It was the “turning point.” It began in 1963; the year I became a “Reject.” Rather, I joined the “Rejects of Southern California;” a car club that my best friend, Ron, invited me to join. What enticed me? Stories of drinking, carousing, sex; three activities in which I wasn’t very accomplished, unless one measures success by two arrests for alcohol-related misdemeanors, and nearly being lost in the abandoned mines of Calico on a car club outing. That day should have scared me plenty, but I hungered for more.
Labor Day weekend, 1963, was to be my inaugural. I turned 19 a month earlier, and Ron and Gary assured me “You will…!” We talked about getting crazy, drinking, and prostitutes. I imagined “prostitutes!” My first time, but this is where my imagination ran amok.
Is there anyone more pathetic than a naïve romantic? Maybe this described most teens, especially in the ‘60s, but when I imagined a prostitute, I imagined an exotic young girl who would find me irresistible and then we would fall in love. To envisage a jaded girl, desperate for money, engulfed in hopelessness, perhaps dangerous …out of the question! It was never about sex; it was invariably about amore.
The three teens crossed the border into Tijuana, passed through downtown and hit the highway going south to Ensenada. As they rolled through TJ, Rocky tried to see if he could spot any naked, dancing women through the doors or windows of the bars they passed.
Just before Ensenada they pulled into Estero Beach. Gary knew people staying there from Temple City. After visiting a little night club at the resort, they left for their final destination, and pulled into town just before dark. After gassing up Ron’s cherry-red, 1963 Chevy Monza they proceeded to a motel at the south end of town.
There were plenty of vacancies. To Rocky’s surprise, Gary and Ron decided not to get a room yet. Maybe they anticipated spending the night with a local girl. Whatever the reason they didn’t tell Rocky, and rather than protest, he let them make the decision. Unfortunately, that’s when things began to fall apart.
The first detail I noticed about Ensenada was the preponderance of the color brown. Temple City teemed with oak, elm, and citrus trees; and, of course, big front lawns with beds abounding with Camellias or Roses. Ensenada’s buildings weren’t necessarily painted brown. Most of the dull color originated from dust. That was the second aspect which registered with me. The third, and most appreciable characteristic, was a pungent odor that left me with a sense of squalor.
We parked Ron’s car at the motel and headed to the nearest cantina and started drinking a lot of Dos XX (or was it Carta Blanca). The bars had no dress code (“no shirt, no shoes, no service”). I wore shorts, a cutoff sweatshirt, and no shoes. I hoped to change in the motel, but it wasn’t going to happen until later.
Very few women frequented the bars we entered, and none of them showed the slightest interest in me. I surmised “the professional girls” weren’t yet out.
Walking barefoot in the city proved troublesome. My feet found anything vile one can imagine; urine, vomit, feces. Eventually I noticed some girls occupying bar stools, but their reaction to me as I entered was to recoil. One even voiced her displeasure as she espied my bare feet; “Eww!”
Later someone told us it wasn’t where my feet had been, but Mexican women were turned off by a shorts-clad, barefoot gringo, period. I realized “it” wasn’t going to happen that night. Though disappointed, I relaxed and attempted to enjoy drinking.
Finally, near midnight, we made our way back to the south end of town and entered another motel. When I reached the counter the clerk greeted me.
“Do you have any rooms?”
“Yes, we have 114 rooms.”
Upon his answer I turned to my buddies and pleaded, “Can we get a room now?” They both nodded.
I turned back to him and said, “Okay, we’ll take one.”
“I said we have 114 rooms, but we don’t have any vacancies.”
Dumbstruck, I became combative; “What do you mean you don’t have any vacancies? What did you think I meant when I asked if you had any rooms?”
“You didn’t ask if we had any vacancies; only if we had any rooms.”
I felt blood rushing to my face as I got hotter and angrier. I started to talk trash when a security guard walked up and indicated for us to leave.
Admittedly, we had consumed a lot of beer, but we weren’t sloppy drunk or out of control, and until this time had behaved ourselves. At the sight of the guard we left the building only to be met by a policeman as the guard followed us out. The policeman and guard talked to each other as they watched us go down the street. I kept my cool…then Ron broke the calm.
As we walked away he and Gary made comments, mostly under their breath. We might have been fine, but as we reached the corner Ron turned, extended his middle finger, and shouted the definition of his gesture. Even Gary was alarmed, and both of us worked to calm our friend down.
The three teens crossed the boulevard and headed for the motel they first visited, where Ron’s car was parked. Just before they entered the courtyard a car, loaded with Ensenada’s “finest,” stopped by the front of the establishment.
The first cop out of the car grabbed the last boy in line and ordered him “Get in the car!”
Rocky pulled his arm away and said. “Let me go. I didn’t do anything!”
Ron started shouting, “What’d we do? We didn’t do anything!”
The policeman let go of Rocky and pointed his finger at Ron and said, “We want you!”
As soon as those words left his mouth the boys scattered.
I moved away as fast as I could while trying not to look conspicuous. I turned a corner but found no exit; only stairs which led to a balcony overlooking the courtyard. I took the steps two at a time. At the top I paced quickly, using long strides, until I came to a dead end in front of two of the rooms, one to my left and the other in front of me. I lay down and hoped no one followed. If they were listening for me, the beating of my heart would have given me away.
Prone and silent, I didn’t move for 20-30 minutes, and I fought crying out loud. While hiding I heard a loud “pop.” It sounded like a firecracker. I kept my curiosity at bay. I had no desire to vacate my position.
Finally quiet returned, and one of the motel patrons came out of his room. He had to step quickly to avoid tripping over me. As he moved away I rose up and followed him down the stairs. An American, he asked me, “Do you know what happened?”
I quickly related what I knew as we descended the stairs. There I saw Gary milling with other people in the courtyard. I walked up to him and asked, “Where’s Ron?”
“Ron’s in jail.”
“As soon as the cops came I ran and jumped the wall. Ron broke away and followed me, but by the time he made it the cops were there. One of them fired his gun. I was hiding and watched about 20 cops try to get Ron in the car. He kept fighting them off but they had clubs and finally took him away.”
I was shaking from the experience, and cool temperatures were setting in. Gary and I didn’t know what to do. Ron’s car was locked and he had the keys; plus we feared the cops were still looking for us. Now late, establishments were closing…and all of the hotels and motels had no vacancies.
We walked aimlessly until we reached the opposite end of town where the jail sat. As we walked in front of the fort-like structure we tried to look inconspicuous. I imagined machinegun-wielding guards looking down on us. We didn’t dare enter the building, and had no place to go.
The one place we thought might be safe was the beach so we moved rapidly to its confines. As we lay on the sand I was shivering from the cold, and petrified that we were stranded until…until… I remember one thought dominating my mind, when I get home I’m calling Jim.
Gary thought clearer than me. “Tomorrow morning we’ll go back to Estero Beach. There is a Temple City Sheriff who has a trailer there. Maybe he can help Ron.”
I calmed down after I heard his idea, but I couldn’t stop shaking, couldn’t sleep. I prayed silently, Let me get home. I’ll call Jim…
In the morning I did my best to brush the sand off my face, out of my hair, and off my body; and I began to warm. As we walked along the main boulevard we ran into two Americans, our age, whom we met the night before. Excited to see us, they told us their good luck. They got what was presumably the last motel room in town.
They also told us they heard the wife of the president of Mexico was due in town that weekend, so the police had been put on alert to keep things under control. Even the prostitutes were made to stay low key.
We related our tale to them and they offered to drive us to Estero Beach. When we arrived, the wife of the Temple City man told us he was gone. She also said she couldn’t help. Our friends with the car agreed to drive us back to town. We still didn’t’ know what we were going to do; how we could help Ron; we still feared the police.
As we travelled back to Ensenada Gary and I, at the same time, spotted Ron driving by. We quickly made a U-turn and caught him as he pulled into the Estero Beach parking lot. For the first time since the policeman grabbed me my panic eased.
Ron’s story started as Gary described; it took a large number of cops to get him to go peaceably, plus one well-struck blow to his shoulder with a club. His forehead had a knot and he sported the beginnings of a shiner. He told us when he jumped the wall, the policeman on the other side had his gun pulled and it went off, grazing Ron’s shoulder. It was just a scratch, but could have become infected. (It was too scary to imagine the worst)
He told us of his ordeal in jail. Ron was bold. He clamored and howled most of the night for help. A man offered to assist him (for a fee); to pay Ron’s fine and get him out. After all the stories we heard about Americans being left in Mexican jails for “eternity and beyond,” we actually knew one who only stayed one night.
We said goodbye to our two helpers, and then the three of us got into Ron’s car and headed north. We decided we wanted no more of Mexico. Once over the border we found a hospital and took Ron in for a tetanus shot.
We contrived this story for the doctor; “It was an accident with a firecracker.” I doubt he believed us, but gave him the shot.
When we reached the Balboa/Newport area we crashed with friends who had a room for the weekend. The three of us hunkered down, never venturing out, and played poker the rest of our stay.
Back home in Temple City, as soon as I entered my front door, I picked up and dialed the phone.
“Hello, Jim? This is Rocky. Can I go to church with you next Sunday?”
© Copyright James “Rocky” Curtiss, June, 2012