Cafe Hitch-hike


Stories of warmth and protection

As I drove to work today, I recalled these interesting events...

The one selected as fiesta queen was AWOL during the Mexican Independence Day fiesta. She moved across the state in defiance of her parents to join her boyfriend who was attending college there. She said she didn't have the $20 or so to take the Greyhound bus to town and demanded the fiesta planners pay for the ticket, and to do that every time they wanted her to appear for an event. The planners were livid at her audacity, but then again, they didn't have any rules about those instances! They turned to me as runner-up and the 2 other ladies on the queen's court to be her stand-in. They asked the 3 of us to appear at the fiesta with our sashes and formal attire so we could introduce stage acts and remind the fiesta goers not to brawl. As if that went over well for the thousand or so paisanos, fiesty teens, and others who made up the beer-soaked crowd.

One of the main acts was up. It was 7:00 PM, and the beer circulated very well by that time. The girls and I sat at a booth behind the sprawling dancefloor. We were to walk through the side of the crowd and go to the stage, but I felt frightened by the rambunctiousness of the crowd, and 3 young women in formal gowns kind of stood out! A drunken older man saw us, faced me, and drunkenly clapped, "Viva la reina!" I was nervous about what other attention we'd get, and I could feel my face shift from the fear.

Something out of the corner of my eye got my attention. He was 10 feet behind me, standing 6 feet tall. His full black hair was tufted under a cream-colored Stetson cowboy hat, and his brown, owl-shaped eyes looked attentively on me and the girls. His hat made him look taller. It was MJ, my mentor from the local community college. He read the look on my face and nodded once, as if to signal, 'I've got your back.' My expression changed, and when we were summoned, I led myself and the 2 others to the stage.

It was one thing to have butterflies from having to go on stage, but it was another sensation to wonder if one of us was going to get grabbed. The chances were high that someone in the crowd would retaliate, and then more punches would be thrown by more people, but MJ had my back. I walked alertly yet confidently to the stage, knowing he was willing and able to handle whatever happened between there and the stage. He later said he thought the planners were absolutely negligent to not have anyone watch out for us in a situation like that.

I had been living away from the hometown for 7 years and decided to go to grad school. I decided on where to go; it wasn't my ideal place by any stretch, but I was willing to roll with it. The school wanted all of my college transcripts within a week. Instead of requesting them by mail, I drove the hometown in the middle of winter to make my request so I'd be sure the college got my request and that I fulfilled the deadline.

Wow, the college looked the same as it had when I finished 7 years ago. A group of students, some older, chatted in a lobby where I used to do the same between classes. They seemed to look the same as we did! I walked to the registrar's office and made my request within 5 minutes.

I walked outside and saw the sun set over the hills and bare maple trees that lined the west edge of the town. I always liked looking at the dusk, and I inhaled the crisp, 20 degree weather. I decided to go visit my grandparents on my way back to where I lived, so I got to see my beloved Grandpa Rey and his wife Lilia.

I thought I'd have a quick visit, but conversations easily lingered. We watched a bit of Univision and talked a bit. At 9:00 PM, I excused myself to go.

"Oh, no, you no go," said Lilia. "Ees dark, the roads have ice, not safe. You stay here."

I figured I'd sleep on the sofa in the living room, but Lilia gave me the twin bed in Grandpa's multipurpose room. It was his bedroom, office, kitchenette, and TV room. One of its locked closets had his guns, safe, and financial ledger. It was on the 2nd floor of his house that was already elevated from the rest of the street, and had prime views of the neighborhood and the old Catholic cemetery across the way. Many summits and tough talks took place there, along with laughs, lighter conversations, and watching Spanish-language TV. In that room, he had a full sized bed and a twin. They only heated parts of the house to conserve heat, and asked me to sleep in their room because it was warmer.

11 PM came, and everyone did their pre-slumber routines. Grandpa and Lilia slept on the full-sized bed about 4 feet away, but I didn't mind. It felt cozy. I felt like a kid again, at age 27, sleeping near parents.

The lights clicked off. I heard Grandpa quickly and rotely mutter a prayer in Spanish, and then I could hear our breathing settle. Lilia said something to him I didn't understand, and a second later, I heard him scratching her back. It actually sounded kind of rough, how could scratching a woman's back sound like he was sandpapering wood? I noticed he usually kept his nails a little long, so maybe that was why. It made me kind of laugh, and then I fell asleep.

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