Archives for the month of: July, 2015

A year and a half ago I wrote a post called ‘A Story of Two Nickels’. It was actually two stories that took place within just few miles of each but separated by some 40 years.

The first story involved a nickel that was asked for, freely given and then surprisingly blessed.The second story involved a nickel that was asked for but most stingily refused.  .

I was recollecting on this as a roadside food vendor willfully and most deliberately beat me out of five pesos. Five measly, stinking pesos. But I already ordered the roasted ear of corn and the man had already doctored it up with chili sauce and placed it in a plastic bag so when I got five pesos back in change back from my twenty I called him on it.

I told him they were ten pesos. He very matter of factly told me that the little ears were ten and I was holding a big ear; those were fifteen. I didn’t say anything more.

I walked across the street and talked to the guys there who were also grilling corn over charcoal burners. I asked just when did corn go up to fifteen pesos?

They said, ‘Nah, they’re still all ten pesos.’ They shouted at the guy across the street and said in so many words, ‘What gives? You’ve seen this guy. He lives here.’

The man replied, ‘He’s not Mexican.’

My guys looked at me and shook their heads like, ‘What an asshole.’

So the moral of this particularly insignificant tale of such a paltry sum of money is just how differently some of us view money, possessions, and entitlement. Like in this case, if I am too stupid to ask what something costs before ordering then the vendor is certainly entitled to taking a few extra pesos off me.

Forget the fact that I walk by these guys every single day of the year and I might only get an ear of corn once a month – but now that I think about it – generally from the guys on the west side of the street. I still know that the damn things cost ten pesos. Just like ice cream in the plaza is 10 pesos a serving. And the fruit vendors sell their bags of chopped up fruit covered in chili sauce for ten pesos.

So the corn vendor guy beat me out of five pesos. To him he felt entitled. To me he’s just a insignificant little worm of a thief. Who is more right? Him or me? I can certainly understand his point of view. But the whole buyer beware argument is morally sketchy at best.

So what am I going to do about this? Easy, just simply ignore it and never buy from him again. Getting angry over anything while you are a long term visitor in another country is to mark yourself as a complainer or a troublemaker. But to get gypped out of money – that is pay more than the locals – time after time is to mark oneself as a fool which opens on to other troubles.

Five cents or five pesos. What the insignificant sometimes tells us about ourselves as human beings. Someone very wise once said something to the effect of “Show me what a man does when he thinks no one is looking and I’ll tell you who that man is.”

PS – I came to the conclusion years ago that no one can ever argue with correct behavior; unfortunately that is postulating something that is easier said than done.

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I just finished this bag this morning. This is one of the few leather products that I have produced where I personally did 98% of the work.

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The process is quite straightforward. Cut a leather hide into a bunch of long, skinny strips. Weave the strips together.  And then selectively sew and trim it out so the structural elements bind without altering the aesthetic.

It is simple and crude much like adobe, although even my European designer classically trained friend, Ericka agrees that it is beautiful. I am glad she thinks so because I’ll never make another one like it. Too much work for such a small item.

It is the sort of thing you make once; both for love and for the discovery process. But not something you necessarily want to do again.

Note: Unlike a lot of conventional bags, the strap doesn’t merely attach to the top of the bag. No. The three vertical strips that comprise the strap are all something like six feet long and follow the entire circumference of the bag and as such are the three center most strips of the bottom of the bag as well. That was for strength as well as being part of the whole discovery – can I do it – thing.

PS – Oh yeah, and it’s unique. I made the design on the fly. No one here in Mexico has made a similar bag. It is one integrated bag comprised of interlocking strips of leather. Unprecedented.

Actually Raicilla cannot actually be called tequila because it is distilled from another species of the agave other than the Weber, commonly called blue agave. My friend, Jorge gets the El Alambique brand from a small producer somewhere in Jalisco. To the best of my knowledge it is not available for retail anywhere but for one or two places only the state of Jalisco. IMG_3125 It is a sweet and light agave product although it weighs in at a comparable tequila punching weight of 37% alcohol by volume. Jorge maintains you can drink an entire bottle and feel no ill effects the following day. I’ll have to take his word for that. I am going to keep the bottle he gave me and break it out only on special occasions.

After a lengthy, relentlessness, and comprehensive taste testing I have come to agree with my friend, Pancho that Herradura Blanco is the best tequila in all of Mexico.

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Yes, there are more expensive tequilas. And there are more sophisticated tequilas being produced; witness the emergence of the luxury market branded ultra-anejos.

But Herradura Blanco remains the purest expression of the tequila distillation process. Straight from the still, nothing added; it weighs in at a rather robust 46% alcohol by volume.

Siete Leguas Blanco – quality and flavor wise, probably the closest contender to Herradura’s Blanco – weighs in at a more svete 40%.

Most tequilas fall into the 35%-38% range.

But obviously it isn’t about the alcohol content that makes Herradura Blanco the best. It’s that clean pure flavor of the agave that shines through.

Accept No Substitutes.

I had to go back and revise the previous post and correct the sentence where I said I was prone towards bad behavior. This is absolutely not true.

One of the things I like best about writing this blog is that it forces me to really think through how I view myself and the world around me.

What I should have said – and could have expanded in the revision – is that from time to time I am prone towards strong drink which taken in sufficient quantities creates a propensity towards bad behavior.

But that’s it. Truth be known I don’t like bad behavior and my only excuse for applying it towards myself is that I was incredibly hungover the morning that I wrote that particular post ‘Poor Role Models’.

Do I feel guilty for getting drunk during the fiesta? No. In my opinion the hangover was sufficient punishment.

PS – My new house has 4 flights of steps and 3 locked doors to contend with. Successfully navigating those barriers while drunk then waking up the next morning in my own bed, contusion free, not to mention finding the house all buttoned up and secure like Fort Knox calls to mind once again one of those charitable acts of God that I refer to as ‘little miracles’.

Did I go out and join the fiesta last night? Yes.

Did I get drunk? Yes. Way (way) too much tequila.

In doing so, did I circumvent both common sense and my earlier forebodings? Yes.

Then why? Very simply put: poor role models and a strong predilection for native brewed beverages.

For the record, there are those close to me – some of those who presume to know me; who presume to question why I am not a nice guy.

Past tense: Growing up I had an absolute prick for a father – who was mostly never around – and I also had a strong taste back then for rebellious literature. And in that literature, bad behavior and drinking were a common thread.

Witness: The Ginger Man. On the Road. Early Jim Harrison. Henry Miller. Herman Hesse.

I make no excuses. Merely submit the facts.

The truth is I am a nice guy – mostly – but selective. I think it was Sinatra who once said something to the effect, “That sometimes you have to be drunk to endure your friends” (or family).

And I don’t know why, but consequently I can’t suffer a jerk or a bore without booze. I am a Johnny Walker kind of guy. A few drinks and you might be the biggest asshole in the world but I can at least put up with your stupid shit; that is right up until I can’t and then I’ll let you know or maybe do the more Mexican version of distasteful avoidance by ignoring you.

PS – Seeing murdered dead people does weird shit to your head. Cocktails help here too…

PPS – I don’t take any meds. Depression? Nope. Anxiety? Nope. High blood pressure. Nope.
Psst…Johnny Walker or Juan Tequila; sometimes the old remedies are the best.

It’s fiesta time again. And this is the biggest one of the year. The Fiesta Santiago Apostol. Nothing is done in half measures here. And yes, it’s a fiesta because St. James is the patron saint of the city. And it’s three long weeks of fiesta.

There have been activities in the plaza every single night since it started; programs that typically involves loud music. It started 11 days ago and ends August 4th. But today is the crescendo because July 25th is St. James Day celebrating the Apostle James or in Spanish, Santiago Apostol.

The city has been a madhouse of activity all day. People flocking in from everywhere: the states, outlying areas, and other parts of Mexico because Sahuayo throws one wild romp of a party on the 25th.

The central cathedral has been shooting off explosive rockets from their rooftop every 20 minutes. The rockets are so loud they set off car alarms. When the wind direction is right, I catch burning paper fragments on my rooftop.

The real party doesn’t start until after dark and won’t end until the very earliest, like four or five o’clock tomorrow morning. So imagine a procession of hundreds of men wearing costumes with tall ornate masks winding their way through the city, accompanied by music and laughing screaming kids; going on all night long.

2012 Fiesta Santiago Apostol

2012 Fiesta Santiago Apostol

I missed it last year because I was biking through the Michigan Great Lakes region. In 2012, I partied all night long with the best of them. But I was comfortable, surrounded by my neighbors on Victoria St.

This year I am staying home. Call it intuition but I believe there might be trouble out there on those streets for me tonight. I say that because of three important pieces of corroborating evidence.

First, I had a conversation with a policeman downtown a couple of days ago. I asked him if he was jazzed about the 25th. He looked at me through sad eyes and talked to me from his perspective, that of a cop and said, “Lots of drunks (I knew that already). Lots of fights, some stabbings, and sometimes murders.”

Secondly, I had my complete fill of murder yesterday. I also had a most sobering and thought provoking reconciliation with the associated dangers that can come from the most simple misunderstandings.

And third – and most conclusively –  on my way home from the Mercado this afternoon a guy stopped me and said, “Don’t get drunk tonight.”

I laughed it off saying, “Don’t you get drunk either”, thinking that was what lots of guys were saying to each other today knowing full well that they’d be out drinking on the streets until dawn. But this guy didn’t laugh back. He looked very serious when he said again, “Don’t get drunk tonight.”

And you know what? I won’t.

I knew it was only a matter of time before one of those stinking piles of offal or some other unceremoniously dumped dead thing left on the edge of the canal in my run zone would turn out to be a person. And today was that day.

I’ve become conditioned to see dead dogs, calf fetuses, heaping piles of guts and garbage so it took me a moment to recognize the body for what it was. The head and half the torso were wrapped in a 6 mil sheet of plastic and the body had been pitched head first off the dirt road down the slope to the canal 50 yards from where it intersects the main highway.

Apart from the plastic sheeting there wasn’t much to see. An exposed belly, a bleached out white that was not much differentiated from the plastic. The body was clad only in trousers. The feet were the same color as the belly. After mentally separating the wrapper from the contents it took most of another five seconds to see that the body was of a man who was unquestionably stone cold dead.

I became instantly aware of the fact that I had just been repeating out loud, ‘Forty years,” over and over again. I was recollecting the length of time that an old high school era acquaintance had been locked up for the crime of second degree murder. Matthew Kyle Johnson was just 22 years old when the judge sentenced him to life in prison without parole. A pretty harsh sentence but I reckon that the judge knew that Matt was going to be a perpetual menace to society and decided to put halt to any future misdeeds.

I was 16 or 17 when I met him. Matt hung out at the house of one of my least supervised friend’s and he was a fun party guy. He was a couple of years older and we all thought he was pretty suave and sophisticated; a good looking lady’s man as the Joni Mitchell lyric goes.

But he was reckless and as it turned out prone to crime. He got a buddy of mine to help him break into the restaurant that one of them worked at and they got busted and my friend, John did a couple of months in county lockup and Matt got sent away downstate for a short term in prison; although we didn’t know that at the time.

On my run this morning I was marveling at how it could have been me – and not John – who was with Matt on that break in. Me – not John – who would then continue to carry the weight of that felony charge into the ever present future. Or maybe it could have been me who got talked into being in the wrong place when that murder happened. But by the Grace of God I remain a free man unencumbered by not so much as even a smidge of a criminal record although countless acts of thoughtless stupidity could have easily swung my life in that direction.

So I see this corpse of a guy and it got me thinking that there was someone who through some act of stupidity was going to miss tomorrow; the single best day of the biggest fiesta of the year. That’s so harsh. Think about it. Getting yourself murdered the day before the best day of the year. And just what did he do anyway? Was he a big criminal or a little criminal? Whatever he did, he certainly screwed up in some way and it got me thinking that sometimes it can take only the smallest of mistakes that lead to the harshest of consequences.

But unfortunately the story doesn’t end there but continues to trend in continuance with that theme: small mistakes; unpredictable and often harsh consequences.

So I was walking the last hundred yards back to the bridge where I catch the combi for the ride back into town when suddenly there came a big white SUV rolling up on me, running fast, pulling with it an immense cloud of dust. Per usual I threw my t-shirt over my head to act as a filter. But not per usual this time, it turned out to be the absolute wrong thing to do.

After it swung by I heard another vehicle following going equally fast before it abruptly broke to a hard fast stop on the gravel. I lifted the t-shirt off my face to see two policemen jump out of their SUV, level their machine guns at me, shouting, telling me to put my hands in the air. The one cop had his finger on the trigger, the gun pointed at my head, and murder in his eyes. He wanted to shoot me. And I could see in that one split second that he came very close to pulling the trigger.

Needless to say, my testicles shriveled to something resembling raisins but thankfully my Spanish didn’t fail me and I said back, “Polvo. My shirt was covering my face because of the dust.” So there I am like a complete dumb ass, less than a mile from the crime scene to which they were racing to investigate, and me with my face covered like some terrorist assassin.

In the short span of an hour, I found myself at the confluence of three unfathomless coincidences: I was thinking about the consequences of the crime of murder. I witnessed the product of a murder. And then damn near got myself murdered.

PS – While living in Washington, DC I once had a chilly feeling wash over me suggesting that a gunshot wound was never any further than a just small misunderstanding away.

Vegas wasn’t initially on the radar when I started planning my biannual visa renewal trip. I looked at a bunch of other destinations first: LA, Belize City, Panama, Miami, San Antonio, El Paso, New Orleans, and [even] Sacramento.

Most of the destinations failed because they either had really crappily long or awkward travel schedules: like be at the airport at 4 am, or route me 600 miles out of my way through your hub in Atlanta. Huh, why?

Or they were just too expensive (Belize was an astounding $900). And it was insane when I paid $650 six months ago to make the short non-stop 3 hour flight to Dallas and back. But 2-stops would have only cost $475. Where is the logic in that? Are airlines deliberately trying to piss us all off?

Note: Volaris Airlines – my ride to Las Vegas – made me go through something like 15 web pages to enter in all my data and answer all their mostly do you want to buy these services questions. And their advertised $395 fare turned out to be $440 after you added a couple of chickenshit things like paying for your seats; as in those things that contain the seat belts. You know those things, the safety things that the flight crew are constantly nagging everyone about.

Oh and Volaris wouldn’t let you leave a box unchecked about whether you wanted to (like it was your choice) donate either $2 or $4 to help offset your part of the flight’s carbon burden. This was like web page ten and it was a f**king wonder I didn’t have a stroke on the spot. You literally couldn’t exit the page without making one of the two mandatory donations.

In the end – after much searching of prices and schedules on Kayak – it turned out there were only three real possibilities: LA, Las Vegas, or Sacramento. I ruled out Sacramento because after much thought I didn’t/couldn’t just parachute in on family or friends with such short notice. Everyone has jobs and responsibilities and I didn’t feel like putting anyone on the spot.

LA and Las Vegas were close contenders. Guadalajara offers short (3.5 hours) cheap ($400), nonstop flights to both cities. Las Vegas won in the end because the city is smaller – faster to get around – and yet hosts more or less the same feature set as LA. Okay, it doesn’t have an ocean but I am only going to be on the ground for 25 hours so who cares?

Except for restaurants, I’ve pretty much got Las Vegas dialed in. I’ve got a room reserved at the Plaza Hotel with a lovely midweek rate of $32/night (yup). It’s well off the strip and is in the old part of downtown where the city is presently spending money to re-gentrify. So that is where all the really cool older architecture is (or so I’ve read). The oldest hotel (1906) in the city is just a couple of blocks from the Plaza Hotel; itself one of the few left standing ’50s Brat Pack era hotel casinos.

The old downtown Plaza Hotel

The old downtown Plaza Hotel

So the minute after I collect my checked bag (totally not needed, this is a decoy bag for the benefit of my return into Mexico), I drop from the Level One Concourse to Level Zero, and purchase my 24 hour RTC public transit pass and I am good to go. Eight bucks will service my entire transportation needs while I am there including airport to my hotel and back again.

I’ve mapped out the bookstores, cigar shops, and a couple of other minor stops. None of these are really important. I really don’t need books or even cigars for that matter. They are there to serve mostly these days as touchstones of civilization.

But food. Now that’s important. I have time for just three meals: a late lunch, late dinner, and a late breakfast the following morning. And they all have to count.

I’ve been jonesing for shellfish for a long time. I am thinking clams in a spicy black bean sauce for lunch. Then maybe Korean Seafood Soup and some kimchi for dinner. One thing you can say about Korean food is that it is very consistent across the board from Seoul to San Fransisco to New York (and believe it or not even Mexico City).

From my experience it appears that the average Korean traveler doesn’t take kindly to quality or flavor variations. Unlike those bastard Chinese and Thai places that have popped up everywhere across the world. Places where you can’t get quality or authenticity unless you speak the language.

I remember eating Thai at a place near my daughter’s university and contrary to the menu description I got American broccoli instead of the more tasty and costly Asian variety. Bastards! Cheap, f**king bastards.

And the Italians are equally guilty. Italian food in New York is mostly cooked by Mexican immigrants. Am I the only one out here who is outraged by all this?

I am going to do my LV restaurant homework and I am going to find a couple of those little hole in the wall eateries that serves up good food at the right price point.

Yeah, baby! Viva Las Vegas.

I just read a friend’s post which essentially was one big gripe list to which he signed off saying, “Know that you are still alive only because murder is a crime.” I love his posts especially when he adds a drop of malicious bitterness to them. His post got me thinking about some of the bumperstickers I have seen over the years that resonated with that same particular flavor of disrespectful political incorrectness.

  • “Make the world a better place. Kill Yourself.” I gave this one to my sister when she was living in LA 20 years ago. She taped it briefly to her bumper before acknowledging that the humor was a little too grim even by LA standards.
  • “Pave the Rainforest” I own this one and it sits unused in a box in my daughter’s garage.
  • “Pave the Planet” I own this one too and it sits along side the previous one.
  • “Nuke the gay baby seals” This one pushes all the buttons doesn’t it?
  • “Save the whales. Harpoon a fat chick.” I saw this one on the Texas Gulf coast fixed to the bumper of a rusty pickup truck with two surfboards in the back.
  • “Mom knows” I saw this one on the back of a white convertible Volkswagen Cabriolet being piloted up Conneticut Ave. by a pair of teenage blonds. Thinking about this one always puts a smile on my face.
  • Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth”; seen years and years ago on the back of a classic old pickup truck parked in front of the courthouse in tiny La Grange, Texas.

PS – While I admire the pithiness of certain bumperstickers, I have never felt the need to put one on my car. Probably for the same reasons that I have never been tattooed. It can be pretty hard to commit long term to what more times than not proves out to be no more than a transient impulse.