The Olympic Summer Games were held in México City in 1968 – Fifty Years Ago. It was an amazing time in history in the United States and throughout the western world. A radical social change like no one had seen. Everything became colorful, vivid, outrageous, unsettled and psychedelic overnight. At these Olympics, the black power fist salute by two U.S. track athletes on the winners’ podium remains an indelible image for many of us now a half century later. But this was the year our parents decided to take their three boys on a Christmas vacation in México. At age twenty, it was my first journey out of the country.
Our mother Dorothy was a lady of some style; well-educated and well-read. As I was growing up she brought me the classic library books such as “Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates” and “Heidi” (really!) that were must-reads for well-bred youngsters like she had been. When I was older she apparently adopted a fascination for the currently trendy destinations far from her life as a wife and mother, and she convinced dad that we had to become cosmopolitan. She then gave me a contemporary and engaging Mexico travel book to read in preparation for our trip, which I devoured with a born-gypsy’s fascination. And the Devinys jet-setted south of the border.
We were four of us kids. Mike, the youngest, was a junior in high school. Terry and I attended Gonzaga University which we left under a blanket of snow during what would end up being one of the most severe winters in state history. Oldest child Kathie was not invited to join us as she had gotten married that year to the son of Stockton, California’s largest J. C. Penney’s store and became disenfranchised from family vacations. She swept from a fairly uptight white-dress-and-tuxedo summer afternoon to the University of California Berkeley. Flowers and beads, radical protests, the Free Speech Movement, and thoughtfully vague classes on the lawn where you were free to come and go as long as you wore sandals and hated the establishment.
Apollo 8 was circling the moon on our black and white Spanish-speaking TV as we moved into our vintage hotel on Alameda Square which was lit brightly for the season. Rather than wait in suspense for the spacecraft to reappear from the dark side, I snuck out with my brother to explore the narrow backstreets of México City. The blocks were poorly lighted but the air was warm and filled with glorious smells that could not be translated. My more timid sibling Terry watched me order a couple fish dinners and my first legally purchased cerveza. No I.D., no Spanish, no problem. We got somewhat lost but made our way back to the hotel. The next week I learned my very first foreign phrase as we departed the room. I closed the door and read the attached card which said: “favor de no molestar”. ‘Please don’t disturb me,’ I am out to conquer the country!
Dad was raised in the thirties and forties, and why he couldn’t master the stick shift on our rental car, I’ll never know. We ground our way south through Cuernavaca to Taxco for the night then motored into Acapulco where I became infected by the hot sands of December. It’s a terminal condition that flares up as frequently as I let it. We attended an amateur bullfight at the plaza out of town. These were young kids and young bulls learning the craft. I was captivated by the entire event, having read the details, history and culture around this beautiful dance. The bullfighters would move on to higher levels of competition, perhaps someday to the Plaza de Toros in México City. The bulls, sadly, not so much.
The 707 idled on the runway to take us home two days after New Years. (You thought 1968 was wild, wait’ll you see 1969!!) As we waited to board, who comes sauntering through the first class gate but Dean Martin himself?! Mother swooned as he cast a sleepy-eyed look her way, a cigarette dangling from his dulcet lips. Dorothy’s cigarette dangled also, then flipped and bounced down the front of her white blouse as her jaw dropped. She soon regained composure, snuffed out her Salem 100 on the boarding gate floor, and lit another as we walked onto the runway to head home.
Next: The Quaint Little Mexican Drinking Village with a Fishing Problem.