The old Land Cruiser, white paint fading and brown with more rust than not, gave up at the junction. The driver pulled into the café across from the sheriff's ranch in the dry dusty desert. He knew they could go no further, a rod had broken or some such and the car would leave them stranded in the desert away from civilization even at that here. He entered the doorless café-home and looked around the empty table-strewn room. There was an attached kitchen and living quarters, all peopleless..
"Hola??" He hollered into small echoes off barren walls. Shuffles from the back of the establishment. A small elderly woman appeared.
"My truck is broken." He said in Spanish. "Is it possible to store it here for a week or two?"
"Momento." The Senora said. She called her husband who directed the younger man to put his car in a protected place inside the rancho's cactus fence.
He moved the chattering truck into the yard and turned the engine off, set the brake. He climbed out of the truck. A woman exited the passenger side, followed by two dogs, one small, one large and longhaired. The driver and the woman gathered some minimum luggage.
"I'll be back in two weeks." He told the older man. "What time does the bus come?"
"Tomorrow at ten in the morning."
The man and woman picked up their baggage, called to the dogs and crossed the deserted roadway. They sat in the dirt just off the pavement. When a car or truck came by, every ten minutes or so, he stood and stuck out his thumb, asking symbolically for a ride. Where? one might ask. The border was 350 miles north and there was little between here and there to capture one's attention. Then a camper pulling a boat pulled up to the junction, crossed into the northbound side of the carreterra and stopped in front of the man with his thumb stuck out. The man walked to the driverside window.
"What's up?" the driver asked.
"Truck threw a rod. My wife and I and our two dogs are headed for an area just north of Los Angeles."
"We're a group of firemen and families from Long Beach. We can take you that far." The driver said.
"Where do you want us?" The group debarked the camper to determine the family's needs and assign positions.
"How 'bout you ride in the boat?" Someone said to the man. "And keep the dogs with you. They invited the woman inside the camper. There was room there for one more. Soon they were driving north. The man and the dogs were sweltering in the open cabin of the boat, but at least they were making progress. They continued for an hour or two and stopped for a break. Everyone asked how the man was doing in the back of the boat. "We're fine." He said.
"Maybe we can find room in the camper." Someone said. And they did.
As the simple desert miles passed they had no other activities except to swap life stories and other simplicities. It turned out the group of families was leaving La Gringa. They gathered every year there with other firemen for camping.
They drove straight through that afternoon evening and early morning of the following day, the firemen and their passengers, from Bahia de Los Angeles to Long Beach. They arrived at 3 in the morning.
"Why don't you borrow our car?" One of them asked. "You can drive home and get yours and bring ours back later". These folks had known the man and woman for 12 hours.
The man took them up on their offer. He drove off with the woman and two dogs with only trust between them and the others. He drove the tired drive to La Crescenta, got his car and dropped off the dogs. The two of them drove in separate vehicles back to Long Beach, where they returned the car and levied heavy thanks on the Long Beach firemen.
Thirty something years later it's a wonderful experience to reflect back on, these saviors of the desert that stopped and took on-board strangers, transported them across deserts and borders knowing nothing about Mary Ann or me, loaning us a car when we could have stolen it never to be seen again and disappeared over a horizon. with no questions asked they helped us unendingly and with their personal attentions to our needs. We were made comfortable at their sacrifice that they made while smiling and with a want-to attitude. While this story includes only gringos, we were all inspired by the people that live along the peninsula we love.
Giving is an essence of life, an aspect we would find it hard to live without. I see it exemplified constantly in Baja California.