My Tequila Story
Brian and I sat in the Pancake House at Virginia Beach, facing each other in a booth. It was 2 o’clock in the morning and we were attempting to recover from a fairly full evening. Exams were over and we had celebrated appropriately. Now we were staring at our fried eggs and sausage, moving the food around the plate with pieces of toast. Across the aisle and down a booth were two very attractive young women. The dark haired one had a “what can you do about it” kind of look. She seemed to be resigned to the fact that whatever her light haired friend’s problem was, she wasn’t going to be able to fix it. The light haired one leaned in toward her friend. “I just can’t get the materials I need, Susan! “ She sat up quickly. “I have to send away to Mexico to get good glass and good lead. By the time it gets here I’ll lose the job. Besides, by the time they add on the cost to get it here, I won’t be able to afford it.”
The dark haired girl threw her hands up.“Gina, what do you want me to do?”
Neither one spoke for a couple of seconds. Dark hair began to smile. “ Why don’t you come to work with me tomorrow? I know George will let you waitress. He likes blonds. You can earn enough money to get your stuff and be ready when the next job shows up.”
I had no idea what they were talking about. “You listening to them, Brian? What do you think Gina does?” I may not be the brightest bulb, but I do pay attention. “Whatever it is, Susan can’t help with it.”
“No clue.” Was all that Brian could offer as he slathered mustard on a sausage patty.
“School’s out.” I offered.
“Yeah…” He hesitated. He knew me well.
“What the fuck, why not?” It was his way of committing to an adventure.
I got up from the booth and approached the two ladies. “I couldn’t help but hearing you two talking. What do you need glass and lead for?”
The two looked at me like I had two heads. It was Susan that finally broke the very awkward silence. “Gina repairs stain glass windows.” Her tone was of pride mixed with annoyance. Sort of an implied “you wouldn’t understand her art” attitude.
“Don’t know anything about that.” I said, “But my car is outside and Brian and I are leaving for Mexico when we are finished with breakfast. Want a ride?”
If you ever want to knock two people completely off balance, try that line.
“What, do you think we’re stupid?” Susan snapped. “Do you really think we would go off with two complete strangers?”
I shrugged. “It’s two days to Juarez if we drive straight through. We wouldn’t be strangers for long. Besides, how else are you going to get Gina’s glass?” I looked from one to the other. “Of course you would have to help with the gas.”
Susan’s eyes were wide and she was almost sputtering. But Gina, she was thinking. She was sitting with her back to Brian’s and my booth. She leaned out and around to get a look at him. “Why would you go all the way to Mexico?” she asked.
Almost in unison, Brian and I said: “Never been there before.” I kind of backed up a little to give them some space. Gina leaned in to Susan and they whispered something between them. I turned to Brian with a big grin on my face but straightened out when I turned back.
“Okay, here’s the deal.” Now it was Gina doing the talking. “We are not sluts. We aren’t going to sleep with you. We will ride to Mexico with you and I’ll get my materials. You guys can go see the donkey show for all I care, but you are just our ride. That’s all.”
“No Problem,” I answered. She focused on Brian.
He put his arms up and out a little and nodded. “I’m just gonna help with the driving.”.
“Susan and me aren’t going to just drive off with you guys. Meet us here at noon.”
Brian and I paid our check and raced back to the fraternity house. “You crazy mother-fucker!” He was laughing as he threw some stuff in a bag. “I don’t believe this is happening.”
The next morning we put our bags in the hatchback of my Chevy Vega and headed for the Pancake House. We got there a little after noon and the girls were not there.
“Shit! I knew it was too good to be true.” Brian was way more disappointed than me. I think he had his eye on Susan. “Well, we’re here. Let’s get some lunch.” Just as the waitress took our order, in walked the girls.
“Sorry we’re late.” Susan apologized as she slid into the booth next to me. “How big is your trunk, anyway.”
Gina and Susan ordered a couple of sandwiches and I asked the waitress to box it all up so we could get on the road. Outside was the luggage. I had a backpack and Brian had a laundry sack. They had what was more like steamer trunks and wardrobes. They looked at the car and then at their stuff.
“Where are we going to put everything?” Susan looked heartbroken.
Seeing her in the full light of day I guessed most of her bags had makeup in them.
“How did you get all of this here?” I asked. I thought sure one of their friends must have had a truck.
“We took a cab.”
How they got a cab in Virginia Beach on a Monday morning is beyond me. It took us two trips to get the whole load to the apartment they shared, and about two hours to separate out the necessities.
“This isn’t a vacation. I complained. “Like you said, we are driving to Mexico, getting Gina’s stuff, and coming back. We are not staying at the Ritz.”
It was just after four when we finally headed out. Just in time to hit the traffic at the Bridge Tunnel from Norfolk to Hampton. An hour later we were rolling through Williamsburg on Interstate 64 on our way to pick up 81 west of Charlottesville. The Vega had four bucket seats and a hatchback. The rear seats could fold down to make a relatively flat space in the back. We tried several configurations; me driving with Susan in shotgun, Brian, and Gina in back, Brian driving with Gina and Susan in back. You get the idea. It was not a comfortable car for a long ride with four fully grown adults. And both Brian and I somewhat exceeded the “fully grown” thing. I don’t remember exactly which one of us suggested we put the back seats down and make a bed out of the back. The new configuration was Brian and Gina stretched out in back and Susan and I up front. Except for the giggling and whispering from the back, Susan and I rotated driving duties in relative silence.
In Knoxville, we stopped for breakfast. After cleaning up, filling up, and stretching for about an hour we switched seating arrangements. Susan and I stretched out in the back and Brian and Gina sat up front. Believe me, there was no giggling or whispering from the “Ice Princess”, just an occasional poke if I happened to touch her with my foot or my arm. I slept pretty well though, and before I knew it we were rolling into Memphis. We filled up on BBQ and switched back with me driving. It went this way, switching places about every 7 or 8 hours and three of us taking turns driving. Susan drove once and by unanimous vote, she was a passenger only for the rest of the trip.
We made pretty good time. There was a lot of construction and the roads went from well-maintained interstate to scenic state roads. We stopped a lot and spent a little time on side trips. We finally pulled up at the border station between El Paso and Juarez at about 3 o’clock Wednesday afternoon. Just over the Mexican side, we stopped at a cantina for some beer and burritos. Gina was insisting that she and Susan would go off and get her materials and we could do what we wanted. “We can meet back at this place tonight at about 8.” She was firm.
I was seriously concerned. “I don’t know about that. How are you going to get around? Do either of you speak Spanish? This place could be dangerous.”
Brian suggested that Gina and I take the car and get the lead and glass, and he and Susan would see the sights. We would still meet back at 8. He was nervous too about two Gringo girls on their own in Juarez. I think he had other motives as well, but Gina finally relented and she and I went off to find the glass man.
She had called long distance from her apartment before we left the Beach and had arranged for her stuff and had directions. The place was an actual factory out of town on a dirt road. Gina bought her merchandise. We packed it in the back and headed into town. The whole thing took about a half hour including the drive out and back. I can’t buy stuff that fast in Virginia Beach. Gina was one organized and efficient young lady.
Of course, Brian and Susan were not at the cantina when we got there. I had figured it would take us at least two hours.
“Well, let’s see the town while we’re here.” I offered.
Surprisingly she shrugged and got up. “Sure.”
We wandered about the town. It looked like it had about two blocks of touristy stuff, a lot of car repair shops, and a lot of bars. Gina picked up a couple of trinkets and a serape in one of the shops. My eye was captured by a shop advertising Tequila for 25 cents a quart. I began doing math in my head. I could sell a quart of Tequilla back home for 5 or 6 bucks, easy, especially with the story of my picking it up in Juarez.
“How much money you got, Gina?”
“Oh! No! If you want to be stupid you go right ahead. But I’m not going to help. It sounds way too good to be true. Probably Mexican moonshine. You’ll go blind or die from the stuff.”
I was not deterred. When we got back to the cantina Brian and Susan were there. Her hair was clean and combed. She was dressed differently. And her makeup was fixed.
“Did you two get a room?” Gina was annoyed. I thought she was going to make some kind of moralistic comment but she asked “Did you get it for the whole night” Does it have a shower?”
Susan and Gina went off to the room while Brian and I struck out for the Tequila shop.
“25 cents a quart! Man! This is going to be great.” Between us, we had about 100 dollars plus what we expected we would need to get back. The girls had kept their word and paid for their share of the gas on the way down and we figured they would on the way back too.
We couldn’t fit $200 worth of 25 cent tequila in the Vega and still have room for the four of us. We both figured that we could throw away our dirty clothes and ride back in one set of clean to get some extra room, but neither one of us was going to suggest that to the girls. We bought the Tequila a few bottles at a time and stuffed them everywhere we could; in the spare tire compartment, under the front seats, under the back seats. We wrapped bottles in blankets we bought from the souvenir shop figuring they would be soft enough for pillows. All together we managed to cram about 70 bottles of Tequila into that Vega. We went off to the hotel room very satisfied that we had just made our fortune. It had cost us less than 20 dollars and we would make at least a couple hundred when we got back. Both girls fell on the floor, laughing hysterically when we told them.
“You guys are nuts.”
The girls wanted to stay in the room and sleep in a real bed. We would have loved to, but apparently, they had already decided this would be done in shifts. Brian and I went out to experience the Juarez nightlife. We did and saw everything. By the time we staggered back to the room we were ready for showers and a couple of hours sleep. We had spent more than we wanted to, but we figured we still had enough to get home and then the whole trip would be paid for when we sold the tequila. We both slept like babies…on the floor.
The next morning we packed up the car and had a little breakfast in the cantina. By about 10 we were headed to the border station to get back into the USA. It had been a great trip, a real adventure. Even the girls were happy. We pulled up to the border and the guard asked to see our drivers licenses.
“Anything to declare?” He asked.
“What do you mean, declare?” I responded.
“Did you buy anything in Juarez while you were here?”
“You bet we did. This town is great! We scored about 70 quarts of Tequila at that shop by the cantina.”
“Yes, we heard about that. The shopkeeper is a friend of mine and he is very happy with the sale. He says you have 71 quarts. Is that correct?”
“Yes, sir, that’s about right.” Brian and I were smiling at each other and the girls were hiding their heads.
“My friend says that the tequila is worth $9.00 a quart in the US.” I was getting more excited by the moment. That means we would make almost $700.
“There is a limit of 3 bottles no charge. For the next 5 bottles, there is a 3% duty and a $2.00 per bottle tax. For the rest, there is a $5.00 per bottle fine. That comes to $1.35 in duty, $10.00 in taxes, and a fine of $315.00. Cash only, please. We cannot take out of country checks.”
“Holy Shit! We haven’t got that kind of money! What do you mean? What’s duty? Fine? What fine?” I was in full panic mode.
“Pull around here.” He said pointing to a U-turn space. “You cannot take the liquor out of the country without paying the fees and fines.”
I drove where he pointed and parked near the trailer the guards used to check in for duty. No-one came out of the trailer to talk to us. When Brian went in to find out what was going on, they told him that what tourists did with tequila wasn’t their business. We just couldn’t take it out of the country.
We drove to the bodega where we bought the Tequila in the first place to see if he would take it back. He said he couldn’t buy liquor from anyone without a license to sell it. He did offer to take it off our hands though. No Charge. We drove back to the trailer and parked.
To this day I do not believe I have ever seen two women angrier.
“What are we going to do now, genius?” Susan nearly spit. “Just give it back and let’s get out of here.”
Gina was a little more creative. “Just give me the keys. Susan and I will drive back to Virginia and you two morons can stay here and drink Tequilla for a week.”
Brian thought that was the start of a good idea. “No!No! Let’s drink it.”
“There’s 70 quarts of tequila there. What do you mean drink it? Nobody can drink that much tequila and live!” Both girls were shouting at the top of their voices. I just shrugged, reached into the car and took out a bottle. I pulled the cork out and took a swallow.
“It’s pretty good tequila.” I managed through the coughing. I handed the bottle to Brian.
Susan stomped off, nearly shouting over her shoulder.
“I’m not going to stand in the street drinking tequila from a bottle you guys are passing around.”
Gina shook her head when Brian offered the bottle so he passed it to me. I took another pull, wiped the lip and passed it back to Brian. About five minutes later Susan returned with a sleeve of paper cups she had bought from the Cantina bartender. She held out one cup and I filled it. It wasn’t long before Gina got a cup.
We all knew we couldn’t drink all that tequila, but I was not going to just leave it behind without even a buzz. We popped the hatchback open and the two girls were sitting with their legs dangling while Brian and I sat on some boxes we had found. I was determined to drink as much of that tequila as I could before we had to leave it behind in Mexico.
A guard reporting for duty stopped to ask us what we were doing and when we told him the story he nearly passed out from laughing.
“Crazy Gringos,” he said, entering the trailer.
It wasn’t long before the guard who had kept us from leaving the country came to check out. He went into the trailer and about five minutes later came over to us.
“I’m off duty, now. How about a drink?”
“What the hell,” I said, filling a cup for him.
Soon our little group began to grow. Guards getting off duty were joined by their wives and girlfriends. The bartender at the Cantina got off work and brought more cups. I don’t know where the orange juice came from, but soon there were about 20 people chatting at us in Spanish and drinking our tequila. Things get a little fuzzy, but it must have been about 2 AM when the musicians showed up. I remember counting eight empties before I climbed past Susan and into the back of the Vega.
When I woke up, cotton-mouthed and throbbing, it was just beginning to get light. I stumbled behind the trailer and emptied myself. I could tell I wasn’t the first who couldn’t keep the tequila down. Squinting and holding my hand over my eyes I walked back to the car. Susan was coming out of the guard trailer looking like she hadn’t had a thing to drink. And I know she had been an active participant at least until I passed out.
“You know there’s a bathroom, and a shower in the trailer” God, she was insufferable.
The musicians were gone but there were still about six or eight people drinking and smoking around the car. I could count eighteen empty bottles and watched a very old woman reach behind the front seat and get another out. Brian and Gina were nowhere to be seen.
“Gracias,” I said as I took a cup of tequila and orange juice from the old lady. She just grinned at me. I walked to the Cantina which was just opening and got a plate of beans and a fried egg. I got a Coke and walked back to the car. By this time several new people had arrived. It appeared that the town had heard that some idiot Americanos were throwing a party and the next shift was showing up.
The best I can figure it we drank an average of just under two quarts of tequila every hour until late Saturday morning. All four of us were filthy. Our hangovers were the stuff of legend. But we got into the car and drove out of Mexico. As we approached the border crossing, people were waving at us.
All of the guards were laughing at us but they waved us through. I bet they still tell their grandchildren about the tequila party the dumb Gringos threw for the town.
We stopped at a little motel in El Paso not five minutes from the border. Susan and Gina told us to take showers and they went to pick up something to wear. Brian had one of the bed sheets wrapped around him and I was still in the shower when the girls came back. The bathroom door opened and a pair of khaki pants came flying in.
“It’s our turn in there. Get your butt out.” Of course, it was Gina. But it sounded like she was smiling.
This time the four of us slept in the same bed. Fully clothed and immobile with exhaustion, we slept.
The trip back was much more pleasant than the trip down. We still wouldn’t let Susan drive, but at least there were giggles from the back when Brian and Gina were up front. Susan turned out to be a nearly normal person. At least she was as normal as someone could be who would pick up and drive to Mexico with perfect strangers. Whenever I drink tequila, or see a stained glass window, I find myself thinking of her, of Juarez, and the three day Mexican block party.