The older I get, the more I realize life is like a Mexican train ride. Specifically, a train ride I took from Nogales to Mazatlán during Spring Break, 1991.
Everyone starts out with high hopes and expectations, clean clothes, and dreams of the amazing adventure ahead. There are new people to meet sitting right across the aisle, and people selling tamales through the windows along the way, and plenty of exciting ways to alter one’s state of mind. But then, about half way there, the novelty wears off, people start passing out, the conductor locks off access to the first-class cars, and the bathrooms overflow and run down the aisle.
When we’re young, the idea of a train ride through a foreign country is intriguing. There is a daring, romantic quality to boarding a train in a station where the signs are not in your native language. There is a feeling of chance; anything could happen. But once we’ve been on board for a while, and read our magazines, and eaten too many tamales, we begin to realize a train ride is just a train ride— in any country. Watching the scenery flash by, we see that everywhere in the world people are simply living their lives to the best of their ability. Working and playing, loving and mating, but life ends in the same way for us all. By the middle of the ride it’s easy to get jaded and turn to the bar car out of boredom, but if you spend too much time in the bar car you can lose track of time and miss the whole ride. Like life, the train will continue to chug along the tracks with, or without, your appreciation.
Meanwhile, everyone has the ability to customize their seat on the train; whether it’s by rigging up a hammock or hanging a blouse as a curtain, and it is a group effort to maintain comfort in the train car. There are those who are eager to help out when the window is stuck open, and those who just sit and complain about the rain coming in. Some of the people you meet are reckless and they climb out of the window and run along the top of the train in the dark, high on psychedelics. Others are more careful, and they caution you to put your bag on the overhead shelf early on, before the bathrooms overflow and run down the aisle. And you never know when the train will stop for the Federales to come on board with their assault rifles, looking for a young man whose whole life was altered the instant he hit another guy over the head with a beer bottle because he took his seat. For him- hiding in one of the overflowing bathrooms- the ride is suddenly in real danger of being over while the rest of us continue on our journey as the train continues on its track.
The key, I’ve learned, is to participate in a positive way. And to still look for intriguing aspects of the trip (even if you’ve spent the last eight hours rocking in your seat, staring at the never-ending desert with a scarf wrapped across your nose and mouth.) Whether that means reenacting The Gambler by playing cards all night with old friends, or sharing your last Reese’s peanut butter cup with someone you just met, it’s all about bringing joy to the ride; for everyone, and especially for yourself. Because all we really have is our story of riding a train through Mexico and the adventures had along the way. Whether it’s a long or short story, a funny, scary, or boring story; it’s all ours, and we get to tell it any way we want…
In the end, as the train nears the station, and we say our goodbyes, we all look back on our trip with both awe and regret. But they say you always regret the things you didn’t do more than the things you did. So, my advice: pack a bag, get on the train, and try everything once- more if it makes you laugh.