Friday, June 6, 2014. 9 p.m.
So, burnt crispy critter that I am, I’m grateful to get away from the other media guys who are still drinking liquor they’ve transferred to water bottles to bring in past building security. Truth be told, the ra-ra stuff coming from the ever-enthusiastic Roger Norman and his Score apostles is pretty anodyne, but you’ve got to keep the corporate machine running in between national anthems and tunes from both the U.S. Coast Guard and the Mexican navy band.
Anyway, we leave and it’s me along with Jaime and José Manuel, who are independent bike guys from Mexicali and feeling very edgy and nervous about the race early tomorrow morning. The music at the Monster Energy party outside the convention hall is so loud that I can feel my interior organs vibrate and the fillings in my teeth along with the metatarsal bones in my right foot at the points where they broke and healed decades ago. Nobody here needs a reminder of their age. The skull-punching trebly bass will do that for you.
The food is free: Tacos al pastor, papa fritos con queso, nachos and pizza washed down with as much Coors Lite and Monster energy drink as you want. The thing is, us employees—driver crews, volunteers, drivers, media, etc.—are boxed into the gardens by tens of thousands of locals and tourists. If you want to eat free you’ve got to jostle and push. The Americans around us are larger and fatter and the nacho cheese has some kind of chemical in it which makes the stuff glow in the dark. Makes you want to run.
We try talking to each other, but it’s impossible. “Let’s get the fuck out of here,” I say.
‘¡Ya era hora!’ My bwoys from Mexicali say.
So the three of us make a wedge and push our way out of Gringolandia through the gate into the streets of Ensenada. It takes us about twenty minutes to slither this way and that through packed streets toward base camp at the Villa Marina Hotel. The vendors have set up outside the hotel by now and we buy two dozen fish tacos to share from a deep-brown indio whose mother sits next to him and stares at the world like the witch in Drag Me to Hell.
We make ourselves some room on the wall kiddie-corner from Baja Nikki’s truck, José-Manuel limps as he moves around before finally locating his cooler and we sit their sucking down icy-cold Bohemia beer while wolfing down delicious fish tacos coated in a garlic mayonnaise with roasted cebollos and salsa verdé. The soundtrack is Brad Paisley, but it’s positively whispered by comparison to the blast of Iron Maiden and Daft Punk at the Cultural Center.
The same guy that was sat next to me at breakfast, one of Brandon Sims’ crew, maybe, takes a seat Indian-style next to me on the gravel with a bottle of Heradura tequila and a 36-ounce-can of Tecaté parked in the small space he has made between his thighs.
“Yo, Steve!” he says. Right now everyone is calling me Steve.
“Hey!” I say.
He replies, but I can’t hear him. Right now, I’m thinking, if you stabbed the guy, his stigmata would ooze clear tequila. My two friends smoke cigarettes and look sad.
José Manuel is very fidgety. “You worried about tomorrow?” It’s a stupid question, I’m good at that.
“I always worry about the unknown.” He takes off his cowboy hat as if looking for something, sucks down a lung full of smoke. “Anything can, you know, happen.”
I point at his knee. I can see there’s some kind of bandage or elastic under his jeans. “How did you hurt yourself?”
He laughs. “This leg? I’ve broken my knee. I’ve broken my chin.” He means shin. “… And I fucked up my elbow, all in one crash and they had to cut away the skin on my whole left side.” He discusses it in Spanish with Jaime.
“They put him in, like, a coma because his head got hit on the dirt going at, like 140 m.p.h.”
Just then Baja Nikki, the energy queen zips in and out of view. Quick ooh-la-la twirl, thumbs-up and a peace sign before she’s been and gone.
I think of pain. I think of my anatomy class. The humerus, a single bone in your upper arm, running from your shoulder to your elbow. The median, radius and ulna bones of your forearm, run from the elbow to the wrist as ligaments, muscles, and tendons maintain your elbow’s stability and allow joint movement. Motorcycle riders who have road accidents may be wearing protective clothing, but they get friction burns.
“Over the years I’ve broken by tib, fib and femur. Dislocated my elbow. Dislocated my knee.” I wince for him. “Had so much knee surgery, I got but one ligament all patched up in my left knee. The right is so fucked up I’m just gonna get me a new one.”
“Luckily, see. Surgery is cheap in Me-hee-ko,” Jaime laughs and I can see when he walks to throw a beer into the trash that his leg is sort of crooked. “My knees are kind of okay, although the left one is kind of deformed. “The usual straight line of your leg will be crooked.”
José Manuel lights another cigarette, goes off to his truck and comes back with a very fancy bottle of 50-year-old tequila. “¡Vamos al grano!” he says. Let’s get real!
We take a swig each. They look at their watches and tell me their wives will be in church now, praying to St Christopher.
We each take a swig and they make me say it with them. “¡San Cristóbal proteger nuestros testículos de fuerza contundente lesiones!“ May St. Christopher protect our cojönés from blunt-force damage.
“And no ruptures, fractures or contusions,” I say, pointing down there. “God save your epididymitis and scrotums.”