This day has been common and special at the same time, a day full of stories, faces, smiles, intensity, joy and despair. A day that I want to share because it does illustrate perfectly what does the road mean to us, full time wanderers.
This day started at the border of Mexico, in Laredo. It is 7 a.m., a fresh morning wind is blowing the dawn away. We finish our food reserves, some fruits and two delicious vegan tamales, last delicacies of the flavorful Mexican cuisine. A few dollars for the border, compulsory fee not open to negotiations and we can enter the United states of America.
Most of the borders I have crossed in the past were just a formality, a right of passage, an invisible boundary if it wasn’t for the sleeping customs officers in their little barracks. But this border is quite special, no one sleeps in there, everyone is alert and for once, the bridge that divides these two countries appear as a clear pathway to another world. As a matter of fact, while we’re walking towards the Us, the noisy and agitated chaos of a Mexican morning fades away to give its place to an organized silence. We pass a few sweet sellers strategically positioned right at the middle of the bridge, last chance to sell those candies...one step further and the police would take them away. The narrow streets full of garbage leave place to wide clean avenues surrounded by fresh cut lawn. Most of the people we see on the streets are Mexicans as well but look very different from their fellow countryman on the other side. They go to their daily occupations quietly, respecting the established order. No yelling and sizzling music, no weird looking dude trying to sell some dollars, no street dog looking for a piece of chicken. In a few meters, we have the impression of having crossed to another dimension.
In Mexico, hitchhiking is pretty easy, you just need to walk outside of the city, wait on the side of the road and rise your thumb. In the United states, it is quite different. We have first to find a piece of cardboard to write the name of a city. It helps. People are more trustful with that. We are not vagabonds, but travellers with a precise goal. Freeways are forbidden to pedestrians so we have to find a ramp. There is usually a small space for cars to stop. On the way north from the Mexican border, no need to say that people are quite suspicious and despite my white skin and our hippy look, all see us as immigrants. Drivers make nice gesture, look like they feel sorry but no one stops.
6 hours later, we are still at the entrance of the “35 north” that goes directly to San Antonio. We try three different spots and it is only when we had lost hope and that Yazmin was trying to convince me to take a bus that a Mexican stops finally his car. He can take us 15 miles further to a truck stop. Jessie, nicer translation for Jesus, went out of jail three weeks ago and tries to persuade us of his repentance. He found refuge in God he says and goes to church and take care of his two kids. We can’t really believe him, a few minutes later, afraid that a state trouper stops us, his friends, a silent teenager in the copilot seat, hold him out the remains of what was a cocaine line.
The security agent of the gas station politely explains us that we can’t stay more than five minutes in the station and we definitely shouldn’t bother any drivers. Vagabonds are simply forbidden on this property. We walk then a little bit to the ramp of the 35 and we wait for our luck to come. “20 miles further, a checkpoint awaits us and we get therefore ready for a long wait. Surprisingly, after half an hour, a truck stops. Max, a Russian driver who speaks barely English welcomes us with 4 words he repeats three or four times: “you got green cards?”
We lie, knowing that our passports and visa will just do fine. Max is friendly but we don’t talk that much, just enough to know he is here for ten years know, that he doesn’t miss Russia and that he is married and earn a good living. There are about 5 million truckers in the US and he is proud to be one of them. Then he start talking Russian to his phone for the rest of the trip, we can catch a couple of words in English but for the most part, we keep our eyes focuses on the straight and endless road.
150 miles later and a little nap, we arrive at San Antonio. After having waited for 6 hours in Laredo, it seems that the universe wants us to go ahead, 10 minutes and we get a ride from another Mexican and then a women in her fifty takes the "batton". At 6 p.m. we are at 50 miles from Austin. Dusk comes gently on our hopes but we are too happy to have achieved so much in a day that had started so poorly! As always, patience is rewarded. Moreover, two minutes after Tamara left us, a nice red hair in a blue pick up stops. “Where y’all going?”
This ginger head guy’s name is Zach, 24 years old, wide shoulders, a stature worthy of his viking ancestors, a white skin, almost translucent that shows his blue veins, two tattoos on the calves representing Toutankhamon and Ankh, the Egyptian symbol of fertility, another one printed on his upper chest showing the eye of Horus. He welcomes us in the mishmash of his vehicle with a big smile bedecked by a range of yellow teeth. He would explain later that his mom works for a dentist and the shoemaker’s son always wear the worst shoes. His first words are dedicated to his origins, a subtle mix of Israeli and Scottish roots.
He is not going to Austin, but refuse to let us stay at a gas station for the night. “the place is bad” he simply alleges. He prefers to have us stay with him in his camper, he just got it from a friend on the river. First, he takes us to the court of San Marcos. Besides the fact there are a bit more than 50 000 people in this town, the court is as huge and pretentious as a parliament. His “homie” is in a meeting, meaning he has to come every week to spend a few hours because he is in probation. Dax, a thin and brown hair guy is in probation for 5 years now and has three left to go. He tried to get marijuana from California to Texas and it went wrong. During his probation he is meant to respect the law with the risk of being sent to prison. He doesn’t really care. “they just want to make money” he says, 110 dollars a month during five years and 50 dollars every week...”that’s better for them than putting me into jail”.
Dax is fascinated by DMT and he sees this drug as one of the most important spiritual discovery of our time! Despite the fact that me and Yazmin don’t take any drugs, they mingle with us just fine. We are definitely lucky because the winter is not over yet and the nights are cold.
As promised, Zach took us then to his camper along the canyon creek, listening to a smooth dub step music, we slide along the river in a pitch black atmosphere until we get to the camp site. Zach is crazy about this music that he listen through his IPhone. “his baby” the iPhone seem to have completely replaced the phone in the us, we didn’t see one American who didn’t have something like that. Zach acknowledge sadly: “I can’t live without this shit”.
The place is quite sterile, a big field in the middle of a wood, a lawn nicely cut and dozens of RV parked in 160 square feet lots. He pays 300 dollars a month with water, electricity and even Wifi. Most people in there are retired.
Zach is a very interesting character, his addiction to marijuana, his tattoos, his vesting style, everything makes him alternative and different and yet, he is a strong advocate of the right to wear weapons and stand proudly as a Texan. He shows us his 3 feet shotgun that sleep on his side every night and his arsenal of knives! He his however really open minded and doesn’t judge. He accept us as we are. I found this quality in many American friends, I never feel judge in here and it forces me to see that I am judging all the time. He drink a couple of beers, light up a last pipe and invites us to go to sleep.
This day ends in a sofa with a couple of warm and thick blankets listening to rain and thunder music. “I can’t sleep in silence” he says. Another day on the road went by, normal and yet exceptional at the same time and what makes it exceptional is not so much all the people we met or the places we saw but this intensity present in each step. Joys and pains just mix together in a whirlwind of sensations that reminds us constantly that it is good to be alive.