I was going to make my next piece about squatting in this abandoned office building in Germany with a bunch of radical artists in protest of the city’s lack of workspaces for creative types, but I’m leaving for Hawaii in about 7 hours and don’t have time to write that one out.
Instead I’ll tell you a shorter, more recent one. I’ll even give you the date it happened: December 22nd, 2012.
It was right after the End of the World. I was enjoying my first day of post-apocalypse by hitchhiking west from the ruins of Chichen Itza, Mexico, where I had celebrated the end at the Temple of Kulkukan, toward the city of Palenque in the federal state of Chiapas.
Outside of Piste, the nearest town to the ruins, I bribe a cop with all the money I have on me (8 pesos) to be able to walk on the toll freeway. Hitching on toll roads is a big no-no in most countries. I feel very cool in this moment. I have never bribed anyone before.
I get rides fairly easy. In Ciudad del Carmen, I’m dropped off near a very long bridge stretching over a bay with a police checkpoint inspecting cars before they’re allowed to cross. I asked one of the officers if I would be permitted to walk across the bridge.
“No, but you can try and hitch a ride.”
I think I’m in love with you, Mexican state of mind.
There are a few other guys waiting by the bridge to hitch a ride. Within minutes we all get picked up by a small truck and cram ourselves into the bed. The truck takes me all the way to Villahermosa.
Beautiful Village? Okay, sure. So I get dropped off in front of a Chedraui hypermarket and realize I don’t know which way the highway that will take me down to Palenque is.
I ask the customer service booth people inside the store and they are not helpful. I go to a bus stop and people point me in the direction I had just hitched from. I walk back that way anyhow, thinking maybe I’ll see signs for a highway.
I find a couple sitting at a table at a convenient store of some sort and decide to ask them directions to get confirmation that I’m heading the right way. I’m not. The guy points me in the opposite direction, says it’ll take me into downtown and I can find the highway from there.
I walk past the Chedraui and a university. It’s now late at night, just a bit before midnight. I see a huge field to my right. There’s a fence but I follow it to an opening, a dirt road that leads down to a row of buildings.
I enter the field and in the darkness can make out huge power lines further out. I’m looking for a nice flat spot away from the street to bed down for the night when I hear the barking.
It’s not that “barking in the distance” writers like to include in their books. This is coming from behind me. I turn around and squint. Across the field a dog and a man are running toward me. I tense up.
My first thought is that I am trespassing and have been caught. That happens sometimes when you don’t have anywhere to sleep in a city. I am used to rude awakenings and threats of calls to the police for resting where people don’t like me doing so.
As the man gets closer I make out the blade in his right hand. It was a machete. The dog gets to me first and keeps barking. I notice its tail wagging so I relax a little.
When the man approaches me he starts yelling at me in Spanish, which I do not speak. I ask if he speaks English and he shakes his head, then he pulls out handcuffs.
Now I knew right away that this guy wasn’t the police, but I think that’s what he’s trying to get me to believe. He sees me as a dumb tourist that can be taken advantage of. The weird thing about this whole encounter is that he seems more scared than I. Maybe he’s new to the game.
So he whips out the handcuffs and shouts at me again and I’m trying to apologize for trespassing. He gestures at my pack and I’m guessing he ordered me to take it off.
Uh… Oh, shit! I get it. He’s mugging me!
I’m missing that thing inherent in most people that injects a healthy dose of fear in them to keep them from doing stupid things. Maybe I had that at one time, but it either died or I killed it.
I switch gears. See, at first I was worried he was going to call the police on me. Now I know that he’s as much alone in this as I am, and he doesn’t know that I’m carrying mace.
My girlfriend had given me the canister of mace shortly before I left for Mexico. I told her I doubted I would need it, but took it because it made her feel better.
I know exactly where it is. Which pocket of my pack it’s in. I formulate a quick plan. I will attempt to talk my way out of this, even though we don’t speak the same languages, and if he threatens me in any way I will tell him I have money in my pack, grab my mace, and give him a face full.
I want to avoid violence if at all possible. I am a firm believer in staying calm. Also I believe I would have no problem killing someone if they attacked me with the intent of stealing everything I own when I am thousands of miles away from anyone or anything I know.
“Por favor, don’t call the policia!” I start pleading. He looks confused. I take a step toward the road. I keep pleading and stepping. He keeps getting more confused. I’m closer to the road now, maybe fifty feet.
He puts out his hand and forcibly stops me. He still hasn’t raised the machete and I don’t acknowledge that it exists. I look at him, not his weapon. I look him in the eyes. He doesn’t like that.
He’s still trying to get me to take the backpack off and I keep pretending like I don’t understand him. He tries another angle, points at my pockets. I show him what I have: a lighter and a pack of rolling papers. He took the papers but not the lighter. Weird, right?
I keep talking, I never stop talking. He doesn’t know what I’m saying but he understands me. I am not a rich tourist, I am something different. He starts to let me go.
I make the road, I turn around and walk away. I don’t run, I walk. He doesn’t follow me.
In nearly fours years of travels, I have never once been in what I would call a dangerous situation. You might say that this or other experiences I’ve had were, but I’ve never gotten that instinctual message from my gut warning me “You’re going to die!”.
Or maybe I have, maybe I’ve learned to ignore it. I couldn’t possibly be that stupid, could I?
J.W. Wargo is a Nomadic Bizarro Storyteller originally from Boise, Idaho. His travels have taken him from Budapest to Honolulu and all points in between. He has a Bizarro fiction novella out called Avoiding Mortimer.