Travel Piece

VW Bug Litany

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And what a shame they don’t make Los Suicidas mescal anymore, what a shame that time passes, don’t you think? What a shame that we die, and get old, and everything goes galloping away from us. —Roberto Bolaño, The Savage Detectives

The first parked along the dusty road just outside Akumal Bay’s little downtown zócalo, dark green, tattooed with stickers, rusted chassis, the perfect beach town relic circa 1972 or ‘73, down from Mexico City or Merida, or as far away as San Diego or maybe even Austin, TX. The second driving the other way on the main thoroughfare (two lanes on either side, periodic returnos slotted in between the long string of resorts, each with its own Vegas-esque grand entry). This one as white as cream, near mint condition, gleaming tires, a flag of a car waving in the heat; the next a brilliant bright blue, like a strip of ocean at Playa del Carmen; then another—this one in Playa del Carmen—lime green, nearly neon, parked between a line of ratty scooters and a tourist van bound for the Coba ruins. It’s covered in dirt, like a hologram from some other time, or a memory hallucinated by the old man crossing the street in a mariachi band costume, guitar almost dragging behind him he’s so tired. There are enough of them that I keep a lookout—down back alleys and side streets, along the coastal highway we keep entering and exiting—just slightly obsessed with the idea of spotting another, and another—anywhere, everywhere—all in various states of disrepair, each its own homage to an earlier time less subsumed by consumerism, a sui generis emblem for a band of ghosts long since dispersed, bound for Chile or Ecuador. They remind me of the one sad Beetle left to rot in the middle of an old tennis court tucked into a nook somewhere in my grandparent’s wealthy neighborhood (Rye, NY, circa 1972 or ‘73), itself gone to seed, the way things sometimes are: abandoned, the fence falling into itself in unobserved slow motion (glacial increments then, one day, a final sag to the ground); in the corner a tree growing up through the concrete, scrub oak or beech, I can’t remember. Though I can see vividly the cousins swarming the court, lost in a wild 4-on-4 or 5-on-5 tennis scrum while I climb into the body of the abandoned VW, pretending to drive it on out of there, or maybe trying to referee the match swirling around me from inside its stripped carcass shell. The front seat a dangerous nest of wire and metal rods, the windows long since knocked out. A hole where the lighter used to be. Maybe, I can’t entirely recall, one of the doors, freed from its hinges, is caught in the remnant of net laying like a snake across the cracked cement in amongst leaves, vines, empty cigarette packs and Narragansett beer cans, rusted like tiny cars without their wheels; nothing at all like the basketball court here at the center of town, Akumal Bay, with its cement supports and brightly-colored geometries, peopled this lovely evening with a family of little kids, an old ball, and a dad trying to teach the eldest daughter how to dribble and shoot. One of the younger boys rides his scooter in rough circles as the last light drops behind the palms, now, the afternoon rain having brought down the heat a few notches, and the breeze off the ocean a caress on our necks and forearms—our little family, heading back from a dinner on the beach, heading for our rental, also a VW, but not at all like these old Volkswagens we keep stumbling upon. It’s what we have for this little vacation we’re on, this sweet little trip we have enjoyed so much, down here on the Mayan Riviera, despite having almost no Spanish, our almost sixteen-year-old boy restless, ready to hop into one and—windows open to the night wind, someone passing a joint back—catch a ride in it as far it will take him, far away from us.