More Tricks at the Border Car Queue
Al and Willy walked back to their adopted car-by now second-to chat awhile and re-establish their credentials and their unselfish motives. Then they started out again, with Willy after another German and Al onto another American. Soon I heard Al say, “I wonder if it’s really worth visiting really-I mean what with the epidemic and all.”
“Epidemic? What epidemic?” the man asked.
“Oh haven’t you heard? Nothing too serious, I guess-just some schistosomiasis. But they say it’s all right as long as you have a schistosomiasis vaccination.”
“I have cholera and smallpox, that’s all the travel agent said I’d need.”
“Probably didn’t know about this-came up pretty quick 43 cases in the past three days.”
“I’ve waited this long I’m not going back. I don’t think I’ll catch anything in one day.”
“Probably not, but you know the Gibraltarians aren’t letting people in unless they have schistosomiasis shots.”
“Why should I lie?”
Their last intended victim, an American lawyer, was a toughie. He understood Spanish, insisted he had all his vaccinations, and his wife vetoed the bikini contest. When I heard him mention that it was the next to last day of his vacation I decided to have a go at him.
“I suppose you’ve heard about the bloody queue on the other side?” I asked, affecting my most British manner and my best colonial accent.
“No, what do you mean?”
“Well, it’s even worse getting out of Gibraltar, you know. These Spainies only let one car an hour out. Why, the last time I went in it took me five days to get out.”
“I find that hard to believe. I never heard about any trouble getting out. If it’s so bad how come you’re going back?” the lawyer asked.
“I wish I weren’t, but I have to. Own a shop there. Going back to try to sell it, I am. The bloody blockade has ruined the business. Nobody wants to go in when they know they may be trapped for days.”
“Sure as I live there,” I answered, moving up to the head of the line.
Once in Gibraltar we headed for the shops on Main Street. They’re run by the wiliest collection of merchants west of Baghdad-British, Maltese, Gibraltarians, Sephardics, Greeks, Indians, Chinese-men who pace their store fronts shouting in a cacophony of accents that they have lower prices and better merchandise than the crook next door. Fortunately, we had the pick of the place, because the Spanish embargo had slashed the 850,000 tourists who visited Gibraltar in 1964 to 200,000 in 1965.
We split up to do our shopping. Willy went to buy our 500 rolls of film and some extra filters. I went to look for a small storage trailer to pull behind the Jeep, because the load on our cars and camper was still much too heavy. Woodrow, whom we had appointed treasurer, sought out a bank to buy Moroccan money, sold in Gibraltar for almost half what it costs in Africa. And Al, our self-appointed medic, wandered off in search of “a few things for the first aid kit.”
We rendezvoused two hours later, Willy with the film, I with the trailer, Woodrow with the Moroccan dirhams, and Al up to his ears with bags and boxes.
“What the hell do you have there?” I asked.
“Just a few things we need to round out the first aid kit. I mentioned it before,” he answered, hoping to let it go at that.
I pointed out that it looked more like a year’s supplies for a traveling hospital and that we already had space problems. “Right, Steve, that’s why I only got the essentials.” “Like what?” asked Woodrow.
“Like these pills for your diarrhea. See, 500 tablets.”
“I guess we do need something like that-“
“I don’t want any of these,” Willy cut in. “Everybody should buy their own. He’ll use up more than all of us. I never need them.”
”And what about these salt tablets?” I asked AL
“You know, they prevent heatstroke in the desert. Help retain moisture, metabolize protein. Good stuff to have,” Al explained.
“Yes, but 3,000 of them?”
“They were on sale.”
“Was this terramycin also on sale? You aren’t supposed to use that without a prescription,” I pointed out.
“You’re right, Steve, but you never know when we might need a powerful antibiotic, like if we’re hundreds of miles from another doctor.”
“Well, you know what I mean, Steve.”
I’m afraid I do. And what the hell is this stuff-this Darvon 65?”
“Well, I thought we should be prepared for any emergency, so I bought that. It’s an anesthetic.”
“What in the world do we need an anesthetic for?”
“We probably don’t, but just in case. Somebody might break an arm, for instance, or you might get appendicitis, and I’d have to operate. With this stuff you won’t feel a thing.”
I was sure of that. ”Al, be serious, how can you operate on anybody? You don’t know the first thing about-“
“I bought this book, too. It’s called Understanding Surgery, and I’m sure I-“
As we were driving along Main Street toward the ferry, a cute girl waved at Al and shouted a spirited “Cheerio.”
“Who was that?” I asked him.
“Who was who?”
“You know who I mean, the girl in front of that drugstore.”
“Oh, her? Well, uh-that’s Muriel. She works there … you see, it was like this …. “
After dropping Woodrow, Willy, and the stuff at the ferry, and promising to meet them in Tangier the next afternoon, we headed back to Spain. But the road out of Gibraltar was blocked. The policeman manning the barricade could have passed for a London bobby, except for his suntan, as he walked up to us and asked, “Heading back to Spain, chaps? Afraid you won’t be able to make it tonight.”
“Why not?” I asked. “It’s only five-thirty and we’ve still got half an hour until the border closes.”
“Sorry, lads, last car’s gone through. The Spanish only let one an hour out, you know,” the policeman said.
“You must be kidding. I told that to somebody this morning for a joke.”
“It’s no joke. They wouldn’t be lettin’ you through ’til tomorrow, now, and there’re four cars queued up ahead of you already.”
Al turned to me: “That means we can’t get out until twelve .”
“That’s no good,” I explained to the policeman. “We have to catch the ferry for Cueta at noon. Isn’t there any way to get out earlier?”
“Well, now, lads, you can walk across the border and catch the bus to Algeciras, but no more cars ’til tomorrow.”
I noticed that Al had his right elbow cradled in the palm of his left hand, his right hand on his chin, the way he does when he’s cooking up some scheme.
“What’s the fastest you could drive to Algeciras?” he asked me.
“About twenty minutes.” “Make it fifteen.”
“What’s the difference? The ferry sails at noon.”
“Don’t worry. Just be there,” he said, grabbing the girls and starting to walk toward Spain.
“What about packing our equipment and getting the Jeep and collecting the bond?” I shouted after him. “Don’t worry. Just be at the pier at twelve-fifteen.”