the migration had begun, California, Arizona and Florida. That was about it. Michelle chose Southern California but, thoroughly burnt on so many winters spent in these three states, I’d decided on the alternative of deep Mexico; for winter seldom ventures that close to the equator.
The state line came and went. We started the southward journey for Corpus Christy. It was there that I’d attended to any maintenance and repairs necessary to the old 1988—358,000- mile, full-dress Harley before crossing the boarder. There was always something it needed these days.
The small city came into view. At the edge of town an unused bay-garage offered adequate shelter from the rains so common to this region. We made camp there. After lingering only a few days, Michelle packed and rode on.
So began the readying of my bike for the long journey south. I eyed the new back tire given me by a friend in New Orleans. It had been tied atop the tour-pack for 400-miles. Among other repairs, it was also time to mount the new rubber.
At the south end of Corpus sets an old-school Harley Shop named Code Red. The crew was extremely helpful. Prepared to do the work myself, and obviously on the road, I was offered the use of a jack then allowed to lift the heavily-loaded FL and pull the back wheel right there in the yard. Use of the tire-machine was offered for a small fee and I went to work. With new rubber mounted, I changed the oil. The starter-drive-gear was failing, a bigger job. The boss sold me the part then offered the use of a lift inside his shop and any tools needed to install it. Unbelievable. The work took all day, and I was grateful.
By 10am of the following morning the old FL was beating a steady path to the Mexican border. The reality of this journey crept into my mind then. Fear tightened…
Although having traveled Mexico in the past, to date I’d not ridden its eastern coast nor traveled so deeply into the southern jungles and so far beyond the reach of western society.
Would the ride prevail? Thus far the god of fate had provided those things necessary to preparation, but would such grace oversee the entire journey? Could the world really be more as a playground if only I trusted? Deep questions. Yet the experience of so many journeys past offered quick answer… yes. But could these ideals be trusted yet again? The next few months would surely tell.
It was late next afternoon and windy when the old FL finally set its tires onto Mexican soil and began the long migration south. A winter chill bit the air now. Thinking only of warmer skies ahead, I rode hard. As usual, sorted spots along the road offered good places to make camp, as did the many gas- stations/truck stops. As do American truck stops, most Mexican stations also offer showers these days. Cold water only. But clean is clean and I did not mind.
The days grew steadily warmer as landscape changed from arid, Texas-like desert to thick tropical jungles of exotic plants, banana trees and brightly colored birds. Thermals and heavy jacket were soon traded for T-shirt and sun-screen.
A thousand miles south of the boarder and high into the mountains of Veracruz an old rancher invited me to his place for the night. The small, three-room house where he and his two teenage boys lived was built of concrete and had no running water. I was given bread and warm milk for dinner then a bed in the house. At 6:00am I accompanied my hosts to milk the 50 or so cows. By late morning, after giving rides to both boys, the big motorcycle was again heading south.
For days the narrow pavement passed roadsides lined with tangled jungle and beachside byways. This was motorcycling at its best. But good riding was not everything, for I’d come to Mexico with a secondary motive as well. Being a writer, a suitable town to settle in and type for a while was also necessary. The search began.
As with the U.S., Mexico is made up of different states and Yucatan is the very last. Located near Cancun and Guatemala, I entered this state then rode for its major city of Merida. But the city was far too congested. A 20-mile ride to the smaller beach- town of Progreso was soon made. Progreso is set on a grid of tiny streets flanked by concrete houses adorned in those crazy, fluorescent colors Mexicans like so much. The streets were rough and almost every sign or advertisement had been painted by hand. Typical Mexico. But the Malecon (shoreline road) offered a fine beach on one side while providing many bars and restaurants to tourists (many cruise ships) and the numerous Americans and Canadians that own houses locally, or rent for the winter. It would do.
The next order of business was accommodations. Two miles south of town a secluded piece of ground offered private camping beneath a stout line of trees that held the sometimes strong winter sunshine at bay. Next, an inexpensive gym membership brought access to daily showers and a fine weight room as well. Progreso was now mine. I could stay as long as I liked.
Life soon settled into a routine: Awaken slowly then drink coffee from a silver thermos. A line connected to the motorcycle’s battery will run the computer all day therefore allowing one to work at home in the tent. By mid-afternoon I’d repack the bike (a finely honed routine) and head for the gym. Afterwards I’d hang in town, see a movie, or whatever. Prudence kept me from the tourist restaurants and I began to frequent those places where Mexicans eat. Breakfast: $2. Dinner: $3. Cooking made no sense here. I began to meet people.
Buddy’s, the main gringo-bar/restaurant on the Malecon, was owned by a Swiss guy. His main interest was soaking the many prominent retirees of this region. With his special Texas night, Mardi Gras night, etc, the dude reeled ’em in then gouged ’em hard for the privilege. So they came, and I made the acquaintance of many. Although some were truly cool people, many of Buddy’s patrons strutted their big-bucks pretentiousness with easy contempt or indifference for the rest of us simple peasants. This attitude purchased almost complete alienation from the general populace. I moved on.
Nighttime had fallen upon the tan, two-story apartment building that resided 1½-blocks from the beach. At the small porch of a ground floor studio I spotted three young Canadians who sat content in their semi-drunken laughter. This seemed a good omen so I pulled the big Harley to the curb and killed the engine. Switching from French to English they welcomed me to take a seat. I did. This was Nikki’s residence I soon learned. The other two, his little sister and her squeeze, were only visiting from Quebec. We talked into the evening and it was well past midnight when I finally returned to camp.
I visited Nikki often after that. At 31, he spoke three languages (including Spanish) and owned a bright yet unstable personality. Nikki went to the beach everyday, then got drunk every night. If it was overcast he was depressed by day, then drunk again at night. The man was consistent. In the upstairs apartment lived his Mexican landlady Leticia. She was 48, slender, and hung with Nikki often. Leticia’s in-building garage offered two bays with large metal doors and I soon rented one for almost nothing. With tent set against the far wall, the place offered one plastic table, plastic chairs and an electrical socket to run the computer. A fine home.
Again, I worked by morning, then played by afternoon. At night I’d sometimes watch through the tent-screen as Leticia slunk down the stairwell to Nikki’s place. Later, she’d slip quietly back up. Older woman…younger man. Secret rendezvous. I said nothing.
Many visitors graced our little party complex and, being a resident now, I met some truly interesting characters. One was an older, rather beat up, Texan who drove a big, white, 4-by and sported a Marines tattoo. The rumors were not good, but I came to like him anyway. His buddy was a doughy little, American born, Vietnamese here on leave from the war. Chino or, as the Texan called him, “V.C.” talked constantly of killing people. He just wouldn’t shut up about it. At night he tried to pick up chicks in the bars with graphic pictures and his incessant talk of murder. Chino didn’t get laid much.
A week after my arrival two old friends came to visit Nikki from Montreal. Both were in their early 30s. One was an average guy with close cropped hair while his wife, a petite and pretty girl, seemed a straight forward match. They’d been traveling Mexico in a Honda car and soon rented one of Laticia’s upstairs apartments for 1½ weeks. The couple seemed a fine, upstanding addition to our little community…till they got horny.
When that happened—and it happened a lot—they quickly took to banging each other any and everyplace. I opened the bathroom door in a local cantina one night to catch our bunnies in the act over the sink. Without missing a beat, both offered only a “Don’t mind us” smile. At the beach they came outta the water with him carrying her from behind; his meaty hands behind her little knees now curled up against small breasts. She was spread eagle to the crowd and still connected to him at the rear. Our little entourage gaped. One never knew when or where it was going to happen. But it would happen. I found the crazy couple a great source of entertainment and truly missed ’em when they finally left.
I met local bikers as well.
For most Mexicans the motorcycle is a cheap, usually 125cc, utilitarian vehicle. Yet, in a place where a lifestyle of motorcycling for pleasure is still in its infancy, only those born to truly love motorcycles will step forward to pioneer the sport. It was while cruising Merida’s center-square one night that I met just such a group. They were, against the curb, 15 or so bikes rested as their young leather-clad riders milled close by talking shit and making time with the chicks. Brazenly I parked the huge FL among them. Communication was not long in coming and I was welcomed warmly. Unfortunately, poor economy and unavailability demanded that many ride small displacement motorcycles. Still, each seemed genuinely happy for whatever ride he’d been able to acquire.
In short time they scooped me up for a little bar-hoppin’ and we set out across the city. There was little status here. No pressure. Anyone’s ride was fine. Just a bunch of guys who shared a common passion. I felt transported 25-years into my own past. Behind the scenes we went. So many places few tourists were fortunate to go. The bands played. Parties raged. People gawked at the big motorcycle and my new friends—poor as they were—allowed me to pay for nothing. It was 4:30am when my head finally hit the pillow.
In the weeks to come, I ran with these boys often. I soon learned that among them was a group of stunt riders who sold their demonstrations to many venues across the state. I watched video clips and was truly impressed with the cutting edge stunts performed aboard these bikes.
Aside from these young bikers there was also a select group of very wealthy Mexican yuppies who rode late model, highly accessorized, Harleys and Goldwings from the city of Merida, to the Progreso Malecon every Thursday for dinner and drinks at the bar. I was always welcomed. Most offered stares of confusion to the rough complexion of my heavily worn FL. When I told stories of such great freedoms they looked perplexed. But these boys knew how to party and the occasional time I spent in their company was always fun.
It was riding back from the city one night that I accidentally missed a speed-bump. The intense jar broke the tour-pack rack which then fell and shattered the taillight lens. Two days later I disassembled the unit on the dirt lot of a local welding shop. Following my exact instruction, the welder worked half-day on the project. Crazy glue mended the lens. The final bill was $10. I gave him $20.
The months passed. Michelle rode from California to Daytona for the March rally and I was to meet her in Texas. It was time to go. After offering goodbyes to my new friends, the bike was repacked and I slipped away by early morning.
Again the highway became my only companion as the days drifted through gas-stations, restaurants, new camping-places, the faces of so many who wished to talk, and the endless procession of sights far to interesting, to pass up. The latter often held my attention for hours and again the miles passed slowly.
It was a sunny day high in the mountains of Veracruse again as I sat at a gas station to talk with one exceptional American motorcycle traveler. He’d been riding solo through Mexico aboard a European dual-sport for 2-months and was now in slow route to Texas for rendezvous with a girlfriend there. Having spent 9-months traveling, Africa recently, Switzerland before that, France, Germany, and so on, I sat fascinated as he told stories.
When I asked if such adventure ever became mundane, he replied, “Hell no. You’ve just gotta have bigger adventures!” This cat was 67-years old!
And so I left him.
Again, the tropical jungle roads offered a deep sense of cycle-euphoria in which I was completely immersed when the cop pulled alongside on a small motorcycle and motioned me to the shoulder. I’d been speeding.
“How much?” I asked.
“Twenty bucks,” he said.
“Twenty bucks! Forget it. I’ll give you five.”
“Five dollars is not a lot of money Señor. We can go downtown if you prefer.”
Legally, he’s supposed to take me downtown to pay his boss. He’d get no money that way…and I knew it.
“We can go,” I said.”
“Tell you what,” he countered, “how’s $15?”
“Okay…I’ll give you five.”
“How ’bout $10?”
Ten’s the going rate for a gringo…I knew. After producing my wallet I watched fear spawn as the cop looked nervously around for any witnesses to the money exchange. Getting busted could mean considerable trouble for him…I knew that too.
Reaching into the wallet I withdrew $7 (70 pesos) and blatantly held it to him. For a second he eyed the money then grabbed it quickly to stuff into his pocket. He shook my hand then and said, “You know Mexico pretty good don’t you?”
The border passed, and again I stood on American soil. I thought back. Already the memory of these months read as an unreal dream. The times of one’s life. I remembered the question again: Could the world really be more as playground if only one trusted? Again the answer had been yes.
Two days later I hooked up with Michelle at a truck-stop on Texas interstate-10. From there we would continue to the Daytona rally before touring more of Florida then moving north in spring.
But then that’s another story….
Note: The number at Code Red Custom Cycles in Corpus Christy is no longer in service. I’ve no idea what happened to them.
Scooter Tramp Scotty Kerekes