Barry Smith: Irrelativity
August 9, 2009
Before I started my epic road trip, my father sat me down to explain “The Bubble.”
He told me that when I get to Mexico, if I stick to the American-frequented resort towns I’ll be within The Bubble, and somehow protected by its mystical powers.
Conversely, if I venture outside The Bubble, then bad things will certainly happen, and there’ll be no assistance available because – that’s right – all the helpful and protective stuff is on the other side of this imaginary membrane that forms the outer wall of … The Bubble.
Obviously he was trying to convince me to stay inside The Bubble, but his speech further motivated me to venture out. Outside The Bubble is where REAL life exists, I thought. Inside The Bubble it’s just people bringing you drinks and charging them to your room.
So off I drove, south, south, south, all the way to the southern tip of Mexico in my 1971 VW Van. Months on the road. I was 23, and my two friends and I were getting further and further from any Bubble with each passing week. And loving it.
We left Mexico and entered Guatemala. Central America! Bubble Schmubble!
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We stopped at an official travel bureau to ask about how to get to a certain town on the coast. The guy showed us the road on a map – a gravel road through the jungle – but pointed out that this road should not be driven at night. There was lots of guerilla fighting going on in that area, and apparently after hours was when the guerillas liked to do their thing. Whatever you do, do NOT drive that road at night. The guy could not have made himself more clear.
So, later that night, we’re driving this small gravel road through the jungle. Yes, THAT road. It wasn’t because we were seeking adventure, it was just poor planning.
We’re puttering along this road, the jungle jutting up on each side, and soon we’re following a logging truck. Then the logging truck stops. In the middle of the jungle. Stops for a long time. Dead still. I get out of the van to see why he’s stopped.
He’s stopped because THERE’S A FALLEN TREE BLOCKING THE ROAD!!
Of course, this is how they do it! The rebels cut down a tree then drag you out of your car! I know I’ve seen this in a movie before. As I run back to the van and hop in, I start to hallucinate them emerging from the jungle, camo-clad with branches poking out of their helmets, black smudge stuff on their faces, vintage machine guns. I know that within seconds I’ll be captured, brainwashed and forced to fight a war that I don’t understand (based on my ignorance of both local politics and Spanish). Locking the door and rolling up the window, I announce that there’s a big tree down, and that it’s going to take an hour to clear it, and THAT’S if somebody has a chainsaw.
I was now as far outside of The Bubble as I’d ever been, in the lonely jungle about to be abducted. I think my brain was attempting to scramble back to the safety of The Bubble. That’s why I thought that getting this tree out of the road would be such an ordeal. See, back at my Dad’s house in Southern California – The Belly of The Bubble – if a branch fell from a tree in our back yard it had to be cut into manageable segments – 3 feet-long – and all the smaller branches had to be trimmed from it, segmented, and tied in bundles to be left on the curb on trash day. If the bundles were too big the trash truck would just keep going. So it was time consuming work. And since my brain had now scrambled back to Bubble-think, I assumed that was what needed to happen with this here jungle tree.
Another car had stopped by now, coming from the other direction. I got back out and walked to the tree. By the time I got there two guys with machetes were just finishing cutting it in half. Each half was then dragged from the road. We all got back in our cars. Time elapsed – three minutes, tops.
“Why did you think that would take an hour?” someone from the back of the van eventually asked.
“I’ll tell you later,” I said. “When I’m not so embarrassed.”
And we drove off into the jungle – another typical night outside The Bubble.
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