20 October 2008

2008 PanAm: Hello from Puebla

We are currently in Puebla headed today for the start at Tuxtla Gutierrez. All has gone well on the trip which is fantastic since we now number 10 people, 3 trucks, 3 trailers and 3 race cars. Jon, Martin, Fernando and I all flew into Dallas on Thursday evening and we left the Honeycomb Hideout on Friday morning, after waiting for UPS to deliver a driveshaft for the Falcon. The plan was to get some work done in the morning, receive the shipment at 10am and hit the road. But we had a lot of work to do and the UPS man didn't arrive until 12:30pm so our planned lunch at my parents' house turned into an early happy hour.

We cruised about 150 miles to my parents' house in Georgetown where we regretted we could not stay longer for the fabulous party they put on for us! A grand feast was laid out and their friends Kathy Scott, Frank and Jane, as well as my aunt and uncle Kathy and Jack were there. We celebrated my stepdad's birthday the following day, and mechanic Dave Fuss's birthday the day prior. Dave had given Todd a hard time because he didn't get him a birthday present so my mom served homemade pumpkin pie with "69" and "54" in whipped cream for the two birthday boys. Dave got a kiss on the cheek from Kathy Scott and said later it was his first race picture with a hottie. We gave Spinoli (my stepdad) and Currie Racing Rear Ends tshirt to go with the La Carrera hat I gave him a few weeks ago. We were trying to convince them to drive the 5 hours down to the border at Laredo, TX to watch us finish. Frank seemed to think it was a fabulous idea so we will see if they show up! Todd's parents like to come to the finish and they stay at a hotel on the Mexico side literally on the border. They say they like to watch the action - people illegally crossing the border right before their eyes!

It was fantastic to make the stop in Georgetown, TX and have my parents and their friends be a part of this journey, but it was really sad to have to leave so soon! A heartfelt thanks to all my Georgetown homies - you are fabulous!!!! And Jane - the homemade chocolate chip cookies have been the highlight of the trip - all the boys thank you!

In San Antonio Todd was on the phone to David Kee, maker of the legendary 4-speed toploaders. Todd desperately needed some parts and David, understanding our time crunch, sent his man out to the highway to meet us with the parts! That's what I call service. Thank you David and crew! http://www.4speedtoploaders.com/

We made the border at Laredo around midnight and after a mere 2-1/2 hours of standing in line, the paperwork and titles for all of the vehicles were cleared. Our clerk, Rolando was extra smiley but also extra slow. He seemed to have several jobs in addition to his title duties. His cute chica coworkers would come by and stand really close and ask him for change, which was fine but 15 minutes of paperwork ended up taking him over an hour. But I am now the proud owner of a 1964 Ford Falcon race car. You are only allowed to bring 1 vehicle across the border so Todd has to sign over the rest of the vehicles to people in the crew. I begged for the title to Richard's '65 Fastback but that went to Martin. Booo. I wanted to hold the title so I could tease Richard about owning it during the race.

When we were just about done processing titles for 3 trucks, 3 trailers and 3 racecars we were all standing in a circle, exhausted and our brains in neutral. And then Martin broke the silence by saying very somberly, "Remember this moment. Caja 11."
We all burst into laughter. We had been standing at "Caja 11" (window 11) for over an hour......and Martin wanted us to remember it. Martin and Jon are rookies so it is nice to see that they are already embracing the adventure and all the craziness that goes along with this race.

Once past the border with papers and window stickers in hand we drove west about 3 miles to find a hotel. The Hilton Garden Inn had 3 rooms for us at 3am but unfortunately a tour bus had come in earlier and taken all the rooms with two beds. Todd and I checked in but the Silverado and the Gypsy Wind were nowhere to be found. Moments earlier they were right behind us - it is amazing how quickly you can lose each other when traveling in a caravan. We waited about 10 minutes, tried Dave on his cell phone but now that we were in Mexico it wasn't working. Todd decided to walk down the street to look for them and left me in the truck in the parking lot.

There was a hotel security guard in the parking lot keeping an eye on me and the neighborhood wasn't too bad as far as Nuevo Laredo goes.......but I was a little worried bout Todd......a gringo walking down the street at 330am. He was gone about 10 minutes and thankfully I heard the Gypsy Wind pull up. They had hit their first vibradores (those multiple little speed bumps) and jostled the bowl on the carb or something like that and stalled. Dave got it going again, it just took them a few minutes.

Our heads hit the pillow at our hotel in Nuevo Laredo at 4am which made for a short night. Sunday was a long next day to Zacatecas, around 400 miles which is similiar to doing about 600 miles in the US, plus the fact that we were a caravan of trucks and trailers. Just outside of Monterrey we saw up ahead that the Gypsy Wind and Dave and Fernando in the truck were pulled over. So we pulled ahead of them and waited in the car. A truck was parked next to Dave and he had a loose front bumper so we wondered if Dave had nicked the guy's bumper.

Soon a guy came up to Todd's window and spoke rapidly and not very friendly in Spanish. Todd said he didn't speak Spanish and I offered to show him our vehicle paperwork but he shook his head. He had 5 flip cell phones in his hand and every so often he would jabber into one of them. Todd walked with him back to his truck - Todd said he wanted to see if the guy was really law enforcement. It is really hard to tell sometimes in Mexico. Todd said there was computer equipment in the truck. We opened the trailer for him and he looked in at the Falcon and said "Refrescos" in a stern voice and I said, "Cerveza?" We had no idea what he wanted......I thought he wanted something to drink and then he made a gesture with his hand and said in an exasperated voice, "DINERO." Todd and I both shook our heads and said, "No entiendo" which means, "I don't understand."

Just then a uniformed policeman walked up and he did want to see the papers and he wanted to look in the trailer and in the toolbox in the back of the truck and then he was satisfied. It is good to play dumb sometimes but also kind of scary. We got back on the road and later when we asked the other guys, they had not been harassed like we had. Fernando said the first guys were looking for big money and we were lucky to get away like we did.

After about 11 hours of driving we arrived at the outskirts of Zacatecas where Geezer was waiting on the side of the road. It was starting to get dark so we got there just in time to see him. He led us into town and in the parking lot of the Don Miguel hotel we had a happy reunion with Geezer and Rene. Later Todd, Geezer, Rene and I picked up Geezer's friend Heloisa and her 6 year old son, Uriel and we all went to dinner. It was late and we were starving and not even the tequila could cure my exhaustion. Uriel flipped a peso coin as a game about a hundred times before our food arrived and I am sure I will never forget that aguila is the eagle side and cello is heads. Todd and I bunked at Geezer's with the dogs, Malva and Cinder, and the rest of the crew spent the night at the Don Miguel. Even though we are only on night 3 of the trip, it sure is nice to stay at Geezer's house, a home away from home.

Uriel and Kristin
Heloisa and her son, Uriel
Geezer showing off his Halloween wig to Todd in Zacatecas

Monday morning the entire crew got on the road about 1030am. We are now:

Todd & Kristin
Jon & Martin - rookies from the UK in the Gypsy Wind
Dave & Fernando - mechanics for Todd
Geezer & Stewie
Rene & Bimbo - driver/mechanic and mechanic for Geezer

Bimbo is a new addition to the TBZ Team. He is a mechanic friend of Rene's and usually helps us out during the race when we are in Zacatecas. I don't know Bimbo's real name but they call him Bimbo because he used to drive the Bimbo Bread truck. I guess in the US he'd be the Wonder Bread Man. He doesn't speak English so I am counting on him to help improve my Spanish.

It was another long haul from Zacatecas to Puebla which included getting through Mexico City but even though we may have made a few wrong turns, we got to Puebla without any mishaps, mechanical troubles or run-ins with the policia! That is a miracle especially because much of the roadways are horrible. I think Jon and Martin were amazed at how brutal the roads were and said they wanted to nut and bolt the entire car when we got to the start. That's a given - we do it every night - because everything loosens on this race!

Rene's dad

The rig ready to go in Geezer's Zacatecas shop

Last year Rene, Geezer and I got lost in Texcoco in the dark and rain and had a police escort for about an hour to get us out of there. I think no matter how many times you try to drive the around the outskirts of Mexico City, it is always a challenge.
Martin in the Gypsy Wind - already in the spirit of things!

Todd at Pemex, where we will be living the next 2 weeks

We arrived in Puebla and just as we were walking up to the hotel lobby, a taxi pulled up and my brother got out. He had flown in from DC - great timing! This is one of my favorite hotels, the Holiday Inn - we stayed here last year on the way down and it is euro-modern and brand new. I got a gigantic room with a view of the two volcanos and it was fabulous. Across the street is the largest VW plant in the world and the campus is miles long.

The 11 of us had a fabulous and rowdy dinner in the hotel restaurant and shared stories and laughs. The journey to the start has been a very long one for the folks like Todd, Geezer and Rene who spend all year building their cars and planning for the race. Just arriving safely at the start is a big deal and a sign of an incredible amount of work - my hats off to them for making it happen for all of us!

We had a room with a view again this year but went to bed in the dark and woke up in the dark so just as we were leaving town the next morning I ran back to the room to take a picture of the amazing volcanos.
The volcanos of Puebla

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