Three young guys were sitting at the bar. They were all drinking tequila. One of them asked me about running.  Pancho stepped over to help out with the translation. My Spanish is still so bad that I only get about half the words.

Pancho smiled, ‘They’ve seen you running out on the canal.’ He nodded towards the east. ‘They live out there’.

‘Where? Los Flamingos?’  You’d have to see the tiny puebla to understand just how totally inappropriately named it was.

‘Yeah.’ He smiled again, ‘They’ve seen you out there in the heat of the day, running without a shirt’.

‘I only have the afternoon to run in and it’s a lot cooler that way.’

Pancho handed me a Corona. The guy said something else and then Pancho said, ‘But you wear something on your head.’

‘A bandana to keep the sweat out of my eyes.’

Pancho laughed, ‘They think you’re crazy.’

Some people have literally stopped their vehicles and gawked like I was some bizarre species of alien that crash landed in one of their fields.

I don’t take it personally. There isn’t a whole lot of people or traffic out in the valley east of town so an old gringo out there running in shorts, sandals, and a rag tied around his head would be a most curious sight, especially to farmers and ranchers.

‘Why? Because I’m a sweaty old man out there running the canal without a shirt? Or is it because I wear a bandana?’

‘No. Because you’re wearing sandals’.

‘Yeah’, I agreed. ‘That is crazy’.

Pancho’s diminutive waiter arrived with 4 small plates of food. I looked at the kid out of the corner of my eye as he laid out the plates. He didn’t look old enough to shave and he was just so short; it almost made me wince to look at him. I thought, ‘Nobody should have to go through life that short’.

There was some pepeno and jicama; garnished with thin slices of fresh chilies and covered with a generous squeeze of lime juice and a dash of salt. And a dish of something called Requeson which was ricotta cheese with tomato, onion and jalepeno. My favorite was the pickled pig’s feet. My mother introduced me to pickled pigs feet when I was just a little kid and the flavor and texture transports me back in time like no other food. I found it pretty remarkable that Pancho’s pickled pig’s feet tasted exactly like the one’s I ate as a child; the recipes were exactly the same although separated by 50 years and 5000 miles. I was not however overly fond of the botana called cueritos. I like pig skin but not after it’s soaked up a bunch of lime juice and vinegar. I guess it’s a texture thing; for me it’s like eating a sour sponge.

One of the young guys insisted on buying me a tequila which I accepted with the usual trepidation thinking, ‘Oh shit, here we go again.’ I like tequila and tequila likes me and some of these Mexican guys are sometimes too friendly and too generous for their own good. But I got the sense that it would have been extremely impolite to have said no.

Thankfully they were more or less on their way out when I got there so I could plan on sticking with beer after they left.

Pancho arched his right eyebrow, leaned across the bar and said, ‘Those guys are associated with bad guys’. Meaning they weren’t bad guys themselves but that they knew the bad guys. And bad guys is the polite euphemism for the cartels.

Pancho went on, ’And there is a very strong rumor that something bad is going to happen this weekend.’ He shrugged, ‘Or maybe Monday.’

In the last 2 days the Federales had been working over time stopping people, checking IDs, asking questions, upping their patrols. The 3 young guys that just left had also alluded to the rumor that something was up.

Pancho went and barred the door after they left. He said, ‘People will telephone if they want to come in tonight’. I texted Layla and told her to rap on the door when she arrived because the cantina would look closed.

Pancho suggested that I might want to make it an early night and maybe not run the canal for a day or two. I was thinking, ‘that’s kind of creeping me out’. Not run the canal? Pancho said that the bad guys used the roads through the valley. Of course I had to ask why and the answer was because the roads are back roads; meaning unpatrolled.

I thought about it for a minute and told him no; I was running tomorrow. I said the bad guys were everywhere. Pancho shrugged and arched his right eyebrow. I told him the bad guys knew who I was and if they wanted to kidnap me – or whatever – they didn’t have to wait until I was out on the canal for one of my runs. They could snatch me right off the street like they did Guadalupe’s 19 year old son a couple of months back. The bad guys were dressed like cops and they snagged the kid on a Saturday afternoon while he shooting hoops with his friends. Guadalupe is one of my two English students so I got to hear that story from her first hand Monday morning. Everything turned out alright and for me to say any more on that particular subject would not just be indiscreet but possibly down right foolish.

And I ran this Sunday morning, a little earlier than usual probably due to the fact that I was slightly hungover from last night drinking with Layla and her friend who finally showed up at Pancho’s. I witnessed nothing out of the usual apart from the 2 big Federale trucks that exited the canal road just as I was entering. I usually ignore them which is sometimes difficult to do as they are pretty scary looking all dressed in black fatigues, wearing full body armor with helmets and face masks carrying automatic weapons in addition to the mounted heavy machine gun in the back of each truck.

It was a good run. I’ve always found something majorly liberating in sport like running where it’s just you in sandals and shorts out doing some serious miles. Life simply doesn’t get any better than that.