The Journey of a Century

November 16, 2008
By Amanda Brittain, Germantown, WI

Dear Ed,
Things are going well here. I met a wonderful woman—her name is Mary and we are to be married in a couple of weeks. I didn’t bother to invite you because I know money’s scarce right now. Please don’t strain yourself to come. You aren’t the only person I’m not inviting. If I had it my way, we would be getting married in Milwaukee, but all of her family is in Mexico and they can’t afford to come down. Remember, just because I didn’t invite you doesn’t make you any less than you are: my best friend. The wedding is in San Mariniando, Mexico.
Hope you are well,

Ed couldn’t believe it…his best friend, not even inviting him to his own wedding. Erv was all he had. It had been hard when he moved to Mexico, but with their regular correspondence, Ed was able to survive without him. Well, he though to himself, I have nothing better to do right now. Might as well go down and crash the wedding... but the question is how? Walking around on the busy streets of Milwaukee, Ed folded up the well worn letter and put it in the pocket of his cheap tan bomber jacket. Rounding the corner of Broadway and Kilbourne, he saw large red sign advertising for a car dealership:
“Perfect!” he shouted almost too loud; at least loud enough for the people in a ten foot radius of him to stare at length. Ripping the sign off the light pole, he walked a few more blocks until he came to the dealership. Seeing himself in the reflective glass doors, he tried to pat down his ever untidy salt-and-pepper tresses. Even at 23, his hair could have been on a 40 year old man and no one would ever question it. Pulling the doors open, Ed stepped inside the dealership. His tall 6 foot 2 inch stocky frame easily topped all of the men inside by inches and pounds; as a result of either this or his particularly shabby appearance, one of the salesmen immediately strolled up to Ed.
“Can I help you, er, sir?” he said with a smirk, obviously having to do with the large hole in Ed’s pant knee.
“Yeah, you can,” replied Ed, sizing himself up with an even bigger smirk. Ed pulled out the advertisement from his pocket, and all but shoved it in the salesman’s face. “I’d like to take you up on this offer,” he said.
“Right,” said the tough façade sliding off his well shaven face like oil. “Well, basically we need someone to drive this car,” he pointed to a brand new station wagon, “to a dealership in a little town called Rutherford in Texas. We will provide you with a small amount of money for only the amount of gas you will need. We will know if you make any detours.” And he continued to describe the route to Ed while periodically glancing at the door; a sure hint of where exactly he wanted Ed to go. “Alright. You got all that? We expect the car to be in perfect condition once it reaches its destination, so no funny business.”
“Of course. It will be there in better condition than it left,” Ed said seriously, looking down on the man with sincere dark brown eyes.
“Er, right…” he replied, not quite sure how to respond to Ed. “Well, we will expect you back here tomorrow morning at 6 sharp.”
WOOOOOOOOOOO WOOOOOOOOOOOOO. WOOOOOOOOOO WOOOOOOOO. Ed was jolted awake by the piercing screams of the train’s whistle. Moving slowly, he reached under his seat for his bag to look at the time. It was 7 o’clock AM. He had just fallen asleep an hour ago, after another whistle. Although this beat that horrible car trip, the train was still awful to endure. There was no air conditioning, and it was sweltering hot in Southern Mexico. Outside, there was little scenery save the occasional slum; just miles of nothingness.
Ed looked around the train car. He had somehow managed to buy a first class ticket, as they were surprisingly (surprisingly at the time) cheap, with no Spanish speaking experience. He had walked the train to explore the day before, and found that the second class car consisted of only a few wood boxes in an otherwise empty boxcar. His own first class car was about the quality of economy class in America, but at least it had seats. He was sitting very close to the window and to a German woman who seemed to be the only English speaking person around.
The door slammed open, and an old woman with the obvious looks of a Mexican, stepped on the train and shouted “¿Bebidas? ¿Bebidas heladas, cualquier persona?” Simultaneously, she held up a bottle of a dark soda called Dr. Pepper. Ed had never heard of Dr. Pepper, but his mouth was dry with thirst. He raised his hand, and at the same time dug into his bag for the money he had exchanged at the customs booth at the border. In the process, he pulled out his tourist pass, ID, and some pocket lint. Looking at the various foreign coins, he could make no decision on what they were worth, so he held out his hand to the woman with three ten Peso coins. With a ravenous look in her eye, the old Mexican woman chucked the bottle in his lap and took the coins, running (or more like hobbling) off the train. The woman next to Ed laughed quietly.
“What?” he asked defensively.
“You know zat you just paid zat woman turty Pesos, right?” she said in a strong German accent.
“Yeah, I can count,” retorted Ed.
“Okay, vell den do you know zat you just paid zat woman about 16 American dollars?”
“Oh…er…yeah. I was being charitable. You know….it looked like she needed the money.” Ed replied sheepishly.
She laughed. “Of course you vere…of course. You know,…” but the rest of her sentence was drowned out by the long, shrill whistle, cutting through the day like a knife cuts through bread. Ed just shook his head and turned toward the window, absentmindedly taking a sip of the foreign liquid in his hands. His eyes grew twice their normal size as he eagerly took another drink. This “Dr. Pepper” was like nothing he had ever tasted. It was astonishing! So many flavors in such a small sip were hard to put into audible thoughts—but one word did come to his head: wow. With a grin on his face, he shut his eyes and let himself drift into sleep.

WOOOOOOOO WOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Ed jerked awake so violently that he smacked his head on the window. Cursing and rubbing his skull with his left hand, he heard the German woman hoot with laughter. With one look from Ed, she immediately stifled her booming guffaws, and resorted to quiet chuckles that protruded at random.

“Vie haff arrived! Vie haff arrived!” She suddenly prodded Ed in the shoulder with her pointer finger and then pointed out the window. The change in scenery was incredible. Instead of the sad hungry people that were in frequent sight along in the beginning of the trip, the people in San Marianando were happy, plump, and smiling. Instead of the bleak looking hut buildings, the buildings here were sturdily built and were painted in a variety of bright colors. All in all, it was just a happier place. Ed felt a smile creep its way onto his face; it was just too hard to not smile. The German woman was right: he had arrived.
Pushing his way to the front of the long line of people and stepping on some feet in the process, Ed finally stepped off the stifling hot train, closed his eyes and took a deep breath of the air. It tasted of dust, sweat, hot tamales, and the sweet perfume of some flower he had yet to smell in his mundane life. He could hear the quickly spoken native tongue, along with universal laughs, clanking pots, sizzling grills, pounding feet and the distant sound of indigenous guitars and maracas. Opening his eyes, he saw a status quo marketplace: what appeared to be miles of shops and stands decorated with every color of the rainbow in order to attract customers. They were selling all kinds of odds and ends—jewelry, exotic fruits and vegetables, pottery, spices, clothes and much more. The people where clothed with what appeared as a mixture of the local styles and modern articles you might have found in the streets of Chicago. It was obvious that Ed was not the first American in their midst, but it certainly seemed as if he were the only one here at the time.
Ed took out his almost falling apart letter and reread it. It really wasn’t necessary for he had just about memorized it. He needed to find out where exactly San Marinanondo was. Ed was really starting to regret not taking Spanish in high school. Taking a deep breath, he took a step forward, and began shouting “Anyone know where San Marinanodo is? Anyone?” Only receiving blank stares and dirty looks, he added “Anyone speak English? Any English at all? Great, now I’m stuck in the middle of Mexico in some unknown market where no one speaks any English. And I’m talking to myself.”
“Did someone say they where looking for somebody who speaks English?” yelled a strangely familiar voice over the constant lull of noises of the market. Ed followed the sound of the voice to try to find its source. “I’m over here!” and Ed saw a very Caucasian hand wave in the air against a pallet of red-brown Mayan skin.

Finally, the crowds parted, and the shock on the man’s face as he took in Ed’s was only mirrored by Ed himself. It was Erv.

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