Life is 10% what happens to us, and 90% how we react to it. That’s the principle; we are going to talk about specifics, illustrating the delights that can be had in the simplest things, and the peace that comes from overlooking idiocy, errors and insults.
That is the subject of today’s 10-minute episode.
In the 70s, after the Army and graduating college in Boulder, I set out to start my first business. By today’s standards, I was broke, but since I was not aware of that definition, I was ignorant of my “problem.” My $100 per month G.I Bill ended with graduation, and my $2.87 per hour job driving a school bus had ended for the summer.
Now, what should I do? Well, start a business, of course.
I had about $100, and borrowed another $500. I lived in a two-bedroom cabin deep in the mountains West of town. The rent was $90 per month, accurately reflecting the market value of the cabin. On cold nights, you had to get into a freezing bed, thrashing about using friction to warm things up. The next morning, if there was any water in the bathroom sink, it was frozen. But no one told me that I was deprived, so I was happy with things like the quiet, privacy, and the windows that revealed one somewhat distant neighbor, and the majesty of the surrounding mountains.
After about two years in the business of building and selling loudspeakers in the cabin, I had just enough money to take off for a welcome rest. My ‘66 VW bus, “Gus-Gus the bus-bus” was my only transportation, so off we went. The first of the lasting happy memories came in the Arizona desert. I remembered the 1953 Disney movie, “The Living Desert”, where they showed that seemingly empty sand was teeming with life. So we stopped, got out and walked a dozen or so yards from the road, and sat down. After a few moments, we saw signs of life. Then more and more life. It was indeed a Living Desert. And we could have missed it. What else was I missing in my life?
My companion and I then went to see my dear friends, Geoff and Cindy, in La Brea, CA. To celebrate her birthday, I decided to take my friend to Spago in the LA area. My worn jeans and margarine existence had not prepared me for anything more sophisticated than “dine in” at a fast food restaurant, and I was nervous. And it did not help when we got there and saw that all the waiters were all in tuxes. Uh-oh. But the prices were not terrible; $8 to $10. Whew. Then I turned the page in the menu book, discovering those were the prices for appetizers.
Let’s fast forward to Puertecitos, Mexico, where much of the story unfolds. Another telling memory came as we were en route. We came across a group of RV-traveling Americans who had just dug up lots of clams prior to a clambake. We were invited to see what they were doing, and to share the harvest with them. Crack open and clean the clam, chop up the healthy amount of meat, add some butter, onions and other bits to taste, and cook over the simplest of barbeques. The clams were supplemented with local spiny lobsters, available from kids who dove for them in shallow water–for a dollar. Stunningly good food, in the open air with happy, sharing people. Then off to Puertecitos.
At the time, Puertecitos was a tiny village on a dirt road, 40 miles South of any communications link–and even that was a telegraph. We elected to stay at Speedy’s Campo, renting a space for $1 a day. Part of the attraction was a sign proclaiming “Ice Cold Beer.” “Ice Cold” must have been a brand name.
Niceties like electricity and indoor plumbing were luxuries, but remember my very modest at-home lifestyle; they were not missed. The town’s claim to fame was that it was on the Baja 500 race route. Other town highlights were a dominoes set, a six-room motel, expats, and a zoo. We’ll get to all of those.
In the early afternoon many of the residents, locals and expats, would gather to watch dominoes matches, contested using the town’s one good set. If you were lucky, you got to see more amusing entertainment. And one of the days we got lucky. There was a rustle in the dominoes spectator group as an American couple pulled up to the motel. Conversation and gestures became animated as the couple checked in at the office, then headed to their room. The excitement level increased even more when the man stomped from their room to the office, obviously with a head of steam. Laughter broke out when he was seen heading from the office to the room carrying a bucket of water. Like most motel guests, they did not realize that despite having what looked like a real bathroom there was no running water. The toilet had to be flushed with a bucket. This harmless amusement kept the smiles and laughter going well into the next day, resolving into amused anticipation of the next guests. Forget having no running water in a motel, I can get frustrated if Netflix does not have exactly what I want when I want it. I need to remember, and recalibrate
And we met the mayor. Well, the informal mayor of the expats. I have forgotten his name, but I remember how he came to be seen as “The Mayor.” Some years before, Sea World had come to the area to collect dolphins for their attraction. They needed a flatbed trailer, and, well, this gent had one to lend them. In thanks, Sea World sent him a letter of appreciation on their letterhead. We know because he showed it to us. That’s what elevated him politically; no recounts necessary. The citizens all seemed happy and united.
And the zoo; ah, yes, the zoo. It was a chicken wire enclosure, about 20x20x10, with no door, out in the middle of nowhere. Animals were introduced by putting them under the wire; they escaped on their own. A local caught a chipmunk, or something that looked like a chipmunk. Word spread, and people gathered to see the new specimen introduced into the zoo. After waiting for folks to arrive, the “zookeeper” attempted to lift the enclosure just enough to get the critter in, but not so far as to allow him to escape. No luck; on the third or fourth try, the rodent escaped. The spectators were disappointed, but allowed that it was a good try. And PETA would also have been pleased.
One night, Speedy himself asked if I could drive south of town to pick up someone who needed a ride. Our marginally overlapping language skills did not allow for much more of an explanation. But when he handed me a .25 caliber automatic, saying “Es necesario”, that part seemed pretty clear. We drove at night, with the 6-volt system headlights barely illuminating the rutted dirt road some 15 yards ahead of us. At one point we passed a sign held up by a scraped off 3” tree trunk, holding up two direction indicators. One pointed in the dark to the left reading, “Cliff.” The other pointed more or less straight, indicating the way to La Paz. We choose La Paz. Not long after, a figure emerged from the darkness, and a young man got in the back of the bus after we stopped. We returned to Speedy’s without incident. No violence, no hand wringing about guns. I returned the firearm, and Speedy bought us a couple beers. And shared all the freshly caught yellowfin tuna we could eat. Cooked it right in front of us.
There are more stories from that trip, including the one where I am pretty sure that the meatballs in the spaghetti we were served as an expat’s dinner guests were dogmeat. No, we did not eat it. And I remember how any new arrival who showed up with an RV was everyone’s best friend–until they ran out of fresh food.
What is most memorable, and most worth remembering and repeating, was the delight that is available in simplest things. And how overlooking things like what went on that dark night, automatic in hand, and likely being served dogmeat meatballs, preserved the peace in our hearts. Doing both, delighting in the simple, and overlooking the idiocy, errors and insults makes us all happier and better people.
Tell me what you believe. I and many others want to know.
As always, whatever you do, do it in love. Without love, anything we do is empty.
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Will Luden, coming to you from 7,200’ in Colorado Springs.