0-Dark Thirty

Dawn of the great day. I woke before the alarm, packed my gear and got gone downstairs to catch the bus to Ensenada to board the boat.
With some anxiety. I’d asked the clueless ol’ gal sitting on the Semester at Sea desk in the lobby of the Hilton about the details of the bus to meet the boat in Mexico next morning, to be told that the bus was going Wednesday AM. Not tomorrow.
But my hotel reso was for one night.
Gawd, did we get it wrong? I checked with the inveterate Nancy, my Exec, who assured me that Taylor, Chief of Staff for Unreasonable at Sea, had assured her that the bus went Tuesday. But she’d check.
Course Taylor was nowhere to be found – no doubt managing the thousand and one last minute details or getting this show organized. Several hours later when Nancy’d corralled Taylor word came back: the bus goes tomorrow.
But when at 5:45 in the cold dark of a San Diego alley, with no bus, no fellow passengers , no nothing, the anxiety gnawed. I sat. Big trucks crawled by. As did the minutes.
Lights rounded the corner. A bus. Gonzalez Transit. OK, that’s a start.
The driver climbed out, peering puzzeledly about at one lone cowgirl. He scuttled inside and up the steps of the Hilton. To reemerge and stop in front of me to tentatively inquire, “Donde los otros?”
I shrugged and asked, “Are you with Semester at Sea?”
His confusion matched mine.
Habla Inglis? I asked.
“No,” he apologized, “Speak only little.”
“Me Espanol is muy poquito, “ I agreed, asking, “Usted va Ensenada?”
“Si,” he brightened. “Usted tambien?”
“Si,” I agreed, noticing for the first time the flopped over bit of paper in the window that proclaimed, “SAS: Semester at Sea.”
Well, I’ll be durned, we’re going to Mexico after all.
I introduced myself, shaking Lupe’s hand.
And with that, appeared another passenger, a delightful Brit who introduced herself as Tamsin. She’s a corporate learning partner with Unreasonable at Sea.
“Want some coffee?” I asked her, noting that the Starbucks round the corner had just opened. “Lupe, café?”
By the time we’d returned we were nine. Including Luke Jones, SAS’s Chief of Staff, and the one who made this whole Unreasonable venture possible. And Diane and Jamie. She’d bid at auction to win the right to come on this venture to have supper with Archbishop Desmond Tutu – who’s on the boat to Cape Town.
With a cough and a cloud of diesel we were off.
I sat in front – better view. Deadly if we crash – I remember a bus wreck we worked years ago as an EMT. The driver died – the whole front of the bus demolished.
Which, as we headed north I wondered if I ought to worry about. Lupe was on the phone, barely navigating the big beast through various side streets, then onto I-5 northbound as he chattered urgently on his Nextel.
Uh… isn’t Mexico the other way? Oh, right – we had another hotel to go to. And shortly we were maneuvering through another neighborhood. With Lupe getting increasingly agitated.
“Hun-ter,” he queried finally. “Donde Ham-ton?”
“Que?” I queried.
“Hun-ter, donde Ham-ton?”
Right, I vaguely recalled Nancy or someone telling me at some point that we would make a second pickup at a Hampton Hotel. But, gawd, I’d no idea where to find a bloody Hampton Inn in North San Diego.
“Uhhhh,” I stalled.
Ahh – GPS. iPhone to the rescue.
There ensued quite the negotiation of gated communities and startled yuppies in BMW’s to get that bus turned round, and Luke calming the stranded folk at the Inn by phone, but shortly we’d added the SAS faculty to our merry crew and were rolling south.
“Si, Lupe?”
He eventually cobbled out, and/or I cobbled together that we had to hit the border right at 7:30. He had a friend who would grease the crossing. We’d not have to get off the bus, present passports, do the Mexican immigration thing. If we got the timing right.
“Bien…?” I fished.
We were too early. Would it be OK if we got off the highway for a bit?
Sure, Lupe…. You do whatever.
So we toured a mega-mall attached to the last exit before the border while I described the video Epic2020 to Mike Zoll, the head of SAS in from University of Virginia. He runs the whole program, and will be on the ship to Hawaii to get it off to a good start. He’d been describing how the program is in a bit of a transition to a new business model – which explains how the heck a stodgy academic program moved at warp speed to agree to have us misfits aboard. Mike had seemed a bit apologetic that his venture was having to be creative. Don’t feel bad, I commiserated, you’re waaay ahead of the game for knowing it. All of education is going to have to reinvent itself. And described the EPIC2020 video that has the whole of academia’s knickers in a wad.
And suddenly we were in a high-walled concrete chicane. With a huge Mexican flag flying over us.
Lupe was good as his word. We remained in “elegant” comfort on our bus while the Federales looked in the luggage compartment and stickered them. Tho the notion of these academics smuggling anything into Mexico that the Federales wouldn’t want imported is piquant. Still petty bureaucrats the world around are unified in their desire to look important. So we waited while dozens of undifferentiated Norte Americano cars whizzed by unmolested.
Lupe remounted his seat and we were rolling. We’re in Mexico. Or at the edge of it. Rather than winding thru Tijuana we sped south on a four-lane highway, squeezed between the poverty of the city and the brutality of the border wall.
I turned from the others and watched the Baja coastline roll by. Some of it stroked memories from decades ago, when we came to Mexico because my father hated the commercialism of Christmas, so retreated the family to a simpler, more authentic celebration of the yule, camping on the beach south of Ensenada. But so much is changed: fancy blue domed, fake Grecian isle architecture with the ads in English. This ain’t Mexico, it’s Orange County South. Further south old men lolled in the sun before a cantina, mangy dogs drifted the peripheries, and spectacular cliffs and sea fogs wreathing the headlands.
No banditos. Various folk, hearing I’d be taking a bus to Mexico, warned that it’d be the scary part. Mebbe the bad guys were all asleep, Mebbe Lupe’s friends cleared the way, but our bus made it wholly safely to Ensenada – where lapped at anchor a massive ship. The Explorer.
The Semester at Sea was fixing to start.

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