Monday, February 20, 2017

apple blossom time in la-la land

The oddest stimulus can trigger a memory.

The smell of oranges always reminds me of Christmas. Briny air of western Greece. And gray skies of Los Angeles.

In the winter of 1973, my college friend Stan Ackroyd stopped by my apartment at Castle Air Force Base. He was on his way to Los Angeles for the wedding of his cousin.

We decided to take my 1967 red Oldsmobile Cutlass convertible. It would be a perfect entrance for two bachelors.

The Olds had always been a reliable piece of transportation. Of course, red convertibles are far more than mere transportation devices. But that is all we wanted out of it on the trip south.

The car had other ideas. Around Bakersfield, a coat of oil started forming on the windshield. The oil pump had decided to pump  no more. Fortunately, in front of a mechanic's shop.

I traded telephone numbers, forked over almost every dollar in my wallet (this was an era where young lieutenants did not have credit cards), and we were on our way. With very few funds.

The rest of the trip is a story in itself. We started hitchhiking. The only car that stopped for us was a beat-up early 1960s Chevrolet driven by a guy with a beer between his legs. The beer was not a prop. The driver told us his life story as we rolled along.

He had just been paroled from San Quentin. The reason for his recent state guest status? He murdered his wife and his best friend in the throes of an adulterous rendezvous. The longer he weaved his tale, the more beers he drank.

At one point, he moved something under his seat. Whatever it was, he revealed the barrel of a revolver. Both of us saw it about the same time.

When he dropped us off at a freeway intersection, we gladly got out and hitched a ride in a pickup bed to a small town in the hills above the grapevine where we caught a bus into Los Angeles. We then walked several miles to the wedding. By that time, the reception was almost over.

And what do I remember? The sky. Unlike most California days, there was no sun. Just a solid gray shroud.

When I see skies like that, I think of Los Angeles. And that was convenient for these past two days. The sun has peeked through now and then, but the sky looked as if it took a wrong turn at Seattle.

On my seven-mile walk this morning, the only sign that I was in California was a row of ornamental apple trees. Despite the lack of sun, the white blossoms did their best to convince passers-by that California does not need to wait for a thaw to enjoy spring.

In fact, seasons here seem to slip from one into another with little notice. I have a theory that is one reason Californians do not seem to mature. There is nothing like a good strong winter to deepen those worry lines.

But I am not worrying. Instead, I am finishing up this essay in the Qantas first class lounge -- waiting for the call to head to my gate and adventure in Australia and New Zealand.

So, good-bye California. Hello Hong Kong and Sydney.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

you can bet on mexpatriate

Yesterday's essay was composed in the coffee shop at the Gold Ranch casino.

There is a reason I am telling you that bit of trivia.

I am not a gambler. If I have money to risk, I usually toss it into the maw of the New York Stock Exchange. Slot machines, roulette wheels, and baccarat tables are not my road to perdition.

I was at the casino for only one reason. Nancy, Roy, and their respective mothers were there for a prize drawing. I had tagged along with the sole expectation of finishing my post. And I did (isn't it cold for you?).

While we waited for a break during the drawings, I sat down next to Roy, who was playing triple double bonus video poker. (The name always sounds as if some game-maker had extra adjectives that needed a home.)

For four days, Roy had been teaching his rules of play. The rules are very simple. And, for Roy, they seem to work. He regularly wins.

I had tried two or three outings of $20 each. Roy's method did not work for me. Unless, the goal was to blast through my paltry stake.

Last night, I put my $20 in the machine and quickly played it down to about $5. I told Roy I was going to cash out, but he convinced me to play the rest.

On my next hand, I drew four 4s and a 3. In this game, that is called four of a kind with a kicker -- and it was worth $500.

Knowing a good thing when it falls in my lap, I cashed out and decided to head home.

I guess it helps not to have a gambler's instinct of trying to increase my winnings. That may be, in part, due to the calm gene I inherited from my mother. I just did not get much of a rush in winning.

This morning, Nancy's mother drove us to the Reno airport. We then flew to Santa Ana for the night -- because we wanted to spend a day on the California coast before we start the Australia leg of our trip tomorrow.

After checking into our residence for the night, we drove over to Crystal Cove for a late lunch. The little beach community nestled into Newport Beach is most famous as the shooting site for the beach scenes in Beaches. The house is the last on the right.

The afternoon was practically perfect. A cool day on the beach with good friends and some filling food.

When the lunch check arrived, I knew I was no longer in Barra de Navidad. For three of us, the total was $130 (with tip). A great day -- with a price tag to match.

I now know why I won that money -- to pay for a handful of meals.

Note -- Tomorrow, we will be on our way to Australia. Because there is an international dateline tossed in there, I may be offline for what will appear to be a couple of days.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

isn't it cold for you?

That was what Roy's mother asked me this afternoon as I left her house for the one-mile walk up the hill to Roy and Nancy's house.

She wasn't the first. Several people around Reno have looked at my short sleeves and given me that look of pity mixed with bewilderment that we bestow on guys sleeping under bridges. I suspect they wonder, at least to a degree, whether I am four cards short of a royal flush.

If you have hung around these pages very long, you know I did not move to Mexico for the weather. Barra de Navidad is a tropical village -- and it has the weather to prove it.

My ideal day is 55 degrees, overcast, with a slight drizzle. In eight years, I still have not seen one of those days.

My sister-in-law has been cold at my house in the morning because the temperatures have been dropping to the mid-60s for the past month. She was even chillier with Pátzcuaro's 40 degree mornings. For me, mornings in both places were a relief from the ongoing Costalegre heat.

Reno has proven to be a surprise weather mecca for me. On Friday, it snowed. Not heavily, but enough to drop the temperature into the 30s.

This morning, I decided to take advantage of the weather. I slipped on my walking shoes, a pair of shorts, and a shirt to walk through the neighborhood. The main loop is about 2 miles covering some challenging grade increases.

I had intended to walk around the loop at least twice to meet the major part of my daily walking goal. I made it around once.

And it was not the weather that drove me inside early. The 34 degree weather was perfect for exercising.

What I failed to account for was the altitude. Combined with the steep hills, 2 miles was just about the right amount of walking for the morning. I felt refreshed, if a bit winded.

By afternoon, I had completed just under 7 miles of steps. Not a bad day.

I realize Reno can have rough winters. This has not been one of them. I hate driving in snow and ice. I have never lived anywhere that had enough of either to give me the driving skills. So, I will certainly not move to Reno for the weather.

What I do know is that the last four days have been refreshing for me. There is a certain beauty in the desert.

I will miss that tomorrow. We fly to Los Angeles in the morning to overnight before our flights to Australia -- starting on Sunday night.

But that is another story that has yet to be written.

Friday, February 17, 2017

moving to mexico -- feet in two worlds

"[H]e doth bestride the narrow world/like a Colossus."

Shakespeare probably overstates my situation. But he is close.

When I retired in 2009, I knew I was going to make Mexico my primary home. What I had not done was to consider how much of my life would remain above the Rio Bravo.

I knew that my relationships would change. During my sixty-some years, I had built up a network of friends and acquaintances. Moving go Mexico would change how the network operated, but I would still have contact with them.

The bigger issue was the detritus of finances and property ownership. The simplest thing would have been to cut all financial relationships with The States and move everything to Mexico. Simplest, but not necessarily the best. For me.

Banking is a perfect example. My checking and savings accounts are at one bank; my credit cards are with another bank. I could have easily switched all of them to a Mexican bank, and have the convenience of dealing with a local branch branch when problems arise.

I currently draw all of my Mexican pesos from an ATM. It usually works fine. That is, until the debit card expires or I lose it. Both have happened. Then I need to rely on the kindness of friends coming south to bring me my new card.

To mitigate that problem, I recently cleverly set up a new American checking account as a backup for the expired card scenario. It turns out I was too clever. When I tried to use my backup card, the PIN would not operate. I called customer service in The States, and was told to take my card to the nearest branch. The nearest branch was 2000 miles north.

That was one of the tasks I resolved yesterday. And the customer service representative was correct. All I needed to do was to use the branch ATM, and my problem was fixed. But that did not diminish the 2000 mile barrier.

When the Obama White House approved legislation (FATCA) three or so years ago, transferring money to Mexican banks became quite a hurdle. I considered getting around my ATM problems by closing all of my American bank accounts. I didn't for one reason -- I rely on my credit cards to earn air miles for my frequent travels. That advantage is worth the trouble of keeping my money in American banks.

I have another reason to keep my banking accounts up north. I am the trustee of a family trust domiciled in Nevada. Even though I have managed to arrange all financial transactions to be completed electronically, the trust requires an American home.

And that is why I am in Nevada this week. One of the attributes of my Nevada citizenship is my driver's license. It expired on my birthday in January.

The federal government has forced the states to revise their driver's licences to meet new issuance requirements for the license to be used for certain purposes -- such as, boarding an airplane. The new licences are called REAL ID.

Nevada is currently complying -- after holding out for several years. (This is a state that does not take kindly to federal bullying.)

So, Roy and I drove over to the local DMV. I dreaded what we would face. When I was issued my original license several years ago, the process was almost glacial.

Not so this time. Even though the triage line was long,we were in and out within 45 minutes. All I needed to do was prove my citizenship (I used a passport; others use birth certificates) and my Nevada residency (with statements from my American banks), and I was on my way. The new license should be at the house when I return from Australia.

If you are wondering why I simply do not get a Mexican license, I can. And I should. When I return to Mexico. But the Nevada license assists in my voting process.

Ideally, I could dump all of this and live my life solely within the confines of Mexico. My pension checks could easily be deposited in a Mexican bank.

Some fellow bloggers periodically chide those of us who have kept one foot planted up north -- even though "planted" may be nothing more than the equivalent keeping my left little toe on the edge of red in Twister. But there is not just one way to live in Mexico. I have found mine.

For now. Circumstances change. Just think of the hassle FATCA caused a lot of expatriates.

A Colossus I may not be, but I will most likely stand astride the border for the near future.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

the reluctant tourist

My backpack hates to travel.

That is the only conclusion I can draw from my last two trips. Or, at least, the only conclusion I am wiling to share with you. There are others.

When Darrel, Christy, and I drove up to Pátzcuaro last week, I packed a small suitcase with clothes, and, more importantly, tossed my camera, computer, Kindle, and assortred electronic paraphernalia (the usual tools of Mexpatriate’s trade) into my black backpack.

No trip is complete without the ability to record it for posterity. As I age, my best memory is what I have written. If it is not reduced to paper, it did not happen.

While unloading the car in Pátzcuaro, I discovered something was missing. My backpack. Felipe is kind enough to provide internet access in his condominium. But, without my computer, Mexpatriate was going to be off line off line for a week. And it was.

I thought I had learned my lesson. Hold on to the backpack. If you recall, I lost a backpack filled with all of my electronic equipment just over two years ago by failing to follow that rule (everything is new again).

On Wednesday, Darrel and Christy dropped me at the Manzanillo airport for my flight to Reno. Because my backpack contained all of my electronics along with my medication, travel documents, and money, it was not going to leave my sight. Even on the airplane, it was stored under the seat rather than in the overhead bin.

The Los Angeles airport has greatly improved its immigration process. The agents are gone. That process has been replaced with kiosks that print an entry and customs form. Within seconds, I was on my way for the long walk to the luggage carousel.

And luck was with me again. I had barely put down my backpack to readjust the straps when both of my suitcases came careening down the luggage chute. Excited with my good fortune, I grabbed both cases and sped through the customs process without a single question.

That is, until the one-way doors closed behind me. I reached for my backpack to pull out my flight information to Reno. It was not there. It was not there because the information was in my backpack -- and my backpack was still resting against the side of the luggage carousel. On  the other side of the door.

Eventually, I made my way to the Alaska customer service counter -- along with a young Korean and his Mexican wife, who had left a stroller behind. After an hour's wait of walky-talky tag, we were reassured our lost items were in the hands of the Alaska representatives. That was the good news.

The bad news (because there is always bad news in situations like this) was that all of the passengers on our flight, and an even larger flight from Ixtapa, would have to clear the customs area before the Alaska representative could bring the pieces out (after being thoroughly inspected by the customs agents).

I fully understood the reasoning. It was like performing penance. I left my bag behind. Now, I needed to be shamed.

The full process took just under three hours. I boarded my Reno flight with five minutes to spare.

And that is where I am right now. Sitting in my Reno residence peering out on the tawny hills as a snow storm tries to breach the Sierras.

My backpack is now resting in a chair. Before I fly to Perth on Sunday, I am going to have a long chat with it. From here on out, we are going to be as inseparable as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

waiting for the envelope

First impressions can be misleading.

We all know that. But first impressions can also have lasting impressions.

When I took Darrel and Christy to Pátzcuaro, I knew that our brief visit would not give them enough time to rationally consider whether one of my favorite places would also be one of theirs. After all, this is a very important point -- deciding where to retire.

A little background is in order. Darrel and Christy are desert folk. They owned a small ranch on the outskirts of Bend. With the ranch came chores. Tending horses. Raising the odd goat. Keeping Mother Nature's desire for chaos at bay.

When I started looking at purchasing a house, I asked them what they would be interested in -- and interested in avoiding. The brutal winters of Bend topped the list. They wanted to move somewhere warm. They also wanted to get away from the constant demand of projects and chores.

Darrel is also very interested in driving his Polaris Rzr through the outback. For him, the open spaces of Baja are perfect.

During our six days, Darrel and Christy came to enjoy a lot of the same things I have found attractive in Pátzcuaro. The lake tops the list. It is a  beautiful natural setting. Even when it looks a bit like James Joyce's "snot green sea."

Both of them were a little disappointed to discover the lack of recreation on the lake itself. Swimming from a power boat would be heaven to both of them. Even though there are good reasons not to dip too deep in the lake.

They also share my love or archaeolgical sites. There are plenty around the lake -- or within a few miles. I have explored most of the restored sites. We have nothing like that in Barra de Navidad.

And then there is the weather. Felipe, being the frank type of guy he is, pointed out that the month we visited is cold. For me, the weather was perfect. Nights in the 40s; days in the 70s. I never needed anything other than a short-sleeve shirt.

Darrel found the weather pleasant. Christie agreed with Felipe. The mornings were simply too cold for her. But she feels the same way about winter mornings at the house with no name. She reminded me cold winters were something she wanted to avoid.

But there were counterweights, as well.One reason they want to move from Bend is the increasing irritation of traffic. For that reason, they found the crowded streets of Pátzcuaro to be a little distressing.

And, in their hustle and bustle, the residents of Pátzcuaro tend to be far more remote than are my neighbors in Barra de Navidad. There may be plenty of reasons for that. But I have found the same aloofness in my visits there.

They also picked up on one of the limitations of Pátzcuaro -- its restaurant scene. Most of the offered food lacks variety and is toned down for tourist consumption. There are some rare exceptions, but no one comes to Pátzcuaro for the restaurant food. Or, at least, I have never met anyone who has.

I drove them around the outskirts of town to see if returning to rural life appealed to them. They far preferred that area with its pine forests and mountain views. I suspect it made them feel as if they were back in Bend.

The bottom line? They like Pátzcuaro. And they will return for visits. But it does not appear to be the place they would like to settle.

I suspect Baja is rising higher on their list with each of the places we visit.

Tomorrow, I will be leaving them on their own in the house for just over a month. They are going to watch the house while I traipse off to Reno, Hong Kong, Australia, and New Zealand. While I am gone, they will be able to take the Escape wherever they like -- to see if they can find some additional places that may suit them.

It may be here. And that would be perfect with me.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

tax me tender*

I absolutely love the press. It never fails to bring me essay material every morning.

Donald Trump's tax returns are a great example. According to today's edition of The Oregonian, legislation has been introduced in the Oregon legislature requiring any presidential candidate to provide the Oregon secretary of state's office with copies of his federal income tax returns for the previous five years.

Failure to provide the returns will keep the presidential candidate off of the ballot. If the returns are disclosed, they would then be released to the public.

In a verbal pirouette, one of the Democrat bill's supporters averred: "Voters deserve to be fully informed about the individuals running for the highest office in the country." Followed by the house speaker herself: "I think if you're going to be the leader of the free world, we should see your tax returns."

When politicians start talking like lawyers with all of those very specific limitations ("highest office," "leader of the free world"), you know something is up. And it is.

I am certain the first thing that popped into your mind is the obvious. Why does this new disclosure requirement apply only to presidential candidates? Why not to vice-presidential candidates? Or to senators? Or congressmen? Or, God forbid, Oregon state legislators?

But we already know the answer to that question. It is aimed at one candidate, who had the temerity to take the same course that most presidential candidates took before 1976. It is all about Donald.

Like most "reforms" aimed at one person's activities, this one strikes me as completely missing the target. And, of course, I have a far more modest proposal.

The answer is easy to find. In Norway. The Norwegians have long required all income tax returns to be stored in a public searchable data base. The IRS and the various state revenue departments should do the same.

There would be all sorts of intended consequences. Not only would we not have to play the wait-to-disclose game that fixates a certain sector of the public every four years, we would know the tax history of every presidential candidate years before she filed for office.

And for every other citizen who steps forward to run for office -- no matter where they are on the ballot. Better yet, we would also know where members of the press are actually getting their income, and, better yet, just where they contribute their money.

For me, this scenario would be the bow on the package. At Thanksgiving dinner, your cousin Zeke claims to be clearing $1,000,000 a year from his barbecue ribs stand on the corner. A quick look at the database discloses he has not filed a tax return for twenty years.

If filing a tax return is a civic duty (in addition to being a legal requirement), a conscientious citizen just may want to claim a bounty for turning in a scofflaw. The public treasury would be enriched, and the smug informer could take his family to McDonald's for Thanksgiving next year while cousin Zeke is breaking rocks at the state pen.

But, why are the Oregon Democrats in the legislature (and those in California, New York, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maine, and New Mexico) stopping with tax returns? I seem to recall there was a huge controversy last year (and in years past) about the disclosure of candidates' medical records.

We could kill two birds with one legislative stone by making medical records of citizens just as searchable as tax returns.

Now, the obvious objection is that all of that tax and medical information would simply lead to a parade of "false news" stories. The type of news we expect to see as headlines on those checkout stand newspapers. But, isn't that just as true if we simply require a few selected candidates to disclose their tax and medical information?

These days we hear a lot of talk about everyone pulling together. If we are going to require our candidates to bare all, why shouldn't we set the example for our elected employees? After all, we are the bosses. Or, at least, that is what the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution say.

I am ready to jump the shark on this one. My hand is itching to upload my tax and medical information on the new mega-computer.

Let's call it HAL. That is a name we can trust.

* -- If you tuned in to learn Darrel and Christy's decision about living in P
átzcuaro, please tune in tomorrow.