The crack of dawn occurred after Rogue Priest, Pixi, and I had woken up and took to the road in search of breakfast. The Hotel La Turbina advertised a restaurant that didn’t actually exist, and, Sabinas Hidalgo being a relatively small town, most eating places didn’t open on Sundays until seven (in principle), but not really until about 7:15 or 7:30 (in practice). For the second time on the trip, we ended up at a restaurant with a severe dearth of cars in the parking lot. This time, though, we were on the town’s main drag and didn’t expect to have our pictures on milk cartons this time.
The Restaurant Acira (all restaurants in northern Mexico seemed to use the English version of the word, though they still seemed to pronounce it restaurante. I guess dropping the final “e” lent a place a certain je ne sais quois) served up traditional Mexican breakfasts in what was, if you bothered to look past its crusted-over, forlorn ambience, a surprisingly attractive, mid-century Modern roadside diner. The parking lot’s rusty awning probably shielded snazzy drive-in customers from the fierce Mexican sun when served in their 1955 Chevy Bel Airs. Along the northern wall glittered a giant, intricate tile mosaic depicting cows and cowboys locked in their historic and essential wrangle. The restaurant’s Jetsons-style sign, in desert pastels, perched almost demurely at the edge of the parking lot and, like most of the other impressive design elements of the place, outshined by gaudy, artless kitsch, required keen eyes to appreciate. Even the waiter had a classic air about him, with his elegant mustache and diction, that seemed to belong to an era of service long dead and buried. And the breakfast was pretty good, too.
After filling our bellies, Rogue, Pixi, and I stocked up on provisions and hit the road, saying our private goodbyes to lovely Sabinas Hidalgo as we passed tree-shaded yards and whitewashed houses en route to the verdant hills ahead of us.
As the arid carpet of northern Mexico unrolled ahead of us, we continued adelante, emboldened by the previous day’s triumph of reaching our first stopping point without incident. Rogue and Pixi biked briskly, maintaining a steady pace as the sun, and the land itself it seemed, rose steadily higher.
It was here, in the midst of the fluttering Monarch butterflies, bright yellow wildflowers, and sturdy cacti that lined our route, that I soon began to ponder my own path. Where, indeed, was I going to?
The previous few months had meant leaving my teaching job and apartment in Miami to focus on my PhD, my writing, and my relationship in Germany. The relationship—five years and almost married—ended suddenly, but not without good reason, just as I’d visited South Africa for the first time on a press trip that I’d put off for two years. And now, here I was: traipsing through Mexico with only a few freelancing gigs and my part-time airline job for money, my doctoral studies on indefinite pause, the solid relationship I had counted on no longer in existence, and an intense and unexpected romance in South Africa suddenly interrupted by fear and uncertainty.
To be honest, for the past several weeks, I’d been struggling greatly with all the great existential issues that plague the aimlessly intellectual and creative: why am I here? For what purpose? What is happening to me? Why didn’t my relationship work out? Why isn’t this new one working out? Why isn’t the love of my family and friends enough? Why is my bank account perpetually empty? What happens now? Where am I going to? Where am I going to?
And as I tossed these things about in my head, silently rejoicing about the awesomeness of the trip but a bit more loudly despairing of my life situation at that moment, I heard Janelle Monae sing: “To be victorious, you must find glory in the little things.”
And this refrain, undergirded by the gentle yet unrelenting reminders of numerous friends, family members, the universe really, of how wonderful and one-of-a-kind every single moment of my life was, took on a greater significance.
How many other people had the time and ability to fly down to Mexico and help a good friend realize his life goal? Or help a new friend realize how far beyond her limits she could push herself? How many other people were freezing up in colder climes while I was able to drive through some of God’s most thrilling countryside ‘neath nuclear skies, where most people don’t even fly over, let alone experience by land? And despite my physical remoteness, I was still in contact with my familiars around the world—in Brazil and Sweden and the US and South Africa—checking in on me, thinking about me, praying for me, loving me. All these little things.
“To be victorious, you must find glory in the little things.”
There is more to the story. In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving.
Snaps from the road:
Select sounds from Day Two: