Intrepid Optimist

Intrepid Optimist is the place where I can share my stories; fact, fiction and thoughts from the past and present. It’s Written by myself for people who believe adventure knows no age

Free Champagne to Mexico City, 1969


Vancouver, 1969. Nothing was as it had meant to be and things had not worked out. Things being a relationship, a job, and a visa, in that order. A weak sun was struggling to break it’s way though a thin veil of sleet as I paced the slushy pavements of  English Bay. Quo vadis was the foremost  thought on my mind. The relationship, an 1968 affair nurtured in Italy in the summer had petered out a few months later in a cheerless British Columbia’s winter . The promised  job had fallen through and my visa application had been denied, so where to go and what to do before being deported was my immediate and pressing  problem.

Passing a travel agency my attention was caught by the advertisement emblazoned across the window of a travel agency, “Free Champagne to Mexico City”.

Making that impulsive decision, I entered the agency.

“Is that true? Free champagne to Mexico?”

“It certainly is sir.” The salesgirl answered.

“How long’s the flight?”

“With one stop in Los Angeles – seven hours.” She brightly replied

“How soon can I fly?” I asked the salesgirl.

“Well, if you’re running away from home, I can get you on tomorrow’s flight.” She joked.

“Yes I am.” I answered with a smile on my face. “Get me on it, please.”

Three minutes later –

“Have a nice flight, Mr Thomas” She said, handing me the ticket and a give-away booklet of Spanish phrases.”You really are running away, aren’t you?”

And in a way I suppose she was right. The question I which could not answer myself was – but from what and why?

I was not sorry to be leaving Vancouver. It may have been the rotten weather or the break-up of the relationship but I thought it a drab and lacking in character. The only excitement had been China town and a Humphrey Bogart week at an art cinema. During my two years living on the European continent I had become used to getting a beer or a glass of wine when I wanted one. W.C.Bennet, the Governor of British Columbian Governor practically ran the province  as a  dry one. The ferry boats to Vancouver and other outlying islands were dry. Pubs were not pubs but lounges, where you were not even allowed to move to a neighbouring table with a glass in your hand. The popular drink was a mixture of beer and tomato juice. Indians were not allowed in bars. On Friday you queued at the Government ran, alcohol store, to buy enough wine and spirits to last the weekend.

Just one suitcase to pack with all but essentials discarded. No winter clothing required in Mexico I hoped. Sadly I parted with my beautiful and expensive, suede overcoat; a present from a dear friend and the only item of some sentimentality I had with me when I left England two years previously. With genuine fond farewells to my summer-of-Italian-love girl friend and our promises to keep in touch out of the way, I bade my goodbyes to Vancouver.

The airline company’s promotion  was as good as its word and the flight was anything but a boring one.  Complimentary fizz for the asking right up to the time they advised us to fasten our safety belts ready for the landing in Mexico. Obviously, by this time I was at least three sheets to the wind but I had the luck to find myself an English speaking taxi driver to take me into the city. He deposited me in a small but comfortable hotel – probably receiving a kick-back for doing so – near the Plaza Garibaldi. For the first few days in Mexico City my life was an alcoholic blur. Or maybe it was the  2240 meter altitude that had me staggering from time to time. Beer, tequila,  food and good looking women were all in my price bracket – dirt cheap. Once in a typical cantina, I tipped a group of Mariachis who were playing there. One them who spoke a little English, persuaded me to hire the group for the night and they accompanied my from cantina to cantina, even taking me to their own favourite bars. A memorable evening.

Another evening, when I had had enough of Mexicans, Tequilla, women and song and was sobering-up somewhat, I went up-market and entered into the mixed company of three north Americans. The man was president of  a US coal mining concern. The two women, who were staying in the same hotel, the Hilton, were well heeled tourists from Seattle. The mining chief  was happy to have me join their small group, enabling him to concentrate all his efforts on just one of the ladies. I was paired up with B (for Barbara), owner of a Seattle real estate company and a divorcee. They were good company and  the next two days the four of us hung out together, which was mainly at the hotel bar.

It seemed the coal miner was on his way to Haiti where, he claimed, he was to meet Jean-Claude Duvalier. Baby Doc had just succeeded his father, the infamous dictator, Francois (Papa Doc) as President.  He invited the three of us to go with him, at his expense. He also offered to introduce me to the right people there and assured me that I could make a lot of money with his contacts. He was hoping to monopolize the charcoal business; charcoal being the Haitians’ standard cooking fuel.

His lady friend accepted but B preferred to stay, as she still wanted to see the Mayan ruins. Afraid of being alone, she asked me to stay with her in Mexico City and I accepted. I offten wonder how different life would have turned out if I had gone with them. Another reason for not taking him up on his offer was that I had read the then recently published book, The Comedians, by Graham Green. As you no doubt know, this excellent novel is set in a Haiti ruled by Papa Doc and his diabolical secret police, the Tontons Macoute.

I moved out of my inexpensive dwelling and into the luxury of a starred hotel and together B and I toured the city. She was interested in Archaeology and owned a large collection of valuable American-Indian artefacts. During the day we  visited the Cathedral National Art Museum, the Mayan sites of  Teotihuacán, the National History Museum and Chapultepec.   Nights we wined and dined, once forgoing dinner to see a magnificent performance of folklore by the Mexican State Ballet. On the Sunday we went to Xochimilco area and hired a boat to take us around the canals. Included in the price was  Mexican food, which B refused to try and  Mariachi group who sat at the end of the boat and serenaded us through the afternoon..

In the short time we knew each other we found we were becoming a very compatible couple. B even went as far as to suggest that we should continue our friendship in Seattle. She claimed she could arrange a Green Card and I could work with her, in the real estate business and I must say I was tempted.

Forgive me. I am not attempting to portray myself as some Lothario rather paint a picture of  a thirty-two year old, reckless Englishman’s life in those days when events as this one just seemed to happen. Frankly, I did not know what I was doing or where I was intending to go. I did not speak Spanish, I had no plan, no map and if I had one it would not have been of much help.

To give myself more time to consider her proposal I told her a story, which in the future I would tell anyone who asked where my ultimate destination was to be. I told her I was fulfilling a childhood promise to myself to visit Chile. I must have been very convincing because she appeared to understand. Unfortunately I began to believe my own lie and shortly after B returned to Seattle, I found myself on a long haul bus travelling south – in the general direction of Chile.

BRT, 01.08.2017

About bbryanthomas

Not so young man about town who, having witnessed and enjoyed life, is presently having fun, writing about those by-gone times and life in general.

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This entry was posted on July 31, 2017 by in Stories and tagged , , , .
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