ALGODONES, Mexico. Passage of the Medicare Prescription Drug Act hasn't slowed traffic to this little border town. Only a few miles from the RV parks of Yuma, Arizona thousands of people come here every day. They make a quick pedestrian passage through the border checkpoint and into this dusty wonderland of discount drugs, low cost dental work, and bargain eyeglasses.

Did I forget tequila?

Well, trust me, I'm the only one who did.

Entering a cantina to grab some lunch, all the tables are taken. A woman with bright red hair is seated, with two margarita glasses, at a table for six. I ask if she minds if I sit at the table.

"Go ahead," she answers.

Her name is Rita. She and her boyfriend are here to buy prescription drugs, have lunch, listen to music, and drink a bunch of free margaritas. I order a diet Coke, wondering why God didn't make me more like Hunter S. Thompson.

Brian soon joins us. He's a big guy, somewhere between outgoing and in-your-face. He wears a sleeveless T-shirt and sports a gold earring and a tan. He's 63, but with a bit more attention to costuming, he'd be at home on the set for Road Warrior, the canonical post apocalypse movie. All three of us, it turns out, are Scorpios. Brian was born only two days after I was, in 1940.

"My prescriptions would cost me $400 at home," Rita says. "But here its only about $40. They (the pharmacies) discount the Mexican prices by 33 percent."

"And you don't need a prescription," Brian adds. "You can get anything." (Although it is better, he adds, not to declare the heavy-duty painkillers. Instead, you should take them out of their packages.) Just outside the cantina a pharmacy has prices for everything from Prozac to Vioxx posted on little cards.

Over lunch I learn that Brian is just starting his second year as a 'fulltimer.' Before he retired he was a self-employed locksmith in Maui. Then he decided to sell his home. He got $340,000 for it. He paid off all his debts, returned to the mainland and paid cash for his RV and his truck. Now he wanders between Arizona and Oregon. He met Rita in Oregon.

"Gee, Brian," I ask, "you're not eligible for Medicare yet, what do you do for medical insurance?"

"I don't have any." He says he's glad to collect Social Security--- it really made his retirement possible--- but he figures he'll just have to stay healthy because medical insurance costs too much money.

"Something's got to happen", Rita notes. "It can't go on like this." Rita is 57, on an undisclosed disability.

I ask Brian how much his retirement costs.

"Not much. I lease a space in Yuma year round for only $900. It's not the most upscale park in the world but it's pretty nice and it's a place to stay. Electricity is practically nothing. Water is included. So is cable.

"In Oregon you can work at the national parks and stay for free. And me, being a locksmith, even if I stay in a park where you pay rent, they'll want me to fix things or do lock work and I end up living free."

He tells me about the many benefits of being a skilled locksmith. How quickly he can help people get into their cars. Listening, I begin to see his world as a vast parking lot in which every automobile is a potential ATM, dispensing cash from grateful owners.

The waiter brings another round of margaritas. Brian, who knows the waiter well, takes out a wad of margarita coupons and peels two off. Then he tells the waiter he wants to show him a magic trick, takes three coins out of his pocket, puts one atop the other, and slowly circles the coins.

The middle coin, a Mexican peso, disappears.

"Bring another round and I'll show you how it's done," Brian says.

"So how much does it really cost you to live," I ask?

Brian starts making a list of different expenses. Diesel fuel is a big one. Clothes are next to nothing.

"What's the total? Is it $2,000 a month? $2,500?"

"Oh! Maybe a thousand. Some months are more. Some less. You know, one of the great things about an RV is that it gives you an excuse not to buy anything."

He smiles. "I mean, where are you going to put it?"

As I walk toward the long line waiting to clear customs on the U.S. side, I see an elderly man walking, carrying a few plastic bags.

"Will Not Work For Anything," the back of his T-shirt declares.

On the web:

The Los Algodones Yellow Pages

Sunday, March 19, 2000: RVs and the Dusty Road To Mexicare: http://www.dallasnews.com/s/dws/bus/scottburns/readers/borderland/000319SU.HTM

Tuesday, March 30, 1999: Living in RV Communities: http://www.dallasnews.com/s/dws/bus/scottburns/columns/archives/1999/990330TU.htm