This morning (March 1, 2008) the Las Amigas Poker run
gathered a few miles west of km166 and between 40-50
entrants clapped numbers to their windscreens, kicked
their tires, sipped bottled water and caught up on the
latest gossip, supplied by old friends and new acquaintances.
The collection of vehicles was as diverse and iconoclastic
as the hats worn by their owners.
was asked to navigate for a buggy that sported a military
body but ultimately failed to conceal the 4F rating
of its engine.
At flag time, Dean Moore sent us on our way at deliberated
intervals. It was a 26 mile course with four checkpoints,
each the source of a sealed envelope containing a playing
card. Together with an envelope given to each driver
at the start, the five envelopes would be opened at
the finish and the best poker hand would win.
Before our departure one of the organizers took up
a microphone and explained the procedures. He stressed
that although it was not a race, proper etiquette allows
one to pull to the side and let faster (re: impatient)
Once we were underway it became apparent there would
be several impatient (re: faster) cars, but no where
to pull over. A queue of rails, trucks and dune buggies
loped over the bouncing terrain, pluming dust and low
gear growls, each driver’s eyes darting about,
looking for a clearing or road spur where a strong goose
step on the accelerator and a fierce down-shift could
propel them ahead of the vehicle in front. It was very
much like going to work in the morning.
After the first cavernous pothole, I discovered the
buggy had a quirk entirely devoted to its passenger
seat. The adjustment lever on the side had a shallow
relationship with the position lock and knocked free
with nearly every bump in the road. The seat fell backward
without warning and the sky was suddenly where the road
should be. I once had a seat on a train in India that
did exactly the same thing. A Cola can solved the buggy
problem. I crushed it into a lump and jammed it behind
the lever, forcing it to bite deeper into the index
slots of the positioner. Too bad that option hadn’t
been available in India.
first disaster happened just after the second checkpoint,
on the leeward side of one of those rolling Baja 250
moguls. The gas pedal suddenly kissed the floor and
stayed there. The engine fell to an idle as the buggy
rolled to a Quaalude stop. Our throttle cable had broken.
In Baja a lifeless vehicle with two people leaning
against it is a magnet for roadside Samaritans. Within
a few minutes a rail pulled up alongside and offered
help. A spare throttle cable and a few tools were passed
over and after only four manifold burns to my arm and
some energetic assistance from another Samaritan, the
buggy was bouncing down the course again. Until it hit
a prominence that sent it leaping like a toboggan and
it fell back to the ground deader than the local real
estate market. It couldn’t be made to move under
Again someone stopped and performed a few quick tests.
There was no spark to the plugs. One of the group who
call themselves The Scorpions arrived and offered a
tow to the next checkpoint, where more mechanically
inclined patrons could study the problem.
The trouble turned out to be a bad coil. At least that
was the consensus. So the kind Scorpion towed us the
rest of the way to the finish, sharing our ignoble dead-last
When our envelopes were opened, we had a pair of fives.
The winner waved five 8's in the air. A miracle, I thought,
as improbable as Bush’s 2004 win in Florida. But
there you have it.
Someone, having heard the buggy was flat-lined with
a bad coil, produced his own spare coil and swapped
them out. But the car still wouldn’t start. So
he borrowed a multimeter and took reading from several
wires. “There’s no power getting to anything
back here,” he announced.
This was our cue to beg a tow strap from someone and
tether my Suzuki Samurai (parked in the lot near the
food tents) to the buggy for a leisurely pull to a mechanic’s
shop in El Dorado. And there it sits with a pair of
fives in the glove box and dead synapses fondling the
distributor and coil.
I hope he sees the wisdom of leaving the Cola can under
the seat lever.