Once a month, against Buster’s better judgment, he loaded the Livin’ and Dyin’ in ¾ Time Boys into his 4-Runner for a monthly supply run to Chetumal, the closest large city to Mahahual and the capital of the State of Quintana Roo. Cancun, the state’s largest city had much better shopping, huge malls and places like Kosco and Home Depot made shopping easy in the “Land of Ain’t Got Nada”. But Cancun was four hours and Chetumal was one hour, and since Buster could barely take shopping with these guys for 15 minutes, 8 hours in the car with them would be more than he and an entire bottle El Compadre could make it through. The monthly trip to Chetumal was plenty and so what if he couldn’t get liquid nail. Life without liquid nail, was better than 8 hours in the car with all these guys at once.
Buster needed to go each week to Chetumal for his restaurant supplies, a boring task, so in some ways he enjoyed the company of the boys every so often, as a change of pace if nothing else. But it seldom failed that he had to be part time babysitter and part time cat herder, mainly because he had lived in Mexico for many years longer than any of the others, except Giles who had as little as possible to do with the boys on these trips. However, before each trip, Buster always had his usual check list to go through before leaving.
“Rick, did you go to the bathroom,” asked Buster, knowing he always made them stop along the way and waste sometimes 20 minutes, depending on what Rick brought to read.
“Didn’t need to. Sorry, but I can’t rush these things Buster. I’ll let you know along the way if I need to go. Thanks for asking though.” He said this with a big grin and a wink at the others.
“Ernie, tell me you are not holding,” warned Buster. Ernie was the former police officer, turned new age spiritualist and pot head, who too often tried to take a smoke or two along for the times, like when Rick was in the bathroom, where he could sneak away for a quick puff. “I’m not driving through anymore checkpoints with you holding pot.”
“Buster would you stop. I am a highly trained law officer and I know a drug dog when I see one, and that was not a drug dog. My guess is that dog couldn’t find a taco, much less the lousy joint I had in my pocket, which he did not find, I might add. Do you know how much it costs to train a drug sniffing dog? About a year’s pay for the entire police force of the state on Quintana Roo, that’s how much. You can’t really think they are gonna have a drug dog?”
“Is that a yes or no Ernie because I don’t crank Mr. Twain here up unless you say you don’t have a joint.”
“Okay Buster! No, I do not have a joint on me. There, are you happy?” said Ernie with a sly smile.
Buster looked in his rear view mirror and in spite of his less than 100% confidence that the former lawman was telling the truth, he started the 4-Runner, named Mr. Twain after the horse in the Buffett stories and songs, and away they went.
Ernie, Rick and Ronny, all three large men, were crowded into the tiny back seat, while the much smaller Giles, enjoyed the room of his own seat in the front. The boys all claimed to not have a homophobic drop of blood in them, yet none wanted to sit for an hour with their leg touching Giles’ leg, so they never called “shotgun” when he was along, preferring to sit crunched in the back seat, to playing footsy with a gay guy. Giles of course had done that on purpose to both Ronny and Rick on their first trip as a group, and had never again had to ride cramped in the back seat. Giles knew homophobia when he saw it and occasionally was able to use that to his advantage.
The boys all rode in silence for the first several minutes of the trip, Buster had a no music policy for these trips because none liked the others choice and the complaining was louder than Buster’s stereo. However, there were times when the mutual exchange if ignorance flying about inside the truck was much more annoying than Ernie’s hip hop. It went with the territory.
As they rolled up to the kilometer 10 military checkpoint, Buster was not surprised to see the smiling face of their old buddy, Soldier Sergio waiting for them. He, unlike almost all the soldiers at these sorts of checkpoints, seemed to enjoy giving the gringos a hard time. He knew the boys of course, and knew they were just on their normal monthly run, but still seemed to very much enjoy watching the old men climb from the vehicle, while he took his time examining the SUV and letting all know, he was in control.
“Wonderful,” said Buster with a roll of the eyes. “We have Sergio this morning. Looks like we just added 10 minutes to the trip.”
“Want to bet,” laughed Ronny.
Buster was not sure what to think of Ronny’s bold prediction and looked at him in the rear view mirror, trying to figure out what he was talking about. He was about to ask when suddenly the smell reached the front seat. All began to yell at Ronny and the windows began to roll down just as they pulled to a stop for Soldier Sergio.
The confident and fully in control soldier immediately stuck his head into the vehicle with his usual grin and said, “Buenos dias Senior Buster. Como … chingao” and he stopped in mid sentence and reeled backward at the nasty smell coming from the vehicle. “Que pasa! Pinche bastardos! Who shit their pants in there? Go, go. Largate.”
Buster didn’t argue, he just hit the gas and away they went laughing and trying to hold their breath as the smell seemed to still linger, even with the wind coming through the car’s open windows.
“I was holding that one since kilometer 20. Whoo, I gotta admit, that one really did stink too. Might need to stop at the Pemex station, so I can check the old pantalones and make sure that didn’t get away from me.”
“That’s disgusting,” whined Giles from the front seat. “I think an orifice search would have been better than smelling that.”
“You probably would like an orifice search too Tinkerbell,” laughed Ronny. “Any particular soldier you might want to do that? Sergio’s kinda cute.”
“Up yours Jethro,” was his only reply.
Finally the air had cleared and the boys rolled up all the windows. Once the air was breathable again, the whole episode began to be funny and all got a good laugh. They pulled to the side of the road in Piedro Santos, a small town along the highway toward Chetumal, and bought small bags of fresh sliced pineapple and pitaya, which they munched on and took turns interrupting one another on every topic from football to politics. As they pulled into Bacalar, the next town of any size, Rick announced, right on time too, that he needed to go to the bathroom.
Buster pulled into the Pemex gas station and the boys all piled out. Rick headed for the restrooms, Giles and Ernie began to stretch their legs and Ronny went to check on the girl at the cash register who he knew had fallen hopelessly in love with him on their last trip. Ernie mysteriously just disappeared. Buster watched the attendant as he began to fill Mr. Twain, never taking his eyes off of him or the pump. Gas station attendants in Mexico are notorious for ripping off customers, so Buster knew it was better to keep an eye on him than the boys, who could also get themselves in trouble just as fast, or even faster, than the tank could fill.
Finally, Mr. Twain was full, and the boys began to drift back to the vehicle. Rick and Ronny were coming from inside the station and Ernie was coming around the corner from the behind the building. Rick was laughing and Ronny was not as they climbed into the back seat.
“I guarantee you she is a lesbian,” argued Ronny.
“I don’t think so big boy. I think she just doesn’t like old, bald dudes with raggedy tee shirts and loose false teeth,” laughed Rick. “That and your lousy Spanish. You told her you really like Latinos you dumbass. You used the masculine form of the word “Latino” which meant you like men. It is Latina, not Latino!” The whole truck erupted with laughter.
“Come on Ronny. That girl was 30 years younger than you and very hot. She can get any guy, so why is she going to pick your old, worn out ass,” laughed Buster.
“First, she knew what I meant. And second, chicks dig older guys like me down here. She’s just a lesbo, plain and simple.” The others just shook their heads and away Mr. Twain went toward Chetumal. Suddenly, they realized Ernie was not in the vehicle. Amidst all the laughter, they had apparently forgotten Ernie. Buster cursed and turned the vehicle around and headed back toward the Pemex where they found Ernie emerging from the store with an arm full of chips, cookies and candy bars. He climbed in, red-eyed and reeking of a Mexican forest fire, and asked, “anyone hungry?”
“Damn you Ernie,” growled Buster. “ I thought you told me you didn’t bring a joint.”
“That’s exactly what I said and I wasn’t lying either. I brought two joints. One for here and one for later. Don’t worry Buster, I got dis.”
The boys all laughed and Buster just continued to growl under his breath as Mr. Twain finally got back onto the highway, heading south to Chetumal.
First stop was always the “American Embassy” or as it was also known, the local Wal-Mart. None in the vehicle, except Ronny, would have ever set foot into a Wal-Mart in the US. All hated the store almost as much as the “rubes who shop there,” as Giles always said. However, in Chetumal, where shopping beggars can’t be choosy, Wal-Mart was a welcome sight.
They all grabbed their shopping carts, except for Rick, who announced he had to go to the bathroom, and each went their separate ways. Since Buster had to shop both for his personal use, as well as his restaurant, he always filled his cart to the top. However, he knew his way around and always stayed focused on his objective and in 30 minutes, his cart was full and he was ready to check out. He began to wander the isles, looking for the boys and it never failed, he found them with almost empty carts and a problem.
First he found Rick, with only a family size package of toilet paper and a “familia” sized bottle of El Compadre in his cart, and asked,” Where is all your stuff? Is that all you are getting?”
“Sure, I need lots of stuff. I just got out of the can. No sweat though, I’ll be ready before you can find those other slow pokes.” And away he went.
Buster continued on and found Ernie and Giles, both with impressive carts at least half filled, in the shoe department.
“No way I’m wearing any of these,” whined Giles. “I don’t think even Ms. Sasha would be caught dead in any of these. I couldn’t wear any of them anyway, even if I did like tacky shoes. Doesn’t anyone in this country have feet larger than a size 7?”
Buster was about to tell them to hurry when he heard a cry for help that sounded like Ronny coming from the hair products isle. He thought that was odd, since Ronny didn’t have any hair to speak of, but he left his cart and went to see what the commotion was.
“Hey Buster, this dumbass doesn’t speak a word of English. How do you say Grecian formula in Spanish.”
“Well Ronny, first of all, he is Mexican and you are in Mexico. What do you expect him to speak, Chinese? And second, what they hell do you need Grecian for. You don’t have any hair?”
“I was thinkin’ about what you said back at the Pemex, about how that young lady might not have been interested in a more mature gentleman like myself, so I thought I might use it on my beard. I’ll bet it makes me look 20 years younger.”
“Oh geeze,” laughed Buster. He looked at the young clerk and said, “Disculpe, mi amigo is tonto. No, es muy tonto.” They both laughed and he told Buster where they would find the Grecian formula.
“Hey, what does tonto mean,” asked Ronney. “I thought that meant dumb Indian or something like that.”
“It means ‘handsome rascal’ and the Grecian is next to the beard trimmers on Isle 6. Mr. Twain leaves in 10 minutes, so no dinkin’ around.” With that, Buster turned and walked away before Ronny asked any more stupid questions.
He found his cart but no Ernie or Giles. The situation did not look good but he decided to head to the checkout stand anyway and perhaps he would find the others there waiting. To his surprise, when he arrived, there was Ronny, Giles and Ernie, each at a different register and each almost checked out and ready to go. He began to think he might just get out of Wal-Mart sooner, rather than later. It was then he noticed the full cart next to the men’s restroom, the top item being the family sized toilet paper he had noticed in Rick’s cart earlier. It now looked like later, much later.
“Damn, what does that old dude eat,” asked Buster, shaking his head in amazement.
The boys loaded Mr. Twain with all their stuff and sat under one of the large trees in the parking lot, sipping some cold beers Ronny had bought for the ride back. Ernie, without saying a word, had slipped away and gone to the far end of the parking lot, huge plumes of smoke following him as he went. Finally after about 10 minutes, both Rick and Ernie showed back up at the same time, and both with a look of relief on each of their faces. Ernie’s just came with red eyes.
“I’m hungry,” announced Ernie. “Where are we going for lunch?”
“Let’s go to Applebees,” asked Rick.
“NO!” was the loud and uniform answer from the others.
“You want to eat that gringo chow, go back to the states,” said Giles. “This is Mexico. I say we get carnitas at Carnitas Michoacan.”
“No way,” protested Ronny. “Let’s go to the sports bar and get a burger. They have those hot little waitresses and I need to bet on the Gamecocks for this weekend.”
“Ronny, shut up,” laughed Rick. “Those gals like you about as much as the one at the Pemex, the burgers suck and the Gamecocks are going to get the butts spanked this week by Georgia anyway. You’ll thank us later.”
“How about all you guys shut up,” said Buster finally. “I’ve still got to go by Sam’s, the mall and the paint store, so lunch needs to be fast. Its dog tacos today and I don’t want to hear a peep about it.”
“Sweeeeeeet” agreed Ronny!
All the guys loved the “dog tacos” as Buster called them so there was no more discussion, just anticipation. They pulled over to the side street and found the street cart taco stand, and as usual, the area around it was full of people standing and eating tacos from paper plates. The air was filled with the wonderful smell of seasoned meats grilling away and the three men who operated the stand were working feverishly to keep the production going. The first guy was cooking all types of meats; beef, pork, chicken and chorizo, on a round, cone-like stainless steel cooking area that resembled a wok with a drain hole in the center. The middle guy was chopping the finished meats with a huge chopping knife on a smooth, flat piece of tree trunk. He would quickly put the meat into the tortillas and hand them to the third guy who would top them with fresh chopped onion and cilantro. There were several bowls of sauces and chopped veggies that customers would add as they liked, to complete their tacos before walking off to enjoy eating them, either standing up or under the shade of the building next to the spot the dog taco stand always set up each day. They each grabbed a coke from the self serve coke box that was full of sodas and ice and found a shady spot to sit and enjoy the delicious tacos. All went back for seconds.
In 15 minutes, the boys had full stomachs and it was time to roll on for more shopping. Each went to the little lady who took the money when you were finished, and told her exactly what they had eaten. There are no checks at the dog taco stand, since it was all done on the honor system, and she calculated what they each owed and they were ready to go in no time.
Giles removed the toothpick from his mouth and said, “Buster, you go ahead and run your errands. I need to get some stuff at the old market. I’ll meet you at the mall in an hour.”
The others all knew Giles spoke perfect Spanish and knew his way around the market quite well and decided they would prefer to stick with Giles and adventure through the market, than hang with Buster at Sam’s Club. Buster saw the chance to dump the guys on poor Giles and he grabbed it like Ronny grabbed the last piece of fried chicken at the family reunion. He drove away laughing, with Giles glaring at him with a look that could kill. Sucked to be Giles!
The remainder of the shopping went as normal as shopping can in Chetumal Mexico. Sam’s had about half of what he needed and he had to wait 20 minutes while the guy from the paint store returned from his afternoon siesta. Finally the paint was mixed and Buster was off for the mall.
When he arrived, he went to the food court first, the usual meeting spot for the boys, and saw no sigh of them and the place seemed normal. Lots of pretty young ladies, so Buster knew Ronny had not been there yet. His “dirty old man” stares usually ran off most in short time. With that, Buster decided to go try to do the last of his shopping before they arrived. In less than a half hour, he had actually found all the remaining items on his list and headed back to the food court. He found Ernie and Ronny at one table eating ice cream and Giles sitting 2 tables away, trying to act like he did not know either of them.
“Where’s Rick,” asked Buster.
They just all nodded toward the restrooms and Buster rolled his eyes and went to McDonalds to get a cappuccino. He decided he might should avoid Giles, who was trying to look as gay as possible to keep the others away and also still not pleased Buster had left him with the boys to babysit. He glanced over at Buster and mouthed, “You owe me, big time!”
Buster just grinned.
Finally, Rick came out of the restrooms, smiling and looking like a million bucks. “What are you guys just sitting around for. Let’s go.” The others just shook their heads as the old man walked toward the food court exit.
The drive home was uneventful, as the backseat boys all went right to sleep as soon as Buster got back onto the highway. Giles had gotten over being mad when Buster agreed to allow him to play a new jazz CD he had bought at the old market, so the ride home, with the exception of some snoring, went quietly and enjoyable. Buster and Giles tapped their toes and munched on spicy peanuts the entire way. They even got lucky at the military check point as Soldier Sergio was still on duty and quickly waived Mr. Twain right on through, wanting no part of that truck today.
Ronny’s apartment was just off the main road coming into Mahahual, so he was the first to be dropped. Buster eased Mr. Twain to the shoulder of the road and Ronny jumped out and began to gather his bags from the back. With his arms loaded he said his adios to all. “We still playin’ chess tomorrow after the ship leaves Tinkerbell,” he asked Giles as he walked away.
“If you want me to kick your old wore out ass, yes we are Jethro.”
“Manana” he said with a grin and began the walk down the dirt road to his tiny apartment.
As they parked behind Buster’s restaurant, Giles saw his partner Tito walking toward them and said, “There is my mule now. Looks like his timing is perfect. He can help carry this stuff.”
They loaded the remaining bags into Rick and Ernie’s cars and all seemed happy with the day’s work. They helped Buster carry his stuff into the restaurant and once it was put away, Buster announced, “It is Corona time!” The three of them grabbed a couple bottles each and went to sit on the beach, soak their tired toes in the warm Caribbean waters and enjoy the last of the days sunshine as it began to slip over the orange, western skyline, behind Buster’s on the Beach. Ahhh Mahahual!
And so it goes when you are living and dyin’ in ¾ time!