Across Mexico to the US border
While writing this, I looked on the internet to see how long the drive took from Guatemala to the US border, and it said 24+ hours. All I knew back then was I had lost track of time. It seemed to take forever. We drove, and slept, and drove, and slept until we got to the US border, never leaving the van. We didn’t have enough money to splurge on a hotel. Ron relinquished the bed to Donna and me and slept in the captain seat, which reclined enough that it was possible to get some rest between moving.
Parking Lot Boys
Finally arriving at the border, we picked up the import forms for all the products we brought into the US. Donna is good at filling in the forms. They don’t scare her at all. Little stickers that said “made in Guatemala” had to be put on every single item. We drove around the border town until we found a large, empty parking lot, pulled into the middle, and parked the van. Spreading a couple of tarps out on the asphalt, we emptied one bag at a time to put the tiny little stickers on everything.
We were hard at it until two boys, about 12 or 13, showed up and asked, what’s this? What’s that? They started playing like they were going to grab something. Donna called out, “Hey! the van!” Ron suddenly jumped up and ran to the back of the van faster than I ever imagined he could.
The back doors were quietly being opened by two other boys who were slowly pulling out some of our product! Ron grabbed one of the boys and lay down on him with his “monster growl” while the other boy ran away. I was wildly waving the first two boys away as Donna, and I gathered up the tarps full of products and threw them in the van! Ron said one of them might have gotten away with something. We all jumped into the van.
Sticky Stickers & Motel California
A policeman or security guard had shown up asking what had happened. We quickly explained, and he suggested we chase them down. He stepped onto the driver’s side sideboard holding on to the door, and motioned us forward. Driving in that direction, the boys ran, but of course, we never caught them. We decided we needed a cheap hotel to hold up where we could safely apply the tiny stickers on all the goods. Finding a room was difficult, but we finally made a deal for a full night at a motel that rents rooms by the hour. As unbelievable as it sounds, its name was ‘Motel California.’
We took a room with two double beds. The beds had that feature where you put coins in a slot, and the bed vibrates. Every channel on the television was porn. I’m sure they must have wondered about the three of us checking into this room for a couple of nights. We didn’t sleep much with over 4000 items that had to be stickered. Ron watched porn while endlessly placing stickers. I found the porn ridiculously boring. Donna finished all the paperwork and then helped with stickers. Finally, we did get it all done. Collapsing on our beds, we got a little sleep.
Crossing the Border
We loaded it up in the van early that next morning and headed for the border. Donna took the paperwork into the first office. With every “t” crossed, and every “i” dotted, her paperwork was immaculate, and they were impressed. As we were directed, we pulled the van around to a large loading dock for inspection. We opened the side door, and the border police started to look into the bags.
He first opened the bag of 400 hacky-sacks and could see that stickers adorned each and every sack, even as he dug in a bit. They checked another bag and then another. It was obvious to them that we had stickered everything. One man started out of a nearby building leading a German Shephard on a leash.
The officer on the loading dock called out to him, “No need for the dog. Everything here is in good order.” The man and dog turned around and went back into the building. We knew we were ‘clean’ and radiated that confidence. Shortly, we were signed off and allowed to cross into the United States of America.
Fill ‘Er Up!
Ron knew Texas well and insisted that we stop at a friend’s house that was on the way so he could run in and score a bag of the ‘herbal kindness’. It really was so quick I thought maybe his friend wasn’t home. He jumped back in the van and we were on the road again!
Our goal was to make it back to Maryland in time to do ’shakedown street’ at an upcoming Grateful Dead show and sell our newly imported goods. Shannon and Davy had also bought us tickets for the show. Ron loved the Grateful Dead and was all for making the scene. Driving into the evening we finally needed to pull over for gas, spotted a truck stop, and pulled in. I got out, unlocked the gas tank door, and stuck the hose in. Soon the gas was flowing into our gas tank.
Donna and Ron went inside to see what the store had to offer. We like truck stops and all the crazy items they have for sale. There are so many 12-volt contraptions to make life on the road a little easier and stuff to ‘pimp out’ your truck. I wanted to see it, too. I locked the handle to the pump, knowing the automatic shut-off would do its job when the tank was full and went inside. It had been a long time since I had been at a truck stop. There was a display of cassette tapes, all marked down to $0.99 each, but we didn’t need any since we no longer had a sound system in the van.
Could Our Life Be More Dramatic?
Then, I noticed out the store window that gas was gushing out of our gas tank door! The automatic shut-off did not do its job! I ran out and turned it off. The van was now sitting in a large pool of gasoline. A small gas stream trickled down the pavement toward the station’s entrance.
I imagined that if a trucker were coming in and just happened to toss his cigarette out the window as he arrived, it could be disastrous! Ron and I pushed the van out of the puddle. We weren’t about to start the van in a pool of gas! The spark might blow us all up!
I went inside to pay, and the lady at the register told me I was supposed to pay some astronomical amount. Refusing her ridiculous request, I told her it wasn’t my fault that her pump was faulty! I gave her the amount I had paid at previous gas stations and walked out. I half expected her to call the police, but she didn’t. We drove away, wondering if that station was about to blow up.
About dawn, I had been driving all night and was very tired. Donna told me she was fully rested and could take over so we pulled over and changed places. The seat was comfortable, and I drifted off to sleep.
I awoke to the sound of metal and glass shattering and landing on me! Part of Donna’s glasses landed on my lap. She was calmly chanting, “We’ve been hit. I’m bleeding. I can see. We’re okay.” over and over. She pulled the van to a gentle, smooth stop and said, “I can’t get my door open.” I jumped out and almost fell into a deep pit but made my way around the van and ripped the door open. Further behind us, I could see an 18-wheeler truck had pulled over and stopped leaving his emergency blinkers on.
I pulled the side view mirror off of Donna’s lap. She had several lacerations around her left side and shoulder, with little blood blossoms dotting her shirt. Her glasses had been broken, with the left arm of the glasses landing somewhere in the back. She told me, “I was driving and the truck just drifted into my lane. I moved over what I could but held on.” It was a little two-lane undivided road. Before long, the police came and talked with the trucker, who admitted he had been reading his logbook. Thank goodness he stopped!
Looking at the damage to the van, I could see exactly how close the sideswipe was. It peeled the gold trim from around the wheel wells, front and back, barely scraping the van’s body! The hasp that was on the gas tank door was also ripped off! The biggest thing that stuck out from the van was the rearview mirror which was sent flying through Donna’s window, peppering her with glass.
The mirror clipped the corner of Donna’s glasses, breaking them, sending the arm to the back of the van and the glasses into my lap. The Mirror then just missed her head, hitting the captain’s seat, bouncing upward, and hitting the ceiling before finally falling onto her lap.
Ron said that when Donna was chanting about bleeding, he wondered, ‘What are they doing up there? Juggling steak knives?’ After dealing with the police and the trucker exchanging details and contacts, the policeman escorted us to the hospital, where they treated Donna for her injuries which were minor compared to what could have been. And we were released.
Traumatized, Donna called Shannon to tell her about the accident, but we were still trying to make it to Maryland and the shows. That phone call shocked us as Shannon told her that her best friend, Annie Laurie, had just died.
Closer Call Than Previously Thought
After the hospital, we returned to the scene and realized how close it all was. That was when I really noticed that we were just on the edge of a ten-foot drop into a construction zone with heavy machinery. Six inches more, and we would have gone over the edge in a disastrous, possibly deadly, accident. Thank God Donna kept her cool!
Close Call at the Truck Stop
We drove on, but we were hungry and needed to eat. Stopping at a little truck stop diner, the three of us walked in, turning heads as we did. They carefully watched big Tie-Dye Ron, Donna with a blackeye and a shirt spotted with blood, and myself. As we sat at a table, the waitress came over and gave us each a menu and walked back to the booth by the door, where she and the two truckers talked in low voices while occasionally glancing over at us. Shortly the waitress came and took our order, after which she asked in a heavy southern drawl, “Honey, did he hit you?”
I said, “Do I look like the kind of guy that would hit a woman?!”
She answered in that heavy Texas drawl, “You’re a man, ain’t you?”
Then Donna said, looking over at the truckers who had turned to watch our responses, “No, I got head-on sideswiped by an 18-wheeler! He was reading his logbook.”
She returned to the counter, passing by their booth to report what Donna had said, after which they turned back around, quickly finished their coffee, and left.
After breakfast, we drove on to Maryland, but Donna had a very difficult time, flinching if the van was too close to the side or anywhere near traffic cones. The trauma was deep. This took a long time to heal enough to be tolerable.