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.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Nearly Tourists

Because these things happen, it was no longer ninety degrees yesterday, as it had been here for over a week. After the forty-degree days of a few weeks ago, I have no idea whether to bring a jacket or wear a tank top. The weather, the stock market, and the money exchange rate are fluctuating madly, in spite of the new guy in charge of things on the other side of the big metal fence. Rocio’s parents stopped by yesterday morning, they have never been over there and they don’t much care to go, but they are curious sometimes about the politics.

"So, this new guy is going to stop the war over there?" they asked, or at least they were waiting to hear what I had to say about it. My son - their grandson, is over in Iraq at the moment on his second tour. They think that he is stationed in Germany. Rocio says that it’s better this way.

"Apparently," I said, "but Obama’s about to learn a lot of information that none of us will probably ever know. I have no idea what will happen next."

The distressing news to me was that our local fruiteria seems to be closed now. I shouldn’t be so surprised, as their inventory had been shrinking for quite some time. It was convenient, and the fruit and vegetables were mostly really good, better than in the supermarket. And they had the best pork chorizo in town.

The fruiteria, days before it closed. Not much there, but what they had was excellent.

I grabbed a coat and headed out to the boulevard to get a cab. The sky wasn’t sure what it wanted to do, there was sun and there was overcast and it even sprinkled a little bit all of the way to Centro. I crammed myself into a collectivo with eight other people and we took off, toward Downtown Tijuana, where we could become nearly tourists.

View from the alley out into the boulevard. Different color cabs identify different routes.

Near the Racetrack, a lot of surprisingly tall buildings.

One of the only remaining relics from the casino, this chimney was used to burn trash.

Finally in Centro, a view looking north at the dwellings that cling to the hill on the other side of the Tijuana River.

* * * *

The Nuevo Perico was again almost empty on Monday, and so there we were, the unusual suspects, gathered around on one end of the bar along with some not too unusual suspects. Scott and me stayed for a good long time, swapping stories and so on, others came and went, only to show up later somewhere else. Run an errand, have a beer, run another errand, have another beer, many locals spend a day this way.

Thankfully, I always seem to miss karaoke day.

The Nuevo Perico, from the back facing toward the front door.

Two lovely young local girls enjoy a beer during a break from work.

That is a genuine regulation NFL football. Honest.

Mexico is different. The local government invents some new rules, many of which make no sense. One of the rules that came up a few years ago was that unless you served food at your establishment, they would shut you down, pull your liquor license, and fine you. Mexican bar owners found ways to comply, serving botanas, or hors d'oeuvres, from makeshift kitchens in order to comply with the new rules. Obviously, there was money involved, too, for the food license. Taxation is an impossible ongoing battle for government here, but they find ways to obtain revenue as potential taxpaying enterprises look for ways to pay as little as they can. It works somehow, for both parties.

Scott reads a Tijuana newspaper while Javier looks at television.

Joe and his family own the Perico. Joe served in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Jody arrives and immediately begins to charm the girls.

Me and Jody, arguing. This argument was over his insisting that Jewel was the lead singer for The Cranberries. Other arguments are even more stupid.

Javier left, then Jody left angry and still believing that somehow, Dolores O’Riordan is secretly moonlighting as Jewel, and so Scott and me headed down the street and went to another bar, called Tropics. Tropics is about as close to a dive as a bar can get. Very little in there has changed in twenty years, the beer is cheap, the clientele is often, well, sleeping off last night’s drunk, but it is sometimes open all night. It is sometimes deserted in the afternoon.

Tropics from the front, very long and narrow.

From the back, a good view of the long and oddly shaped bar.

The cantinera drinking yogurt or something.

No idea. A dance move, perhaps?

The rules for operating a bar in Baja are simple. Well, maybe not so simple. The law states that bars may open no earlier than ten in the morning (liquor may not be purchased before that time in a store as well), and may not be sold after two o’clock in the morning. I presume this gives people eight hours to sober up here, unlike Americans who only need four. But there are exceptions. For every hour that a bar stays open after two, a fee must be paid. Obviously, the longer that the bar remains open, the more it costs the bar.

Every so often, sometimes as the government changes guard, the system is scrapped, and a new system is put into place and the fees go up. Suddenly, no one is open past two anymore. The local government, noting the loss in revenue, then negotiates the price down to the level at which some bars are willing to pay. This happens frequently, and makes for some unpredictable moments for those who enjoy drinking all night.

After a beer, I went across the street to the Dandy del Sur while Scott went to grab a few tacos and promised to join me later.

* * * *

The taquero rolls his cart down Calle Sexta getting ready to open up shop. It must be almost six in the evening.

The Dandy, a Tijuana icon.

This guy was sitting where Charlie used to always sit. He’s Italian, and quite a character, he’s been kicked out of the Dandy more times than I can remember. Apparently, he’s a wonderful accountant here, unhindered much by the Italian accent in his Spanish. The locals call him, "Pechetas", which is how he pronounces, "pesetas", which is loose slang for coins, because he is always changing paper money for coins to put into the jukebox where he will play the same song four times in a row. He gets hooked on a song, and plays it over and over again. For a good while, he was also awarded the nickname, "Mr. New York". Apparently, Sinatra has more global appeal than once realized.

No bar can possibly use that many brandy glasses. They are cleaned twice per week anyway, just in case.

A while back, suddenly, smoking was banned in bars in Tijuana. Apparently. Or not. The "No-Smoking" signs are still there, along with the ashtrays and matches. Obviously, money is involved somehow, that perhaps there is a permit to buy. Welcome to Baja.

Javier showed up again right after Pechetas left, and we waited for Scott, drinking beer and I ordered a scotch for desert. Imported booze is expensive, and the government actually sends people around to make sure that the bars in Tijuana aren’t buying cheaper in the United States of America instead of purchasing the stuff in Mexico, which is marked with some official government symbol. Obviously, the way to get around this is to refill the empty bottles with the illegal hooch. Some do, only to buy a new bottle in Mexico whenever the date-stamp makes it necessary.

None of us stuck around there long, all of that drinking can be exhausting, and I need some time for my right wrist to heal a bit. I got some tacos to go and caught a cab home. Like a pitcher, I keep my arm on ice until my next start, next week, when I’ll have another chance to show the tourists how it’s done.

The Dandy is quite popular, especially around midnight, but even at eight in the evening.

Scott is amused by something.

I could write a novel about these two. He’s an American who owns businesses here, she’s his reason for not finding something more profitable.

Sandra, the beautiful and wonderfully smart-ass cantinera in the Dandy, assuming you speak Spanish and appreciate phrases containing a lot of sexual double entendre.

If you see this guy down there, avoid him at all costs! He’s not the tourist that he appears to be.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jody might very well be correct. No real Irishwoman would call herself "Dolores O'Riordan", so that might be Jewel's real name. In Gaelic, "O" is the masculine proclitic -- a woman would be "Na Riordan". And "Delores" rather than "Dolores".

Hey, Jody, tell this loud-mouthed gringo to pay up!

10:19 PM, October 13, 2009  
Blogger gringo said...


Dear anon:

Jody is not correct. I do not speak Gaelic, and neither does he. I do know that Jewel is not O'Riordan, although you will have to email her yourself if you would like an explanation into why she calls herself that. I used to watch Jewel perform many years ago. The lead singer for The Cranberries was busy in Europe at the time.

Please read this:'Riordan

And stop. I don't want to put an end to anonymous comments. If you don't like what I'm writing, there is plenty of other content for you elsewhere.

11:12 PM, October 13, 2009  

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