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I broke The Rule.

I consumed alcohol -- two beers -- with dinner, then rode the bike home.

OK, you got me; this was actually the third time I’ve done it since I got the bike in June of 2005. The last and most recent was on Day One of the trip -- two sips of champagne (Domaine Carneros “La Reve” 1997, and I’m sure the other bottle was destroyed by family members after I left). The only other one was after a particularly bad session of disagreement with the wife, at which point a late afternoon bike ride seemed the only cure. And as much as you’d be forgiven for thinking there may have been many such “sessions”, given the eventual divorce, truth is those were not very common at all.

But, heck, breaking a rule here and there is what you gotta do when you’ve taken the bike out to grab dinner in Ciudad Acuna, Mexico. You heard me! It is now “Follow El Jefe (tm)”!

Not only that, but…um, sorry, but we are getting way ahead of ourselves. Here’s how it played out, and I must warn you I have very few pictures from this day.

Having heard the roosters crowing early in the morning in Fredericksburg, but choosing to stay in bed, I eventually awoke at around 8:30 AM. After a fantastic German-style apple puff pancake breakfast thoughtfully prepared by my hostess, I tried to perform some spreadsheet editing for a very important project she was working on. Incredibly enough, however, being foiled repeatedly by version incompatibilities of her files and my version of Microsoft Excel, we had to bail on that idea. I did, however, carry in from the shed, and then help clean two giant tables which she needed for a study class she was putting together. I was also able to identify the source of the big red wasps that terrorized the shed and anyone who was in it…

Before I left we talked quite a bit about her connections with the Hopi tribe out in northwestern Arizona, which is interesting because a gentleman with whom I had been chatting back in Knoxville had suggested visiting the village of Old Orabai on the reservation, said to be the oldest continually inhabited place in North America. If my travels take me out that way, it may be a stop I must make. Sadly, as I was putting on my jeans, I was a bit hasty and caught a toe in one of the weakest areas of fabric, putting a hole in them. I don’t think I’ve ever had jeans with a hole in them! Now the question is whether or not they stay in the rotation…time will tell…

Speaking of time, it was far later than I had wished to depart, nearly 4:30 PM already. This meant I’d be skipping entirely the main reason for my stop in town, which was to visit the National Museum of the Pacific War, named in honor of local boy Chester A. Nimitz (who, despite having been born a few hundred miles away from the nearest big body of water, the Gulf of Mexico, became one of the most respected military leaders of the Pacific campaign during WWII). Well, I couldn’t do it, and somehow I managed not to even see it, but hey, this was easily the most unique stay of the trip thus far, and the experience was pleasurable and I certainly could not complain.

I could complain about the first mile of my ride out of there, however, as I literally almost killed myself on the road leaving the house. I’m pretty sure that if I had been able to see it during the daytime first, I might have chosen not to travel over it at all. It was a dirt road, rather uneven in spots, and with a layer of sand on top in some places. So when I needed to put my feet down to keep from tipping over, occasionally they would find no traction and slip out, and it would then be a MAJOR effort to keep from going down, even at 1 MPH. A series of progressively worsening slips n’ slides brought the bike almost resting up against the embankment on the side of the road, with my right ankle precariously wedged between the footpeg and the mound of earth. Had I been any closer it may have been a serious injury.

I made it out of there alive and prepared to head southwest, having managed to not snap a single picture of Fredericksburg itself. Stopping first to buy ice, I caught a suggestion for a nearby scenic tour from a dude whose parking spot at the convenience store I pretty much just stole. Fortunately, he shook it off and was a good guy to talk to. Sadly, by the time I finally departed, I was forced to conclude that I didn’t have the time to follow that route. As consolation, I spotted another entry in the “Weird Road Sign” category, this one for a “Bugtussle Road” -- which I know for a fact existed somewhere else, possibly back in Alabama.

The land soon became noticeably flatter leaving town, though the secondary roads I was on were still very scenic. I noticed that the nice breeze made it feel cool in the shade, even though a recent electronic display claimed a temperature of 106 degrees. Is it me? Am I really used to this heat by now? I passed through Bandera, a really cool-looking “frontier-type” town, and wished I had time for din-dins there. A town called Hondo had a funny name and a funny sign. Meanwhile, among all the various different license plates I’ve seen, recently I’ve spotted a few from Mexico. That’s something new for The Chief (tm)! And on these Texas “highways” -- really just four-lane roads, not limited-access superslabs, which feature speed limits as high as 65 MPH in the boonies but far lower ones though town -- I notice that drivers adhere completely to the posted numbers the moment they increase or decrease, but once out in the open again it is pedal to the metal.

Directions in Texas are sometimes given along the lines of “drive 143 miles and make a right”. Passing through Sabinal, TX, the rig ticked over both the 3,000 mile mark and a possible lucky number combination. We roll over bridges across many dry river beds, including in one sequence the Rio Frio and then the Dry Rio Frio -- um, come again? If the original river is already dry, is the second one meant to be really dry? What’s drier than dry?

Somewhere along the way I see a cloud formation that, to me, looks as if a very contented Santa Claus (seen from the side) tipped back his head and smiled.

I have developed the opinion that riding in, and directly into this sun is a pain in the neck. Not only because of the heat itself, but also because of the visibility, especially when it pokes its way beneath my helmet’s visor. It feels like it just seems to wear you down.

Somewhat worn down, I arrive at the outskirts of town and angle towards my hotel. I pass gas stations with signs offering “Deer Corn”, including one which boasts “Deer Corn ALWAYS Available”, apparently at this little nearby shed where the honor system is employed. That’s all well and good, but my thought is, “what the hell is ‘deer corn’ in the first place?” The other thing I see a lot of are “beer stops”, which are drive-through beer distributors. The signs indicate that they don’t really want you getting out of your car -- they fetch it for you.

Suddenly a Honda motorcycle dealership looms ahead of me, perhaps two miles from where I’m staying. This is perfect, because the time is right for an oil change, and there’s a laundromat nearby where I could clean the clothes while the guys are working on the bike. As I pull up closer to check on the hours of operation, the sign reveals that the service department is closed on Monday, crushing this idea as quickly as it had come to me.

The Days Inn on Veterans’ Boulevard features all suites and kitchenettes, which is pretty nice even though I doubt I’ll put the kitchen to use. Looks like there’ll be plenty of room to lay out the laptop and get some work done, if possible, although it’s already about 9 PM and I still haven’t eaten dinner. How to handle it? The plan was to go over the border into Mexico for the first time in my life, paying homage to my part-Mexican heritage in the process. But now it’s late on a Sunday night; will things still be open? Will it be safe? One odd element in the mix is that I really have zero ability to communicate in Spanish. This despite the fact that I can practically read it from having seen all the ads on the subway going to high school every day, and even though I can speak French, which I’d figure would provide some cross-language competence but does not. And it’s funny -- having grown up in the best city in the world, New York, I’m not at all uncomfortable about being in foreign places, but in this instance I’m really kind of unsure about it.

Also, how should I actually get there? I don’t think it’s a great idea to ride the bike -- not only will I want a beer or two, but if something were to happen to it over there, where it is uninsured, I am told it would be a complete disaster. Meanwhile, a cab from the motel would set me back about $50 for the round-trip. OUCH!

But the girl at the desk tells me you can park right at the border crossing and walk over, only about three-quarters of a mile, or take a cab from the parking lot for far less than it would cost from the motel. I’ll do one of those two things, then; probably walk the bridge so I can burn off the few beers I’m sure to have. On the way down there I see the most noteworthy “beer stop” of them all, which is called something like “’Fabulous’ John Chuy’s Beer Stop”. It features a brightly lit sign that I fail to take a picture of -- as I don’t want to be the typical camera-carrying tourist when I’m in Mexico, I don’t have it with me -- but which can only be described as looking exactly like the famous “Welcome to Vegas” sign. Wotta riot! Fabulous indeed.

So here I am, right near the border now; there’s the parking lot, and I pull into it. Looks as safe as one could reasonably wish, well-enough lit and just yards away from the border control plaza. I create a spot, back into it, kill the engine, and am not quite out of the seat when I stop and think, “what the heck am I doing?” The bike has gotten me this far, and suddenly it’s not going to come into Mexico with me? Nonsense -- I fire it back up, point it south, and wheel it over the Rio Grande!

Now, I do have to say that I never actually see the Rio Grande, because it’s dark out. On the other hand, there it is -- “BIENVENIDOS A MEXICO!” I am in Mexico for the first time ever, and Ciudad Acuna beckons. Incredible!

(Cinematic Aside: the plan originally called for me to go to Eagle Pass, TX, and hop across into Piedras Negras instead -- and this was before I ever saw "No Country For Old Men", which featured some scenes from Eagle Pass. Subsequently, driving through the business district in Acuna, I thought to myself how it looked a lot like the area from the movie "El Mariachi", but hey, a lot of these border towns look alike, right? Wrong, jalapeno-breath: "El Mariachi" was, in fact, filmed here, because the producer/director, Carlos Gallardo, is a native.)

I go to “Crosby’s”, an admittedly non-Mexican-sounding place, but it’s been there since I believe 1925 so it’s legit. Folks at the bar up front, dining room in the back with green-jacketed waiters and one occupied table, a large family of locals here enjoying a late dinner -- I am styling, and it gets better when they tell me to park the bike in their inner court. I select garlic soup as an appetizer and specify a Negra Modelo to go along with the chips and excellent homemade salsa and sauce. The only disappointment is that the garlic soup lessens some of the taste of the “Fish Veracruz” entrée, but it still hits the spot. Dinner comes to a total of $17, aided by the beers costing only $1.75 each! I ask for a few pesos as change, and they give me MXP11 in exchange for a greenback, better than the 10:1 the motel clerk had said I could expect.

Yes, I now have to ride the bike back after having consumed two beers, but I should be able to handle that, right? People, maybe not! In retrospect I’m pretty sure I went right through a stop sign at one point (my eyes scanning all the local spots of interest instead), and I’m positive that I drove the wrong way down a one-way street directly in front of the toll plaza at the bridge. Imagine that -- The Chief (tm), International Scofflaw! I wonder how busted I would have been had one of the many uniformed policemen chosen to take notice of my foibles.

No problems at passport control back into the US, and my night is almost over. Alas, no pictures of Mexico itself, because I hadn’t brought the camera, but as evidence of my visit I can offer this, this, and this. I am completely delighted that I decided to take the bike over and that I didn’t bail on the idea entirely. How stupid would that have been?

Buenos noches!


Sevens Are Wild!

Santa Claus


Toll Receipt

Mexican 5-Peso Piece