Paving the road to nowhere, one word at a time.

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Location: Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico

American born, living in Mexico since 1992.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Another Case Of Mistaken Identity -or- The Winds Of Change

The Nuevo Perico used to have a bar made out of ceramic tile, back when Armando owned it, and back before a lot of people started to go there. When Joe bought it, he changed the name because it wouldn’t make any sense to own a bar named after someone else. Joe hung a bunch of fake parrots in there and painted the walls green and eventually bought a better pool table. But that ceramic tile bar remained for a very long time.

I was a patron then, every weekday after work I could be found in the Perico, drinking beers and sometimes something stronger. Joe recognized the time of day when people might show up so he created a happy hour and the place started getting busy. Other than the very occasional tourist that wandered in off of the noisy and crowded Avenida Revolución, everyone was a local, and even some of the gringos who lived in Tijuana would show up from time to time. You got about five pesos to the dollar back then, and a beer would run you ten pesos, and during happy hour it was two for one. Those were the salad days of the Nuevo Perico bar.

A few of the regulars could be counted on being there, other than myself. Darren would show up almost daily and we would speak English mostly, which occasionally irritated someone who insisted that we should speak Spanish because, after all, we were in Mexico. Darren would get into the occasional fight with a drunk Mexican over nothing at all, simply that the Mexican decided that he didn’t like Darren for whatever reason. Darren would only take so much of someone else’s mouth. It was difficult to feel sorry for the idiot who pushed Darren’s buttons to the point where we had to stop Darren from killing him.

Jeff would show up there too, every so often. Jody came in irregularly, and Charlie made a stop in there after he finished at the Dandy del Sur, there were usually plenty of gringos in this place. Mostly, we never had any trouble. Mostly, we were always respected for having some ability to speak the language, and our willingness to try and understand Mexico and her customs, and for our love of Tijuana.

Sometimes the Mexicans in the Nuevo Perico enjoyed drinking with the gringos.

* * * *

When the wind changes direction in Baja it shifts from coming in off of the Pacific Ocean as it normally does, to coming from somewhere else, like it’s doing today. It is easy to feel the breeze from a more northerly origin, everything even smells slightly different, and the sun seems warmer than it should. The low pressure that was moving across into the Midwest on the other side of the border has now been replaced by high pressure, chasing the low pressure because apparently nature really does abhor a vacuum. These meteorological anomalies often times cause a wind condition to occur, known as the Santa Ana winds, where dry wind, mostly hot and occasionally cold, comes in from the north or the northeast at great speeds.

We have no autumn here, just the Santa Ana’s through December when we get winter until February. And we have had some Santa Ana’s since Monday, it can be felt in the nose on days like today. In Baja such winds blow dust off of the hard ground and it scatters everywhere, eventually settling on anything. But the hot winds feel good, like something that has to happen in order for something else to happen, so that eventually, in spite of the dust, everything will be just fine.

A couple of days ago, a few hundred miles below, hurricane Norbert was wreaking havoc in Southern Baja California, winds over one hundred miles per hour were coming from any and all directions. And to the north, fires are destroying parts of Los Angeles, and even near Oceanside fires fueled by the Santa Ana winds threaten homes. In Northern Baja, there isn’t much to burn - the stark landscape and dirt roads and cinderblock houses defy combustion in contrast to other places with trees and plants and houses made from wood.

Sometimes in Northern Baja we have it much easier than we wish to admit.

The economy is shifting, too, in an odd and ironic way, to the point where the money exchange houses are overprotecting themselves by using a wide gap between buying dollars and selling pesos. Only on Saturday, when the financial markets were closed, did I get a true idea of what the peso is worth when I took Anna to the supermarket with me to buy some groceries. Friday, the normal machinery used to automatically convert my dollars into a cash register based on the peso was turned off. The store manager was calculating the exchange rate on a case by case basis, because the exchange rate was moving too fast to trust a machine to properly handle such a transaction.

Imagine that!

The fact that the United States of America is going to spend almost one trillion dollars that it doesn’t have in order to prop up its lending institutions is where the irony begins. Printing money that doesn’t exist in reserve should, by all logic and common sense, mean that the money has less actual value. But apparently it doesn’t work that way. The dollar is getting stronger against many foreign currencies, including the Mexican peso. A couple of months ago, you couldn’t find anyplace that would give you ten Mexican pesos for a dollar, and Saturday I received over twelve!

It could be worse, except the Mexican government just spent over six billion of its reserve dollars in order to prop up the peso.

The irony completes itself in the fact that in many foreign countries, and especially in Mexico, investors buy dollars in times of financial crisis much in the same way as investors in other countries might purchase gold. And sadly, my superior purchasing power here will be very short lived because prices will be adjusted in order to reflect a weaker peso. I have been through this quite a few times in my sixteen years here. In a week or so, most prices will jump by twenty percent for most products except where the government controls the price.

Comercial Mexicana, the third largest supermarket in Mexico – and a fine place to shop – is seeking bankruptcy protection, and so its shares on the Mexican stock exchange fell over seventy-five percent. It seems that their debt can’t be paid due to the fall of the peso. Some of the Mexican banks probably aren’t far behind. After that, it’s anyone’s guess.

Hurricanes, fires, and strong winds are the least of Mexico’s problems.

* * * *

The Mexicans that frequented the Nuevo Perico were the working class for the most part, and during happy hour it was cheaper to drink beer in there than to purchase it from the store. The music was mostly Mexican banda, but the Mexicans also loved some American music. The Doors, Credence Clearwater Revival, and Nirvana were regularly played, and they knew all of the words even if they didn’t speak a word of English. Back then, my beard was less gray and in the dark light of the bar the same thing would happen over and over.

I would sit, reading the newspaper, and a beer would appear in front of me. The cantinera would point toward some Mexican gentleman I had never met, who would keep staring at me. Finally, even though I acknowledged his gift with some nice hand gestures, he would have to make his way over and engage me in broken English.

"You Eric Clapton," he would tell me.

I would answer him in Spanish, not only to save him the trouble of attempting English, but so that he would know that, in fact, I was not Eric Clapton. But more often than not, he would insist.

"No, really, you Eric Clapton," he would insist.

"Look, if I’m Eric Clapton, then what am I doing in the Nuevo Perico during happy hour?"

Sometimes this logic worked, and sometimes it didn’t. When it didn’t, then sometimes it got nasty. One time I almost got into a fight over it. How does someone almost get into a fistfight over not being Eric Clapton? It only stopped when, for a few months between jobs in the United States of America, I ran the grill out of the Nuevo Perico. I guess that the very idea of Eric Clapton slinging burgers and dishing out chili beans was enough to dispel any doubts that I was, in fact, not Eric Clapton.

It was simply a case of mistaken identity.

* * * *

Today, I will go again to the supermarket and get whatever I can out of my dollars, until again everything changes and prices increase or else the peso strengthens and the exchange rate returns to where it was a week ago. It won’t be the same though, no matter what happens. In Baja California, these Santa Ana winds might only blow some dust from here to there, but the change is relevant, as all change is relevant.

Joe finally ripped the ceramic tile out of the Perico a couple of years ago, I went there last week in the morning to have a beer and catch up with Jody. Now, the bar top is like any other bar top, some imitation wood and a padded rail in front. The gringos don’t hang out there like they used to, everyone goes someplace else now, and no one is running the grill. The green painted walls are now some sort of red brick, it feels like I’m drinking in a large fireplace.

It seems as though at any minute, someone will throw some kindling inside and light it on fire.

The economy feels that way, too, as if all of these American dollars are just so much kindling waiting for a fireplace. In contrast, the Mexican bills are made out of plastic now. While plastic will burn, it isn’t so combustible as paper can be. Perhaps this is yet another change, subtle in its effect, which might predict a different future for Mexico.

Maybe there will come a time where the average Mexican will learn that the dollar is not all that it is cracked up to be. Little by little, they may come to realize that the dollar is just another piece of paper, and that it becomes worth less and less as more dollars are printed and backed with nothing but debt. Then, at some point, whenever there is a bump in the economic road here, worried investors in Mexico might not turn to the dollar in order to protect their holdings. They might realize that the dollar is not what they thought that it was.

Then they would reach the conclusion that it is just another case of mistaken identity.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very sweet, David. Sad, too. --Daniel

4:42 PM, October 15, 2008  
Blogger goooooood girl said...

Feel good......

11:38 PM, October 24, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

well dave this your brother there is more to life then tj

9:52 PM, April 10, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

all right ill get real i get off work and the bar i go to is appelbees my draft beer costme 99cents 108 with tax and the bartender is blond 23 with big tits only in the south if you kmow what i mean.iguess you dont know but i moved out of greene ville im in kingsport now its not a bad city to live in .but the one thing i want to point out to you is the econamy in tn greeneville has none every thing is closing down but in kingsport im working 65 hrs a week and making real good money.i love to read your blog spot but i need an update or just email medoddjohn48atyahoo .just to keep you updated im working for goldencorral resturants we have over625 stores so idont think they will go under any time soon wellwrite me an email john

10:42 PM, April 10, 2009  

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