Another post in a series of the experiences from Baja written by John Thawley. Read about some of John’s exploits on Dean’s Garage. John died on July 14, 2009. Published by permission from John Thawley, Jr.


El Matador

Telling a “getting lost” story in La Paz at the end of the first race wouldn’t even get you a cold beer, much less a margarita. In interviewing Andy, “The Bullfighter”, DeVercelly, he allowed as to how he had a devil of a time figuring out how to get across the wash leading into El Arco. I opined I had no problem getting into El Arco but couldn’t figure out to get out of the village. It was two in the morning and dark as the inside of a cow. Andy said it was good we weren’t riding together—else we might still be there.

If a “getting lost” story wouldn’t get you a cold beer at the end of a race, then “killing a bull” might get you some attention. Here goes. Long before becoming a minor celebrity as a bull fighter, Andy had problems in the race. Like flats. He didn’t have a spare (not uncommon), but he did several tubes and a double handful of patches. Somewhere around San Quintin, before it was too late, Andy discovered the road was covered with nails. Fifteen patches later, the flat problem was solved. Later down the course, the generator ingested a roll of paper towels that had been tucked in between the seats. VW generators are intolerant of that sort of treatment and responded by giving up. Now the engine and the lights were being operated solely by the battery. In an effort to stay in the hunt, the wires to all but one of the lights were cut. With little light and bone tired, DeVercelly ever saw the bull until it was too late.

Andy figures the buggy was running about 60 mph when the animal was hit in a hind quarter. The car spun and the tires went flat. Andy was knocked unconscious. Gringo friends came by, got things squared away and the run to La Paz continued. After checking into La Perla, Andy took a shower and by that time was in so much pain he couldn’t dry off. He simply crawled into bed and endured the pain until a clinic opened the next morning. He was later flown to San Diego for further treatment which included a steel pin through the neck and a head support halo.

Even with all the problems, the entry still placed 4th in class in 44 hours. Co-driver Tom McClelland was never touched by the bull.


A Flat Tire and Sleeping on the Kitchen Table

For close to 40 years I had heard the story along the lines that either Bud or Dave Ekins on a run down the peninsula had stomped into a Mexican shack one night, swept everything off the kitchen table, crawled up and went to sleep while the poor Mexican family cowered in the corner. Pretty dramatic story. Not true. In doing research for this book I had a chance to nail Dave Ekins’ sneakers to the floor long enough to clear up any number of items from a long time ago. One of them being the “kitchen table” story.

Dave laughed. He’d heard the story, too. The truth was there were four bikers running together—the Ekins brothers, friend Eddie Mulder, and movie director Cliff Coleman. Dave had a flat, and in thee occupants and asked if they had a place he could sleep. The kitchen table was cleared and Coleman crawled up and went to sleep—leathers and all.

About the time the errant biker as getting back in the saddle, his buddies were sitting down to a meal in La Paz. Bud Ekins said Cliff would eventually show up with handlebars twisted and the headlight pointing up into the trees. Bud was dead right; Coleman showed up 4 hours and 48 minutes after the Ekins and Eddie Mulder checked in. When telling the “straight story” of sleeping on the kitchen table, Dave made a point of saying Cliff Coleman was a real director—and not one “cut out of felt.”


Jailhouse Rock

As you might expect, La Paz was a pretty crazy place as the crippled vehicles began arriving. Several sported flat tires and twisted rims. Body panels were missing or caved in. All were covered by silt and in some cases caked by mud from forays onto a beach. The drivers were bleary eyed, slack jawed, exhausted, and filthy. Before they could clear their vehicle they were jostled and plied with beer and/or margaritas. Most had been awake for more than 50 hours. Some had trouble standing. Much of the activity centered around the La Perla Hotel. This was the center of town with an outside restaurant and bar. The locals had no idea they were seeing racing history being made. They were happy; but confused and assumed it was a good time to blow vehicle horns. Not that Mexicans ever needed an excuse.

At some point Ed Pearlman was located and informed that two Americans were in jail. Turns out they were not racers, but they had collided with a biker who was. The biker wasn’t hurt, but the police installed the buggy occupants in jail, figuring they were interfering with the race. Pearlman and the biker went to the jail—pled their case for the men, and got them out of jail. So much for promoting races, and so much for surprise  logistical situations.


Latrine Seating for Two on a DC-6

Among other logistical problems to be solved by NORRA for the Inaugural Mexican 1000 was transporting 20 volunteer workers from Ensenada to La Paz.The workers had to leave after the last entrant left Ensenada and arrive in La Paz to greet the first finisher. Ed Pearlman found a DC-6 for a round trip charter. The 60-seat aircraft was owned and piloted by a Capitan Cervantes—complete with uniform and mustache.

Pearlman chartered the plane and began selling tickets for the 40 seats he could not use. As passengers made their way to the Ensenada airport where they were greeted by the El Piloto and a lavish buffet complete with mounds of boiled shrimp and an endless supply of margaritas—courtesy of El Piloto, Shirley and Ed Pearlman stood at the bottom of the boarding ramp greeting the passengers. They boarded last—only to find out they didn’t have a seat. So it came to pass in the formative hours of the Inaugural Mexican 1000 that Shirley and Ed Pearlman retired to the latrine where Ed sat on the commode and Shirley sat on his lap. Mas margaritas por favor!



Mexican Culture

When attempting to portray modern Mexicans interacting with gringos in films; several things should be kept in mind. Some of these traits—lifestyles, cultural mores are basic; others quite subtle. All are very important for accurate the physical, mental, and emotional portrayal of “modern Mexicans.” Despite the geographical proximity, it must be understood Mexico has a different history, and different ways of doing and looking at things. The Mexican—his beliefs, expectations, and codes of personal and social conduct are so different as to be from a different world. To boil this down in workable form—let’s take a closer look:

The family is the first priority for the Mexican. Children are celebrated and sheltered. The wife fulfills the domestic role. Mobility is limited. For the gringo, family is most often second to work. Children are often minimally parented and are independent in their actions and thinking. The wife often fulfills two roles or more. Mobility—socially, economically, and geographical is quite common.

The Mexicans have a long Roman Catholic tradition—complete with all the ceremony. Basically, Mexicans have a fatalistic outlook—as God wills. On the other hand, gringos (of many religions) have little ceremony and have a outlook of “Master of your own life.”

A foundation of Mexican education is memorization with a rigid but broad curriculum. They are much mote attuned to the arts—poetry, painting, and architecture. Gringo education is much more analytical with an emphasis on the practical with narrow, in-depth specialization

Very nationalistic. Proud of their long history and traditions. Accepts deep rooted corruption as a way of life. Gringos are very patriotic in defending their “American way of life.” Takes for granted the rest of the world shares materialistic values.

Mexicans have difficulty separating work and personal relationships. They are sensitive to differences of opinion. They avoid loss of face, especially publicly. A Mexican shuns confrontation. On the other hand, gringos have little problem separating work from emotions and personal relationships. Sensitivity is seen as a weakness, Tough business front. Has difficulty with subtlety.

Mexicans embrace “old world” formality. Etiquette and manners are seen as a measure of breeding while the gringo is quick to sacrifice formality for efficiency.

Much like etiquette, dress and grooming are status symbols and show breeding. Gringos want to “git ‘er done” regardless of appearance.

Title and position are more important than money in the eyes of society. Gringos work hard for their money—this is their stats measure and reward for achievement.

The aesthetic side of life is important—even at work. For the most part, gringos simply don’t have time for “useless frills.”

For the Latins, truth is tempered by a need for diplomacy. Truth is a relative concept. The gringo wants a yes or no answer. Truth is seen as an absolute value. The differences can easily be misconstrued.

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