In the good old days, I used to hole up in one of the hotels in Calexico whenever launching a one-day assault on the Mexican City of Mexicali, which is right across the border, on the other side of the train tracks. This was not the occasion for tequila, street tacos, and all-night Norteno music on the jukebox, however. This was sitting in a dark room, with the TV on and the sound turned off, watching the governor of California addressing the Republic as it reached a grim milestone, one of the deadliest days in the history of the state. Hospitals were filling up fast. They were running out of beds and ventilators. The health care workers they showed were wearing the kind of protection you associate with a nuclear spill.
Not having slept in a couple of days, I tried to drown my anxiety in beer and whiskey, but right when I’d get to the point where I could almost pass out, I’d remember where I was at and leap fearfully to my feet, pacing the room in tight, little circles. For three days the only time I left the room was to get more alcohol.
My Mom called me, as did my two brothers, and my sister. They all were just relieved I’d gotten out of Vietnam. There was no way of explaining to them what a bad turn that had been. I’d been better off where I was at. At least the quarantine encampment would’ve been free. Now I’d put a flight, a rental car, and a cheap hotel room that wasn’t cheap at all, on a credit card I didn’t have the money to pay off. Getting on that plane was shaping up to be one of the worst decisions of my life. Whenever I thought about it, I couldn’t stop banging my forehead with my fists.
Still looking for an escape, when escape was no longer an option, I loaded up the car and headed off to Tucson. Why things should be any different in Tucson, I had no idea, outside of a fantasy about pulling up at the Wild West theme park in Old Tucson and finding a dusty street where I could stroll back to a simpler time. Upon arrival, I discovered a city trying to come to grips with its own recent lockdown orders, and after a frantic walk through the deserted downtown, headed back the way I’d come, pulling over at a Motel 6, close to the juncture where the 10 north meets the 8. Although it was only noon, I booked a room for the night and got busy drinking beer.
That night I did manage to sleep a few hours, but woke up about three in the morning with a chest full of panic. All I could do was jump up and start pacing around the room like a caged bear. Things were bad outside and bad within. The walls were falling down everywhere and there was no chance of getting away.