My first job was at a 7-11. I worked nightshift…and it was a very interesting job. I held it for three years…but that’s another story.
One night while working an evening shift to help out during a time of short-staff my friend Mike came by the store.
“I’m driving to Port Isabel tonight with a couple friends…want to come?”
I did but at first couldn’t recall where Port Isabel is. Well, essentially it’s the tip of far south Texas, it’s the entry to Padre Island, the much-adored home of spring-break visitors from all over the world. The island stretches along the Texas coast, primarily between the Brownsville and Corpus Christi areas.
It’s a 6-hour drive from Austin.
“Sure,” I said, “but I need to finish my shift. I don’t get off work for another hour.”
“I’ll come back right before ten. See ya.”
I spent the next hour in a rather upbeat mood. I watched the clock eagerly.
As promised, right before my shift ended Mike showed back up. We headed to my house and talked about some of the details.
The trip had to be an adventure…neither of us had any real money but the friends we were taking down there (his friends, not mine) had promised gas money, food, and a place to stay on Padre. How could it go wrong?
We gathered some essentials, mainly a towel, drinks and cigarettes, and headed north to pick up Mikes friends.
This is where it gets interesting…
Mike drove a 1977 Nissan 280Z, a two-seater sports car with a hatchback. It was British-racing green and was fun to go fast in. It was not made for passengers, let alone three of them.
Mikes friends were a couple, boyfriend and girlfriend, and a little on the young side mentally. He was the partying type, tall and lean with a goatee and a tendency towards looking unwashed. She was also of the partying variety, long black hair, fairly attractive with large breasts and pale skin, and wore sunglasses at night.
Goody. They occupied the passenger seat, her on his lap. Guess where I sat…
I rode the entire way to Port Isabel, from Austin, under the hatchback of that 280Z. Six hours…actually a bit more, maybe 7, cramped on a blanket with my face two inches from glass and a twisted-neck view of the stars above.
We left Austin a bit after midnight sometime in late March, during spring break, to visit the most popular seasonal destination in Texas. Looking back I can only say the experience was enriching.
Our first stop was just south of San Antonio. For anyone who has ever driven towards the Rio Grande valley you know the place, giant rest-stop in the middle of nowhere, lights up the night about 40 miles south of San Antonio proper. The bathrooms are clean and that’s what mattered.
A couple cigarettes later found us back on the road cruising south at 70mph. All I saw were stars. I did my best to zone out or pretend I was somewhere else, preferably fun, naked and wet. I was quite uncomfortable.
Close to dawn we arrived in the valley and saw a sharp increase in the amount of traffic on the road, vehicles packed even more tightly than ours with half-naked students on break.
It took us only twenty minutes to get onto the island, a short wait at that time. Usually the bridge to the island is clogged with people and the wait could be 40 minutes or more. It was early though.
We drove to a decent beach adjacent to a large hotel and parked. The guy walked to a payphone to call his buds whom we were supposed to be staying with while the rest of us enjoyed a lazy smoke and a stretch. After a few minutes he returned and told us that his friends wouldn’t be home for a few hours and that we would have to chill until then. What the hell…we had a beach right in front of us and a beautiful sunrise over the water…how could anything be bad?
We did our best to hang out, watched the people arrive, sat around on the beach and just relaxed and smoked cigarettes. After a while as the sun got higher we took off our shirts. Consider I didn’t have breasts back then, but I did have shaved legs that day and had worn jeans…I got kinda hot after a while but couldn’t do anything about it.
Towards early afternoon we began to get a little antsy…and the guy we came with was nowhere in sight. He had been having his own party with just about anyone he could hook up with along the beach. It was another hour before he showed up, very intoxicated, sunburned, with his ass-crack just visible above his jeans. He said it would be just a bit longer and to relax and have a good time, get to know people. He was acting like an ass. I think people indulged him just to get him to go away.
I decided to see if my grandmother was home so I stepped in to the hotel and used the payphone to call her. Indeed, she was home and glad to hear my voice. This was back when she still recognized people.
“Hello, lindo, how are you?” I loved the sing-song tones of her voice.
“I’m fine. Listen, I’m down here at Padre Island and we’re here with some friends who are supposed to get us a place to stay. But if something goes wrong could we come stay with you for the night?”
“Of course, lindo, anything I can do.” Lindo is pronounced ‘leen-doh’ and means angel or loved-one.
“Okay, thanks Grandma…that means a lot to me!”
We chatted a bit more and then I told her goodbye. I went back to the beach and told Mike that we had an ‘out’ if things went wrong.
I was glad I had my sunglasses because the sun was intense lying there, surrounded by people having fun, drinking beer and having a blast in the water. I certainly wasn’t having a blast though I wasn’t stressed. Mike was getting annoyed. The girl was getting pissed that her boyfriend was so drunk and kept wandering off with strangers.
It gets a little fuzzy here but finally we found the guy and reminded him that it was about 4p.m. and he had promised his friends would be home. We got him to call again and they were. We gladly pulled up our towels, piled in the car, and drove the few blocks to the house that was supposed to contain our salvation.
We arrived at a two-story wood house, brown shingles all over the outside walls, a decent-enough place to stay while on vacation but you wouldn’t want it as your primary home. Mike and I waited in the car while the guy and the girl went to get the details.
Two cigarettes went by and the burns on our backs from a lack of sunblock were beginning to make us grumpy when the guy finally emerged, still quite drunk, the girl looking a little pissed a few feet from him. He walked over and gave us the wonderful piece of news that we couldn’t stay there. In addition, we still would be without money or food. His idea was to head back to the beach and try and hook-up with people and mooch off them.
Apparently this was the last straw for Mike and he told the guy to ‘get fucked’ and that we were leaving the two of them there, they could find their own way back to Austin. He drove away quite fast, the anger almost visible in the dust that stirred behind us.
We found ourselves back on the main strip by all the hotels and we pulled in somewhere near our original spot and walked back into the hotel to use the phone again, having shade and air conditioning to make our pleas.
I called my grandma and told her all that had happened, and since we were broke and burned we needed help. She offered to help us get a hotel room, something I thought impossible during spring break but she said she’d try and I promised to call back after twenty minutes. That was a very long wait the way we felt, both of us bright red and hungry.
I called her back and she had come through. She got us a room in Harlingen, a ways away from where we were but it would be cool and that’s what mattered. However, they wouldn’t take her credit card over the phone so we were going to have to come get some money from her. This was the most welcome news we’d heard in a long time.
We drove the hour it takes to get to Mission where my grandmother lives, my memory serving us well on how to get there because we had no map and I hadn’t been there since before I could drive even. I looked for a certain overpass by a McDonalds, drove to the next big road, turned left, drove a few blocks up, turned right, turned left again on the correct street, couple more blocks and there was her house, the many cacti decorating every available planter in her yard. I loved that yard so much at that moment.
She opened the door, the sing-song greeting just as I had expected and come to know my whole life, and ushered us in to the best cold air conditioning I think I’ve ever felt. We had been on that beach all day, baking and blistering, and now we were almost shivering…but it was heaven just the same.
We chatted a bit and she rewarded us with the $65 for the hotel room plus fifty dollars cash for incidentals, enough for us to eat and buy gas to get us back to Austin. We were very grateful. Last thing she gave us besides a big wave was a huge bottle of aloe vera gel for our burns. We left smiling and drove to Harlingen.
Our room was small, a big square with a large bed, fortunate because we had no desire to be that close to each other but neither of us cared about the details. The room was non-smoking but we opened a window and smoked by it, a wet towel thrown over the smoke alarm that we couldn’t disable. We left it briefly to visit KFC, Kentucky Fried Chicken and the Colonel’s tasty 11 herbs and spices. A bucket of chicken and some water bottles from a convenience store accompanied us back to the room.
We ate chicken, smoked, rubbed aloe vera on each others backs, watched bad tv and went to sleep.
Morning found us rested though not much more comfortable…our gelled bodies had adhered to the sheets in the night and peeling off wasn’t so comfortable. Fortunately our bright red skin stayed attached to us. We packed up and checked out, eager to get home.
The drive north seemed way easier and more enjoyable, maybe because I wasn’t under that hatchback any more…or perhaps the satisfaction of coming through a tough time well off and well-fed and leaving the negativities behind, whichever. All we knew was that home was calling.
There’s a habit among drivers on long highways such as the one we were on and we practiced it well, that is, trailing behind the person with the radar detector and drive really fast. We made good time this way and the wind rushing by felt good despite probably drying us out and making the burns worse. We were waving at people, laughing at people packed to the roof with clothes and gear, and racing anyone that took us up for it.
Just north of the turn to Corpus we managed to team up with some really attractive women from UT, the longhorn sticker prominently displayed on a couple items in the car. We paced each other, smiling and flirting, occasionally playing leap-frog on the road for the lead spot….and we were definitely making an ‘Austin connection’. I was hoping for a Penthouse outcome myself.
Sadly, after about forty miles of staying close together, we had to pull off for gas. We simply couldn’t wait for the next station, still in the middle of nowhere, and my fantasies of a visit in Austin were crushed. We both lamented our loss but did our best to get over it. Thinking back, I wish we had found a way to get them to pull over with us.
Back on the road I kept my eyes peeled for the girls, and another twenty miles I spotted them at a gas station fueling up. I begged Mike to stop or wait for them but he wanted to get home. I didn’t blame him. We were both very uncomfortable and the drive does take a toll on you, especially with no air conditioning. I said goodbye to the wind and we continued on.
Getting back to Austin, the city never looked so good. Mike took me home, I wished him well and sent him off with the aloe vera bottle. I knew there was some in my bathroom cabinet. We parted and I went inside to relax, glad to be home but still better for having an adventure. Sure, most of it was a trial but that’s what living is about…
Because sometimes you just gotta say, “What the fuck? Live a little…take some chances.”
Thank you Mr. Cruise.