Unstuck in time
October 27, 2015
The last thing I remembered before waking up among the tombstones of the old church graveyard in Tomatlan, Jalisco was watching Hurricane Patricia forming in the far eastern Pacific — on a seemingly equally-old TV set — from a couch in Heber City.
At the time, I didn’t recognize it as a Billy Pilgrim move. Author Kurt Vonnegut’s frequently bewildered protagonist from his best-selling novel "Slaughterhouse-Five" often awoke in a far-different setting than the one in which he had drifted off.
As I lay there wrapped snugly in my serape, my thoughts wandered. I couldn’t get over the unique manner in which the early months of 1968 were unfolding. There had been the week in the mountains at a ranch outside Culiacan, Sinaloa followed by the LA-Park City-Aspen-Route 66 loop that had brought me and brother McGee back to Mexico.
If ’68 were to outperform ’67, however, it had its work cut out for it. Countercultural touchstones such as Sgt. Pepper’s, Monterey Pop, and the Summer of Love had already been taken.
Back on the couch, as I struggled with maintaining consciousness, the Hurricane Forecast Center was busy putting out word that Patricia had become the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere. The original projected landfall, while the "tropical cyclone" busied itself gathering energy and zooming up the Saffir-Simpson Scale, had been Manzanillo, Colima.
I was jarred awake. It was ’68 again. I was sleeping on a beach and a dog was licking my face. More than likely, I conjectured, it belonged to one of the pack I had seen the day before successfully panhandling for food near a taco wagon parked a short ways away in old-town Manzanillo.
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I had wondered how the local street Niño could afford the tacos he regularly tossed to them. I quickly checked my few possessions before making the ironic discovery that the kid had left my camera but ran off with a pair of prescription sunglasses. Such is life near the bottom of the tourista food chain.
This was way before they had built "Las Hadas" resort and Bo Derek had, in her famous slo-mo bounce down the same beach, sent the film "10" hyper-ventilating up the blockbuster curve.
The blond on the tube, her voice seemingly rising from the bottom of a deep-sleep induced well, mentioned to a colleague that the current storm projection path model was in flux. The paradigm had shifted with projected landfall nudging itself slowly northward. Although they never mentioned Barra de Navidad, I knew our favorite village on the west coast of Mexico must now be in Patricia’s crosshairs.
This time, still ’68, my eyes opened to the sight of the partially finished peyote-button necklace I had begun the day before at our small lean-to encampment just outside of "Barra." We had been there over a week but still hadn’t healed from the long jarring bus ride down through the mountains from Guadalajara.
Not that residuals from dancing the night away to blaring Norteno music at a close-by "palapa" Cantina didn’t play a role. We would usually cure those excesses by diving into the warm waters of the bay on the way back to camp, however. We had to have our nightly "bioluminescence" fix where millions of tiny underwater organisms turned on the lights in our honor.
Meanwhile, back on the Heber couch front, a sudden bump in the tracking model of The Weather Channel gave the small bayside village of La Manzanilla its 15 minutes of fame. I grinned as I recalled the postcard-like setting that proved to be the end of the line for the bus ride I thought would take me all the way up the coast to Puerto Vallarta.
Each morning back in ’68, road-building crews from the respective coastal towns would head out north and south to continue constructing the connecting highway. After their shift they would drive back to town and their families.
I would ride out with the respective crews in the back of a pickup from wherever town I awoke and spend the day hiking through the jungle via the staked-out roadway until I met the crew from the next town. Although you could tell they thought I was some sort of alien, one of them always invited me to join him for a home-cooked comida.
And that’s how I made it up the coast to the tombstones of Tomatlan, El Tuito, Mismaloya and Puerto Vallarta before continuing on to San Blas, Nayarit, which, in 2015, would be on the northernmost edge of the Hurricane Patricia watch zone. Getting unstuck in time is the only way you can get there from here.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.
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