By JD Hansard e-mail:

(This is a continuation of my memories of Davis Floyd beginning in 1965.)

After our year in Texas, Elise and I moved to Stillwater, Oklahoma where we were graduate students at Oklahoma State University. At the end of that year, my program of studies was not working out, and we decided to return to the University of Arkansas for the school year 1965-66.

We packed up our belongings and headed back to Arkansas. But just before we left Stillwater we got a phone call from Davis Floyd. "How about taking a trip to Mexico with us?" Davis asked. "When?" I asked. "As soon as possible," he said. We drove our belongings to Fayetteville, where we left our boxes packed, and the next day, drove to Cooper, Texas, heading to Mexico.

We were a curious group; two graduate students and a slender beautiful woman with her "wheelchair victim" husband. We were traveling in an aging Chevrolet sedan with a wheelchair strapped to the roof. We had no cell phones, no GPS guidance devise, and no credit cards. We had a map. Our first stop was in a hotel in San Antonio just across the street from The Alamo. Then it was on to the border town of Piedras Negras.

Davis had heard about a doctor in that city doing miraculous things for people with arthritis. When we arrived I was appalled to learn that to get to the arthritis doctor’s office, one had to climb about a hundred stairs. I didn’t think Davis could do it. But he did. The man was determined.

The doctor sold Davis some pills that, as far as I ever heard, had no effect on his condition. Then we continued southward to Saltillo, a city on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains of Mexico. We found rooms in a lavish hotel in the city center.

The city slopes upward from east to west, and one day Elise and I decided to walk up the mountain to get a better view of the valley below. As we walked westward the buildings began to look run down, but we remained undeterred. We were too young to know that some cities have districts that are dangerous. As we preceded, a young Mexican, well dressed and speaking perfect English, asked us where we were going. Up the mountain we told him. He looked at us skeptically, and then said he would go with us. "Fine," we said. "Come along." Soon the street almost disappeared; where it had been, there were eroded ditches three feet deep. The dwellings along the street were fallen down. We could see people staring at us from what looked like caves. The view of the valley from up high was fantastic, but I remember even more clearly the eyes of desperate people staring at us from their hovels. The young man had accompanied us up the mountain acting as a body guard and we were too unworldly to realize it

We arrived in Mexico City early in the day and went to their marvelous archeological museum; like our Smithsonian Institution. Late in the day we decided to look for hotel rooms. Trouble began.

At first there seemed to be no beds available in the entire City. Finally we found rooms at a hotel across the street from a mammoth cathedral. After paying for the rooms, without seeing them, Joyce was unwilling to stay there. We didn’t ask for a refund; just loaded up our car and headed out. The desk clerk at the next hotel with no available rooms assured us that we could find accommodations further south in Cuernavaca. Elise said that would be fine. She asked if she could phone a hotel there and check on availability of rooms. The clerk said, "No, one cannot make long distance phone calls from Mexico City after dark." I was amazed and Elise cried. It was the first time I ever saw her cry.

Based on that clerk’s assurance, with the time after 11 PM, we proceeded forty miles southward.

Cuernavaca is a resort city used for vacationing since the time of the Aztecs. We arrived there tired and desperate, and found rooms in the most beautiful hotel which Elise and I have ever visited. The hotel grounds included acres of flower beds, ornamental plants, and tasteful sculptures. It was heaven. Giant murals lined the hallways and the tiled showers were huge, with enormous skylights. We learned that, when the hotel was being built, artists from Spain were brought to the site to work there for more than a year. It was a perfect place to rest, and we did.

One thing we did in Cuernavaca was to visit the City Market to see what local artisans had for sale. This was our usual procedure: I would wheel Davis to their car. He would stand up, turn and seat himself in the driver’s seat. Then I would collapse the wheel chair, hoist it to the top of the car, tie it down, and hop into the back seat. After some practice, I could do my part in about one minute. In the market Davis and Joyce bought a dining room table and matching chairs with high backs. The table was massive. It was successfully shipped to them in Cooper and they used it for years.

Two times on our trip Davis’s competitive streak was apparent. On one particular street in Mexico City we were driving in one of six lanes, speeding along with the usual frantic Mexican traffic. Then we came to a place where a giant statue had been constructed in the middle of the street. The highway became a semi-circle around the monument. When the semi-circle began, the lane markers disappeared and the local traffic became even more chaotic. It seemed that the drivers thought it was time to race each other for better positions. They sped up and began frantically changing lanes. Had I been driving I would have slowed and pulled to the outside. Davis became a Mexican driver. He sped up and darted in and out just like the locals. There were dozens of statues like the first one, so the semi-circular racing occurred over and over.

One night on our return trip to the United States we drove until well after dark. It was raining, and we were in the mountains. The Mexican drivers did something on that 2-lane highway that I considered suicidal. They would routinely pass on a hill when they clearly could not see whether there were oncoming cars. Then we saw what happened when there were oncoming cars. A passing car was heading straight into an oncoming car, but the driver in the proper lane pulled to the shoulder and a collision was avoided. After we saw that occur several times, Davis tried it. He passed on hills repeatedly and we, luckily, survived.

Our first night north of Mexico City we again had difficulty finding hotel rooms. The hotel we finally located was in a residual neighborhood. It was pleasant, but there was a problem. All of the available rooms were on the second floor and there was no elevator. Seeing the wheel chair, the desk clerk said he would gladly help hoist Davis up the stairs. We agreed. We went up the stairs with Davis facing backward. The clerk and Joyce took the front of the wheel chair, and I took the back. They lifted Davis’s feet too high, and the result was that I was lifting almost all of Davis’s 180 pounds. It was probably the greatest physical feat of my life, but we got him up the stairs. Finally we could go to bed. The next morning we had a shock. At 5 AM the street beneath our window was filled with the loud clamor of laborers heading to work.

(More about Davis in the next installment.)