Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Zona Dorada and a Trip to Ricardo's Cafe

It did seem like a good idea at the time. Last May we received an email from our property manager in Mexico. Would we like to rent our condo for the months of February and March? We hemmed and hawed. We skyped our daughter once or twice a week while she taught school in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Every weekend she traveled around the country and then regaled us with exotic tales. I convinced Sharon that after five months in Mexico we might want a change of pace and visit other countries. We could use the money we would receive from renting our condo during the most desirable and revenue producing months. We told our guy to go ahead and rent it.

As the Mexico months piled one on another, we discovered that with our commitments to the orphanage and coaching basketball we didn’t want to leave. We loved life here. Additionally, friends wanted to visit us in March. We told our property manager that we didn’t want to rent it. He said that he could easily find another location for March, but that February would prove to be significantly more difficult.

We traveled around town looking for a month rental. We pondered a variety of options. Eventually, we rented a condo one floor above us for two weeks. We also turned in two weeks of tradable time shares for using two dated resorts in the Golden Zone or what the Mexicans call Zona Dorado. This section of Mazatlan stretches seven miles. Mostly timeshare resorts built during the 70’s grace the beach side. A series of small businesses, restaurants, pharmacies, and gift shops line the street opposite the resorts. No postcards that beautify Mazatlan are snapped in the Zona Dorado.

We have stayed in plenty resort hotels in Mexico over the years. We invariably arrived in late March for spring break. Weary of school, the wet weather, cloudy skies, and all the tedium of our indoor routines, we would arrive ready to celebrate warm weather, late nights, and good times. And celebrate we do well.

Our mind set for this particular visit paled by comparison. We had just spent five months in a new condo with all of our things. We loved our routine, our new friends, our commitments, and our home. We drove into Pueblo Bonita’s resort hotel and found easy parking. We informed the registration table that we owned a place in Mazatlan which served the purpose of warding off the resort’s timeshare requests. This did not ward off the barrage of hits you receive outside of the hotel. When a gringo walks out of a timeshare resort, he is fair game for solicitation of timeshare presentations, deep sea fishing opportunities, travel van excursions, and pulmonia rides in search of your desires. If you don’t have one, they can make one up for you. “No gracias, senor.” I repeated dozens of times as politely as my long strides away would allow.

Both of the resorts had similar settings. They had two pools. One has the activities like water volleyball and basketball, water aerobics, bingo, card games, etc. The other pool serves as a quieter place for sunbathers. Many visitors preferred the lounges on the beach. Now the beach side has its fair share of vendors who push the activities of the ocean: para sailing, sailboat rides, kayaking, and . Once you step away from the resort’s sanctioned beach you are also inundated with fruit vendors, trinkets galore, apparel of all Mexican varieties, and my least favorite look, the Bo Derek beaded hair. Why women think they could possibly look attractive with this look baffles me. Drawing the hair away from faces that need to be concealed doesn’t work unless you are a ”10”.

Our first night at Pueblo Bonita we ate at their restaurant. We had eaten their previously with friends who have a timeshare at their sister resort, the spectacular Emerald Bay property. We hated the meal and mostly the prices. These places are designed to milk tourists who are there for one week of mayhem. We yearned for our palapa, our friends, and Jaime. So we visited often. Sharon would play tennis and then we would come back for a happy hour occasionally. Each time we had to field questions as to why we were doing what we were doing. Oy Vay.

* * *

During these two weeks we did find some interesting experiences. Over the months at Paraiso I noticed a younger couple who spent a week during November, December, January and now February. They always traveled with friends. Due to their relationship with Jaime, I knew that they were owners and not renters, but they maintained a self contained society at a location that I would soon learn Jaime had christened “Ricardo’s Café”. This couple didn’t interact with the usual suspects that grace the palapa. They chose to sit at the nearest cushioned lounge that hugs the wall overlooking the pool. I don’t know exactly why none of the usual suspects ever approached them. Perhaps, Richard’s (Jaime christened him Ricardo while he’s in Mexico) tats scared the Q Tip set off. Perhaps, Becky’s (Ricardo’s wife) beauty intimidated the women and the husbands in the presence of their wives off. Perhaps, no one wished to disturb the obvious tranquility they share with their friends. The curtains of Ricardo’s Café opened for Sharon and me in a most pathetic way.

Becky wandered into the palapa where Jaime greeted her with all of the enthusiasm that he musters for beautiful women. Becky had Jaime’s rapt attention and a smile to boot. One of our distinguished suspects fueled by copious alcohol, the absence of a wife, and a lecherous nature put on a disgusting display that lavished attention on a woman in need of none. As he railed on and on over her beauty and where she had been all of his life and how her posture needed to be softened and how his ability to read body language might impress her while he batted his eye lashes. Becky looked on with cautious amusement. She did not uncross her arms until Ricardo walked up. She introduced her husband. Then Ricardo received a lecture on his body language. No one laughed. More surprisingly, no one puked.

The next night Sharon and I managed to feel comfortable enough to walk into Ricardo’s Café, and we apologized for an unusual suspect’s behavior the previous evening. During the course of the next couple of evenings we learned more and more about them. I am married to White Oprah after all. I learned several things about them: they aren’t as young as they appear to be and have been married 33 years and have a 30 year old daughter and 3 grand daughters, they have great friends, they like to laugh, and they let their drunken friend slaughter me in tennis. I would later learn that he played me after he drank all afternoon. Not good for my ego.

The absolute highlight of our two weeks though occurred when Ricardo and Becky drove the two couples who traveled with them from Idaho to the airport. Shari and Theresa chose not to join their husbands for the return trip home. They wanted to stay for a few more days. They kissed their mates and sent them home to the kids. Who does that!!!!!! Now Ricardo’s Café started to rock. Ricardo and his harem would rise in the morning, go for a run. Stop at a bar part way and suck down some Bloody Mary’s and then hit the palapa for more. Sharon and I loved their enthusiasm and laughter, but maybe not as much as Patrick enjoyed his tattoo hunt. They provided us a great antidote to our blues away from home.

The night we returned home after a month away from our own beds, we made several grocery runs, packed our things away, and did laundry. Unknown to us we missed our own party as the usual suspects brought snacks to share and the following sign:

Welcome Back Sharon and Bruce

You thought it would be a good idea.

Well, the drinks are on the house. Just tell Jaime your room number.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Build It They Will Come part one

When I lived in Newport Beach, California after being discharged from the Marine Corps, friends visited. When I attended college in San Francisco, friends visited. When Sharon and I taught school in Park City, Utah, friends visited. When we reared our children in Corvallis, Oregon, friends telephoned, emailed, but stayed home, so we visited them. Retiring in Mazatlan figured to transport us to those days when we could show off a city we loved to live in. Corvallis came to Mexico the past couple of weeks, and we loved sharing it with our friends.

Mike Green, his two younger sisters and his wife Ali arrived on a cruise ship a couple of weeks ago on a Wednesday. Mike played on my varsity basketball team all four years of his high school career. We experienced some tumultuous moments during those years, but we maintained a close relationship as evident in an article that I will post at the conclusion of this piece that ironically appeared the day before he arrived. Not only do we know Mike well, but we also know his wife well. Ali grew up next door from age three to this day. Mike and Ali live with Ali’s parent as I write this. So when they emailed us to let us know that they would spend six or seven hours in our adopted city, I scratched my head as to what to do with four folks almost forty years younger than I. If nothing else, they would love the beach, the sun, and a pina colada. Right?

Tourists love Mazatlan in February as they tire of the rain, wind, and snow north of the border. As I met my four twenty somethings dressed for the beach and sun, the skies opened up and drenched my poor guests before I could escort them to my car parked blocks away due to all of the touring vans, pulmonias, and taxis waiting to scoop up cruisers for the day. When five thousand people disembark, it’s big business here. Today two cities dressed as ships had arrived.

I drove through town towards our condo and pointed out the sights as I barely kept ahead of the storm that headed north …. as in our way. We eventually pulled into our room at Pueblo Bonita and chatted as the roads flooded. After three hours the deluge trickled and we wandered around the beach, hit the hot tub, had a couple of drinks, and headed downtown. I had a basketball practice, and I really wanted to use Mike’s incredible abilities to demonstrate a variety of skills that this 60 something can’t do so well.

As the girls shopped, Mike and I dropped by the school to discover the court drenched. We then wandered through the city. We made our way to Te Amos Lucy, an excellent Mexican restaurant that locals recently voted as one of the three best restaurants in the city. The girls met us there. The rain wasn’t the only glitch to the day. Ali ordered an item off the menu. Frankly, this irked me because when Mike asked us to take him to an authentic Mexican restaurant, everyone should have taken my word that this restaurant rocks. So she asked for a burrito with meat and cheese, but not melted and lettuce. The waiter patiently asked, “like Baja Fresh?” Mexicans make small tortillas. They don’t supersize them. After wading through Ali’s frustrations with her order, the attention it achieved, and snide asides from her husband, she started to cry. Enter White Oprah. She whisked Ali off to an interior courtyard with two beers in tow and worked her magic.
Alls well that ends well. The meal pleased all. Yes, even Ali. We dropped our first Corvallis visitors of the year off at their ship which we watched sail away into the night from our palapa with happy hour drinks in hand.

* * *

Mike Green, who was a standout basketball player for Crescent Valley High from 1999-2003, has found coaching is both fun and difficult since returning to his alma mater as a volunteer coach.(Andy Cripe Gazette-Times)

Mike Green had no idea what was in store when he walked into the Crescent Valley High gym for the first day of basketball practice in 1999.
Like most children who grow up playing basketball, Green dreamed of playing at a Division I university after a standout high school career.
As cocky as he appeared on the court - how can you blame a guy for being confident when he could seemingly hit a big 3-pointer anytime his team needed it - he was anything but in those first few weeks as a freshman.
"I remember coming in first day of school (with) big eyes and (being) nervous walking down the hall," Green recalled last week.
"My goal was always to play college basketball. I didn't know if I could do that until after the first couple practices. I didn't know how good I could be."
Green turned out to be a pretty darn good player for the Raiders. He was deadly from long range, and had the rap for being pretty brash in his actions. It was like he was invincible on the court, and let that emotion get the best of him at times.
He may never forget the two technical fouls he received in a win at Corvallis his senior season and having to sit out the following game against McNary. The Raiders lost and failed to win the Valley League title and automatic berth to the state tournament.
To this day, Green swears the Raiders would have won that game had he played.
If that was the worst memory for Green, his story wouldn't hold the impact that it does, and who knows where he would be today.
The choices and decisions high school students make usually have an impact in shaping them as they get older.
Green is no different, but his story isn't like most.
His struggles with alcohol and marijuana were well documented in a story in Dec. 6, 2002 edition of the Gazette-Times.
It's not a topic Green readily discusses.
"It's there, it happened, I've tried to move on and not think about it," he says today.
His story could have ended with a great talent being wasted by getting wasted. Instead, Green has persevered, accepted his poor choices and moved on.
Poor choices
It began innocently enough when Mike gave in to a friend's constant pressuring and drank his first beer during his freshman year.
What transpired over the next few months led Green down a path that would change his life forever.
Late in his freshman year, Green admitted to drinking after being pressured by his parents. He remained sober for 18 months.
Green excelled on the basketball court. He became known for his 3-point shooting and helping the Raiders to the top of the Valley League standings.
As a junior, he poured in 46 points in a playoff loss at home to Beaverton.
That summer, Green verbally committed to play basketball at University of Portland.
His dream had come true.
How could anything go wrong now?
Three months after that playoff loss, Green got into a argument with his parents over attending a party. He left home and moved in with a family friend. He would later change his address to Bruce Reid's, his coach and a close friend of the Greens.
"In a perverse sort of way, when Portland made an oral commitment to Mike, that was the pinnacle of what his pursuits were, which was to be a Division I basketball player," Reid said back in 2002. "Somehow, he became vulnerable all over again."
For weeks, friends tried to help reunite Green with his family and convince him to move back home. He did for a few weeks, but then left again when his parents said they couldn't live with someone who had a drug habit.
"I was pretty stubborn about not wanting to live by my parents' rules," Green said back then. "I didn't want to be worried about getting caught doing what I was doing. I got too full of myself. I thought I was untouchable."
He eventually entered the YES (Youth Entering Sobriety) House at Oregon State University. He expected to stay 30 days, but left after 58 - on Oct. 30, 2002, just in time for basketball.
He played his senior season and helped the Raiders get back to the playoffs where they lost a tough 56-53 decision at Southridge.
It was a hard way to end his high school career, coming up short yet again in his quest to get the Raiders to the tournament.
Later that spring, Portland pulled its scholarship offer.
"I wanted to play D1 basketball," Green said. "I knew I could play it. I knew I was talented enough, and I'm not going to lie, I was devastated when it happened. That had been a goal of mine since third or fourth grade.
"That's everything I had ever worked for and it was being taken away because of a decision I made. It was hard for a while and it's still hard, actually. It's still very hard when I think about it."
Following Alison
Mike met Alison Popoff in a PE class when they were freshmen at CV. They began to hang out off and on with mutual friends.
Junior year they became closer and eventually dated throughout senior year.
After they graduated, Alison was going to attend Cal Poly, so Green decided to follow her to California.
Why not?
"When I realized I wasn't going to go to Portland, I was looking at a JC," Green said. "She was going to Cal Poly, ‘Oh, that works out nice, there's a junior college there. I'll go there and play.' "
Green had a solid freshman season at Cuesta Junior College, but hurt his shoulder in the offseason and had to have surgery.
He sat out the next season and signed to play at UC Irvine, a Division I program.
He had reached his dream a second time.
However, his shoulder injury was still bothersome and he didn't get the kind of playing time he wanted.
So after just one season, he decided to transfer and headed to Hawaii to play for Division II Chaminade.
He spent his final two years of eligibility playing for the Silverswords, then focused on completing his degree in Business Administration.
Going to Hawaii meant leaving Alison in California, but she joined Mike in Hawaii after graduating from Cal Poly. They were married July 12, 2008.
"She's amazing and I wouldn't want to be with anyone else," Mike said. "She's definitely very supportive. She has changed my life."
It may not have been the road Green thought he would travel, but in the end, he accomplished his goal - to play basketball and graduate without a lot of debt.
"All the places were great, I enjoyed all of them," he said. "I really wouldn't have changed it. I liked wherever I was."
As much as he convinces himself of that statement - no matter how true it might be - there are still those moments when he thinks about what he may have lost.
"In high school I was getting letters from tons and tons of D1 schools," Green said. "I was fully expecting to do that. But it didn't work out. ... I matured a lot from it. I just kind of looked at life a little bit differently.
"It was a good thing, but there still are, there's always going to be, what ifs. But I try not to look at that because I think I had a positive experience everywhere I was at.
"It all happened for a reason."
A new chapter
Less than 10 years after walking into Raider Gym for the first time for basketball tryouts, Green made a similar journey last June.
After graduating from Chaminade in May, he and Alison were back in Corvallis for the summer and Green talked with CV coach Mike Stair about helping coach the summer league team.
When Alison decided to attend Western Oregon to work on her Masters, Green met with Stair about helping out during the high school season.
Stair was game and Green joined the staff as a volunteer coach.
He's had a good time.
"It's been fun because high school basketball, I mean as much fun as I had in college, high school basketball is the best experience I've had playing basketball," Green said.
"Coming back and helping out has pretty much put me back in that setting. A lot of pretty good memories, some bad, but most good."
It has certainly been a learning, and eye-opening, experience.
"It's a lot harder than I thought," Green admits. "Being a player, for me, I always just would go out on the court and handle it.
"Being a coach, its a completely different element. It's similar in some ways but it's completely different because you have to figure out ways to motivate players to try to do things you want them to do based on your experience and how you think they're going to win.
"With high school kids that's a challenge."
If anyone knows what it's like to be a challenge it's Green. Maybe now he understands how Reid and others felt when they had to deal with him as a player.
"I was a big challenge and Bruce and a lot of other people will definitely attest to that," Green said with a laugh.
In the past
Brian Green, Mike's dad, still has a weathered copy of the Dec. 6, 2002, edition of the Gazette-Times in his office at Dallas High where he is an assistant principal.
It serves as a reminder of how quickly life can change, and can be a teaching tool.
"(At times) I have to cross paths with kids in the same scenario," Brian Green said. "If I am inspired to do so, I will crack out the story. It's amazing still the impact it has on kids. I will share that same hope with parents."
It has also taught the elder Green a lot about life, and how he values all of his children.
"The biggest thing for me to glean from this is to understand true unconditional love," he said. "I realize I love my kids and Mike for who he was, not what he did. We have a good, strong relationship now."
Of all the accomplishments over the past six years, Brian knows the most important one.
"By far it has been his ability to conquer his demons and challenges in life," he said.
It has been a long road and Mike Green admits he couldn't have done it without the support he received, especially his parents, wife and Reid.
"They mean everything to me," Green said. "My family was always supportive. Alison and her family. And Bruce, he's pretty much like a second dad to me. I think the world of him."
Reid is living in Mazatlan these days, and the former player and coach will spend Wednesday together. Green is on a cruise with his grandparents and siblings this week.
Life is good these days. Green has a tough time believing its been 10 years since he began this journey.
"You're just young and dumb and sometimes you don't think things through," he says now about his choices in high school. "But I think everything that happened in high school, everything that's happened in my life, there have been steps taking me to where I'm at now.
"I think that I'm in a really good place right now. I think I have a good grasp on life and I'm comfortable with who I am and I'm just enjoying it right now."

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


You can’t visit Mazatlan for a week not to learn that their Mardi Gras celebration is one of the biggest in the world. Everyone knows about Rio de Janiero and New Orleans, but Mazatlan takes a great deal of pride in its Carnaval. The set up for it takes place weeks in advance as most businesses that cater to the tourist industry near where the celebrations occur start painting and cleaning up their public persona. Then the electrical Carnaval masks that hang from every other light post that divides the center lanes on the thoroughfares from the Zona Dorada (7 mile stretch) to the end of the Malecon (6 mile stretch) begin to light the night. These masks are colorful and add charm to a city that likes a fiesta.
The festivities begin on the Thursday night prior to Lent. Each night the last mile of the Malecon becomes a street dance. Restrooms have been built…not portapotties, but full on enclosed walk in restrooms with Pacifico cerveza signs that acknowledge the sponsor of every aspect of the Carnaval festivities. Three large stages for the musicians divide the mile long celebration. Too many tents to count provide locations to purchase your favorite Pacifico libation. That would be not only Pacifico, but Pacifico light, Modelo and Modelo light. Pacifico brewing company rules this week.
My lack of enthusiasm for attending any of the street dances concerned three issues: the lateness of the experience, the stories about opportunistic thieves, and the frightening rumor that spread quickly through town. The dances began after 9 and lasted all night. The reputation that swirled around town for months of the influx of dubious characters waiting to take advantage of inebriated celebrants also worried me. Lastly, the rumor that I heard from a friend who works with many locals also deterred my desire to pursue a late evening. The rumor, fortunately unfounded, picked up steam throughout the week. The police presence throughout all parts of the city gave it more credence.
A well trained narcotics gang called the Sevens had buried machine guns and police uniforms in the sand at a location close to the Malecon. This gang’s elite terrorists had been trained by the Israeli special forces and would one night wander through the streets during the celebrations to bring headlines to its cause. Typical issues dealing with tons of people and drunkenness were the only police issues of the week. I found it difficult to dismiss the rumor, so I stayed away from the street dances. This, fortunately, did not prevent me from enjoying Carnaval 2010.
The coronation of a king opened the celebrations on Thursday night. The city charged no admission. The king is invariably a local, young musician. Last year a five member male band won. On Friday night at the baseball stadium, the largest venue in Mazatlan, hosted the coronation of the queen. This was not free. Sharon and I attended with 25,000 others. I knew I was in for an interesting evening when I waited in line to have my ticket punched. The only worse ratio of women to men that I have encountered at a paid function was a presentation of Shirley Valentine. The first time I had watched the movie of Shirley Valentine I had to rewind so many scenes to try to understand what the woman was trying to say. I can’t understand how come the British can’t speak better English. All British movies should include subtitles. The Australian actress who portrayed Shirley in the play couldn’t speak any better. I had no rewind button to push, but I did know the story.
If I thought Shirley Valentine was difficult to comprehend, try attending a Mexican queen coronation that drew two huge Mexican singing sensations who bantered throughout the evening to the delight of everyone but the gringos. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Mexican women love to dress up. I adore watching young mothers pose for their husbands while on vacation. They learn the pose and the look early. I watched a mother working her six year old daughter to look at her daddy’s camera with a sultry pose. If you bring out a camera in front of a group of Mexican women, the pose pops out automatically. While waiting for Sharon finishing up at a beauty salon in a mall the other day, I looked at a photo display of women on a photo shop window. The only place that I could think of in the States that would have shown some of the more provocative photos would have been on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. The ones of the eight month plus pregnant mothers blew me away. If you don’t think pregnant women can look sexy, go to Gran Plaza Mall. Holy Friole.
Now you get a bit of an understanding why the men’s coronation is free and the women’s costs money. The ballet dancers, the elaborate flower numbers reminded me of Beach Blanket Bingo in San Francisco, but the headdresses there are a spoof of performances like I watched. The sets were garish to an extreme, but the fireworks were dazzling.
I knew that the most famous Mexican songwriter would perform. I assumed that the young female star would perform afterwards, but it didn’t happen that way. The two sang duets…..an old 5’1” guy matched up with a 6’ stunningly graceful and attractive woman. The singing I liked. The Mexicans preferred the bantering that took up much more of the performance. I understood none of it. The next day I listened to a story about our Condo association president who makes a joke out of everything he hears. His wife related that every time the audience broke into any degree of laughter that Rich laughed louder and longer. He, of course, understood not a word of it. Who does that?
Saturday night a group of fifteen friends from Paraiso rented our favorite 51 foot sailboat. We loaded it up with copious amounts of food and alcohol for a seven hour evening. We boarded to catch a sunset. Then we sailed towards Olas Altas, where the oldest section of the beach of Mazatlan begins. In 1863 a battle between the French ships off the city’s coast line fired on Mazatlan. The fireworks that took place this evening captured a reenactment of this battle that the Mexicans won. The entire year 2010 is a focus on national pride as it’s the 200 year anniversary of its independence from Spain. This battle reenactment is just one of Mexico’s successes that will dot this year’s calendar. Besides its historical significance, the fireworks compared favorably to the best I have seen. The most spectacular though occurred in Paris on Bastille Day four years ago where large speakers played music that accompanied the fireworks on the parade area in front of the Eiffel Tower. It was like watching Fantasia live with 300,000 of my closest French friends.
Sunday late afternoon, the infamous parade rode down the Malecon. Again the theme focused on Mexican patriotism. The floats carried princesses galore, but the floats themselves all reflected Mexico’s history. Bands marched and played. People lined the streets for hours beforehand, and they partied early and long into the evening. Costumes and horses and heroes and swirling colorful dresses and monstrous floats flew by one after another. The spectators loved it. They cheered and sang patriotic songs and shared their enthusiasm with everyone in their midst. A newly renovated bar sat at our back which provided not only refreshments but also los banos. We bought extra beers for celebrants who surrounded us and befriended us. Ahhhh the power of cervezas!!!!! We talked to so many people who had come from all over Mexico to enjoy this wild fiesta. They came every year. Since I bought one gentleman beers, he wanted me to share his evening in the pursuit of wild women. He flashed his condoms and told me that we could find muy bonita muchachas. Nunez caught his leering eye, shook her finger at him in the universal no directions, and said, “El esta mi esposa”; as she next pointed to her wedding band. My friend apologized and disappeared.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Driving in Mexico Part II

How a bus made my car look Mexican

A couple of Saturdays ago I picked up a couple of my basketball players to work on individual skills at the court on the Malecon. I always park on the interior side of the court to avoid all the traffic that takes in the scenic route of ocean, roller bladers, joggers, and walkers. Where I park bus traffic is the 6 peso variety. No new air conditioned tourist 9 peso buses cruise through this part of Mazatlan. I find it amusing to watch some of the weird looks I receive as I instruct players through the drills. A shoe shop across the street usually has a few plastic chairs outside that at this hour are still in the shade. Guys hang out and watch a Viejo gringo showing teenagers how to shoot, dribble, and use their feet more efficiently.
As I worked with a couple of players a couple of weeks, one of the guys from the shoe store interrupted me with, “Is that green car yours?”
I have learned that when someone asks you a question about your car that has 230,000 miles on it, it isn’t because he’s interested in knowing more about it in case he wishes to purchase it. So with a degree of foreboding, I acknowledged that yes it is mine. He beckoned me over to it. I looked. It looked fine from my angle. He led me around to the driver’s side door. It no longer looked so fine.
Something had creased the door and knocked off my side view mirror. Two wires that had enabled me to alter my rear view vision hung out of the side where the mirror once resided. I couldn’t help myself, but think, “Now my car looks like it’s a Mexican owned car.”
Shoe store guy introduced me to a bus driver. That would be the driver of the something that made my gringo car a Mexican one. Bus driver did not speak English. One of my players is bilingual, and I eventually learned that bus driver had contacted his office and a representative would soon arrive. No one who has spent time in Mexico thinks that soon exists in this country. During the hour and a half we waited I made sure that I expressed my gratitude to the driver for stopping. I would never have known if he hadn’t. After telling my bus knocked off my mirror story, I talked to no one gringo or national who wasn’t amazed that the bus driver had actually stopped.
. A gentleman from the bus company did eventually arrive on a motorcycle. This just shows you that bus companies know how to get through traffic. By then I had retrieved my mirror (who gets the seven years bad luck? Bus driver or me?). Time will tell. I stuffed it with the two basketballs into my trunk. Some keepsake huh?
Bus representative did not speak ingles either. He did hand me the phone to speak to someone who did. She informed me that she knew that having an accident in a foreign country could be very stressful, but that the bus company would take care of everything. She further explained that I should follow motorcycle guy to a part store. Then I should follow him to a body shop. The bus company would take care of everything. She said the take care of everything several more times. I thanked her. My players jumped into my car and off we followed. As I drove and the boys chatted amiably in the back seat, I wondered about the lack of a police report. Obviously, the bus company wanted no part of their involvement. Hmmmm. At the part store I learned that they would order the mirror. I must add here that following a guy on a motorcycle in a Mexican city’s traffic is no easy endeavor. I endured. At the body shop I secured a Wednesday appointment for them to do the body work, replace the mirror, and paint the new parts. I took the boys home and shared my news with a skeptical wife.

* * *

I drove the car into the body shop on Thursday (yes we are talking aboutmanana) morning. They told me I could pick it up on Saturday afternoon at 3. I had tickets to the Venados second game of the best of seven series for the national championship and the right to represent Mexico in the Latin American championships in Venezuela. The game started at 6. What were the odds? The odds favored a taxi ride to the game.
I arrived Saturday at 2:30. The banged in door….fixed. The scraped door and wheel well panel….painted. The mirror and the wires….no where to be seen. Being bilingual is not a prerequisite to work for an auto body shop in the States on in Mexico. Between my espanol and body shop guy’s ingles, I figured that they had no mirror. The absence of it helped. He gave me numbers to phone. No one answered. He gave me my key to the car. I drove off. I arrived to an increasingly skeptical wife. She asked me rhetorical questions like, “What did you think was going to happen?” And others, but my anti auditory skills kicked in.

* * *

On Monday I started to make phone calls. I eventually talked Daniela, who works in the office downstairs, to call. Over several days I learned that they couldn’t find the missing part in Mexico. No one drives or has killed 1998 Toyota Avalons in Mexico. I phoned my mechanic in Corvallis. I know this man well as I have put five of his daughters through private school during the past twenty-five years. He found a mirror for $225 dollars not pesos. I asked Daniela to convey this to the bus representative and the body shop mechanic. She informed me that when she mentioned the price both of them became momentarily speechless. Mucho dinero. They would look again.
I waited a couple more days, and then phoned again. No mirror surfaced. I then called my insurance agent, Juan Chong. Yes, I have a Chinese-Mexican insurance agent. He doesn’t even have a Chinese accent (probably due to being a fourth generation Mexican). I told Juan my story. He asked me what I wanted. I told him I wanted my mirror, which my Corvallis mechanic could buy, I would pay him, a friend would bring it down in March, and body shop guy could install and paint it. He said no problema. He called me back. The bus representative agreed. My wife remains a skeptic. We shall see manana.

Side note. Driving in Mexican city traffic without a rear view mirror ain’t for the faint of heart. You know when playing a video game and you master one level and then attack the next level. Well, I just hit the second level button.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Pepper Farm, a Mexican Success Story

Tommy Newsom played the saxophone for the Tonight Show band. His bland personality often provided Johnny Carson a comic foil. I watched one show where a psychiatrist asked Johnny, Ed McMahon, and Tommy to sketch a self portrait. The good doctor then described the personalities and foibles of each. His performance delighted the audience when discussing the two stars of the show. When he described Tommy, he said that he was the most harmonious, serene personality he had ever seen. The camera zoomed in on the picture. It looked exactly like Paul Pippenger does today.
A couple of days ago Paul took me on a trek to a pepper and tomato farm that he has funded for Victor, a waiter at restaurant in Mazatlan. During the three hours of driving to and fro, I learned much about the history and the men behind a fascinating Mexican success story. Some six years ago Victor and a local Canadian merchant were partners in a floundering farm. When the partnership dissolved, Paul, a frequent visitor to Victor’s restaurant for over twenty-six years, asked Victor if he would like a new partner. Fortunately, Victor said, “Si.”
Paul grew up in Orofino, a small Idaho timber town, the son of a grocer. His father made sure Paul spent time working a variety of jobs, join the military, and attend college, so that he would gain a more worldly perspective. For this Paul is sincerely appreciative. He speaks glowingly of his father’s influence and tutelage. Paul eventually returned to Orofino to work at and subsequently to purchase his father’s grocery store.
His successes and failures over the years have given him healthy insights into not only the business world, but also into the world of relationships concerning both family and community. He learned to take calculated risks in business which has since provided financial security. His involvement in Orofino helped the community overcome its previous dependence on timber where 75 per cent of the townspeople once earned their livelihood. Only 25 per cent work within the timber industry today. It is these experiences that made Paul a perfect partner for Victor.
Paul shared some of the changes that he instituted that permit this farm to turn a profit for Victor. Paul refuses to make money on this venture. He only attempts to recoup his annual contributions. Paul’s guidance and understanding of running a business have aided Victor immensely. This once floundering operation has taken flight. He has taught Victor the value of buying in bulk supplies like seeds, fertilizer, and pesticides, water pumps, and parts for all the machinery that could break down; thus saving money and preventing production breakdowns. He convinced Victor to build a storage shed for these supplies. To promote safety and well being, Paul purchased masks for those spraying the crops. He introduced Victor to a chemist to teach him which insecticide worked for which disease and how to recognize what ailed the crops.
Paul encouraged Victor to attend farming expositions to learn more about his new flowering farm. On the day of my visit Victor proudly explained to us what he had learned at the last expo he attended. He found better seed that could produce five inch peppers. And it cost less than the previous seed! Paul smiled like a proud father.
As we wandered the rows of peppers, Paul and Victor explained every aspect of the operation. This labor intensive operation makes Victor and his brother Carlos, who lives in La Concepcion, extremely popular. Paul convinced Victor to pay his workers more than neighboring farms (150 pesos versus 100 pesos a day). He encouraged him to provide lunch as well. When picking season begins, Victor has no problems finding workers. No phone calls are necessary in this community. Word spreads fast when work on Victor’s farm is needed.
Paul’s influence stretches well beyond Victor. Paul built Carlos a home that cost $7,000 in La Concepcion. Carlos views this humble home as a palatial estate. Paul felt that someone needed to live close to the farm. Carlos would walk to it until Paul purchased him a donkey for $450. Carlos suffered sores from the ride in, so Paul purchased him a saddle for $70. Eventually, Paul found an old pickup truck for $700. Paul has a friend in Carlos.
Victor told me the most compelling story during my pepper farm visit. One day five Mexican workers found a large hole in the ground that they figured an armadillo wandered into. When one of them poked a stick into the hole and withdrew it with blood on it, he realized it couldn’t be poking an armadillo. He had been poking a seven foot snake with a three inch circumference. Victor didn’t have a name for this snake, but he said that it was poisonous and angry. With his hands wildly waving Victor described how this snake sought out the one man of the five standing there who had drawn its blood with a stick. The snake took off after the man who dropped his stick and sprinted through the rows of peppers. According to Victor the snake never trailed the man by more than ten feet. He followed up one lengthy row after another. I grew tired just watching the distance that this man had to run to stave off the snake. Victor further described the snake as poised to strike at all times even during the chase. As the man raced back towards his friends, one of them hit the snake with another big stick which the snake curled onto. Eventually, they killed the angry beast. The chase collapsed to the ground in relief and exhaustion.
I hate snakes. I had taken numerous pictures prior to hearing the snake story. I held my camera in my left hand. I held onto it so long that the extended lens automatically vibrates as it returns within the camera. When it vibrated in my hand, I jerked my arm upward so violently that I thought I had dislocated my shoulder. Fortunately, Paul and Victor had moved on down the row and had missed my fearful exhibition. I hate snakes.
After a couple of pickers had selected three large bags of peppers, we loaded them into Paul’s SUV and headed for the tomato farm, a mile down the road. A huge truck had backed down a road adjacent to rows of tomato plants. Dozens of pickers had plastic three gallon buckets. They brought them to the truck where Carlos and a friend took them and poured them into larger more easily stacked milk crates.
To fully realize what a popular figure Pa oool as they call Paul, you must watch the pickers respond to him. Jose, a 67 year old dynamo, walked up and hugged Pa oool. He then turned and hugged me. Any friend of Pa oool’s is a friend to Jose and many, many others. Everyone wanted to shake his hand and in turn, mine. But Jose’s appreciation of Paul goes beyond helping him find work. Paul took Jose’s picture, developed it, and gave it to him. Jose told him it is the first picture he has ever had of himself. He pinned it above his bed.
Victor walked a crate of tomatoes to Paul’s SUV. Victor then left the farm at 1:30 to begin his evening shift as a waiter an hour and a half away. Paul then gave me a tour of the small town of La Concepcion. This humble town has no running water in any of the homes. Paul talked of the many meals that he has shared and how you can’t say no when people wish to honor you with their hospitality. Being full is not an acceptable response. So he contently eats away.
Watching the interactions between Paul and Victor and then Victor and his workers moved me. A mentor has created a respected leader. He has taught him well. Victor handles his new found knowledge with pride and dignity. Paul has helped a man and a town to be self reliant. What a gift. And it is this giving that has helped create such a serene and harmonious person.

An Evening with Cher, Sophia, and Cha Cha

Sharon accuses me often of being an events coordinator on a cruise ship. This criticism reeks of “I didn’t just say yes to three different requests to do things for the next day while I was drinking and hobnobbing at the palapa so it must have been you.” Sharon’s inability to say no to any social opportunity amazes me. But to say yes to join thirty people to watch a cheesy Cher imitator at Heather’s Place….you have got to be frickin kidding me!!!!!
In past visits to Mazatlan I have walked by Heather’s Place when she has placed plastic chairs in rows, and I listened to some dreadful entertainers like Roy Orbison, The King, Kenny Rogers, etc. I swore that I would take a gun and shoot myself before I would attend such an event. Even Sharon admitted that Cher would be dreadful, but we would go out dancing afterwards with some friends. “Bruce, you don’t own a gun, so suck it up.”
Friday night:
5:00 Larry and Barbi’s cocktail party
6:00 Buffet at Heather’s Place
7:00 Cher sings
8:00 Back up singer performs
8:45 Cher sings again
10:15 Puerto Viejo for cocktails
11:00 Lorna’s for more cocktails
11:30 Son Sin – Mexican karaoke and dancing
1:00 Mambo Café – Salsa dancing
Bed time as yet to be determined.

We attended the cocktail party late because Larry and Barbi own two condos (one in Paraiso I and another in Paraiso II). We had told several people the wrong location, so in a mad dash into and out of elevators in the two buildings to correct our error, we arrived late. We also forgot to tell one couple who we had asked to go dancing with us about the cocktail party. They dressed up, waited for us, called us, took the elevator to our condo around 7, and then went to bed early. I haven’t ditched someone since the eighth grade. I felt horrible about it the next day. I felt horrible the whole next day about my tequila consumption as well.
At the cocktail party Sharon floated around like a butterfly and stung me like a bee when I looked bored. We boarded into a friend’s van and arrived late for the Cher dinner show. In stead of rows, Heather had placed ten chairs to each table in her parking lot. Since our group had reserved thirty spots, she assigned us preferential seating. Since we wandered in late, we sat at the table directly in front of the eight by eight foot stage. I literally had to move my chair every time that Cher walked out into the audience. Frickin lovely.
Heather’s idea of a dinner show consists of waiting in line to spoon some indescribable warm slop onto a plate. This food would not be a buzz buster. We kept the cocktails coming. I caught a glimpse of Cher in the restaurant. Damn she looks young. How does she do it?
Heather, knowing that the stage would be condemned in the States, grabbed the microphone and from her table at the side of the stage and introduced Cher. Her credentials actually sounded impressive. She had preformed for the Jay Leno Show and several other TV shows. She gingerly sidestepped onto the platform, exaggerated some Cher like gyrations as she belted out a song. I know watching American Idol doesn’t qualify me as an expert, but she could sing. I loved her show. If I ever am to watch a DVD of a Cher performance, she will have to really dazzle me to convince me that she sings better than what I listened to that night.
Yes, I knew about three of the songs. Yes, the couple next to me, Shelley and Phillip, plied me with shots of tequila that I washed down with rum and Cola lights. As cynically as I wanted to be, I had to acknowledge that she blew me away. When Cher completed the first set, the audience exploded into applause. At this time of the year the audiences in Mazatlan have garnered some years. This night the mean age had to approach 73. So what transpired next didn’t really happen; did it?
I looked over at my wife as the back up singer started to sing, “My Brown Eyed Woman” and I knew that Sharon’s alter ego, Sophia, had arrived. These qualify as “Oh Shit” moments for me. Sophia can’t be denied. No “I don’t dance unless seven couples are on the floor” husband or 73 year old Q Tips will stand in her way. She bounded out of her chair and scooted past two chairs to a space in front of the stage. She started to dance. She grabbed Barbi (serves you right for the cocktail party invite) and they started to dance. She soon moved onto me. Sofia and tequila overcame my shy tendencies in front of 200 people that I don’t know well. Oh well…..we were off and dancing. She coaxed some more women out. She performed a quick lap dance for the cantankerous Norm who celebrated his 80th birthday earlier in the month. Then a slow song sat down everyone, but Sofia. She told me to dance with Barbara, and she grabbed her 75 year old husband Billy. Billy doesn’t shy away from the limelight. His broken wing chicken act had most everyone in stitches.
The music heated up, and Sofia beat her way through tables gathering dancers like the Pied Piper gathered rats. Soon we expressed disappointment when Cher had to return. This disappointment wouldn’t last. Cher pulled Barbie’s husband, Larry onto the stage. Too many of our group wanted me up there for my comfort. But Larry reluctantly allowed Cher to place a Sonny wig on and coaxed him through, “I Got You Babe”. Hilarious.
A few songs later Cher grabbed Sofia and three of her friends onto the stage to perform a back up dancing routine. Sofia had the group doing some acceptable can-can routines to the crowd’s delight. Lastly, and I mean the last song, she grabbed me, Shelley and two other guys onto the stage, handed us blow-up plastic guitars, and asked us to play them on the stage for the final number. Now I have watched a couple of music videos over the years, and I had consumed a couple of cocktails by this time in the evening. I am hopeful that no one video taped the performance, but I admit to displaying uncharacteristic enthusiasm in my role. I am pleased that my jean’s knees did not blow out when I slid on them across the stage.
The night with Cher exceeded our expectations and our timeline. We arrived much later than we expected at Puerto Viejo, but we had talked another couple into meeting us there. They had gone home. We then wandered over to Son Sin. ChaCha, the owner of the bar with the riding crop that she uses to maintain order in hand, smiled at us as we entered. This event bears mentioning because I have never seen another gringo ever in Son Sin. She recognized us, as did Felipe, whose woody chased away a Canadian lady a couple months ago. We bought Felipe and his every Friday night friends cervezas. Singers belted out their songs, and we danced. Sofia talked ChaCha into singing for us. ChaCha will never be confused with Cher. ChaCha does wear a wig though. She also wears her 60 or 70 years like a natural woman who has lived hard and has smoked for far too many decades. ChaCha and Cher can both sing like nightingales. I love to hear this woman light up her place with her voice. She doesn’t need a riding crop for discipline when she belts out her songs with such passion because everyone stops their conversations to listen.
By 1:00 am we weaved our way in search of a taxi. When I asked for him to take us back to Paraiso, no one complained about not going to the Mambo Café. Nothing could have topped the three passionate women who had entertained us this night.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Three November Fiestas

Birthday celebrations rarely mean much to me. When we hit decade birthdays, more hoopla invariably arises. Looking back, my fiftieth ranks as my favorite. Jeff’s and Sherry’s front page rendition of the Gazette-Times sports page has amused me and guests for years. Tom Marker’s ballad of Bruce exhibited way more familiarity than a youthful audience could endure. What a joy to have your friends bring to light your idiosyncrasies in such devastating fashion for others to enjoy. Having my birthday four days prior to my wife’s has enabled me to rarely forget hers.
In our early years of marriage basketball often overshadowed my rationality. Other than an elaborate fortieth birthday by surprising her with a trip to La Quinta for four days of sun and fun in a $1,000 a night resort, my efforts rarely dazzled her. If asked, I doubt she could have come up with a second best birthday while married.
Sharon’s birthday last week impressed even me. David and Pat Walker took center stage in the preparation for this. Pat’s birthday is the same as Sharon’s, and David loves a fiesta. The two women discussed the planning of food for weeks. Sharon spent hours preparing more food for her own birthday than she does for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Someone had taped announcements of the “November birthdays” in the elevators throughout the complex. Food poured into the palapa for the six PM tip off. Most of the snowbird owners arrive in late November for their four to six month stay. This turned out to be the opening evening event of the year.
The masses drank and chatted. Then we ate a wide variety of delicious delicacies. I love people who take great pride in the food that they share. Pat loves fireworks, so David did not disappoint her. We gathered around the beach while someone set off an impressive array. As the applause died down, Jaime waved three guitarists poolside to serenade Sharon and Pat, two of his favorite women. They played Mexican love songs for a spellbound audience for an hour. We danced some, but mostly we just watched in awe. I couldn’t help, but think of how impressed Tom Marker, my favorite gringo guitarist, would have been. These guys could play.

* * *

Sharon and I approached Thanksgiving with much trepidation. We have spent so many warm, tasty, and wonderful evenings with our Corvallis friends and family that our hearts were heavy. Phoning family and friends before pursuing a curious evening helped. We succumbed to peer pressure at the palapa and signed up with a group of twenty-five who love Thanksgiving at Twisted Mama’s. We sat in plastic chairs in a parking lot (it is warm after all here) with sixty others. A three piece band did play music for us, and they knew their audience. 60’s and 70’s music had us naming groups and songs and tapping our toes.
After feasting with friends who know a thing or two about preparing a meal, the food could only be assessed as OK. Copious gravy couldn’t hide the hideousness of the stuffing. Not having leftovers for the rest of the weekend disappointed me the most.

* * *
Yesterday, Jaime and his father invited seven of us from Paraiso to attend his father’s sixty-second birthday with his family at Loma Linda, the water park where Jaime’s parents live. Pat Walker didn’t feel well enough to attend, but David and his son Craig did. We drove Zinnie and Norm. The Walkers and Zinnie and Norm are the two couples who have lived the most months in Paraiso. Sharon and I felt honored. We had taken some pictures of Jaime’s family and purchased colorful frames for them. Jaime gave them to his father. I also had written a piece about Jaime that Jaime gave to his son to translate for his grandfather.
Jaime waited in the parking lot for us to arrive. He guided us to the festivities. Jaime’s dad hugged us, the men and the boys shook our hands, and the women kissed us. Then we were seated. Four tables with the proverbial plastic chairs awaited us. Jaime showed us our table, the gringo table. The women served us. Jaime wandered from table to table. Eventually, Zennie, who speaks Spanish, and Sharon, who doesn’t, joined several women and Jaime’s boys. I regaled the gringo men with my blather and tales, but I promised myself that I wouldn’t always be relegated to the gringo table. The invitation touched me. The elaborate and expensive invitation to attend Lupito’s brother’s ordination into priesthood in December moved me. But to truly enjoy this experience, I have to learn more Spanish. I have learned to ask questions. I just never understand their answers.