I confess. I was nervous. I was about to cross the U.S.-México border by myself in an SUV laden with the particulars of my life – photos, journals, art, books, lamps – moving from my homeland, to hopefully, a home of renewal.
Those feelings of trepidation are known to most expats, all of whom made that initial mental and physical trek across a border, whether by air, land, or water, marking the beginning of a new whatever.
So that evening in early December last year, I pulled into the Americana in Nogales, Arizona – what better place to spend my last night in the good ole U.S.A. than the Americana!
I first noticed them in the parking lot because they had the two cutest, fluffiest golden retrievers I’ve ever seen. They weren’t so bad either – two handsome men with the familiarity of a married couple.
Later, I saw them at the bar. I was drinking Jack neat, and soon we were all at the same table, Tom drinking Chivas on the rocks, Craig gin, and tonics.
“OK, I have to know – are you guys driving to Puerto Vallarta?” I was looking for saviors. I wanted someone to swoop in and save me from having to drive by myself. If my knight in shining armor was actually a gay couple in an Audi, I was cool.
Alas. It was not to be. They are Vallartans, but also of northern California. Both their mothers live in that area, and thus, they were headed in the opposite direction, to el Norte for the holidays.
Besides, they had their own worries. Their home there was 15 miles as the crow flies from Paradise, a northern California community besieged by the fiercest of fires. (Later, the world would learn the aftermath was devastating. Paradise was gone.)
But still, we talked. What do I need to do to correctly cross the border? I have all my papers, but still, I worry. What’s it like driving on the highways? I’ve heard horror stories…
They figuratively held my hands, reassuring me everything would be OK. They gave wonderful advice of a route to take as I neared Vallarta. Turns out, it was todo bien.
But for some weird reason, we didn’t trade contact information. I kept hoping to run into them when I ventured from my colonia above the Hotel Zone to Old Town, the heartbeat of Vallarta.
Then, I had the stroke of fortune to get a column in the Vallarta Tribune. After I’d written a couple of pieces, I received an email, and I paraphrase:
I read your column in the Tribune, and I hope you don’t think I’m a stalker, but I think we actually met at a bar in Nogales…”
Ah. So they hadn’t forgotten either.
We quickly reconnected. We had a wonderful two-hour lunch at the River Café, where Gracie, one of the aforementioned fluffy goldens, snoozed as we dined. Afterward, we all agreed – it was like lunching with old friends.
A week later I went to their beautiful home south of Old Town, and then for the best burgers on the beach. Then coffee at La Comer. We’ve talked of a day trip to the Vallarta Botanical Gardens, where we’re all members.
They remind me why I came here in the first place – Vallarta is magic, and this is part of the enchantment – the ability to easily connect with others.
I am grateful for the myriad friendships I’ve made over the past year in Vallarta – Shawnee, Gary, Marcia, Annette, Tony, Sherrie, Michael, Lidia, Rossy, and of course, Tom, Craig, and Gracie, although in the latter’s case, technically, Nogales…