Tuesday, April 30, 2013

some things go better with coke

There is a blog protocol that goes something like this. Writing on the same topic two days in a row is readership death.

It makes sense  Most readers like fresh topics.  Redundancy causes the mind to wander

So, I proceed with caution.  This is not another ant blog.  It is -- well, something else.

The ground floor of my house is a veritable Serengeti.  While reading on my couch, I can glance down and see all sorts of wildlife wandering by.  Spiders.  Geckos.  Scorpions.  Lizards.  Now and then the odd crab.

And ants.  Not the leaf cutter ants.  These ants are larger.  Always solitary.  And, at certain times of year, a flying variety of the same ant appears. 

What is strange is that I have only encountered them inside my house.  Never out.  I have developed a good eye for identifying ants.

This past week, I must have killed close to twenty flying ants.  Mainly in my bedroom.  They seem to be attracted to the light when I read at night.  Or maybe they want to learn more about the Borgias.

Last summer I bought two cartons of Diet Lime Coke in Morelia and brought them back with me.  It is my favorite soft drink -- and unavailable in Melaque.

Because it is so rare, I have been rationing it.  To avoid temptation, I stored the cartons on the top of my refrigerator.

Last night, I pulled down the partially-filled carton, and noticed a couple of the mystery ants on the box.  When I looked closer, there must have been about thirty of the ants on the top of my refrigerator.  A quick Raid shot put an end to their former formicine existence.

To get a better look at the top of the refrigerator, I also pulled down the full carton. When I put it on the counter, I could hear the distinct sound of rustling.  Inside the box.

Any fan of horror films is now yelling: "Don't open it."  But, just like the actors on screen, I ignored the film fan in my head.

And the moment I opened the box, there were ants everywhere.  Flying.  Scurrying.  Carting off eggs.

Yes, eggs.  Ant eggs.  Because I had just torn open an ant nest.  And the inhabitants were pouring out like snakes in an Indiana Jones movie.

There was no time for shock or surprise.  I grabbed the Raid and started firing strategically.  Of course, it was the kitchen, so almost everything is now covered with a film of pesticide.  Not to mention ant corpses.  And enough eggs to whip up a gourmet omelet.

The appearance of the ants is still unsolved.  Maybe I brought a nest of them into the house from Morelia -- or wherever the cartons came from -- a year ago. 

But I have seen that variety of ant in the house even before the Diet Lime Coke made its appearance.  It is just as likely that local ants merely established a cozy little condominium for rearing their young.

Tonight the survivors are scurrying through the house.  While I do my cleanup operation.

And if this is the last I see of them, the mystery will be solved.

So, there you have it.  It is not an ant tale; it is a murder mystery.  And I haven't ruined the surprise ending for you.

It is still to be written.

Monday, April 29, 2013

stand on guard for tree

They could be props from the apothecary scene in Romeo and Juliet.

But they aren't.  Even though the Elizabethans would have instinctively appreciated the array and their purpose.

These are my tools of the trade to play defense against the leaf cutter ants.  Who, if left untended, would have my pleasant garden stripped of any Voltairean allure. 

When old François-Marie told us: "We must cultivate our own garden," he had the advantage of living in Champagne.  Where the leaf cutters are as rare as California bubbly.

Not so here.  To cultivate our garden, we need more shields than even the strategic defense initiative can provide.  Thus the table of lethality.

The skull is merely a keepsake.  The weapons are the can of Raid and the cottage cheese container of a powdery ant poison that bears the distinctive perfume of DDT.  Each night I walk the property to discover new ant holes disgorging more troops than Chinese soldiers crossing the Yalu.

If I can find the hole, I powder it -- effectively blocking it for a day or two. 

And the Raid?  It is simply my way of wiping out the ants that have foolishly attacked the shrubbery.  I suspect the effectiveness of the Raid is nil; but I certainly derive a good deal of psychological pleasure seeing immediate results.

And why do I do all this?  Spend the time and the money to commit a bit of ecological terrorism?

Anyone who has attempted to maintain a garden in the tropics knows the answer.  The photograph above is of one of my favorite flowering shrubs in the garden.  When the blood-throated hibiscus is in full bloom, it reminds me that there are rewards for effort on this planet.

Since November, I have been back and forth to Oregon.  At some point, the ants had their way with the garden.  Here is what the hibiscus looks like now.  A bunch of sticks.

The ants were thick enough to remove every leaf from a large Flamboyant tree.

One of the miracles of growth is that plants will usually recover from being stripped bare by the ants.  But only if I can keep the ants off while the new growth is establishing itself.  Cultivating my garden in a very practical sense.

I mentioned the ant-tattered bougainvillea yesterday.  Given their way, the ants would strip the thorny stems of their leaves and keep them bare until the plant suffocated.  Ironically, if it is allowed to recover, it will be bushier and greener than it was before the ant pruners hedged their way through.

Maybe that is what Voltaire had in mind.  If we cultivate our own garden, we will learn the wisdom of being joyful and content -- and have surplus to share with others.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

very like a wall

There is something new to see every day -- even in areas we know best.

Yesterday afternoon I was folding the laundry that Dora had hung to dry on Friday.  Maybe it was because laundry-folding is one of those mind-numbing tasks, I was looking around the courtyard merely to enjoy my little slice of Mexico.

And then it caught my eye.  A corner of the courtyard I seldom see.  Lit by the late afternoon sun.

Not a particularly pretty view.  But different. 

The pink and white plumeria are a bit stark without their leaves.  And the bougainvillea is a bit ant-tattered.  But the flowers mixed with the shadow and wall colors felt simultaneously calming and vibrant.  As if yin and yang had sat down for tacos in my courtyard and asked for a cup of Tao.

And the best realization is that these moments surround us every day.  In Mexico.  In The States.  In Paris.

We just need to pause.  Look.  Meditate.

And to be thankful that life can be best in the small things.

Saturday, April 27, 2013


We are enjoying a pleasant spring in Melaque.  The days are warm.  The nights are cool.

I am going to enjoy it while I can.  If history is any guide, within weeks the weather will turn -- with much higher temperatures and humidity.

But spring also means new beginnings.  And a good excuse for cleaning.

Not general cleaning.  Dora takes care of that weekly -- and far better than I could.  It my paper accumulation that was yesterday's target.

When I moved down here, I had one hard rule.  I would restrict my possessions to what I could pack in my Escape in one hour.

The rule has served me well.  It keeps me from buying all the artsy chachskies that catch my eye -- and would otherwise clutter my house and life.  Such as that sculpture I wanted in
Pátzcuaro last summer -- commies, nudes, and live tunes.

But what I did not keep an eye on was the amount of paper that rolls into my life daily.  Car documents.  Immigration forms.  Telephone bills.  Or so I thought.

If you followed the cleanup of my Salem house, you know that I tend to retain paper in the way some ankles retain water.  In the process of selling the house, I threw out sixty years of accumulated detritus.  The paper filled several recycle barrels and a shredder truck.

I knew I did not have that much paper in Melaque.  And it turned out I was correct.  I have been better at throwing away things I do not need when I no longer need them.  For a lot of paper that time is when I finish reading it.

With about two hours of work, I weeded out the papers I have kept for no good reason.  The first to go were Jiggs's medical records.  What is the point in keeping them?

And after that, it was easy to get rid of the pile of documents I needed to move to Mexico, but no longer need because I am here.

The result?  A small shopping bag of paper that will head to the local garbage dump.

What I kept were all of my immigration documents, my receipt for taking the Escape out of the country, copies of the documents I used to obtain my permanent resident visa, and my most recent telephone bill to prove where I live (because someone is going to ask for it) -- all fitting into folders that I can hold in one hand.

It is a nice beginning.  For two reasons.  The first is the realization that I am not hanging onto a lot of unnecessary paper.  My fast escape will not be impeded by paper weight. 

But the second is more important.  I am now down to fighting weight (in paper, at least) to start this new chapter in my Mexican adventure.

Friday, April 26, 2013

everything on red

Florence King uses a brilliant line to decline invitations:  "I would love to; I just don't want to."

I have long suspected my friends up north think I am using a similar line when I tell them: "I can't do it today; I have to go go the post office."

But it is true.  If I attempt to do more than one task a day in Melaque, neither will be completed when it is time for one of our spectacular sunsets.  Almost without fault.

Take Thursday.  My primary goal was to go to the Post Office to mail some cards and pick up my two weeks of accumulated mail.  With a brief stop to drop off my laundry.  Simple.  Not really two tasks at all.

The moment I left the house, I knew I was back in Mexico.  The neighbor, who lives across the street (and who sweeps my sidewalk and drive), wanted to welcome me back.  And to know what had become of my mother and brother.

Around the corner, I ran into the posada owner who shares my laguna-cleaning duties.  It was a brief stop by Mexican standards.  Enough to gather some information and to satisfy convention.

On the next corner, I ran into my pals Ed (the artist) and his wife, Roxanne (the photographer), at my favorite shrimp restaurant.  I sat down for what I thought would be five minutes.  But this is Mexico -- and these are friends. 

When I stood up to leave, an hour had passed.  But it was time well-spent.  I had re-connected with two of my favorite people in Melaque.

In the next block I stopped to talk to two young Americans who have successfully brought the Pacific Northwest coffee culture to our little fishing village.  I looked around at the remodeling they have started while I was away.

And then it was my doctor.  She saw me through her office door and stopped me to inquire about my mother and brother -- as well as my drive north.

Even my brief stop at the laundry turned into a conversation about my mother and brother, my old car, and the new car to come.

In the course of about twelve blocks on my walk to the post office, I had invested just over three hours of relationship-building.  And then another half hour at the post office collecting my mail -- along with a healthy dose of local gossip.

So, I decided to reward myself with a leisurely two-hour lunch across the street from my bank. And that leads to the topic of the post I had intended to write.

Yesterday, John Calypso asked about my car purchase.  "Last we heard (I think) you were getting your car upon arrival in Mexico -- apparently that did not happen?"  It's a good question.

The answer is that I changed my mind.  My confidence level of transferring the pesos to the car dealer through my bank's web page was rather low.

So, I flew back to Melaque to handle the financial side of this deal.  The Escape is ready for pick up in Guadalajara as soon as I can get the money up there electronically.

What I did not take into account is that it takes three days to transfer my dollars from one bank to my BanamexUSA account.  Then I need to transfer the dollars (a transfer large enough that should attract the great seeing eye of Big Sister Napolitano) to my Banamex account here in town.

In the process, the dollars will be subjected to financial alchemy and will end up as pesos.  Only then can I hit the red button in Melaque to send a wad of electronic pesos to the car dealer in Guadalajara.  Where my hours of toil-earned dollars will magically turn into a new Escape.

I had toyed with the idea of just waiting to complete this transaction.  When I started looking at new Escapes in March, the $399,999 (Mx) price was the equivalent of $31,298 (US).  This week, the equivalency is $33,305 (US).  If I had purchased last May, it would have been $27,874 (US).

All because of the ever-changing exchange rate between the dollar and the peso -- as you can see by the chart.

But playing peso roulette is not a practical option now.  There are plenty of people who live here full-time and part-time who do not have cars.  But I have some places I would like to go in the next few months.  And I will need a car for all of them.

So, sometime next week, John, I should fulfill my promise.  And who knows where I will go from there?

Well, the dentist for a starter.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

snakes -- why did it have to be snakes?

The Temple of the Feathered Serpent at
Teotihuacán is everything an 8-year old boy would expect to find in an archaeological ruin.

Serpents.  Heads of hideous gods.  And hundreds of sacrificed bodies buried in its foundations.

It lacked only one thing.  A burial chamber filled with mountains of gold treasure.  Well, half of that void has now been filled.

In 2003, heavy rains disclosed a tunnel leading under the temple-pyramid.  No one was certain if the opening led to a man-made structure or if it was an opening to one of the caves that caused the builders of the city to choose the site.  (The legend was that the caves were the site of the world's creation.)

We now know the answer.  Archaeologists sent a robot cleverly named Tlaloc II-TC, after the Aztec god of rain, into the hole in the hopes of finding a burial chamber.  They did.  Actually, they discovered a bonanza.  Three burial chambers.

Unfortunately, this is not Hollywood.  There was no great reveal with stage lighting.  The tunnel is still blocked by 100 feet of rubble that will need to be cleared before any further exploration can be conducted.

This is a major discovery.  No one knows much about the society that built
Teotihuacán.  It had been long-abandoned when the Aztec, then a shabby band of wanderers, migrated through the area in the 1300s.  This discovery may help to fill in some of the voids about the burial rituals of the city's rulers.

The last time I was in
Teotihuacán (February of 2011 -- ruins of the day), I was suffering from a bout of norovirus that cut into my time to enjoy the site.  To put it politely, the trip was rushed.

Fortunately, I was able to spend time at the Anthropology Museum in Mexico City examining a partial reconstruction of the temple.  But it would be nice to see the real thing up close and personal -- without constantly looking around for the next toilet.

I now have a reason to head over to Mexico City to see the real thing -- and to spend more time in the museum.

As soon as I get my new vehicle.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

a new reason to buy a house

Big news from Mexico.

About a month ago a rumor was circulating that Mexico was considering amending its constitution to allow foreigners to own property in fee simple within the Star Trek-ishly named "forbidden zone."  One of the first goals of the 1910 Revolution was to ensure that foreigners would never again control as much of Mexico as they did during the

The party that would be known as PRI added restrictions to the 1917 constitution that a foreigner could not own property within 60 miles of the border and 30 miles of the coast.  In the 1990s the same party loosened the restrictions.  A foreigner could now hold property, but only through a bank trust.

For a lot of Anglo-Saxons that smacked of leasing.  And we are people raised on the communion of fee simple. We buy the myth that a home is not only our castle, but it is our sovereign state.

That may be changing.  And soon.

During its decade in political exile, PRI did a lot of navel-gazing. The new president essentially stole the platform of the more conservative PAN and has remade a once-authoritarian party into something that resembles a liberal democratic party.

The members of PRI and PAN in the Chamber of Deputies (Mexico's "lower" house) have approved a constitutional amendment -- on a 356-119 vote -- to amend the constitution to allow private ownership of property by foreigners in the forbidden zone.  Foreign corporations are not included in the reform.

The bill now goes to the Senate where approval is expected before President Obama visits Mexico on 2 May.

And what will be the effect?  No one knows yet.  It is too early to tell because no one knows what the regulations will look like.

But it is obvious that Mexico is interested in attracting foreigners with money to the country.  Home ownership and the increased requirements for certain visas go hand in hand.  The days when people who relied solely on Social Security may be numbered.

But that is a topic for another day. 

Today is a day to celebrate Mexico's continued steps toward a liberal economy.

an edgy farewell

Portland is weird.

And the denizens of Portland are proud of that fact.  Many of their car bumpers sport the "Keep Portland weird" slogan.

That is one reason I usually stay at the Aloft hotel when I am flying out of Portlandia.  It is slightly edgy.  The type of place Generation X and Y types hang out and feel cool.

That is apparent from the darkened hallways decorated with retro cloth stretched over fluorescent lighting.  Offering young people who stay here just enough of a "decorated by a college dorm guy" feel to avoid the feeling of having completely sold out by accepting that financial adviser job.

It should make me feel ancient.  But it doesn't.  I may be in my seventh decade, but I still see that twentysometing guy looking back at me most mornings in the bathroom mirror.

For dinner, I had a rather mediocre (and overpriced) plate of beef brisket served up by Famous Dave's Barbecue.  The place was filled with people far rounder than the young, sweaty crowd in the Aloft fitness room.  But the conversation at the table next to mine -- a guy and two multiply-pierced gals in their twenties -- was pure Portland.

The guy was talking about a girl they all knew.  He listed off a litany of her dramatic and mean moments, and then hit this home run.  "She is a drag queen stuck in a woman's body."

I cannot top that one.  No matter how I try.

Instead, I will close with two of Portland's icons joined in sunset matrimony.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

fire in the hole

Bend may have quilts and guns.  But there is at least one major downside to living here.


Living amongst the Ponderosa pines is usually pleasant.  Even with the snow.

What is not pleasant are the occasional forest fires.  "Occasional" downplays their frequency. 

When Darrel and I drove up through central Oregon from Nevada, he pointed out several of the burns that scarred the hills.  Some recent.  Some distant.  But all dangerous.

And that danger has increased as houses have blossomed in potential danger zones.

My brother, his wife, my mother, and I had just finished lunch and were heading to the Redmond airport when we saw smoke on the horizon.  In what seemed to be the proximity of Darrel and Christie's place.

So, we sped south, instead of north, to determine if the homestead was in any danger.  It wasn't.  At least, not then.  But forest fires are unpredictable.  A slight change in the wind can turn the most benign fire into a danger to people and property.

My sister-in-law made some calls and discovered it was a controlled burn by the Forest Service.  But it was large enough and close enough to their place that she decided to stay there while Darrel and Mom dropped me off at the Redmond airport.

And thus ends this segment of my journey.  The first time in twelve years that the Shiftless Escape is not in my clutches.

The past four or five months have been liberating.  I can now open a new chapter in my life below the border.

the red quilts are coming

Yesterday we indulged in a family lunch at one of Bend's better drive-ins.  One of those places in Middle America that started life as an A&W and lives on as a family-owned eatery.

While eating my meatloaf sandwich (I told you it was Middle American), I glanced across the street to see this sign.

What could better sum up Bend?  The timeless craftsmanship of quilts (Dream!  Inspire!  Create!) mixed with guns and tack (Paul Revere riding to warn men who would be free of tyranny).

What else is there to say?

Monday, April 22, 2013

birding on the high desert

I always look forward to visiting my brother's place in Bend. 

Seeing my family, of course, is the high point.  But I also enjoy the setting of his home on the high desert. 

The groves of Ponderosa pine.  The series of Cascade peaks more glorious than the next.  The expanse of plain rolling off to the horizon.  You almost expect the whole scene to be accompanied by a Jerry Goldsmith score.

I have long been a hobby birder.  That is one of the reason I chose to live in Mexico.

But Darrel's ranch house is one of the best bird blinds around.  I can sit in his family room and watch the birds come to me.

Like this little Downy Woodpecker that entertained all of us yesterday afternoon.  Flitting from trunk to trunk of dying Ponderosa.  Rapidly tapping his head in search of a buggy meal.

He reminded me of the tale Walter Lantz would tell of the woodpecker that would tap every morning on his vacation cabin roof.  Giving us the rascally Woody Woodpecker.

But my favorite has been Butterball -- a female Wild Turkey that makes her rounds through the pasture almost every morning.

Her ancestors are not native to Oregon.  The Rio Grande strain was introduced into southwestern Oregon in 1975, and proved so adaptable that the birds now live in most regions of the state.  Including my brother's spread.

And, even though barnyard turkeys are relatives of the wild variety, it is hard to believe that the silly farm turkey could be related to such a clever and wily relative.  It is almost the difference between Billy and Jimmy Carter.

Today is my last full day in Bend.  Tomorrow I will fly to Portland for the night, and then on to Manzanillo early on Wednesday morning.

Where I will trade the ranch for the beach.  And a new vehicle.

national limitations

I glanced down at the church bulletin.  There were the usual announcements.  A list of the weekend services.  A welcome notice for guests. 

My mother had invited me to attend her church yesterday.  It is one of those modern evangelical churches with a rock band and a minister who delivers his sermon while sitting on a Dave Garroway-style stool while delivering a variant of orthodox Christianity -- the righteousness and wrath of God this week.

But it was the "Praying Together" section of the bulletin that caught my attention.  Prayer is important.  And what a church prays for says a lot about its character.  Or, at least, the character of the leadership.

There were three requests.  "Pray for our missionaries" -- with a special request for missionaries in Hungary.

"Pray for area churches."  With a nod to the church where we were worshiping and its pastor.

All rather conventional and appropriate. 

But it was the third request that jarred me.  "Pray for our nation.  Military and leaders.  A military prayer list is on our website."

I mentioned the other day that I have been reading Ross Douthat's Bad Religion.  I highly recommend it to anyone interested in how orthodox Christianity and its current American heresies have impacted political life.

Douthat ended his appraisal with an analysis of the negative impact of nationalism on Christianity -- a faith that, by its profession, is universal and not the property of any country.  It is an old heresy dating at least to Woodrow Wilson's attempts to save the world for democracy.

I have long worshiped in churches that sport the heresy.  Protestants churches that would be scandalized with the presence of a crucifix, but have replaced that icon with an American flag prominently displayed on the podium.

The prayer requests for leaders has a long tradition in Christianity.  After all, it was Paul who admonished Timothy: "First of all, then, I counsel that petitions, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all human beings, including kings and all in positions of prominence; so that we may lead quiet and peaceful lives, being godly and upright in everything."

Too may Americans skip over most of that verse when prayers are offered up to protect one nation's leaders.  Paul clearly lays out the universal message of Christianity in that verse.  That we are pray for all human beings. 

Jesus made it even more explicit.  "But I tell you, love your enemies!  Pray for those who persecute you!  Then you will become children of your Father in heaven.  For he makes his sun shine on good and bad people alike, and he sends rain to the righteous and the unrighteous alike.  What reward do you get if you love only those who love you? Why, even tax-collectors do that!"

And that is the theological weakness of theology based on nationalism.  Our understanding of God gets all turned around.  Until we start singing songs like "Jesus is mine!"  And we then treat him as if he were our own little genie to grant us every wish that pops into our head.

He is not mine.  My theology says that I am his.  I am not the owner.  I am the servant.  And that means I respect the world with the same type of love God has shown us.

There is nothing wrong with praying specifically for missionaries or area churches or our nation.  But, prayer is so much more.  Maybe it is a way for us also to consider why we think some people are our enemies -- even after Jesus died for the sins of all of us.

My mother's church seems to be made up of a group of well-meaning people.  But what we believe matters. 

Richard Weaver was correct.  Ideas do have consequences.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

aim high

I am not a tall man -- by American standards.  But compared to my Mexican neighbors, I have height.

That is why I am baffled by a plumbing oddity I have encountered several times in Mexico.

This urinal is in a new restaurant on the highway near Melaque.  It has very good food.  But now and then I need to visit the rest room.

Let me give you a bit of perspective on the urinal.  The bottom lip of the ceramic hits me almost at my belt level.  And that creates some logistical issues.

And this is not the only urinal I have encountered that is mounted on the wall more as an art exhibit than as a utilitarian tool.   At least a third of the urinals in highway rest areas fall into the same category. 

If I have a problem figuring out the Rube Goldberg aspect of these high-hung artifacts, I cannot imagine how most Mexican men use them.  I guess there is an obvious possibility there, but I am not going down that road.

Maybe I should simply put an orange crate in the back of my new Escape.  It couldn't hurt.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

happy to be free

Where are Jonathan Swift and Mark Twain when we need them?

Take this headline from yesterday's The Oregonian -- "Kitzhaber seeks a measure of happiness for Oregon."  While the legislature plots ways to increase the tax burden of its citizens, the governor of Oregon is slipping away to a high-end resort in Bhutan to learn more about the "gross national happiness" index.

The concept is not new.  Advocates of a certain political bent have long argued that the "gross domestic product" (GDP) is a far too limited tool to measure economic progress.  Instead, governments should measure the economic progress of their country with an index that takes into account other factors.  The result is a scientific-sounding number that measures national happiness.

The number of happiness formulas is limited only by the political agendas of the number crunchers.  Take this example from the Happy Planet (a name that conjures up egg roll appetizers) Index people. 

Their index is based on "experienced well-being" (how people self-report their own happiness), national life expectancy, and the country's "ecological footprint" (a per capita measure of the amount of land required to sustain a country’s consumption patterns). 

Those three numbers are then arithmetically manipulated to create another number to reveal, mirabile dictu, a guide for governments to justify additional intervention in the lives of private citizens.  The equivalent of senior citizens gathering over coffee to discuss their cholesterol levels.

As silly as the phony scientific patina sounds, the resulting national rankings reveal the weakness of the project. The Happy Planet Index tells us places like Cuba and Bangladesh are the world's national Disneylands.  But change the indicators a bit and the sullen Danes are the world's smiley faces.

The Kitzhaber trek to find Shangri-La struck me as doubly ironic last night.  I was reading Ross Douthat's critique of contemporary American religious thought in Bad Religion, and hit this speed bump.  To paraphrase Douthat: for many Americans, there is no higher philosophical attainment than a universal goal of harmony and happiness.

Of course, the goal of seeking happiness is not new in America thought.  It is one of Tom Jefferson's big three examples of the unalienable rights God has given mankind.  Over time, though, that pursuit of happiness has slipped away from its contextual moorings of loving one's neighbor as one self into a more solipsistic pursuit.

Or, as Douthat puts it: "But a tolerant society is not necessarily a just one.  Men may smile at their neighbors without loving them and decline to judge their fellow citizens' beliefs out of a broader indifference to their fate."

This past week we have seen the "pursuit of happiness" put to the test in Boston where evil once again touched a public event.  I find it interesting that we often see the best aspects of the American character when they confront tragedies like this.

With the smoke still in the air, ordinary neighbors waded into the chaos to help their injured neighbors.  With no sense of personal gain.  Often in disregard of their personal safety. 

We have a word for this.  Heroes. 

There is much that is wrong in American society these days.  But we tend to disregard the underlying strength of American virtue.  The type of spirit where neighbors voluntarily gather to help raise barns -- all without the demands of governments or the happiness nags.

I wish Governor Kitzhaber well in his quest for happiness.  I suspect, though, if he simply spent more time talking to his fellow citizens, he would discover that Oregonians understand true joy far better than the abacus set.

Friday, April 19, 2013

american as lemon pie

For at least thirty years I have driven past the Marion Forks Restaurant on the Santiam highway between Salem and Bend.

I have noticed the place for two reasons.  First, the restaurant marks the half-way point on the Salem-Bend trip through the Cascades.

But that is not what has caught my eye over the years.  The place looks as if it  embodies what is good about the American spirit.  Scenic.  Rustic.  Optimistic.

Optimistic because even though it is on a very busy highway, whenever I drive past, the same two trucks seem to be parked there.  And nothing more.

The site once housed a fishing lodge long before the highway was built.  The lodge disappeared in a fire decades ago -- to be replaced by the current restaurant on a site closer to the river in 1973.

But I have never stopped there.  Until today.

It is the Cotton Syndrome writ large.  No matter how curious I have been, the “keep driving” attitude has kept me from pulling off the highway.
This morning I left Salem heading back to my brother’s ranch in Bend.  The trip was going well.  Light traffic.  Plenty of rain, but no snow.

Near the summit of the pass, a construction crew stopped the traffic.  That is when I noticed it.  My fuel light was on -- and the needle was well below the red on the “Empty” indicator.

I knew the nearest gas station was on the other side of the pass was in Sisters.  And I doubted I could make it.  So, I turned around -- in the hope I could make it back the 30 or so miles to the nearest town.

When I made it to Marion Forks, I decided to play a hunch.  Maybe the proprietor would have a can of gas I could buy.  Just to ensure I could make it to a station.

And I was correct.  I barely got the first words of my dilemma out of my mouth, and the guy who runs the restaurant -- Wayne Rettinger -- offered to sell me two gallons of gas.

That was enough to get me the rest of the way to Detroit.  On the way back, I decided it was time I indulged in an American tradition at the restaurant.

I ordered a piece of lemon meringue pie and a cup of coffee.  And had a fascinating conversation with Wayne about the history of the place and the joys of running a restaurant in the wilds of the Cascades.

Several readers have commented on the “charmed” life I lead.  I like to think of it as a blessed life.

But I do know something.  Sometimes it helps to stop and meet people along the path of life.  Good Samaritans abound.

Thanks, Wayne for helping me along the journey.  And for a piece of pie that will be as memorable as the trip.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

purple majesty

Talk about symbolism.

I woke up this morning in Olympia.  And this is what I saw through my bathroom window.  The sun rising behind Mount Rainier.
Well, what I saw was much better.  Instead of this rather impressionistic smear of colors.  And that is a polite description.  Out-of-focus amateur photography is closer to the mark.  

My trek north is drawing to a close.  I ended my two-day visit with Ken and Patti, and drove south to Salem -- for one primary purpose.  To close and consolidate my bank accounts.

My credit union would not allow me to close my account without seeing my shiny face.  So, appear I did.  That task is done.

But I still have no answer to the question of how to get a pile of pesos to the car dealership in Guadalajara.  The test deposit I made from my Banamex account on the day I left never made it to the intended account. 

My mama did not raise a fool.  At least, not a fool who will send 400,000 pesos into the electronic ether without having a vague idea of the destination.

I should be able to get an answer from my soon-to-be-former bank in Salem.  If not, I will check with BanamexUSA.

If that fails I may need to return to Melaque to talk with my bank manager.  I have learned one thing.  The Banamex web page is almost indecipherable.  And I don't need to make a mistake of that size.

One way or other, I am going to get that new Escape.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

drinking in the culture

Today is about as multi-cultural as a day can be.

Ken and Patti's daughter, Kimmy, is attending her senior prom in a couple of weeks.  That means shopping for a prom dress.  A custom of which I know nothing.

But I do now.  Patti had found a store filled with exotic choices.  The store name -- Tacoma Discount World -- did not hint at its contents.

I recognized it the moment I walked in.

The gown choices looked as if they were a combination of a Mexican beauty contest and a quinceañera.  With colors that could be found in nature only in the higher reaches of the Amazon.

We left gownless.  But my multi-cultural evening was not over. 

Ken and Patti are neighbors, and close friends, to Fijians of Indian ancestry.  They invited us over to meet a Fijian national hero -- Waisale Serevi.  A member of the Rugby Hall of Fame.   Nicknamed "King of Sevens."

It was a great evening.  I am hardly an expert on rugby.  But we shared sports tales -- over three servings of kava.  And that was a first for me, as well.  People who say kava is relaxing are not exaggerating.  Its reputation as a calming agent is well-deserved.

Well-deserved enough that I am on my way to bed for a nice sleep.

Tomorrow -- I am on the road to Salem. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

towing the line

I hate to plan.  Even for major events.

And that usually serves me well.  The best example recently was my decision to buy a new Mexican-licensed SUV -- after driving the Shiftless Escape out of the country.

A little back story may help.  When I decided to apply for a permanent resident visa, one question that was still unresolved was whether a permanent resident could own a duty-free vehicle in Mexico.

My instinct told me the answer was ”no.”  Owning a tax-free vehicle did not seem to be consistent with the notion of permanent residency.

But there were rumors everywhere.  Partly because the Custom folks (Aduana) had not yet made final decisions on how to deal with the new visa regimen.

The decision of whether to risk a fine by maintaining a foreign-plated vehicle was rather easy for me.  It was time for a new vehicle.  If I drove the Escape out of the country, I would be legal -- no matter what Aduana decided.

That may have been a wise decision.  While I was in Pátzcuaro this summer I met Kathy Butler while volunteering with the El Sagrario program -- providing daily meals for the elderly and poor. (seduced by my own threads)

Kathy posted a story on the Morelia message board.  Apparently, Aduana in the Morelia area is getting very serious about cracking down on duty-free vehicles owned by people with visa irregularities.  Including people with permanent resident visas.

She reported that a friend of hers was driving near
Pátzcuaro when he was stopped by what may have been the fiscal police who work for Aduana.  The friend had started the process of legally importing the vehicle.  But the car had not yet been licensed in Mexico.

Several vehicles had been stopped and were being trucked away by the police.  Kathy’s friend managed to drive the car away.  Others were not so lucky.

I trust Kathy.  I do not know her friend.  But the incident certainly sounds plausible.  And it is consistent with a blog that has carefully been following the issue in
Yucatán.  Options for Foreign-Plated “TIP” Car Owners in Mexico, esp for Permanent Residents
The writer points out: ”[T]he current official Aduana policy still leaves Residente Permanente card holders on the hook – making their TIPs invalid, and making the TIP cars illegal to drive in Mexico, unless you get a Safe Returns permit or permanently import the car.”  He then provides a list of interesting options:  Including: remove the vehicle from Mexico; park the vehicle and wait for legislative action; legally import the vehicle; among other possibilities.

I chose the first option.  Others may be more interested in rolling the dice.

If I lived in the highlands, I would not have even thought about taking the risk.  The only time any Mexican official checked my duty-free documents was on a summer trip to San Miguel de Allende last year.

But none of those concerns will now be mine.  There is a shiny Mexican license plate in my future.

Monday, April 15, 2013

weathering the road

Saturday was my sabbath from driving.

I spent most of the day with my brother and sister-in-law on their ranch.  Talking.  Watching movies.  Doing the odd chore.

But that was enough rest.  On Sunday I was ready for another trip.  This time it would be the 272 miles to Olympia to see my friends Ken and Patti.

You remember Patti.  I wrote about her battle with liver cancer in pulling for patti   In February, she underwent a successful surgery to remove the tumors from her liver -- and is now halfway through her chemotherapy treatment.  In her words, ”She is two-thirds of the way there.”

Because I have no idea how long I will be north on this trip, seeing Patti was top on my list.

One constant on our trip from Mexico was sunshine.  That was not what greeted me on the quick five-hour trip to Olympia.

To get from Bend to the Willamette Valley, a driver needs to cross the Cascades.  In April, that can mean heavy snow, ice, rain, or -- clear roads.  What I got was a bit of snow and a few miles of ice.  As you can see in the photograph at the top of this post. 

That was a fair trade to see snow-frosted Douglas firs.  Almost as good as Christmas.

The snow was a snap for what met me on the other side of the Cascades.  April rains are as common in the Willamette Valley as insipid commercials on television.

And that is what I got.  Several miles of monsoon-like rain.  Where cars simply disappeared in front of me into a watery void. Along with an onslaught of hail that left drifts along the road.

As odd as it sounds, it was nice to see a variety of weather.  After all, sunshine every day can be monotonous.

So, here are my thoughts.  I will enjoy a day or two in Olympia -- and I will then be on my way to Salem to settle some financial matters to buy the new Escape.

But, for now, I am simply going to enjoy time with Ken and Patti.


Sunday, April 14, 2013

pulled over on nostalgia lane

On our road trip, Darrel and I talked about the cars we have owned.  As men of our age are wont to do.

I laid down a challenge -- that I could name all of the cars I have owned. And then dared him to do it.  I won.

But the contest was not fair.  I have only owned nine cars.  He has easily owned double that.  One for only two days.  The longest for 14 years.

Because my list is short, I thought I would share it with you.  The subsequent conversation should prove to be interesting.

Car #1.  You already know about this beauty.  My 1967 Oldsmobile Cutlass convertible that I wrote about in not my father's oldsmobile.  I drove it through my first years in the Air Force. 

I suspect I sold it to be certain the driving tales associated with it would disappear along with the title.  If you buy me dinner, I might share a few.

But you would hear the best car tales about my 1973 240Z -- Car #2.  For a number of reasons, it is still my favorite car.  Certainly for the time I had it.  You read about the car in on the road with donny datsun three years ago.

It accompanied me on assignment in Greece for one year.  Where I would regularly drive it on the Greek expressway at 120 miles per hour.  At least, according to the speedometer. 

To be in your early 20s is to doubt that death exists.  Just writing the number 120 is enough to bring back great memories of that Spartan little sport car.

After Greece, the 240Z and I took a road trip through Greece, up through Italy, across France, and into the United Kingdom.  Where both car and driver stayed land-locked for two years.  With the exception of a loop up through Scotland, across to Northern Ireland, down through the Republic of Ireland, and over to Wales.  Where I was repeatedly treated as I was an IRA sympathizer.

And because it was the 1970s, my speed dropped, though my love of driving did not.

Car #3 -- a 1981 Datsun 200ZX -- came along as a matter of practicality.  I had opened a law practice with a friend from law school, and extravagance was not what I needed at the time. 

My memory is that, even the car was new, it could be classified only as utilitarian.  But hardly memorable.  Well, other than the fact that I purchased it with a brief case full of cash.  But that is a story for another day.

Car #4 -- a 1983 Pontiac STE -- started a trend for me with new cars.  The body looked like almost all of the GM cars of that model.  But it had the soul of a sport car. 

With a 3.1 litre 6 cylinder engine that provided an amazing amount of power and a suspension and steering capability that would have made an Astin Martin driver smile.

But my heart was quickly won over by Ford's then-new sedan -- a 1986 Ford Taurus LTE.  Car #5.

Its handling was not quite as good as the Pontiac.  But its dash had enough readouts to satisfy a Microsoft employee. 

In the 1970s there was a Shell commercial that showed a very primitive computer calculating miles per gallon as a car drove along sucking Shell gasoline out of a laboratory beaker.  I had lusted for a similar calculator in my car.  A decade later, there it was.

With its computer and leather seats, I felt I had arrived as a successful almost-young lawyer.

Until Car #6 came along.  My law partner was interested in buying a BMW as a safety car for his growing family.  His first son had just been born. 

I agreed to accompany him to the dealer.  But I was not interested in a new car.  My Taurus was the love of my life.

While he looked around at hardtops, a red 1988 BMWi sitting in the showroom caught my eye.  By the time he was done looking, I had purchased the convertible, and I was tooling home -- with a new innovation.  A CD player.  And the Taurus was on a used car lot.

For sheer driving pleasure, that car almost matched my memories of the 240Z.  Unfortunately, I could not really compare them properly.  Where was I going to drive 120 MPH in Oregon?

The BMW was the only car I leased.  When I took a job that added 100 commuting miles each day, I knew I needed to find something different.  Or I would go broke paying for excess mileage at the end of the lease term. 

And I did find something different.  I held onto the BMW and bought a second car (to save money -- you can stop that sniggering).  The stepchild of my car ownership.  Car #7.  A used brown Ford Taurus. 

I almost forgot about it.  It is that forgettable.  By that time, the Taurus had turned into the standard rental car.  And they were everywhere.  I eventually gave it to my father.

Car #8 got me back on track, though.  I traded the BMW in for America's 1990s answer to the Japanese luxury sedans that had cornered an entire piece of the American market.  A 1995 Oldsmobile Aurora.

It had the lines of its Japanese competition.  And great handling for a car of its size. 

The day I bought it, I had to be at a political meeting in Portland.  There was a slight drizzle, but I could not figure out why everyone was driving so slow.  I looked at the speedometer: I was driving 100 MPH.  I pulled back on the throttle.

By this point in my career, the car fit me.  A middle-aged attorney in his big car.  Not to mention, that Jiggs loved the luxury of the lather seats.

The Aurora came to an untimely end in 2001.  We were T-boned by a Jeep driven by a dad who was rushing his young son back to the ex-wife following a custody visitation.  The car was totaled.

Having had my fling with larger and larger cars, I decided to try something new.  An SUV.

Ford had just been released the Escape in 2001, and that was car #9.  A truck that would become known in Mexico as the Shiftless Escape.

But you know those stories. 

I am now ready to buy my tenth vehicle -- my eighth new vehicle -- in Mexico.  A vehicle that will reflect my personality in my seventh decade. 

And you are going to get to share in the adventures as they occur.  But that means getting back to Mexico.  Something I will do in a week or two.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

all's well that ends swell

Let me cut to the end of the chase.  We made it to Bend from Melaque in just over four days.

I have written about some of our adventures, let me sum up with a few observations.

First, traveling with my brother is pure joy.  Not only does he get most of my quips, he serves up his own that are far better.  That is one thing that makes him my best friend. 

The past week was too action-packed to share it with someone who could not be bluntly honest with me.  The fact that he shares my joy in living means there is little need for bluntness.

Second, the trip north is beautiful.  Several times I commented that I would like to spend time photographing sights along the way, but we blasted north without stopping.  Even when I was the guy driving.  That is just who we are.  Our father's sons.

Third, both of us really enjoyed spending the night with my friends Roy and Nancy in Reno on Thursday night.  Having tender prime rib for dinner and well-constructed Eggs Benedict for breakfast made our two days of Oxxo ham and cheese sandwiches simply disappear from our memory. 

I miss very few things about The States.  But good food tops the list.

Fourth, the trip has sharpened my eye a bit.  We stopped in Lakeview, Oregon (just north of the California border) for a Subway sandwich and to fill the gas tank.  While the attendant was busy with the hose (because Oregon, like Mexico, still relies on people to fill your tank), I wandered over to the street corner.  To find this.

I drive thousands of miles to find Mexican food.  Irony is my fate.

On Monday, I intend to drive over to Salem to close out my credit union account and deposit that money in an account to be transferred to Mexico.  All of that to effect the purchase of a new Escape.

As for the Shiftless Escape, it has found a new home with my brother in Bend.  As we were driving north, we reminisced about our various stops with Professor Jiggs on the trip south almost exactly four years ago.

Jiggs is gone.  And now the Escape will be gone, as well.  It is a time for transitions.

Note:  I am considering stalling on purchasing the Escape.  The peso-dollar exchange has worsened over the past few months -- by almost twenty percent.  On the other hand, it may not get much better in the near future.  I will keep you posted.

Friday, April 12, 2013

brothels and aliens

I may not spend much time here, but I have returned to the state I now call my legal residence.

We left Bullhead City (in Arizona) Thursday morning around 8 and arrived in Reno just before 6 PM.  That is one of the joys of Nevada.  Being able to travel long distances at high speeds -- and feel relatively legal.  It is no wonder libertarians are attracted to the place.

Along with other sorts.  I realize this photograph runs the risk of being
labeled cliché.  Tourist traps and brothels are not everything about Nevada.  But even the rankest stereotype is based on some truth.

Well, truth may not be the correct word.  Take this tourist trap.

It is on the main north-south highway in western Nevada.  The fabled Area 51 is in eastern Nevada.  But that does not keep clever entrepreneurs from spinning fables about the huge tracts of federal land in the state.

Of course, there are some identified flying objects that can conjure up real and imagined fears.  We were pulling into Indian Springs when Darrel noticed this object.

It is a Predator drone.  About to do a touch and go on the local Air Force landing strip.  Another was on its final leg.

I could have spent the full day watching them climb and dive.  What I did not know was where the location of the "pilot."  It could have been anywhere in the world.  And, unlike Rand Paul, I find them a bit comforting.  They could be the precursors of commercial flight.

But that is far in the future.  My more immediate future includes a quick trip to Bend tomorrow.  And an end to our little automobile shuffle adventure.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

just deserts

We were in the middle of the great Sonoran Desert when Darrel said: "This isn't the desert.  Well, what we thought was the desert when we were kids.  Deserts are supposed to have sand dunes.  Like the Sahara."

The Sonoran Desert is what we thought was cowboy and Indian country.  With mountains and cactus.  The type of place Roy Rogers and Gene Autry would roam.

Of course, it is not cowboy country -- despite what Hollywood tries to show us.  On our trip yesterday through the heart of the desert, I saw one lonely Brahma-mix cow wandering through the cactus looking like an alcoholic searching for a drink at a Mormon convention.

I suspect I would never live in the desert by choice.  Even a lovely desert like this.

And lovely it is.  The cactus were just coming into bloom.  The mesquite wore yellow flowers.  All against the background of craggy hills and as orderly as a cultivated garden.

I would have added a few more photographs, but when the Cotton boys drive, there is no stopping.  Not even for photographs.

We come by that obsession honestly.  I told you about our first (of two) family vacations in the road to freedom.  On our road trip from Detroit to Powers, my mother asked Dad if we could see the Grand Canyon.  He said no.  Because we were headed back home. And "it was just a big hole in the ground."

But he did stop to let us see the Painted Desert in Arizona.  By pulling over to the side of the road and announcing: "There it is."

And that was how our day went yesterday.  We were up at 6 and drove from Navojoa up through the border crossing at Lukeville.  Through Arizona and a bit of California to Bullhead City where we spent the night.

Not bad.  All in all that was about fourteen hours of driving.

The Escape is holding up better than the two of us.  But, if all goes well, we will be in Reno (to accomplish some home town paperwork) by Thursday evening.

And then Bend.

I suspect both of us are going to sleep in when we finally arrive in Oregon.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

on the road with the brothers glib

Every good road trip needs a good road.  And Mexico serves them up complete with garnish.

There are two major routes to begin a trip north from Melaque.  Head south through Manzanillo and take the cuota (toll road) to Guadalajara -- and then steer north.  The alternative is to drive the coast road north through Puerto Vallarta and join the cuota at Tepic.

I have always driven the coast road.  Not only does it have beautiful scenery, but the hill portions of the road make you wish you could don leathers and mount a Norton.  Driving the Escape simply does not fill out the dream.  But it is good enough.

Darrel and I left Puerto Vallarta around 7 AM and enjoyed the coast road for most of the morning.  I had fun practicing my power on curve technique.  My brother would probably give me a "C."

But, it was at Tepic that we really got serious about driving.  Mexico's toll roads are some of the best in the world.  And they seem to be constantly under renovation. 

That is a good sign.  Just look at California's freeways to get a good idea what can happen when the maintenance carousel comes to a stop.

Even though most of the toll roads are posted at 100 or 110 kpm, the average speed is much higher.  It is not unusual to be passed by an expensive car going at least 100 miles per hour.

After 12 hours of driving, I pulled over in Navojoa (in Sonora) for the night -- just as the sun went down.  No driving at night in Sonora for me.  We will be on our way between 6 and 7 tomorrow morning. 

Like most road trips, this one is not inexpensive.  For the two days we have been on the road, we have paid $896 (Mx) ($73 US) in tolls; $2501 (Mx) ($205 US) for motels; $2165 (Mx) ($177 US) for gasoline; and $1046 (Mx) ($86 US) for food.

And this is just day two.  We still have approximately four or five days ahead of us before we get to Bend.

But that is simply money.  What it cannot buy is the joy of this trip.

The feeling that I have just spent a full day on the equivalent of an autobahn -- complete with being passed by automobiles I could never afford.

The contradiction of multiple police, army, and fruit inspections along the way that balance out the efficiency of driving on the cuota

Of course, there are the humorous moments such as a semi, having passed the fruit inspection, driving through (and snapping) the station's security barrier.

But my favorite was our brief rest stop at an Oxxo.  A tour bus, several Federal Police vehicles, and a line of circus trucks had all stopped at the same time.  And the Oxxo was filled. 

Beautiful girls in shorts.  Armed policemen.  Tattooed carnies.  It could have been a moment out of a Robert Rodriguez film.  We quickly moved on before the clerks turned into vampires -- or before El Mariachi showed up.   

And now -- it is time for bed.  There will undoubtedly be similar scenarios just down the road.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

double indemnity

The echos of vices past clung to the hotel bedspread.  It did not matter to him.  Old vices were as close to him as last night's baked beans.

Tourists to Puerto Vallarta claim to find magic.  Instead, he settled for sterile commercialism.  Spreading his new identification card and decoder on the bed.  Ready for an adventure that held as little resemblance to the sad bedspread as had his charmed life during the past three months.

Cut!  What is it with the film noir narrator, Steve?  How about filling us in on what you are talking about.

Fair enough.  Let me start at the point where some of this may make sense.

You already know that the good folks at Immigration called me on Friday to tell me my permanent resident card had arrived -- and I needed to be at the office on Monday morning to pick it up.  (ye, of little faith)

Darrel and I had planned to be on our way north by 7 AM.  Instead, we belted ourselves into the Escape and headed south to Manzanillo where we were second in line at the Immigration office. 

In a few short minutes, I had my new card.  For some reason, the photograph makes me look as if I am a former Black Hand assassin in a witness protection program.

No matter.  I now have a visa that will not require annual renewals.  Well, until the law changes again.  But, for now, I feel liberated.  And that is good enough for me.

The smart thing to have done would have been to head north through Guadalajara.  But we had to return to Melaque.  And that is the second part of the story.

Last week I tried to get the email address of my bank manager to assist me in transferring my payment for the new SUV to the dealer.  Getting the address was like pulling teeth -- something I hope not to learn much more about.  And when I tried the address, it would not work.

So, back to the bank I went.  The very helpful staff member told me I could do all of that from my online account on my own.  But I needed an internet key.

That is it at the top.  It is a rather simple logarithmic code generator.  Not much more sophisticated than a Little Orphan Annie decoder ring.

Rather than bore you with more details, let me summarize.  I spent three days talking to two bank employees for a total of three hours.  After all of that, I still could not get into my account to set a new password.

Darrel and I drove back to Melaque from Manzanillo solely to get my account operating.  After waiting for two and a half hours, we were told that certain combinations cannot be used for passwords -- even though the web site does not say that.

I thought we were done. But I needed two more passwords to get to the page where I could set up a transfer account.

The bottom line is that my decoder is cool, but I still have no idea whether I will be able to effect the transfer before I return to Mexico.

But Darrel and I had both had enough.  We ate lunch and drove to Puerto Vallarta.  Stopping at the Comfort Inn near the airport where I always stay.  Note to self -- always buy the internet reservation deal and save nearly 50% over the at-desk reservation price.

I am writing this late on Monday evening.  You will get to read it early Tuesday when we will be back in the truck.

Now I will rejoin my little film noir fantasy and pull the time-grimed bedspread around me.  We intend to be up and on our way to Mazatlan -- or beyond -- early in the morning.

See you on the road.

Monday, April 08, 2013

bad fattitude

Someone should have seen it coming.

Especially in the United States of Hypersensitivity.  A country where the president has to apologize for complimenting a brainy, beautiful woman on being -- brainy and beautiful. 

Well, "brainy" is OK.  It is the "beautiful" part that put him in the compliance hoosegow.

But there appears to be as much danger on the other end of the spectrum.

Target -- the American department store -- has long tried to escape its reputation as the tiny sister of Walmart.  Often by touting the "designer" lines of faux celebrities.  And if you want to upgrade your image in America, what better way than to clambor onto the ecological bandwagon of lovable mammals?

So, Target invented a color that would make any consumer ooo and aaa.  Manatee gray.  Named after the endangered gentle beasts that are involuntarily tattooed by the propellers of Florida cigarette smugglers.  Rumored by lovesick sailors to be the origin of the mermaid myth.

Target then slapped the color on place mats, rain boots, towels, and countless other products -- including clothing.  Men and women's.  And with that last application, trouble was set a'brewing.

One of several pieces of clothing that were offered in this Greenpeace-like color was a dress. In what is now called, in the language of the politically correct -- "plus size."  A rather stylish dress.

But the petite size was called "dark heather gray."  The plus size?  Yup.  "Manatee gray."

An eagle-eyed reader of Target's site tweeted: "What the. Plus sized women get 'Manatee Grey' while standard sizes are 'Dark Heather Grey.'"

Target pumped up its PC radar and went into corporate overdrive.  In quick succession:

  • "Manatee Gray" disappeared from all plus sizes
  • Target issued a mea culpa for "any discomfort" caused by its mistake
  • And then earned its PC chops with a smarmy: "We'll use this instance as a learning experience so we can do better moving forward."
Now that is a company that knows the seas in which it swims.  The woman who originally raised the concern complimented Target: "I work w/large brands & appreciate T's quick & direct response to their customers."

But it is sad that the whole exchange had to occur.  Target was wise to act as it did because someone would have turned an imagined insult into a broader attack upon women.

In my former working life, a team of us were tasked to teach a course on new legislation concerning workers' compensation coverage.  If you read that without yawning, you have more stamina than our group.

Early on we decided we needed a hook to make the topic more interesting.  So, we wrote a little play -- complete with well-defined characters and witty repartee.  If you did not get the hint, I wrote it.

At the start of the first "performance," I stood up and announced: "Welcome to our little theater.  If you attend one of our local stages, this is the point a self-important, overweight actor will step forward and tell you about the performance you are about to see.  Today, that is me."

The presentation went as well as we expected.  But, the moment I got back to my office, a supervisor from another division called to tell me see needed to "talk with me."  In that same tone of voice my mother would use whenever I brought the car back with a nearly-empty gas tank.

When I got to her office, she asked if I was aware I had jut insulted several women in the audience by calling them "fat."

I hadn't.  And I told her exactly what I said.

She then suggested that I send out a written apology to improve the "self-image" of the employees who had conjured up the fantasy.

Unlike Target, I refused.  And I will skip the remainder of our exchange other than to say that I, the overweight actor in question, kept the line in our play.

Several bloggers have written on what is happening with thought and language control in Canada and The States.  I cannot say it is the reason I left, but it certainly figures into it.

I cannot imagine a Mexican woman taking umbrage at a color.  In fact, the Target story would most likely be the center point of many a Mexican woman conversation in the street.

Me?  I will continue wearing my stage black.  It is so slimming.  Doncha know?


Sunday, April 07, 2013

ye, of little faith

Jesus may have been talking to his disciples when he uttered the phrase, but it certainly came to mind when I answered the telephone late Friday afternoon.

The female voice on the other end asked for me by name -- in Spanish.  Inquiring if I was still in Mexico.  But the words came in a flood after that.   I confessed my language failing -- in my faltering Spanish.

The next voice was male.  In English.  Saying that he had my new car.  At least, That is what I heard.  But I was confused.  I hadn't sent my purchase money to the dealership, yet.  How could my new car have already arrived?

A few work volleys across the verbal net, and I was profusely apologizing.   It wasn't my new car that was available, but my new card.  My permanent resident visa.  I needed to stop by the Manzanillo office to pick it up at 9 AM on Monday.

I have already confessed my agnosticism about having enough faith in Mexican bureaucracy that my visa would be approved in the equivalent of seven business days.  (last plane to lisbon)  But I was wrong. 

It turns out that I did not need to spend that 320 pesos for my letters of transit.  Instead, I can head north with my new visa -- even though it may delay our departure by a couple of hours.  And we will discover if there is any problem with turning in my duty-free vehicle decal when I now have a visa that does not (or may not) qualify for duty-free status.

I am certain there will be a story there.  And probably plenty more as Darrel and I do a reprise of our brother road trip -- but in reverse.

Note -- I usually post something about Mexico's return to daylight saving time on this weekend each year. But, not today.  If you didn't already switch your clock forward an hour, you may be late for something.  But no one is going to notice or care.  That is another benefit for those of us who are temporally challenged -- and live tranquilly in Mexico.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

jawing with the dentist

Blogging is an interesting pursuit.

You think you have a great topic and start writing about it.  Permanent resident visa.  Wall construction.  Internet access to my bank account.  And, right in mid-sentence, a better story wanders on stage.

I will let you know about those other three topics in a day or two.  But today, class, we are back to one of the chief reasons I live in Mexico.  High quality, affordable health care.  Something Canada and the United States are never going to see with their current setups.

While I was in Oregon in January, I started developing a small infection on my left upper molar.  It didn't seem like much.  Almost as if I had trapped a bit of popcorn kernel between my teeth.

But I was not so lucky.  Within days, it had become so infected, I could not close my teeth together.  What was odd is that I knew I had had a root canal on that tooth.  The pain was not coming from the tooth.

My house sitter could not take any more of my belly and tooth-aching, and drove me to Salem Hospital's emergency room.  I predicted I had either a severe case of gingivitis, an abscess, or bone damage.
I will fast forward through this part of the story.  The 12-year old doctor who examined me could not give me a diagnosis, but he did insist on prescriptions for antibiotics (that I did take) and Vicodin (that I did not).  His sole advice: see a dentist.

The total expense?  $479.92 (US) for the hospital and $253 (US) for the doctor.

In February I had a relapse.  My Mexican doctor examined me ($300 MX -- $24.48 US) and prescribed another dose of antibiotics ($246 MX -- $20.07 US).  You might notice a slight disparity between the Mexican and American medical costs.

I was hoping I could avoid a trip to the dentist.  The hope was short-lived.

This week, the pain returned and my gum began to severely recede.  There was no more putting off what needed to be done.

So, I sat myself down in Dr. Pimienta's chair, explained my situation, and he was deep in my mouth before I could say "where's the needle?"

I am not a fan of dentists.  Even though I am not certain why.  I have a rather high tolerance for pain.  But I managed once to sprain a finger while having my teeth cleaned.  Let's just say I have a rather complex relationship with the drill set.

If I had not been repeatedly pressing down on the infected area with my tongue, I would have been shocked at the level of pain that shot through me when he stuck his probe underneath my gum and asked if I could feel that he was hitting bone immediately.  I could.

His diagnosis.  Neither gingivitis nor an abscess.  I had some serious bone deterioration going on.  And that meant potentially a rather big surgery -- a bone graft from a dentist in Guadalajara.

Color me odd, but I am rather excited about the possibility of experiencing a new surgery.  I suspect that it is hideously painful -- at least it holds that promise.  But it could be an interesting foray into Mexican medicine.  And I will do next to anything for a good story.

But the surgery appointment will need to go on hold until I return from my drive north.  So, Dr. Pimienta packed my gums with an antibiotic and sent me on my way.

Oh, wait, I forgot something.  For all of that treatment, my dental bill was $300 (MX).  $24.48 (US).  What it would have cost to park a car at an American hospital.

Next month, I will undoubtedly see the specialist in Guadalajara to determine if a bone graft is really what I need.

Until then, I am keeping my teeth crossed that the pain holds off.