More than a few people have asked me to tell this story, so I decided to finally tell it. There is no moral. There isn’t even much of a conclusion. There is no real reason for any of the events that took place. In other words, sometimes… shit just happens.
My tooth had been bothering me for a while. By the time I finally got around to seeing a dentist about it, the old cavity in my second right molar had progressed far enough to deem a root canal necessary. I’d had the cavity filled years ago, but sometimes (so I learned) they just don’t take. The reality was expensive. A root canal and crown would cost over $2000 in America – well beyond the financial limits of a semi-unemployed nomad. The solution was clear – I’d have to head south.
Every developed country has its undeveloped counterpart where goods and services can be acquired at cut-rate prices. Whether you’re looking for a bargain on guns, prostitutes, or dental work – there is always somewhere that has it cheaper. In America, that fabled somewhere is almost always Mexico. In my case, that somewhere was specifically Tijuana where there has long been a bustling trade in Dental Tourism.
The plan was simple: I’d cruise down to LA to hang out with the old So Cal crew, then catch up with some friends in San Diego before dipping south of the border for a quick dental fix. I’d found a reputable clinic that deals regularly with adventurous Dental Tourists looking for a cheap fix south of the border – they had good reviews, an English-speaking secretary, and the price was about $1500 less than what I would pay in the US. It all sounded great, easy, perfect – too good to be true, said many a naysayer. Now, I already know what you’re thinking and you’re wrong. You desperately want this story to end with a hilariously botched operation by an incompetent dental surgeon, culminating in a big fat “I told you so”. But that’s not the way it went.
The real story is an endless stream of failures, cultivated mostly by my own ineptitude. To begin with, I couldn’t make the trip south because my car broke down, just as the plan for the trip was being hatched. This delayed things for a considerable amount of time as I searched for a new means of transportation. Luckily, Dan offered me the use of an old truck he had, but it needed some work to get it running. After a new battery, a couple of tweaks, and a bit of paperwork, we were back in business. I planned to leave the next morning.
I drove home to pack, but half way through The Canyon, the steering wheel jerked sharply to the right towards a rocky ravine. Reacting quickly, I checked the lanes and pulled hard on the wheel, crossing a lane of oncoming traffic and pulling into the a muddy driveway to inspect the problem. I hopped out of the car and quickly discovered that I had blown a tire. I also quickly discovered that I had a jack, but no wrench to remove the lugs. I also had a flat spare, as well as another tire from another car, but I didn’t know if the rim would fit. It was just past midnight, and I was lucky to be able to get a hold of Chelsea, who came to my rescue with a wrench. Unfortunately, my random tire didn’t fit, so I settled for a ride home, leaving the car on the side of the road.
The next morning, I called Claire, who gave me a ride to the truck, then to the tire shop, and back again. $75 and a bit of elbow grease later, I was back in business and on the road to LA. About half way through the trip, the truck was running rough, and I could tell there was something wrong. Just as the gas gauge dipped below an eighth of a tank, the truck died and I pulled it over to the side of the road. I called Dan for advice, and he thought it might be the distributor cap. The gas gauge was low enough that I thought it might have run dry, especially since the truck hadn’t been driven in a couple of years. Opting for the easy fix, I decided to hitchhike to a gas station. My first ride was from a burly truck driver. I grabbed the handhold and hoisted myself into the passenger seat of his rig. On the twenty mile journey to the nearest gas station, this bearded hulk of a man regaled me with stories of his days working as an Ice Trucker along the Alaska Pipeline in his youth. All the while, a fat, yellow and black bumble bee clung to the bright blue fabric of his t-shirt, like a parrot on the shoulder of a pirate. I was somehow too enthralled with the whole scenario to tell him about the hitchhiking insect. Plus, he seemed just crazy enough to lose control of his rig while spastically trying to rid himself of the offending bee. I decided it was better to keep quiet.
He dropped me at gas station in Coalinga, where I bought and filled a two gallon can. I quickly caught a ride back to the truck from a young man from San Jose who had been working in Los Angeles, contracted to install security systems by a larger security company. He was a bit leery of me at first, but soon became friendly, after admitting that he was pretty high and just wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to rob him. The cab of his truck smelled faintly of Marijuana, and the short ride was passed with too-loud hip hop music, and friendly, shouted conversation.
Back at the truck, I gassed up, and she started running straight away, but was still running rough. I topped off the tank in Coalinga and drove the rest of the way to Los Angeles in constant fear of a breakdown. Dan had been right about the distributor cap, and it would later become a problem but I made it to LA without any more trouble.
The next night, I convinced some friends to join me at Molly Malone’s, an old favorite pub just around the corner from Johnny’s house. The bartenders greeted me with handshakes and cheek-kisses (I was a regular there for years), and I ordered a Guinness and headed to the back room to check out the band. The girl on stage was sexy and self-assured, crooning out bluesy classics with the confidence of a much older woman. At the end of the show, I introduced myself and congratulated her on an excellent set. Her cover of Martin Sexton’s Can’t Stop Thinking ’bout You had reminded me of a very talented ex lover, Taylor Greenwood, who used to cover the same song on the same stage, so many years ago. Of course, I was biased towards young miss Greenwood’s interpretation of the song, and I made no secret of this fact. “A great tune, none the less,” we both agreed. At this point, the singer introduced me to her old friend Leo – a jovial, dreadlocked young man who I happily chatted with once she excused herself from the conversation. Leo and I hit it off. He was fun and I introduced him to all my other friends.
Burdick showed up just before last call with a car full of booze, and we all agreed to head back to Johnny’s house for an epic after party – Leo included. We cranked the music, cracked a couple bottles of various spirits, and raged until the sun came up.
Johnny living room has three couches. In my drunken haze, I vaguely remember tearing through my backpack to find my sweatpants and then passing out on one of the couches. Aliya was on the second couch, and Leo was on the third. The next morning Leo was gone, and it took an entire day to realize what had happened.
Rewind to before I even left for Los Angeles: I had the cash for the root canal, but I didn’t want to carry it around in my wallet while I was partying in LA. I came up with the ingenious plan of hiding the cash inside of a book, and hiding the book in an inner compartment of my backpack. Somehow in my awesomely drunken state, I had hurled the book from my backpack while searching for those goddamn sweatpants. Along with my jacket, my headlamp, and various other things from my backpack the book now lay on the couch where Leo had slept. I flipped endlessly through the pages to no avail. I cleaned the entire house, suspecting that perhaps in my semi-blacked-out state, I actually hid the money. But it was nowhere to be found.
The only possible conclusion is that Leo stole my money. This is especially sad because we all really liked Leo. But he disappeared and was never heard from again. And I searched the entire house for that money, and it’s just not there. Needless to say, I never made it to Mexico, and my tooth has yet to be fixed. I drowned my sorrows with a three-day bender in San Diego, and a crazy overnighter in Las Vegas before heading back home with my tail between my legs, completely broke, and still with a bum tooth and mouth full of pain killers and bourbon.
Sometimes… shit just happens.