We were loaded with advice and provisions when we pulled out of Yuma, Ariz. and headed for the Mexican border. Don't try to drive more than 200 miles a day, our friends had said. Don't drive at night. Put your watch on your right arm; otherwise somebody will grab it when you make a hand signal. Take your hubcaps off and get a lock on your gas cap. Don't drink the water, and try to avoid eating the food. I wondered if it was O.K. if we breathed the air. My head was reeling with these admonitions, and my car handled soggy and soft from the overload. Two big jugs of water were perched upright on the rear seat like obedient children, held firmly in place by seat belts. Thank you, Ralph Nader. Around the jugs were stacks of foodstuffs: soft drinks, Spam, canned vegetables, graham crackers, 40% Bran Flakes, potato chips, snacks and goodies that could be trusted. There were two first-aid kits plus a snakebite kit with a suction bulb; there were extra fan belts and sparkplugs for the car, six cans of motor oil, a box of signal flares and a jerrican of gasoline; an extra spare tire (a spare spare) was lashed to the roof rack. If we had had a few mattresses draped over the sides of the car and three or four kids sucking on bottles we would have looked exactly like the dust jacket of The Grapes of Wrath.
"What are you supposed to be," a wise-guy friend had asked as we slid away from the curb with all the grace of a hippopotamus in the eighth month of a difficult pregnancy, "the American contribution to Mexico's cultural year, or what?"
"Maybe he was right," I said to my wife as we negotiated south Yuma and waddled down a dusty detour toward the border. "Maybe we overdid it."
"Don't give me that 'we' stuff," my wife said. "You're the one that said driving in Mexico was different from driving anyplace else in the world. You're the one that said we had to be completely sufficient unto ourselves, prepared for every eventuality, ready to...."
"Yeah," I said, "but I didn't mean we had to load up the car with pemmican and jerky."
"Never mind," I said. My wife was after Zane Grey's time.
The border is only a short haul from Yuma, and the day was hot, and the road was dusty and potholed, and soon I was lost and annoyed and delivering one of those long social commentaries that my wife has come to know and enjoy so much. "Damned Mexicans!" I said. "All that phony publicity about how their roads have improved and you can drive to the Olympics without any trouble. All that horseradish! Look at this! We haven't gone two miles and we're lost already. Now what's the name of this cross street? No sign, right? Yeah, I knew it. Incredible! Amazing! No street signs! How the hell are you supposed to know where you are? Damned backward country. They're in the Dark Ages. Bunch of burro riders. Aw, the hell with it! We're not going. This is a stupid idea. No, the hell with it. I'm turning the damn car around and we're going back to the United States!"
"Sweetheart," my wife said gently, "we're in the United States."
"What?" I said. "What?"