Travels With Batman: Teotihuacan, 1961
by Richard A. Diehl
Originally publishd in Arqueología Mesoamericana: Homenaje a William T. Sanders,
Vol 1, edited by Alba Guadalupe Mastache, Jeffrey R. Parsons, Robert S. Santley,
and Mari Carmen Serra Puche. Pages 41-56, Intsituto Nacional de Antropología e
Historia, Mexico, 1996.
Author’s note to the on-line version: The manuscript for this essay was originally written
in 1986. The on-line version includes illustrations that were not in the published paper.
RAD May 29, 2007
How does one honor his former professor and close friend when writing an essay
for a Festschrift? After pondering this question for a long time, I narrowed the
choices down to two possible approaches. The first was to write a scholarly article
on a reseach topic I have pursued since leaving Bill's academic nest in the late
1960's. Ideally this article would contain a significant advance in Mesoamerican
archaeology and would allow Bill to bask in the reflected glory of his former student.
Alternatively, I can write a more personal essay dealing with reminiscences of times
and situations that involved the two of us.
I decided to follow the second approach out of both necessity and desire. Necessity
because I started at least six scholarly papers but was not satisfied with any of them.
If I wrote a scholarly paper I would want it to one of my best and frankly none of
these showed that kind of promise. Sometime in the future I will write a paper which
pleases me so much that I will say " Hey kid, this is it! This is the paper you want to
dedicate to Bill." Then I will dedicate it to him. The desire portion of my decision to
write what follows stems from the fact that Bill has been urging me to do something
along these lines for years.
William Lyman Molyneaux, 1961 (source: La View 62: The Book of the Senior Class, Vol 72, The
Pennsylvania State University)
Whenever Bill, Jeff Parsons, and other veterans of the 1961 Teotihuacan Valley
Project field season at professional meetings or other gatherings, the conversation
invariably gets around to William "Batman' Molyneaux and a series of "Do you
remember when?" stories. Batman and I both participated in Bill's 1961
undergraduate archaeological field school at Teotihuacan. Unlike me, however, he
chose not to continue on in archaeology; after earning his BA in psychology he
became a career officer in the United States Air Force.
Most field projects of any size has A CHARACTER amongst the crew but none I am
aware of have had one of Batman's stature. That's why he crops up so often
whenever we have a few beers under our belts. On at least three occasions Bill has
said, " Somebody should write up the story of the Batman and the 1961 season." or
something to the effect. I am probably better qualified than anyone else because I
rode to Mexico and back with him in his car, the Batmobile, so here it is.
I should explain at the outset that his nickname reflected his interest in bats as
experimental animals in psychology as well as his love of exploring caves. It may
also have something to do with the fact before I knew him he turned several bats
loose in the Penn State Student Union movie theater during a Dracula film. I know
that everybody "knows someone" who did such a thing but anyone who doubts this
particular story can check it with Michael West, a fellow field crew member in 1961
who is now a specialist in Andean archaeology. Mike was employed in the student
union at the time and spent weeks trying to rid the cafeteria of its flying mammals.
It is also important to clarify which Batman I am talking about. Our Batman was not
the anthropology student of the same nickname who reportedly drove around Merida
in a Thunderbird convertible wearing a Batman costume ( E. Kurjack, personal
communication). Our Batman had a low opinion of flashy cars and people who wear
While the Teotihuacan Batman stories have acquired many embellishments over
the years, I have made a sincere effort to stick to the facts as I actually remember
them. I will resolutely ignore incidents that really should have happened because
they sound so good but are probably later additions to the tale. Unfortunately I have
never kept a diary so I can't check back on an impartial source but what follows is
as close to the truth as I can make it.
The background to my decision to become an anthropologist is tangentially related
to the Saga of the Batman and since both Bill Sanders and Batman figure into it, the
story is worth relating at this point. At least it explains why I was standing in the rain
at the Valley Forge exit of the Pennsylvania Turnpike waiting for Batman at the real
beginning of the story.
Like many college freshmen, I had no clear ideas about my future when I arrived on
the Penn State campus in September 1958 ( yes, this took place so long ago that
classes actually started AFTER Labor Day rather than before it). History had always
interested me and was one of the few majors that did not require any mathematics
or hard sciences, so I became a history major. Actually I enjoyed my history
courses tremendously and I still read history books for pleasure. I did fairly well as a
college student, at least I made it through to my junior year without flunking out of
school. There were some close calls though; for example, my D's in Spanish. While
they did not look very good on my transcript, I knew they had been gifts from kindly
professors who did not want me to repeat the courses, or at least their sections of
them. I was very thankful that I would never have to bother with that language after
college. Little did I know that in a few years Spanish would be an essential part of
The real killer, however, was my F in Army ROTC. In those days Penn State
operated on the obviously ( to me, at least) fallacious theory that Land Grant
universities had to require two years of ROTC of all male students. Although the
course only counted one credit hour, my fourth semester F lowered my grade point
average enough to place me on probation going into my junior year. One hardbitten
old Seargent who probably preferred the battlefield to the campus parade ground
told me that I was the the first person to flunk Army ROTC at Penn State in twenty
years. I believed him. My spotty attendance had something to do with my F but
the primary factor was a very low grade on my class project. I had to design a
response to a Communist-backed guerilla insurgency in mainland Southeast Asia (
remember this was in the spring of 1960, several years before the Tonkin Gulf
incident). My gameplan was to send in hundreds of thousands of troops, including
several armored divisions. My instructor said that was the worst possible way to fight
a guerilla war and failed me. One can imagine my feelings later when General
William Westmoreland got his fifth star for doing precisely what I had proposed. Of
course it is only fair to point out that this strategy also lost the war. To add insult to
injury, I had to repeat the course as a junior.
Obviously my junior year required some careful course selection if I were ever to
become a senior. The fall semester was somewhat of a personal triumph. I took a
full load of courses, studied hard, stayed out of bars most of the time, and raised my
grades in a way that frankly puzzled my advisor. By the beginning of the second
semester I had enough self-confidence to challange the entire History department on
their own ground.
My second semester course selection turned out to be a disaster. I registered for
four history courses, Humanities, and ROTC. The disaster consisted of taking three
advanced level history courses. History Department policy stated that every
advanced level course had to require ten book reports and at least 3000 pages of
outside reading. Thus I was faced with 9000 pages of outside readings, in addition
to an Introductory level history course, a Humanities course with seven or eight
required texts, and one afternoon a week on the parade ground; all in a sixteen
week semester. Just to add some ballast to a sinking ship, one of the advanced
history courses was Religion and Thought in Medieval Europe and I had not yet
taken Introduction to Medieval History! On the first day of class the professor
mentioned the Medieval concept of souls damned to perdition and I saw the
handwriting on the wall in a very personal way.
Fortunately, my sister Beverly came to the rescue. She was a freshman trying her
best to have a memorable time while flunking out of college. For reasons she no
longer remembers, she signed up for Archaeology 1, taught by one William T.
Sanders, and suggested I drop my Advanced Rack and Inquisition course and take
archaeology with her instead. Her primary motivation was not to save my skin but
rather to have an escort who would take her into the My-Oh-My Lounge, a newly
opened bar just across the street from the classroom. At the time she was 17 years
old, I was 19, and Pennsylvania's legal drinking age was 21. I had used various
subterfuges to convince the owner that my twenty-first birthday coincided with the
day he opened the bar and being with me obviously improved Bev's chances of
So there I was in an archaeology class. I wish I could say that I developed an
immediate infatuation with the subject matter but that would be a lie and I've
promised not to tell lies in this essay. The truth is that I found archaeology rather
boring, perhaps because it lacked the preciseness and rich detail which attracted
me to history. However, I worked reasonably hard at it and received a C in the
course. I also received a passing grade of D in ROTC and several weeks later the
army sent me a letter stating that my superior performance in ROTC enabled me to
join the army as a Private First Class. I declined.
Near the end of the semester Bill announced that he was directing a field project in
Mexico in the coming summer and would offer an field school for undergraduates. I
was ecstatic! Not that I wanted to learn more about archaeology, I already knew (or
thought I knew) that studying other peoples garbage was not going to be MY station
in life. However going to Mexico had been a dream of mine for a long time although
I honestly don't remember why. Perhaps it was the stories told by my hometown
friend "Slummy" Sidell. Slummy's father owned a large, well-known local business
and Slummy was such a misfit that his father sent him to Tijuana for five or six
months each year just to get him out of town. He had some good times in Mexico,
at least as he told it. Whatever my reason, I desperately wanted to go to Mexico
and here was the perfect excuse or opprotunity. I could earn credit, receive my
degree in March 1962 instead of June under Penn State's newly introduced Quarter
system, and get a head start on all the other history majors down at the
It took some effort to convince my parents that this was a serious business worthy of
their backing. It would cost them money to support me over the summer and I would
lose whatever wages I might have earned at a summer job. Fortunately my father
had enough wanderlust in his soul to understand what I was really asking for and
enough compassion to say yes. I suspect that he really wanted to go in my place
but was willing to live vicariously through me. My mother and he agreed that I
should do it and unwittingly set me off on a career path.
Bill held an orientation meeting for the field school people and other first-timers in
Mexico near the end of the semester. He covered a wide range of topics ( you need
sturdy field shoes or boots; drink the beer, not the water; make certain you bring a
birth certificate; see a doctor if your urine gets cloudy; etc.). He also mentioned the
various innoculations we needed to get across the border. They included a three-
shot series for diptheria, paratyphoid, and typhoid. Since I had not had it, I trotted off
to the University Clinic ( staffed, so I was told, by ex-Army doctors who could not
keep jobs in real hospitals) to start the series. That was my second major mistake
of the semester. The first dose put me in the hospital for three days, the second laid
me up in bed for a day, and the third just knocked me out on my feet.
I first became acquainted with Batman while in the hospital recuperating from the
initial shot. In fact he was there for the same reason I was. I had seen him at the
orientation meeting but had not paid much attention to him beyond wondering why
he wore a cavers helmet with a carbide lamp clipped on the front.
He hailed from Sayre, Pennsylvania, a small town near Elmira, New York. I do not
know why he majored in psychology but I suspect it was a second choice forced
upon him because Penn State did not offer a major in spelunking. However the
university did have the Nittany Grotto, a cavers organization to which he belonged. I
could not believe this guy! He had been in more caves than I had beer joints. Nor
could I understand why caving was so important to him; slithering through a narrow
underground passage on your stomach without knowing what is ahead of you struck
me as a poor excuse for a hobby. Like me, he had an ulterior motive when he
signed up for the field school but his was quite different than mine. He had heard
rumours of an uncharted cave which I came to think of as Supercave. Rumor had it
that Supercave extended from Teotihuacan to Mexico City. Batman was determined
to locate it and thereby earn undying fame in the history of spelunking. He planned
to drive his own car to Mexico and before I left the hospital ( or had seen the car) I
agreed to ride with him.
Like its owner, the Batmobile was unusual. It had started life as a 1949 Willys
Jeepster. It looked like a convertible but was technicaly a roadster since it had
plastic side curtains instead of rollup windows. These particular side curtains were
so yellowed with age that it was virtually impossible to see through them but that did
not really matter because we hardly ever used them.
1949 magazine advertisement emphasizing the fun of traveling in a Willys Jeepster
The side curtains were the least of the Batmobile's problems. Not content with the
way it had left the assembly line in Toledo many years before, Batman had modified
it in various ways. Except for the two continental-style spare wheels mounted on
the back, it looked like every other Jeepster , that is, a faded red version of
Fieldmarshal Rommel's squad car. The real story was under the hood. He had
replaced the engine with a much more powerful 1954 Mercury V-8 hooked up to an
older Mercury trnansmission with an overdrive unit. In other words he had a hot rod
disguised as a Jeepster, a "sleeper" in the slang of the late 50's.
Now I had spent my teenage years hanging around garages, drag strips, and
speedways, and I knew well-built hot rods from those that weren't. In reality the
Batmobile was better than many I had seen but was far from a perfect example of
the species. For one thing both car and engine had seen seen many years and
miles, and most of the components were just plain tired. To make matters worse,
there were minor odds and ends which Batman had never managed to get quite
For example, the dash board contained an impressive array of toggle switches with
which, he proudly explained, he independently controlled every light in the car. He
felt it was particularly useful to be able to turn out the tail lights and license plate light
while being chased by the police at night. Unfortunately he never quite got the
wiring hooked up correctly and at times merely touching any toggle turned out all the
lights,including the headlights. Somehow he neglected to tell me about that little
quirk. I discovered it early one morning on a winding backcountry road in the Ozarks
when I accidentally bumped a switch and the headlights went out. I almost ran off
the road in the dark.
He also forgot to tell me that the overdrive could only be disengaged by reaching
through a hole in the floorboards between the front seats and flipping the greasy
shifting fork connector on the side of the transmission with your fingers while blindly
groping around. I discovered about that little trick while free-wheeling in overdrive
down a steep hill in Wheeling, W.V., while frantically pumped the anemic brakes
because the engine was not slowing the car down.
Nor should I forget the wheezing winshield wipers. They worked so poorly that the
driver frequently had to reach out around the windshield and move them by hand.
Of course this couldn't be done if the side curtains were in place. Therefore if you
happened to be driving with them in place when a rainstorm began, you had to stop
the car and remove them, thus insuring that everyone and everything inside got
An unrestored Willy Jeepster. Could this be the Batmobile?
A restored Willys Jeepster listed for sale on EBay. The way they were supposed to look.
The Trip to Mexico
We made the five or six day trip to Mexico in early June. Batman and Herb Krause,
another psychology major who participated in the field school, met me at the
Pennsylvania Turnpike Valley Forge interchange. My mother drove me to the
designated meeting place and her friend Meta Hunsberger came along for the ride.
While I loaded my gear into the Batmobile, Meta commented, "Gee, this clunker
looks like a German army squad car!", a statement which put Batman in a foul mood
for the first hundred miles or so.
I don't remember much about the trip through the United States. Perhaps it was as
boring as all such trips are but I am surprised that I can't recall more about it
because it was my first cross-country travel experience. Part of the reason may be
that we drove from Philadelphia to Laredo, Texas in four days with only one motel
stop. However a few incidents in addition to my previously mentioned driving
experiences are still as vivid as when they happened. For example, as we
approached Harrisburgh it began to rain and I learned about the windshield wipers.
And the side curtains.
Some of the things that happened while I was a passenger were as memorable as
my experiences behind the steering wheel. The original plan was that all three of us
would share the driving but about five minutes after Herb got behind the wheel for
the first time, Batman told him to pull over because he didn't like Herb's driving
style. After that Batman and I split the driving duties, much to Herb's secret but not
very well disguised relief.
I remember buying tires in a gas station in Texarkana, Arkansas. The Little Rock
integration crisis was still a recent event and Herb rather aggressively questioned
the station owner about the status of blacks in Arkansas. The owner responded with
a long-winded defense of segregation during which he maintained that he treated his
black and white employees equally: everybody earned fifty cents an hour ( even
though the legal minimum wage was $1.25) and didn't need any more than that
because the streams were loaded with catfish for the taking. As we drove out of
town we saw what appeared to be a burning cross in a yard behind a house. I
suspect it was a trash fire which we misinterpreted but we did not stop to investigate.
Herb wanted to but he wasn't driving.
One of my clearest memories is that Batman always wore a miners or cavers
helmet. He had several, including one which looked like a combat helmet, and each
had a clip for a carbide or an electric lamp on the front. I think he felt naked without
a helmet. He even wore them into restaurants, including a Holiday Inn somewhere
in north Texas. That Holiday Inn stop was supposed to be the culinary high point of
the trip. I wanted a fine steak and naievely assumed that a Holiday Inn in Texas was
a good place to get one. The hostess glanced at Batman, who looked more like a
coal miner ready to go to work than any patron she was accustomed to, and stuck
us in the most inconspicuous corner in the place. I also suspect that she told the
chef to give us the worst steaks he had, certainly mine was inedible.
The border crossing at Nuevo Laredo was either uneventful or else so traumatic that
I have buried it in my subconscious; in either case we made it through. However I
have vivid memories of the hairpin turns along the old road through the Mamaluque
Pass north of Monterrey. I also remember Batman's skill in passing buses and trucks
on the uprgrade when he couldn't see more than twenty feet in front of him, and the
smashed vehicles lying abandoned in the barrancas below us.
My memories of Monterrey are equally vivid because we spent several hours lost in
a most depressing slum. I was particularly upset because we spent much more time
lost than was necessary. I was the only person who had studied Spanish so I
became our translator even though I had to use a phrase book and could barely
understand the answers. I freely admit that I was not much help after Batman made
the wrong turn which got us lost in the first place. However when he ignored the
advice of an English-speaking Mexican because it conflicted with his self-
proclaimed "infallible sense of direction", I blew up ! His sense of direction may have
worked underground but in Monterrey it cost us several hours of driving around in
110 degree heat over dirt streets disguised as World War I battlegrounds.
We did not get lost between Monterrey and Mexico City but realistically, who can on
that highway? Mexico City was a repetition of Monterrey until Batman finally
accepted the word of the third English-speaking Mexican we encountered and we
found ourselves heading out of the city towards Teotihuacan on Insurgentes Norte.
By that time he had been thoroughly enculturated into driving a la Mexicana , in fact,
he was really in his element. Herb and I were too tired to be afraid.
We arrived in San Juan Teotihuacan shortly before midnight, after finding
Insurgentes Norte at about 5 PM. I don't know why we spent seven hours to go
thirty miles but we did. When we finally pulled into town we began to look for Bill or
any other gringoes we could find. For some reason we stopped to inquire at the
Mexican army cuartel on the edge of town. Batman was wearing his combat helmet
and received a snappy salute from the sentry as we approached him in the dark.
Approaching an armed sentry in the dark was his idea, not mine; I had visions of
being cut down in a blaze of machine gun fire. The sentry conferred with the duty
officer and he told us ( in English) where to find the archaeologists. Moments later
we found several students and the trip was over although the adventure had just
Batman in San Juan Teotihuacan
Other crew members arrived over the next few days until the group reached a total
of seventeen people, including Bill, plus a few short-term visitors. Graduate
students and other serious aspiring archaeologists outnumbered the field school
neophytes by three to one; twelve people were actively pursuing the profession in
one capacity or another, mostly as beginning graduate students, and four were
registered in the undergraduate field school. One of the unusual things about the
group is that so many of us ultimately became anthropologists; at least nine of the
sixteen students went on to earn PhD degrees in anthropology.
Teotihuacan 1961. Field School trip to the Teotihuacan Archaeological Zone. Photograph by Jeffrey
Those of us enrolled in the field school acquired experience in every aspect of field
archaeology that was relevant to the project. We surveyed the Teotihuacan Valley
hillsides and bottomlands for sites; learned to excavate on several different types of
sites including a small temple mound, residential compounds, and the Oxtotipac
cave; and of course we had our quota of washing and numbering sherds in the
laboratory. Bill moved us from one operation to another during the summer and
Batman and I generally wound up on different crews. As the season progressed
several cliques of friends developed among the field party but everybody remained
on amiable terms and we were not riven by the factionalism which sometimes occurs
in such situations. As I remember it, Batman was not closely associated with any
one clique, he sort of floated around interacting equally with everyone.
Teotihuacan 1961. Excavation at Maquixco Bajo, a Classic period village near Teotihuacan.
Photograph by Jeffrey R. Parsons
Many of us took our meals in "Mama" de la Oh's restaurtant facing the town plaza.
In retrospect she and her daughters fed us well at a reasonable price. Batman ate
there on occasion but he frequently combined his evening meal, which on those
nights consisted of a kilo of bananas and a pint of tequila, with a stroll around town.
Bananas under his arm, tequila bottle in his hip pocket, and cavers helmet on his
head, he would walk up and down San Juan's main street, chatting with store
owners and clerks along his route. This was more remarkable than it might seem;
he didn't know any Spanish when he arrived in Mexico and only managed to learn
ten or twelve words all summer, most of which he mispronounced. Many of his
pronounciations were only off by one syllable but at times that syllable was crucial.
It didn't matter if he said "centago" instead of "centavo" but "beso" (kiss) instead of
"peso" might have had serious consequences! It never did for Batman, however;
everyone knew what he meant even if they did not understand the words. Actually
he had the same pronunciation problems in English after drinking a few too many;
on one memorable afternoon while waiting for a bus in the plaza of Malinalco, he
suggested that he be sent back to San Juan "partial post".
On his suppertime strolls he would walk into a store and begin conversing in English
with whoever was behind the counter while washing down a banana with a swig of
tequila. The person with whom he was speaking would answer him in Spanish and
the conversations frequently lasted ten or fifteen minutes. For weeks most of us
were puzzled by these sessions: we couldn't figure out how in the world two people
who did not speak each others language could carry on such involved
conversations. One evening near the end of the summer I accompanied him on his
evening round. My Spanish had improved considerably and at least I could follow
what was said. After a few minutes I realized that each person was discussing
whatever he or she felt like but never talked about the same thing! In one instance
he was describing his problems with the Batmobile while the storeowner was
analysing last night's soccer game! Despite the lack of effective verbal
communication, the townspeople tremendously enjoyed Batman and his nightly
visits and sincerely missed him in succeding field seasons. In fact everybody
wanted to know what had happened to el Hombre Murcielago (the Batman) or el
Hombre del coche que hace vroom-vroom, the Man With the Loud Car.
He spent much more time in one particular store than any other, and with good
reason. The Lebanese-Mexican owners who had a beautiful, dark-eyed daughter
named Jamilia. One look at her made me understand why men really go off on
Crusades, Jihads, and Trojan Wars! Of course she also had a father and several
brothers who combined the worst ( from Batman's perspective, at least) of Near
Eastern and Mexican male attitudes about protecting female kinsmen. Several of us
gringo males had our eyes on Jamilia but visions of razor-sharp scimitars made us
keep our distance.
However Batman did not give up that easily. After gaining her father's confidence
over several weeks, he asked permission to take Jamilia to the Saturday night
movie in the Palacio Municipal. To our surprise, and probably Batman's as well, her
father said yes. We were certainly jealous of him but had to give him credit for
persistence, tact, and effective non-verbal communication. However when he
arrived to pick up his date, he discovered that 1. the entire family was going with
them, and 2. that he was expected to buy all the tickets. He grumbled about that for
weeks thereafter but still spent more time in their store than in any other.
The Search for Supercave
We had only been in San Juan a few days when he decided it was time to locate
Supercave, the subterranean passage extending all the way to Mexico City. The
area around the archaeological zone is riddled with caves, passages, and small
caverns forming a labyrinth beneath the surface. The complex has never been
studied in detail although recent INAH and UNAM Proyects have devoted some
effort to the caves. I don't know how the Supercave myth originated or what
romantic embellishments are attached to it but I can readily imagine claims that it
extends from the Sun Pyramid to the Templo Mayor, or that the Aztecs excavated it
as an escape route to be used when the bearded Quetzalcoatl returned from across
the sea. For all I know the Supercave story may be a confused reference to the
Desague tunnel dug by the Spaniards in their attempt to drain off the lakes in the
Basin of Mexico. Regardless of the background, Batman staunchly believed that
such a cave existed and his failure to find it did not diminish that belief one bit.
Soon after we arrived in San Juan somebody told him about a cave entrance on the
archaeological zone and he invited me to explore it with him late one afternoon. I
agreed, albeit with some misgivings. I only wish that I had a photograph of us as
we entered the cave. We both wore cavers helmets with carbide lamps and carried
backpacks loaded with food, booze, and miscellaneous gear. I had an amunition
belt loaded down with an army canteen and a hunting knife. I don't know why I
thought the knife was essential or what I had planned to do with it but I had been in
the Boy Scouts just long enough to absorb the meaning of Be Prepared.
We lowered ourselves down into a vertical passageway which led to a very narrow
horizontal crawl space. Batman took the lead and I had the choice of following him
or staying where I was. We had already gone too far from the entrance to see any
light so I followed him. The passage became so narrow that I had to remove my
canteen belt and store it in the backpack which I pushed in front of me while
squeezing through a tunnel not much larger in circumference than my body. Talk
about claustrophobia: I have never felt so closed in and isolated in my life! Things
got easier after that but the twisting passage was never large enough for me to pull
up alongside Batman. After perhaps ten minutes of this, he announced that he
could see light up ahead and that the tunnel was getting wider. A moment or so
later he exclaimed, "There's a big cavern up here!" By this time I could see the light
and finally had enough room to pull up alongside him. As I did I heard him say, "My
God, I see tables with people sitting at them!"
We found ourselves lying on a ledge high up on the wall of the La Gruta restauarant,
a Teotihuacan tourist landmark in an artificially enlarged cave, and were accidentaly
showering the diners thirty feet below us with loose tezontle gravel! After a minute
or two the headwaiter realized what was going on and started shouting at us in a
way which made his intentions clear even though we could not understand the
words. After surveying the situation, we waved at the now angry diners and beat a
hasty retreat. Batman later admitted that for a few seconds he believed that we had
made a major speleological discovery, a giant cavern containing tables and chairs.
However he was not discouraged by our misadventure, he had known from the start
that finding Supercave was going to require perserverance.
Our next attempt came on a Saturday evening. Mike West had learned about a
cave entrance in a nopal orchard in San Francisco Mazapa and the three of us
decided to enter it shortly after dark. We spent the entire night following passages
although to this day I suspect that we never even got outside the boundaries of the
nopal orchard. The passages were frequently quite small but we did encounter a few
moderate-sized rooms, albeit without diners. The passage floors frequently
consisted of very dry, powdery soil loaded with potsherds and other artifacts. We
took a surface collection back to laboratory but as far as I know, nobody ever studied
sherds. Their large size and excellent condition puzzled us and we wondered how
they got there. If my memory serves me, they were utilitarian rather than ritual
wares and frequently occurred in incredibly dense concentrations. Obviously these
little chambers had never been habitation sites, we had to crawl on our stomachs to
get to them. Other people on the field crew suggested that the sherds had washed
in from the ground surface but I have always doubted that. Those cave deposits still
perplex me and a great deal remains to be learned about ancient cave use in and
I thought that Batman would be in hog heaven when Bill assigned him to help Gerald
Obermeyer in the Oxtotipac cave excavation but this was not the case. The cave
was a large but relatively shallow shelter. Obermeyer ultimately concluded that it
had been created during Classic period tezontle gravel mining operations. Bill
hoped that it might contain preserved plant remains or even very old cultural
deposits but neither turned out to be true. We assiduously screened the soil matrix
but no plant remains appeared and the major occupation dated to the Second
Intermediate one Oxtotipac period.
Batman's lack of enthusiasm for working at Oxtotipac stemmed from several factors.
First, it was a shelter, not a real cave, and limited daylight penetrated everywhere.
In addition, he much preferred exploring caves to excavating them. I am probably
oversimplifying when I say he felt that exploration was fun and excavation was
mundane but I doubt that I am too far from the mark. The final reason had to do with
the excavation conditions and was shared by everyone who worked there. The
bone-dry soil was the consistency of talcum powder and any movement created
choking dust clouds which hung in the air all day. We all wore bandanas over our
mouths and noses but they immediately became clogged with dust which
persperation turned into a mud-pack.
It was while working at Oxtotipac that Batman and the Batmobile became
permanently enshrined in local mythology by singlehandedly stopping a second
class bus. The project did not have enough vehicles to handle the far-flung
operations all over the Valley so Bill contracted to use the Batmobile for getting
workers, students and equipment to and from the sites. At the end of the day we
dropped certain workers off at a bus stop where they caught the last bus of the day
going out to their village in the upper part of the valley.
One day we arrived at the bus stop only to discover that the bus had already left.
Obviously we were late or it was early but whatever the case, our workers would
have a long walk home unless we got them on that bus. Batman caught up with it
and pulled in behind it, blowing the horn and gunning the engine. The Batmobile
had lost its muffler and tailpipe weeks before but in spite of the noise and our
shouting and arm-waving, the driver refused to stop. At that point Batman got mad
and passed the bus doing at least 50 mph on the narrow gravel road. Once he was
past it, he slowed down while refusing to let it pass him, and finally came to a
complete halt in the middle of the road. The workers, who along with the rest of us
were pretty shaken up, got out and climbed on the bus. Batman slowly and
majestically pulled a U-turn in front of the bus, waved at the glowering chofer , and
was given a rousing ovation by all the passengers on the bus.
Care and Feeding of the Batmobile
Although some people expected the Batmobile to die at any moment during the
summer, I was not one of them. However I did expect it to be a constant source of
problems, and I wasn't disappointed. Fortunately Batman was an above-average
amateur mechanic and Charles Fletcher, one of the graduate student supervisors,
was a top-knotch wrench-jockey. The two of them they kept it running fairly
consistently. Some of the problems it developed were minor inconveniences rather
than serious matters which had to be fixed immediately. For example, the muffler
and tail pipe fell off after driving over a high railroad crossing and replacements
could not be found until we reached Texas. The noise bothered some people but
not me; unmuffled engines are music to my perverted ears. Furthermore, the local
police certainly did not mind; after all, half the cars and trucks in the Teotihuacan
Valley lacked mufflers.
A more serious problem developed with the starter about half way through the field
season. It began to malfunction occasionally and when it did we had to push the car
to start the engine. A worn out solenoid appeared to be the cause of the problem
but the local parts supply houses did not have a replacement. Initially this was just
an annoyance because there were almost always enough people in the car to push
it. However things became more serious after the carburetor developed problems
and the engine stalled whenever the driver lifted his foot off the gas pedal.
This meant that a short trip might involve pushing the car five or six times.
Obviously something had to be done. Batman decided to go to Mexico City in
search of carburetor parts and a solenoid and asked me to accompany him as
interpreter. Bill was glad to give us the day off because he needed the vehicle in
good running order.
The trip was relatively uneventful until we encountered heavy traffic on Insurgentes
Norte in Mexico City. At that point all hell broke loose. The engine stalled almost
every time we pulled up to a traffic light. We pushed the car to start it. Pedestrians
pushed the car to start it. A taxi caught behind us pushed the car to start it. As we
coasted up to one intersection with a dead engine, I noticed that Batman deliberately
pulled the car directly over the trolleycar tracks which ran along Insurgentes in those
days. I looked back and saw a trolley directly behind us. When I asked him what
the hell he thought he was doing, he answered that it assured us of a push, there
was no way for the trolley to get around us! He was right. I ran back, tried to explain
the problem to the trolley conductor and sure enough, when the light turned green,
he pushed us to start the car.
The only way to prevent the engine from stalling was to race it while the clutch was
in. He did that frequently but the traffic police along our route glared at us as though
we were trying drag race the cars alongside us at the intersections. We finally
reached the automotive supply house district of the city and bought what we had
come for. He installed the solenoid on the spot. It turned out not to be a permanent
cure and the car still refused to start on occasion but we did manage to return to San
Juan without further problems.
Tripping Back to the United States
The summer went all too fast, at least for some of us. When it came time to return
home, I was ambivalent. Although anxious to get back to familiar territory where
people spoke my language and life did not involve constant exposure to a new and
still-different culture; I hated to leave. The pleasures and challanges of fieldwork
and life in Mexico had left a deep impression on me and furthermore I had met my
future bride who would soon return to her home in Tabasco. Nevertheless the field
season was over for everyone except Bill and a few graduate students and it was
time for me to put in the last two quarters of my undergraduate studies.
I rode back to the States with Batman but Herb decided to fly; I suspect
that he had experienced more than enough adventures for one summer. His place
was taken by a student from the University of Oklahoma who had spent a few weeks
with the project. I cannot remember his name but will never forget his hilarious
account of the technique thirsty Oklahomans used to repeal the state-wide
prohibition law by wording a referendum in such a way that the "drys" voted "wet" by
As we prepared to leave Batman was having some liquor problems of his own. He
had decided to smuggle a few extra bottles of tequila into the United States by hiding
them in the two spare tires mounted on the back of the Batmobile. With
considerable effort he dismounted the tires, taped the bottles inside, and reinflated
them, only to realize that his scheme was doomed to failure. Even if the bottles did
not shake loose and break, the tires had a distinctive, lumpy to a casual observer, let
alone a customs agent. He removed the bottles and stored his legal quota in the
car; we drank the rest the night before we left. This insured that we would hit the
road with hangovers, but that had been the natural course of events all summer.
Almost every Wednesday Bill took the group to visit nearby archaeological sites and
virtually every Tuesday night we had parties which lasted until the early hours of the
morning. One of these Wednesday trips took me to Tula for the first time although I
never dreamed that within ten years I would be directing my own project there.
When we left San Juan heading north I was suffering two maladies; a justly
deserved hangover and a full blown case of diarrhea. I recovered from the hangover
after a few hours but my Teotihuacan Trots stayed with me for weeks. There were
plenty of restaurants and gas stations with restrooms around Mexico City but north
Mexico and Texas presented some interesting problems. Nature frequently called
when no comfort station was in sight. Sometimes I was lucky enough to find a
decent sized pirule tree or nopal plant to hide behind but on other occasions there
was nothing to do but wave forlornly at the truckers who blew their horns as they
We reached Laredo at about 9 AM in a drizzle after driving all day and all night.
Except for the frequent potty stops the trip was uneventful; we did not even get lost.
I did learn something about the limitations of my Spanish and regional variations in
Mexican usage when a request for a torta de jamon in a restaurant near Saltillo got
me a ham omelet instead of a ham sandwich. Unfortunately the mere sight of the
omelet sent me looking for the mens room.
We were tired, dirty, wet, windblown, and dishevelled when we crossed the bridge
into Laredo. The border guards knew that no intelligent contrabandistas would
look as bad as we did and passed us through with only a cursory inspection and an
admonition to " get a muffler on that crate". Batman was furious. Not because of
the slur against his car but because he could have smuggled in an entire case of
tequila without being caught. We took care of the muffler problem while still in
Laredo and I started a personal tradition I maintained for many years thereafter:
celebrating a successful Laredo border crossing by having a hamburger, french
fries, and a vanilla milkshake in the Southland Cafe, one of Laredo's sleazier
I had hoped we would spend the day recuperating in a motel but we were running
short of money and Batman was in a hurry. He wanted to get to Miami, Florida in
order to spend some time with a lady friend, so we took off for Houston as soon as
the muffler was installed.
We dropped Oklahoma off at a bus station somewhere between Laredo and
Houston, and arrived in the Capital of the Oil Patch after dark. Batman had a
booklet which contained the names and addresses of executives who worked for the
same firm as his father and he called one of them. The man only knew his father
vaguely and was out of town for a week anyways but his wife invited us over to the
house. Actually I never really understood whether she extended the invitation or
Batman invited us on his own initiative. In any case she and her daughters
graciously fed us and allowed us to shower. She did not offer to put us up for night
as we had hoped before learning that her husband was out of town and by midnight
we were back on the road heading for New Orleans.
The next day the old starter problem cropped up again and we stopped at an
automotive supply store somewhere along the Mississippi coast to buy a new
solenoid. We installed it on the spot but it did not cure the problem, nor did other
two we tried. At that point Batman gave up and replaced the old solenoid. The store
owner helped push the Batmobile out of his parking lot in order to get it started.
From then on we tried to park on hills so that we could coast to start it but hills are
rather uncommon on the Gulf Coast plain.
We arrived in Tallahassee without further major problems and he left me in the
Greyhound bus station. He continued on to Miami and I caught a grey dog north to
Philadelphia. I was so tired that I slept through the entire journey. My parents met
me at the station in Philadelphia and my father greeted me with "Boy, you look like
Hell!" He was right. I had not changed clothes since leaving San Juan or bathed
since Houston. I was wearing a sombrero, huaraches, and a rather sad excuse for a
beard. I had also lost at least twenty pounds although not for long; my mother's
Pennsylvania Dutch cooking fattened me up in no time at all and I was back to my
normal overweight condition by the time classes began.
My summer in Mexico had a much more profound effect on me than I had ever
anticipated. By the time I made my fall course selection anthropology had sunk its
teeth into me and I took as many courses as I could. When Bill returned to State
College in January I knew that I wanted to be a Mesoamerican archaeologist. I
studied harder than ever before in my life and my grades improved accordingly. I
applied for admission into the then-new Master of Arts program in Anthropology at
Penn State and to my surprise, given my lackluster Grade Point Average, I was
admitted. Since then I have never looked back or questioned my decision. I found
the career and life best suited for me and I feel extremely fortunate to have done so.
That is just as well; the only job offer I had while waiting to hear if I was accepted
into graduate school was a Civil Service appointment counting blankets or some
such inane activity in the Lackawanna Army Depot near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
And Batman? Well I saw him from time to time during his senior year. We
occasionally met in a local bar appropriately named The Cave. One evening I
introduced him to my sister and he opened their conversation by saying " I am the
best caver, lover, and driver in Centre County." She replied, " So what?" I
immediately perceived that their relationship was not going to go very far.
I have not seen Batman since 1961 but he still maintains occasional contacts with
Bill. As I related earlier, he joined the Air Force and became a career officer. Every
now and again I think about him. Does he still have the Batmobile? Is caving still in
his blood? What kinds of stories would he tell about ME if given the oportunity? I
look forward to meeting him again someday. After all, he owes me a few beers for
all the times I pushed Rommell's Reject.
Richard Allen Diehl, 1961 (source: La View 62: The Book of the Senior Class, Vol 72, The
Pennsylvania State University)