In 1975 my best friend Richard and I were seventeen, and had great plans for our Christmas vacation. Our college applications all mailed out, we’d been saving money for months, Greyhound was offering an $80.00 ticket to travel anywhere in the USA for 30 days, and we were headed to Mexico City! I can’t believe our parents sanctioned this trip, but times were different. We had both done some travelling, and my mother’s friend, Eileen who lived there would be hosting us once we arrived on Monday. My parents dropped us at the LIRR station Saturday night. It seemed like a simple enough plan.
Nothing is quite so surreal and mind bending as taking a trip that lasts more than twenty four hours, with no bed. You sleep in odd chunks of time, you eat terrible food at weird hours, you don’t shower or change clothes, and if you’re with Richard you get teased, woken, pestered and entertained when he is awake regardless of whether you’re sleeping, or not. Richard has a brilliant mind, a rich imagination, and fueled by fatigue and boredom would act out all sorts of scenes and comedies (at my expense) to amuse himself and the ever changing parade of passengers. My least favorite, the scene in which I am pregnant, my boyfriend long gone, and my parents have thrown me out. The trip felt like weeks, not days.
Our USA Greyhound trip ended in Laredo where we bought tickets to Mexico City. We’d collect our bags, and get on the next bus, but my bag didn’t arrive. This is vexing under almost any conditions, but it was Sunday night, and I’d been in the same clothes for two days. They advised us to wait for the next bus from Dallas, so we settled into the stiff, plastic bus station seats and tried to sleep. My bag wasn’t on the next bus so we decided to press on.
We boarded a bus, headed for Mexico City and got as far as the border, where agents refused to allow us into Mexico, fearing we were runaways (though we had notarized letters from our parents authorizing our travel). This meant going back to Laredo (on foot) to get visas from the counsel office, scheduled to open in two hours. Papers secured we trekked back to the Greyhound station to find that there weren’t any more buses to Mexico City Monday. They suggested we take a bus leaving for Monterrey where we could get a train. We called my dad (collect) to let him know what was going on and had him call Eileen to tell her we’d arrive Wednesday.
In Monterrey we secured a ticket for a single sleeper car. The train was like something out an old movie including porters who turned down your bed, and an elegant dining car. We dined with a charming man who bought us dinner, regaled us with wild stories, and during coffee invited us to join him later in his compartment, to my horror Richard considered this offer, I declined.
Having spent the last three nights trying to sleep upright we were looking forward to lying down. The porter actually gave Richard a nudge and a wink when we asked to have the bed pulled down around 8:00 pm. The night was long, and I was restless, but we finally arrived. Our stay in Mexico was great, but cut short by our protracted trip there. Then we had to make another no quite so long (and less eventful) trip home. That Christmas vacation, spent mostly on the road felt both too long and too short.