Friday, January 29, 2021

the further adventures of omar

It has been some time since I told you tales of my son. More than two months to be precise.

The last reference to him on these pages was in late November when we visited Ciudad Guzmán 
(on the road to ciudad guzmán). Well, I visited Ciudad Guzmán. Omar was there to take an entrance exam to the University of Guadalajara -- the same university that operated his prep school.

He was certain he had done quite well on the examination. All we needed to do now was to wait for the results to be announced in January. That is when things went awry.

In 2019, over forty Americans were implicated in a college admission fraud case. Because Americans are besotted with celebrity worship, two actresses (Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman) became the faces of elitist entitlement. We collectively clucked our tongues -- after asking: "Who is Lori Loughlin?"

Omar found himself as collateral damage in a similar less-celebrity-oriented scandal. Wherever entry examinations are conducted, some hardy entrepreneur will set up a course to teach examinees how to take the test. And that is what happens in Mexico. There are lots of courses on offer to help enhance test scores.

Omar took one locally. And he felt that it had been helpful to psychologically prepare him for the test in Ciudad Guzmán.

Then came the bad news. Around the date the test results were scheduled to be released, Omar emailed me in Oregon that there was a problem. One of the test preparation courses had obtained a copy of the examination and had distributed it to its students -- along with the correct answers.

Even though Omar's preparation course was not involved in the scandal, his results were invalidated along with all of the other results. He would need to take another examination. In 
Ciudad Guzmán. On 6 February.

It did not sound fair. But what other option was there for the university? The process had been thoroughly tainted.

He took the news just as I would have anticipated. He has that Mexican personality trait of patiently working through every setback. I would not call it fatalism so much as doggedness.

And now there is a new twist. Even though Jalisco state has been under a modified lockdown order for two weeks, the number of new virus cases continues to climb.

The rector of the University of Guadalajara was interviewed in this morning's newspaper. He advised the governor to extend the lockdown past its 31 January expiration date. More interesting to Omar was the rector's comment that the 6 February entrance examination would most likely be moved -- once again.

I just gave him the news that he may not be taking the examination in a week. He accepted it stoically. Just as I anticipated. It also gave me an opportunity to stretch my Spanish muscles by conveying some abstract ideas. Slowly and roughly. But it worked.

Omar is one of the many students around the world whose educational process has been interrupted. Unlike primary and elementary school students (many of whom have left school permanently as a result of virus-related school closures), Omar can bide his time on the road to becoming a dentist. He has kept busy by working as a waiter in a seafood restaurant. I suspect other potential students may have abandoned their dreams during these shutdown days. 

So, that is the latest installment in "Father Knows Least" and "My One Son." As long as the network does not cancel us, Omar will be back with more on his tooth-drilling quest. 

Thursday, January 28, 2021

water, water everywhere

My morning routine was interrupted.

I usually brew up a pot of Tazo Zen tea before I sit down at the computer on the patio to chat with you.

Making tea is a rather universal process. Heat up some water (in my case, it is a teapot in the microwave). Pour it over the tea. Drink the tea.

I use the same process here that I do at my brother's house in Prineville -- with one major difference. In Prineville, I fill the teapot from the tap at his kitchen sink. In Mexico, I fill it from a five-gallon bottle in the corner of my kitchen.

Before I moved here, people were extremely free on giving me advice about water in Mexico. The first nag out of the gate was: "Never drink water from the tap."

I have generally followed that advice. My water source for the house is a well. The house is plumbed to connect to the city water that runs in front of my house, but I have never felt the need to complete the circuit. It would mean installing a tinaco (a water tank on the roof) and setting up a complex plumbing connection.

Even though, I do not drink the untested well water that pours from my tap, Omar does. He does not seem to be adversely affected. For me, the tap water is for cooking, washing up, and showering.

My drinking water comes from another source. That bottle I mentioned earlier that is housed in a stand that looks as if it is a relic of the revolution.

How that water gets to the house and what it costs is a tale that has changed over the years.

When I lived on the beach and then on the laguna in Villa Obregon, a young man named Ivan delivered water to my house in a truck that had a distinctive Tarzan yell to announce its presence in the neighborhood. In 2009, the price of each bottle had just jumped from 10 to 12 pesos, and each bottle supplied me with water for about two to three days.

Over the years, the price inched up to 15 pesos, I think. I never tracked it because it was such a small amount.

Then, one day, Ivan asked me to help him with a planned trip north. Way north. I never saw him after that. Even though another driver took over the Tarzan route, I switched to a fancier brand of water on the advice of a friend who had the foresight to have several samples tested at a lab. 

I became a Santorini fan. The price was a bit more expensive (about 25 pesos), but it had a great taste -- even though it is a Pepsi product. There was something enticingly exotic about the brand that evoked the sun of Greece. I assume Pepsi did not want its customers to dwell on the fact that what we know as the island of Santorini is the rim of a catastrophic volcanic explosion.

When I switched brands, I switched delivery systems. There was a Santorini truck that delivered water in one of the neighborhoods in Barra de Navidad. But not to my neighborhood with any regularity. And an irregular supply of water is not a good way to run a household.

Instead, I drove my car every two or three days to the nearest Kiosko and bought my water there. When an Oxxo opened near my house, I switched my custom there. It is a simple operation taking no more than ten minutes of my time. The Oxxo is within easy walking distance of my house, but I have come to an age when toting loads like a full water bottle three blocks strains my capabilities.

Because we live in an area where supply chain interruptions (hurricanes, tropical storms, floods) are expected every year or two, I keep three bottles on hand. In emergencies, that will hold me for over a week. Short of a protracted revolution, I should have plenty of water. In a pinch, I can always resort to the Omar method and drink water right out of the tap. 

The price of my Santorini water crept up slowly to 30 pesos. And then one day, it was gone. The Santorini brand simply disappeared from the shelves. No more echoes of Greek burros climbing the path to the top of the island.

But, it turns out, only the name was gone. The same water in the same bottles were still on sale. Tarted up in modern marketing jargon. Out with rural Greece. Forward with the more antiseptic E-Pura.

Of course, re-branding is expensive. So, the price per bottle jumped to 34 pesos.

I was about to make a comparison between the 10 pesos that a bottle of water cost just before I arrived and the 34 pesos I am now paying to draw a lesson about the cost of living in Mexico, but that would be simply perpetuating the type of false comparison so common of politicians. After all, I would be comparing unlike brands. There are still plenty of suppliers who will deliver a bottle of water to your house here for much less than 34 pesos.

In my case, driving the short distance to the Oxxo to talk with the clerks is just part of my routine. Like making tea.

And it is time that I finished off the pot I made this morning.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

hamming it up

I made a Charles Dickens visit to Hawaii last week.

You know. "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times."

I had just paid for my bag of produce and some exotic imported items when I asked Alex if he had sold any Costco hams over the Christmas season. I was primarily curious because I had not seen any in his coolers before I headed north the Oregon to celebrate Omnisolemnis. I did not particularly need any on that stop.

He called to one of his employees who hauled out a red foil-wrapped ham the size of Rhode Island. I immediately recognized it by the wrapper. It was one of Costco's spiral-cut smoked hams that are the centerpiece of holiday stand-up parties. A slice of ham on a kaiser roll slathered with extra hot mustard, and a party-goer will be content for the evening.

My problem is that I was not cooking a Christmas dinner or hosting a stand-up party. Such events do not happen at the house with no name. I would like to, but I don't. Or, as Florence King would put it: "I would love to. I just don't want to."

Even though my head said "what are you going to do with that hunk of meat," my heart responded "whatever I want to," and I left with the ham slung over my shoulder looking as if I worked in a Smithfield packing house. Even Upton Sinclair would have given me a pass in The Jungle.

One of the drawbacks of decisions based on emotion is that the passion soon fades and reality sets in. In this case, the realityt was a bone-in giant that hunkered in the corner of my refrigerator daring me to come up with enough uses to justify the cost of the purchase.

So, for the past week, I have eaten ham fried rice, ham sandwiches, ham with mustard, ham with scrambled eggs, a ham-cheese-egg breakfast sandwich, and a couple of other dishes I cannot now remember. All of them were delicious because I like ham. And this ham has given up itself to my pleasure like an Al Capp shmoo.

But I have just about hit the ham wall, and about half remains uneaten. One obvious solution is to pull the rest of the spirals off of the bone, wrap them individually in plastic wrap, and then freeze them. That is always a last resort with me. The freezing process will destroy a lot of the ham's flavor. 

There are other options, of course, that I do not need to elaborate on. But I am certain I could find good homes for what is left of the ham.

I suppose the moral here is not to buy more of anything than I can reasonably use in a few days. (Of course, that would be contrary to the very concept of my pantry.) That is not going to happen.

A better moral is that when faced with an excess of anything, I should ask where could it best be put to use?

Before I answer that question, though, I see a grilled cheese sandwich with smoked ham in my future. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

keeping the house afloat

Any boat owner can tell you what a boat is -- a hole in the water surrounded by wood into which you pour money.

Home owners understand the sentiment. Just like boats, houses need constant attention and repair to stay afloat.

The boat analogy is not inapt. Unless a house is situated in the middle of the Atacama Desert, it needs to be as watertight as a sloop during rainy seasons. Assuming that the homeowner is not fond of impromptu water features in the bedroom.

I have now lived in the house with no name for six years. The house has been kind to my budget. The largest maintenance cost I have incurred was a new paint job just over a year ago (painting the dead). But it is not the wallet-deflating projects that are often the most annoying. It is the recurring flaws that are often most memorable.

My house is built in the Mexican modern style championed by Luis Barragán. Straight lines. Acute angles. Lots of flat planes.

It is those "flat planes" that present the recurring problem.

The house consists of two stories. The ground story contains the main living area built around a large patio. Four bedrooms. A library. A kitchen. A guest bathroom. The first floor is a large circular terrace topped with four pavilions. With the exception of the area covered by the pavilions, the terrace is open to the vagaries of weather. Here, that means lots of exposure to high temperatures most of the year and tropical rains in our wet season.

The terrace is surfaced with ceramic tiles. Tiles mean grout. And punishing weather means that the grout between the tiles will often crack from expansion and contraction. When that happens, water can seep into the rooms below because the terrace forms the roof for the rooms on the ground floor.

My house has suffered more leaks than the White House. When I moved in, the first rains exposed leaks in the kitchen, the library, and one guest room. Those leaks were plugged by replacing several tiles on the terrace and adding fresh grout.

No leaks appeared for a year. But they eventually did. And, as is the way of leaks, they were in new places. We have been through that cycle several times during the past six years.

This morning the latest group of leaks -- primarily in Omar's bedroom -- are being fixed. Martin and Victor know the routine. Not only were they part of the paint crew last year, but they have been responsible for two prior leak jobs.

Because the problem is the grout, Martin and Victor will remove the current grout with a saw that sounds as if I have opened a cut-rate dentist practice. If tiles are loose, they will be removed, cleaned, and re-seated. When the new grout dries, a sealant will be applied over the top of the grout. That method has been effective in stopping leaks in the past (no plumber required for these leaks).

Is it a permanent fix? Of course not. Short of pulling up all of the terrace tile and installing a new drainage system, there will be no permanent resolution. And, even if I were to shell out the type of money that would put a new car in my garage, leaks would appear in the new construction. Water will find a way.

When the rains arrive this summer, we will discover whether the hull has been properly caulked. If not, we will weather the storm and invite Martin and Victor back with their trusty saw.

Monday, January 25, 2021

holding up others

It is one of the most striking word pictures in Judaism.

Our pastor at the English-speaking church in Villa Obregon, Al Stebing, shared it with us as the central text of his sermon on Sunday.

After the Israelites left slavery behind in Egypt, they encountered numerous travails on their exodus to the promised land -- including attacks from other tribes along the way. The first tribe to attack the Israelites were the Amalekites, a tribe closely related to the Israelites. They were descended from Israel's brother, Esau.

Moses climbed a hill above the battle site and was accompanied by his brother Aaron and their friend Hur. When Moses raised his staff in the air, the same staff that was the medium for God's miracles in Egypt, the Israelites would prevail. But, when he lowered his staff, the Amalekites would get the advantage.

Because battles last a bit longer in reality than they do in Hollywood movies, Moses had difficulty holding up his arms for the length of the battle. After all, he was 80 at the time. Some of us have trouble holding up our house keys at that age.

That was when Aaron and Hur offered their encouragement to Moses. They sat him on a rock and each one held up one of his arms. They did that until the sun set, and Israel was victorious over the Amalekites who had attacked them.

The theme of Al's sermon was why we should encourage one another -- just as Aaron and Hur encouraged Moses. Not merely with words, though they are important, but through actions -- physically lifting up Moses's arms.

His sermon was directed at his audience, of course -- those present under the palapa and those watching on YouTube. But that notion of encouragement that resonates through Judaism and Christianity is not just a message for believers.

Something has snapped in personal relationships. It is easy to blame the toxic mix of politics that has poisoned conversations for Americans for at least 30 years or to point out how the pandemic has been a contributing cause of an outbreak of what appears to mental illness. But, I suspect the problem predates either of those circumstances.

In theory, we all know that we feel better when we receive encouragement and we feel almost as good while encouraging others. We know it, but we do not do it. Or we tend not to do it.

Someone politely offers a mask when we forget to wear one in a public place with the courteous out: "I thought you must have dropped yours." Too often, the immediate response is to snap rather than thank the giver for helping you save face. LIterally.

Or you have a friend who lives in political fear. Rather than arguing with her that her fears (let alone her politics) are strangers to reality, you could encourage her by talking through the underlying fear rather than berating her.

Being an encourager is hard work. It is especially hard when we are going through the same travails as everyone else. But investing a bit of time to talk with people where they are experiencing life can be encouraging for both parties.

For some reason, I had pulled my copy of Lord of the Rings out of my library last week. Maybe it was because Frodo's quest has so many echoes in our current plights.

J.R.R. Tolkein's classic is one of the best examples of contemporary Christian fiction. The main characters are as recognizable as our family and neighbors.

Two quotations caught my attention as I read through the first few chapters. I did not know what Al's sermon was going to be on Sunday, but each of the quotations echoed his message.

When Frodo discovers that Gollum is still alive, he angrily states: "He deserves death!"

It is Gandalf's response that is so powerful:

Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.

The second is like the first. Frodo expresses a wish that the ring had never come to him -- that he would have preferred living his life in the Shire without the complications of a quest. Gandalf counsels:

So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring. In which case, you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.
If we were to follow Aaron and Hur's example, and lift up those around us with encouragement, rather than tearing them down in anger, we might not change the world, but we will certainly have an impact on the part of the world where we live. Acting in the humility that we cannot see all ends and knowing that there is a purpose for everything that happens around us.

That, in itself, would be miracle enough for me.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

when boys are in charge

News flash!

A gang of 8-year old boys has taken over the food labeling division of the Mexican Secretariat of Health. I did not hear that on the news, but it is the only thing that makes sense to me after seeing the warning label on my package of arugula.

A little background might help. 

Last November in death by tortilla, we all had an interesting discussion on the Secretary of Health's new project to label unhealthy foods. If a food is determined to be unhealthy, it must wear a scarlet letter -- or black badge, in this case --  publicly announcing its adulterous nature with the consumer's health. Too many calories.

Too much salt. Excess sugar. Enough fat to add an "Arbuckle" after your name. That sort of thing.

As we noted two months ago, there may be some value in providing consumers with useful information about the food they are consuming. But I suspect that most people who buy a Bimbo cinnamon roll and a large bottle of Coca-Cola to wash it down are fully aware they both contain excess sugar -- that is the reason they bought it in the first place.

But some of the labels are so hilarious they undermine the whole "let's-look-more-like-Cisco-than-Sgt.-Garcia" movement. The arugula package is a perfect example.

I was not an arugula fan until the 1990s. To be perfectly honest, I am not certain I had heard of its peppery, bitter flavor until then. Undoubtedly, I had eaten it in salads without realizing what it was. Some people know it as rocket or colewort. I just didn't know it at all.

I certainly do now. Whenever I can get arugula in Mexico, which is far more common in the last three years, I use it for salads or cooking in egg dishes or mixing with watermelon and soft goat cheese to create a refreshing meal. Wherever a cook would use leaf lettuce or spinach, arugula would be a perfect substitution.

That is why I was taken aback when an official of the Mexican government took it upon himself to warn me -- personally -- in large black warning blocks that my beloved arugula was loaded with excess sugars and excess sodium. I might as well be eating a bag of Lay's habanero potato chips.

What is a guy who cares about his health to do?

Fortunately, the packer provided me with a perfect alibi. Arugula, so claims the packer, contains Vitamin A. If I eat the arugula, my skin and eyes will be as healthy as a golden retriever's. All I need to do is to indulge in the sugary, salty leaves in the package.

I did. A quick look in the mirror certified after one serving, my eyes were bright and I had the skin of a 20-year old (who wants it returned to him). Not to mention my coat had a new sheen to it.

And what about those apocryphal 8-year old boys running the food labeling shop? What else could it be? It is every boy's dream to have anything green receive a health label commensurate with its taste. I suspect broccoli will be next on the hit list.

Something like "excess insect parts." Naw. Boys that age would find the label too enticing.

Of course, if I were to obey that windbag Polonius's advice ("to thine own self be true"), I would advocate a new black label for my own protection. 

"This product contains food starting with the letter 'C.'"*

* -- For those of you who do not recall, or who do not care, I do not eat foods that start with the letter "c." Coffee. Chocolate. Creamed corn. Cream cheese. Cheese cake.

I don't know why. I just don't. Of course, labeling may not be required to further this bit of eccentricity. And that is as good as any moral for this tale.

Friday, January 22, 2021

counting items in the express line

For three days, I have been motoring around Barra de Navidad, San Patricio Melaque, and Cihuatlán taking care of tasks -- as Garrison Keillor used to say, getting up and doing what needs to be done.

I told you about paying for my postal box rental for the year. But I did not tell you that I had wandered out the door with a fistful of treasures, just as I had predicted while my family was preparing to celebrate omnisolemnis (getting carded).

If you are the type of person who gets impatient because the only person in front of you in the Safeway express line has 16 instead of the 15 allowed items, Mexico will be a place where you spend more time fuming than enjoying. And the Mexican postal service will not be a pleasant experience for you.

For me, the postal service is a perfect match for my newly-discovered content personality. I do not receive any time-sensitive mail in the box. All of my bills arrive either digitally or are slipped under my front door. 

My postal box is reserved for the occasional magazine from the Oregon Stare Bar, fund-raising letters from my law school, and, most importantly, greeting cards. Tuesday's catch was a mix:

  • a book, A Cry from the Far Middle: Dispatches from a Divided Land, by P.J. O'Rourke, one of my favorite writers
  • a Christmas gift calendar from a law school friend, Howard Nobunaga, who lives in Hawaii
  • a Christmas card from my cousin Marsha Van Orsow in Oregon
  • a birthday card from my friends dating back to grade school, Steph and Jim Hunt in Oregon
  • a Christmas and new year card from Cain Maccionath in Washington
Plenty of people sent me Christmas and birthday greeting by email and on Facebook. As I have said before, though, there is something special about the personalized touch.

The customized greeting. The physicality of nib meeting linen paper. The ability to hold the same object that was once in the hands of my correspondents. There may even be a certain sense of the inevitable that all of this will one day disappear, but I can still hang on to the vestiges of a kinder and gentler era.

There is a good chance that greeting cards for my birthday (and even Christmas) will continue to trickle in for the next couple of months. And that is fine with me. It is always a pleasure to be remembered despite the time of year.  After all, having given into the siren call of omnisolemnis, I would be just a bit churlish if I now turned into that item-counter in the express line.

To quote P.J. O'Rourke: "It's better to spend money like there's no tomorrow than to spend tonight like there's no money."

Thursday, January 21, 2021

home is the hunter from the hill

Even silly adages have a reason to exist.

Take the one I mentioned yesterday. "Retirees in Mexico should attempt to complete only one task in a day." I suspect it was coined for days like today.

Of my five start-of-the-year tasks, I managed to close out only two. And it took a day to do each. Then there were three -- eerily recalling an Agatha Christy novel. Payments for my property taxes, my car registration, and my bank trust deed.

Because all three were payable in different offices of the county seat of Cihuatlán, I drove over early in the morning. I am glad I did.

My first stop was county hall to pay my property taxes. Despite all of the warnings I had received that all governmental offices were closed down during the governor's partial shutdown order, apparently no one in the building had heard of it. The place was in full operation with bureaucrats performing a reverse Rumpelstiltskin -- spinning gold into paper.

When I arrived, there were about twenty people in front of me. Even though we were all masked and had been offered sanitary gel at the door, canned sardines had more social distancing than we did. After an hour, there were still ten people ahead of me in line.

In the past, I have spent no more than fifteen minutes paying my property taxes. But that was not the case today.

Part of the problem was a regular flow of people who were admitted without waiting in line. The young man in front of me explained they were important people -- and made a hand sign that fully explained the queue-busting.

The most conspicuous was a middle-age woman who looked as if she had just stepped out of a telenova. Stiletto heels. Black and red dress. And enough makeup and bracelets to pass as a pharaoh. 

After her entry, it took me about forty-five minutes to be admitted to the office. Alexis Colby was still at one of the two clerk windows with a stack of files in front of her on the counter. 

But once I was at the counter, it took me less than five minutes to receive my bill and pay my taxes. About $116 (US) total. An increase of 50 cents -- not 50%, 50 cents, 50 pennies -- over last year's taxes. For my 4000 square foot house.

One day we should talk about the relationship between low property taxes and minimal public services. But not today.

Even though I had spent two hours paying my property taxes, there was still some time left in the day. I have never had long waits in paying my fees for the bank trust deed on my house. That deed is held by BBVA (formerly Bancomer), and there is a branch in Cihuatlán.

I was correct about the timing. The customer representative at the door took my temperature, offered me sanitary gel, looked at my documents, and directed me to the appropriate window where I paid the bank $522 (US) for the legal fiction that the bank, rather than Steve Cotton, owns my house. Even my property taxes are in the name of the bank. I was out of the bank in less than five minutes.

Feeling lucky, I decided to walk over to the office that renews my annual automobile registration. I had not planned on stopping for two reasons.

First, traditionally, it has the longest lines of any of my tasks, and it was nearing the office closure time. Second, I had been warned that I could pay my money, but the documents for my car would not be available for another two weeks. I would need to come back even if I did pay.

When I looked in at the waiting area, there were only five people in line. Since I was there, I decided to stay and pay.

But looks can be deceiving. In the past, the line always slows at one point when a customer has multiple vehicles to register. Today, it was two people in line in front of me. Their series of registration constipated the line for about a half-hour.

Just as I was getting ready to bail, the line broke free. Once I got to the clerk, I handed him my last year's receipt and the payment for this year -- about $34 (US) -- and was out the door in two minutes.

Well, I left out one important step. I started to walk away from the counter and turned back to confirm the tags would not be available for two weeks. He responded: "No. Three or four weeks." So, I will add an entry on my calendar for the end of February to pick up my tags.

All in all, it was a fine day. Though, I will admit, as much as I enjoy chatting in line, today's three-task day was a bit tiring and deserved a short siesta.

Once the end of February rolls around, my start-of-the-year tasks will be complete -- and I can wait for next January for the cycle to start all over. When my chores of residency will once again be validated.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

just my type

There is an old adage that retirees in Mexico should attempt to complete only one task in a day.

I suspect the adage is a stranger to borders. We of the retirement set often ask how we managed to do all our tasks and also put in a full 10- or 12-hour workday. There are plenty of theories, but there is no need to trot them out on the stage today. None of them are what one might call flattering.

Yesterday, I violated the prime directive of retirement. I put five tasks on my list (don quixote meets the tax man). The wise amongst you warned me that I was just rehearsing scenes that would end in tears. And you were correct.

I cannot speak for all retirees in the world. But I usually do not complete my task list because there are too many tasks on the list, but because I am easily distracted -- and often misinformed.

My first task was to drive over to the post office and pay for my 2021 box rental. Last year the post office required a copy of my latest CFE bill and a copy of my permanent resident card. Because I had the copies in hand, I was positive that I would need some new piece of information to appease the postal powers.

I was wrong. Julio took my copies and started keying the information into his computer. The typewriter in the photograph is used for other purposes. As long as I have had my box, the postal clerks have used their computer for the renewal process.

Jalisco is currently on a partial shutdown. As part of the shutdown, governmental offices usually open to the public are supposed to be closed. I asked Julio about that, but I knew the answer before he could respond. The post office is federal; the shutdown is by order of the governor for state offices.

Paying my rental fee is not a quick process. But it did give me time to talk with Julio about local goings-on. And we have had quite a few of them.

After paying the equivalent of $15 (US) for my annual rental fee, and with my receipt in hand, I headed to the jardin in San Patricio Melaque to talk with a group who were administering covid tests. Anyone who has symptoms was encouraged to set up an appointment to be tested. If the result was positive, the testee would be sent home for self-quarantine -- or potentially to the hospital.

Yesterday not one person had been tested. That was not surprising. It was a bit like taking a voluntary driving test and being told if you failed, you could not drive for a month.

By the time I left the testing area, it was too late to drive to the county seat for the rest of my tasks. "A reliable source," as I was taught to write in my college journalist days, told  me all of the offices I wanted to visit were closed. That evening, I discovered my "reliable source" was not -- just like in college.

Wednesday is one of my house-cleaning days. While Dora set to work, I combined my morning walk with one of my tax tasks. Or fee tasks, in this case. I headed to central Barra de Navidad to pay my annual water, sewer, and garbage fee at our little city hall.

Having been enlightened last night, I was not surprised that the door was open and people were lined up to do what people do at a city hall. Since I was the only water customer in line, I quickly paid the equivalent of $93 (US) for a full year of water, sewer, and garbage service, and was on my way home to join Dora in spic-and-spanning the house with no name.

I have three items left on my list -- car registration, property tax, and bank trust deed. I intend to drive over to Cihuatlán in the morning to pay the second and third items. Several people have told me that even though I can pay my registration fee now, I will have to return in two weeks to pick up my documents. I might as well save one step by paying in two weeks.

But, why I am talking about plans? Probably because I like to hear God chuckle.

At least, two out of five are done. The payment of both reminds me why it is less expensive to live here than in Salem or Reno. And I feel far more content here than there.  

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

don quixote meets the tax man

As much as I enjoy travel, coming home is my favorite leg of any journey.

After three weeks of celebrating omnisolemnis (happy omnisolemnis to all) with my family, settling some family matters, and appeasing the ever-watchful eye of the Nevada government, I woke up this morning in the house with no name in Barra de Navidad.

Full disclosure requires me to tell you I have done that on Sunday and Monday, as well. I arrived at Manzanillo airport on Saturday afternoon, but, I am, only now, getting around to paying attention to my writerly duties.

Dora always has some special treat awaiting me when I return home. On Saturday, it was a vase of flowers from my patio landscaping. They helped cheer my re-entry into Mexico's orbit.

With the start of a new year, residents of Mexico gird their loins and undertake the tasks of paying their dues for being part of a civilized society. I, of course, am talking about taxes and fees whose payment is an attribute that makes one a genuine part of a community.

For me, that includes paying my property taxes, car registration fees, postal box rental, and the fee for my combined water, sewer, and garbage. Even though the fee for my bank trust is not due until October, I have started paying it at the first of the year to simplify my trips. While I am traveling around the county, it makes sense to pay everything at one time.

I had laid out my files for each payment before I headed north to Oregon and Nevada in December. Because the water, sewer, and garbage fee is paid at the city office in Barra de Navidad, I decided to walk there.

Half-way there, a thought struck me. On Sunday, Jalisco state hit the red button (a phrase that causes trepidation in the hearts of Hollywood political thriller fans). But it was not that button.

Virus cases in Jalisco have been driven so high that the government imposed another of its series of soft lockdowns. Bars closed; restaurants open. Beach open for banker's hours. People over 60 invited to stay home. That sort of thing.

But one closure appeared to be absolute. Government offices that provide services to the public are closed until the end of January.

Once I realized I would probably face a locked door when I arrived in Barra's business center, I turned around to watch three movies at the house.

As soon as I finish my chat with you this morning, I am going to sally forth like a knight-errant to right all wrongs. Well, I am going to at least right the wrong of turning a debt into an asset -- if I can but find someone at each office to accept my proferred obeisance. If no one is there, I will just have to wait.

Some of the fees I must pay offer a discount if paid by the end of the month. I assume the discount will not be extended simply because the offices are closed. But I do not know that.

If the discount disappears, it is not a huge loss. The fees that are subject to a discount will cost me around $7,000 (Mx). That is only about $356 (US). Losing the discount is not going to mean shuttering the house with no name.

So, I will don my golden helmet of Mambrino, mount my sturdy steed Escape, skip all the parts about Dulcinea, and be on my way to see whether I can slake the thirst of the tax man for the pesos that are the blood of our civilization.

I will then take a well-deserved nap.

It is good to be back.

Note -- It is not the best performance of the piece, but having mentioned Don Quixote, here is Peter O'Toole in the role he was born to play.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

happy omnisolemnis to all

There has to be a word for it. But there isn't. Or, there wasn't.

What do you call a celebration of four birthdays, Christmas, New Year, and Martin Luther King Day? My family is not very traditional. One year we celebrated Christmas in July simply because that was the first day where all of us were available.

Not being traditional does not mean that we let the milestones of our lives pass by unnoticed. After all, those days are associated with food, and if there is one thing the Cotton family likes, it is food.

But what to call it? My niece Kaitlyn (who is the equivalent of my soul animal) currently lives in Austin. So, she was unable to join us for dinner in Prineville. What she was able to do was join me online to work out the perfect word for our combination holiday.

It had to be in Latin. That was a given. Something like the Seinfeldian Festivus. After overcoming several intellectual cul-de-sacs, we settled on Omnisolemnis. And the best thing about it is that "omni" that not only neatly wraps up several days in one big package, but will not require a specific day for its celebration.

The combination of celebratory days can even change for each celebration. The mind boggles at the number of Omnisolemnis that can be celebrated during the confines of 12 months. The perfect appellation for the Cottons. It can even be celebrated at my house in Mexico.

The prime (and sole) event of this year's celebration was the 
Omnisolemnis dinner. Prime rib. My world-famous (in Oregon) cabernet au jus -- that changes with every making. Brussel sprouts in a balsamic-orange-serrano reduction. Mashed potatoes enriched with sour cream and butter. All topped off with a peach-cherry southern cobbler and vanilla ice cream.

All cooked by the hands of Darrel and Christy with very few flavor notes from me. After all, it is not my kitchen.

But it was my birthday. At least, my birthday was the nearest signpost in this particular Omnisolemnis. My birthday is actually today. Darrel's was in December, Mom's is in February, Christy's is in March. All lined up like departing aircraft on the taxiway at Hartsfield-Jackson.

We did not have an Omnisolemnis tree. Or Omnisolemnis presents. Not even an Omnisolemnis jigsaw puzzle competition where Darrel and I steal pieces from the table to be the contestant who adds the last piece.

What we did have was family time shared at the dinner table where a practically perfect meal awaited us.

And what Omnisolemnis could be better than that?

Even though you were not there to dig into the potatoes, I wish all of you the best in this Omnisolemnis season.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

negative testing

The local Costalegre Facebook pages have been alive with speculation about Canada's new rule, effective 7 January, requiring international passengers to show proof of a negative coronavirus test within three days of flying.

The questions were to be expected. How much would the test cost? Where could the test be obtained? Would any particular certificate be required? How would the time frames to be measured?

After a lot of Facebook guessing, the Canadian government clarified all the questions. And, as most of us anticipated, our area could easily meet the requirements. Despite what some people seem to think, the area is not a technological backwater.

Test results could be obtained at my pal Beny's lab for 1500 pesos. The results would be available within two hours. And, best of all, the certificate she would issue would be acceptable to The Powers That Be.

With a little bit of planning, fliers would have what they need to board a jet plane to Canada -- until the government changes its requirements, of course.

As an American, I always enjoy watching these foreign bureaucratic requirements work their way across the stage of reality. It is just the opposite of schadenfreude.

But I am glad I paid attention because I am now in the same airplane with the Canadians. Yesterday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that effective 26 January all international passengers boarding flights to the United States will be required to provide proof of a negative viral test before boarding their flight. The requirement appears to be almost identical to the Canadian restriction.

Mexico has announced that it is not currently considering a similar requirement of international passengers headed to Mexico. That, of course, can change in the future.

This seems to be a very easy requirement to meet. Tests are readily available at a moment's notice for $75 (US). My problem, in the past, has been trip planning. During the past five months, my flights north to deal with family matters often did not give me three-days notice to fly. That urgency is now over. I hope.

Will the restrictions help quell the infection? I am not qualified to answer that question. Everyone can come up with criticisms concerning weaknesses in the program. They are rather obvious. Interestingly, a lot of those reasons are simply reprises of the same arguments that airport security is nothing more than street theater. But we manage to deal with that without dwelling on it.

This restriction seems to have some utility. There is no doubt that the virus has spread through people going about their daily duties. The milkman delivering his bottles. The long-haul trucker bringing groceries to the supermarket. The international banker flying to parts afar to ensure the stability of your investments.

Because we need people to travel to supply the needs of our lives, restricting people from boarding an aircraft who have tested positive for the disease will at least present a modicum of forestalling some infection. It cleverly balances two simultaneous social needs.

For that reason alone, this strikes me as a rather good idea that does not add much to the cost of flying. 

My current schedule has me returning to Oregon in mid-March. When I check in, I will have Beny's negative test in hand. And I will be on my masked and socially-distanced way.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

international tourist arrivals down 46%

The area of Mexico where I live relies heavily on tourists for its livelihood. Both Mexican and international tourists.

That is why headlines like "International tourist arrivals down 46% to just over 2 million in November" grab our attention. The headline accompanied a story in yesterday's Mexico News Daily that both air arrivals and border crossings into Mexico have decreased almost by half when compared with the same month the year before. What is worse, the amount tourists spent in Mexico decreased by an even higher percentage.

For a country that earns 26.6% of its revenue in 2019 from international tourism, that is not good news.

Tourism around Navidad Bay is only a small drop in the total number of tourists who visit Mexico each year. There are officials who track tourism numbers locally. But anyone who is currently in the Costalegre area knows that both Mexican and international tourism is down this year. Conversations with restaurant owners, waiters, and hotel proprietors will reveal what each of us can witness for ourselves. 

The faces who show up from the north each winter change. Some old-timers stop coming because of health, family obligations, divorces, changes in tastes. The usual list of life's circumstances that intrude into our routines.

But the biggest impediment this year is the coronavirus. A large group of people have simply decided that traveling to Mexico this winter is a risk too great to undertake.

I know the decision not to come has not been an easy one for a lot of people. They would prefer to be here in the sun rather than shivering in the cold. But they would not be comfortable in an environment where few masks are worn in public and where social-distancing is something of a cultural affront. It is difficult to enjoy Mexico's sybaritic life-style while constantly worrying if the person next to you is going to pass along the virus.

If, as we all hope, the vaccination program now underway in some parts of the world is successful, this tourist season may just be another of those blips that tourist-reliant areas face. After all, when tourism fell off drastically during the 2009 swine flu breakout, Mexican tourism recovered remarkably in the following year. (Though I have talked with some owners of tourist businesses who assert it took about five years for revenues to recover to their 2008 levels.)

For the sake of those who make a living off of tourist pesos and dollars, I hope, in a year's time, the headline in the Mexico News Daily will be: "
International tourist arrivals up 89% in November."

We shall see. This virus has taken some interesting turns during 2020. It is just about time its evolutionary wiles delivered us a bit of good news.

Monday, January 11, 2021

ready for prime time

Travel often reminds me of home.

I have been in the Seattle airport at least four times during this sojourn north. On one of those visits, I saw this aircraft while mine was taxing for take-off. It is one of Amazon's delivery vehicles.

Amazon has built its business model on not only being able to offer a wide-range of merchandise, but by getting that merchandise into the customer's hands tout suite. And, if the customer has paid to join Amazon Prime, that merchandise may show up without a delivery charge.

I frequently use Amazon in Mexico to buy stuff I cannot find locally. Both from Amazon.Mx and Between the two sites, I can get almost everything I want -- even some things I need.

For some reason, I signed up for Amazon Prime several years ago. The membership gives me access to the limited library of videos it is licensed to provide in Mexico, but I do not get the advantage of free shipping. Reduced, yes. Free, no.

There are some items that are not available on Amazon.Mx and that will not be shipped from The States. Tea. Spices. Food items.

I have resolved that dilemma by ordering from and having the goods shipped to my brother's house. That is, if I am going to be visiting Oregon presently.

Because we are celebrating Christmas-birthdays on this visit, my bedroom, on my arrival, looked as if I had broken into Santa's mother lode of Amazon boxes. There were approximately a dozen packages. Including a new duffel bag to replace the veteran piece of luggage I will now retire to recycling. In these parts, "recycling" means "going to the dump."

But I still have a long list of Amazon packages that I ordered from Amazon.Mx that should be showing up just as I return home to the house with no name. Fernando, the world's most efficient DHL courier, will deliver most of them to my front door. The remainder, two new hardbound books, should be at the post office in my box.

I doubt any of those packages spent any time as a passenger on the aircraft I saw in Seattle. But it does not matter. After all, the photograph is just a symbol of a service I enjoy using in Mexico.

And I will be doing that once more in just a week.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

big rock cotton mountain

Everyone needs a break from virus isolation now and then.

In Mexico, there are plenty of options. I can isolate myself in my Ford Escape bubble and drive the coast highway -- or I can head north inland to tackle the mountains and its villages. The only problem is that I am in Oregon, not in Barra de Navidad.

I guess "problem" is the wrong word because Oregon offers a wide variety of road trips for the virus-weary. Darrel, Christy, and I took one yesterday.

When I fly into the Redmond airport, Darrel picks me up for the drive to Prineville. On each trip, I have noticed a pyramidal mountain poking up on the horizon between a series of rounded buttes. Its shape is what originally caught my attention. Just like Brigadoon, though, it mystically disappears the closer we get to it.

The Cotton Boys are not so easily defeated when adventure is on tap. So, yesterday around noon, all three of us transferred our jargonish "bubble" to the Toyota 4Runner and headed off to conquer our mysterious mountain.

Darrel had spent the night before researching on Google maps and had a good idea where we could corner our prey. Instead of turning left to drive into Prineville when we came to the Oregon 380 junction, we turned right onto the Paulina highway -- so called because the highway ends at Paulina.

It turned out to be one of those great winter days in central Oregon. Clear skies. Shirt-sleeve weather in the 40s. A dusting of snow on the ground. And enough scenery to ooh and aah the most curmudgeonly amongst us.

I am not a central Oregon travel virgin, but I always run into one tempting shot after the other when I drive through the countryside. The photograph at the top of this essay is a good example. A ranch now on the market that set Christie's homesteading juices flowing.

Even though it is easy to imagine oneself as an early pioneer in the 1800s, you need to keep your view on the ground because Oregon skies are streaked with the contrails of jet planes -- filled with people humming "don't know when I'll be back again." But these contrails are a gift to my British fellow blogger Gary Denness. Maybe this is what the union jack would look like if the other nations kicked out the English.

We were all surprised to run across a herd of buffalo. Not the thundering herds of the American plains. The American buffalo (or, more appropriately, Bison) no longer freely roams the continent. Most of them, like this small congregation, have been reduced to the status of domestic livestock. But their distant ancestors did roam portions of Oregon when the settlers moved into these hills.

One thing central Oregon has in abundance is rock. This portion of the state is filled with extinct cinder cones and collapsed caldera. As a result, a good portion of the rock here is tuff -- solidified ash. It is everywhere. Rim rock. Buttes. And some rather spectacular clumps exposed by erosion. Most likely, an ex-butte.

When we finally found our mountain, it was a bit of a disappointment. Just like Tom Cruise, it is far shorter in person. The antenna on its summit gives it a utilitarian purpose that somewhat takes away from the magical aura we had vested on it.

But, like all road trips, the destination was not the real reason for venturing forth. We were surprised by new sights and awed (or aahed) by others. Best of all, we shared the experience, related old stories, and lied about ourselves a little.

And next week, I will be able to do the same thing in Mexico. Unfortunately, without the company of Darrel and Christy.  

Saturday, January 09, 2021

getting carded

No one would call me a traditionalist. At least, no one who knows me.

Whenever I encounter anything supported by the argument "we have always done it is this way," my response is exactly the same as a three-year old -- why?

The one big exception in my life is greeting cards. I like receiving them almost as much as I like sending them. Certainly, it is possible to send passable greetings by telephone, e-mail, or, if you are really desperate in abbreviating your relationships, Facebook. All of those are better than nothing.

But greeting cards are not merely traditional. They represent a bit of you and your time. The process of picking out just the right card to match the recipient, writing a piece of wisdom or wit in longhand with a fountain pen, and then taking that little piece of you to the post office to be delivered to your friend, builds and enhances our relationships.

At least, that is true for me. You may have a different ritual to massage your relationships.

Just before I left Mexico on this trip north, I received an early birthday card from my friend Hilary in northern England. I say "early" because we are still 5 days out from my birthday.

That is another reason why greeting cards are so important in relationships. To get the card to me in a timely fashion, Hilary thought of my January birthday in the early days of November. I ended up getting two remembrances from her. The first when she chose and mailed the card, the second when it arrived in San Patricio Melaque on 17 December and I contacted her to thank her. (We will now eke out a third with this essay.)

The card made me laugh. Where but from England would I be feted with:

Some will say you're looking great,
You haven't changed a bit,
But this one's simply honest ...
You doddery OLD GIT!  

Greeting cards are one of the few things I buy in The States while I am here. At least, greeting cards for my English-speaking friends. Greeting cards for Spanish-speakers are readily available in our area. And my friend Louise Lambiotte sells creatively-crafted cards in Barra de Navidad (getting carded).

That means no matter where my friends live, no matter what language they speak, I can keep my sole thread to tradition alive.

I suspect that when I get home next Saturday, my postal box will be bursting with birthday cards. Or, I will be receiving birthday cards for months that were meant to burst my box months earlier.

Either way, the tradition lives.

Friday, January 08, 2021

pokey with my pokes

I am a procrastinator when it comes to vaccinations.

One reason may be that I rested in the bosom of the Air Force for so long (a total of 28 years) that I became accustomed to doing things medical when I was told, even if it seemed rather strange -- like reporting for my required pap smear.

The Force tracked my need for inoculations and vaccinations (yellow fever, plague, ebola). Each year, something new was pumped into my system to ensure I was ready to deploy wherever in the world national interests required.

That meant that each year I would get a flu shot -- up until 1999 when I tacked the initials "Retd." after the "Lt. Col." on my identification card. If my memory is correct (and there is wide latitude in the phrase), I have not had a flu shot since then.

I certainly was not alone. According to the CDC, only 45.3% of American adults received the flu vaccine in 2018. The number was even lower in 2017 -- 37.1%.

There are a number of philosophical and religious reasons why some people are not vaccine-friendly. None of those reasons register with me. And I suspect most of us who do not line up for The Poke simply do not get around to it. It does not register on our things-that-need-doing monitor.

That changed, at least for me, this winter. On my November trip to Oregon I stopped by the local Rite-Aid, filled out a form that contained more information than even the NSA knows about me, and received my first flu shot in twenty-one years. And, yes, the concern about the current virus had a major part in my decision.

Today, after months of listening to much-older friends in Mexico prodding me to do so, I went back to the same Rite-Aid for a pneumonia vaccination. Once again, I had to fill out the same paperwork -- one of the questions being whether I had been vaccinated for pneumonia previously. I dutifully answered no.

When the pharmacist came into the consulting room to administer the shot, he asked me why I was requesting a booster. According to the Oregon health records, my doctor administered a pneumonia vaccine in February 2009, just before I moved permanently to Mexico.

As it turns out, my faulty memory worked to my advantage. Apparently, if the vaccine is administered prior to the age of 65, a booster is recommended after slogging up the hill to 70.

So, here I sit writing to you with no pain in my violated left arm, but with a smirk on my face that even those of us with terrible memories sometimes stumble into effective medical care.

The next needle to slip into my arm will undoubtedly contain the coronavirus vaccine. But where and when is still an open question.

With the exception of Israel (which seems to do these things quite efficiently) and Bahrain, most countries are off to a slower-than-planned start on their vaccination plans. Japan does not plan to even start until the end of this month or in early February.

But, whether it is in Barra de Navidad, Reno, or Prineville, I plan to be in line at the appointed time with the group of people authorized for vaccines.

Well, that is if I do not forget.   

Thursday, January 07, 2021

a tale of two mountains

I have but one home. Using that word in its most prosaic form.

The house with no name in Barra de Navidad is the only place I own and the place where I find peace at the center. It is where I feel I belong. I always look forward to walking through the front door -- either with grocery bags or suitcases.

Those of you who have been following my other-induced wanderings since August know that I have been splitting my time between Mexico and Oregon. I would have preferred not to travel during The Virus Clearance Sale Days, but family circumstances involving my mother intervened to cancel my selfish preferences.

It has been a dozen years since I lived in Oregon. I had almost forgotten the natural beauty that a lot of people cherish about the state. Growing up here, I took it for granted -- how Oregon looks is how a place should look.

I discovered that was not true when I moved to the little villages by the sea where I now live in Mexico. Mexico has a different type of beauty, but it is pretty in its own way. And I miss the pleasant face of Mexico when I am away.

Travel is one of my great joys in life. And Barra de Navidad is a great hub for indulging in my vice. From my house, I can travel through Mexico touring thousands of interesting places I have not yet seen. And, if I want a broader breadth, Mexico City is a short airplane ride away to fly off to any place in the world.

Those plans, of course, are on hold. The virus struck in the Pacific Northwest in March just as I was ready to board an Emirates flight to Dubai to join a cruise that would start in Singapore and end in Dubai with stops in Thailand, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, India, and Oman. The cruise stops were melting away before the cruise line canceled the trip. But I was ready to fly right up to the cancellation.

Since then, I have been planning road trips inside of Mexico. But Mexico has been suffering through its own restrictions to slow down the virus infections. So, I have decided to live life in my house with limited forays into the countryside -- waiting for the next call that I am needed in Oregon.

One of my joys in life is Mexican history. I like reading it, but, even more, I like standing in the places where that history was created. Imagining what it would have felt like to be one of the people we know next-to-nothing-about standing on the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, walk the beach near Veracruz where the Invader Cortés landed with his few troops and fabled horses, or wear General Santa Anna's replacement prosthetic leg (the one in the Chapultepec Castle Museum, not the original in the Illinois State Military Museum).

But those road trips are going to remain on hold until the virus is a bit more under control. Maybe that will happen this year. We shall see. That is my cautious voice speaking.

My less-cautious voice is far more up-beat and creative. It seems to take over whenever I start thinking of places exotic to visit.

Between family chores this week, I talked with my good friends Roy and Nancy to fill out our cruise dance card. We may be a bit optimistic about how quickly the virus can be corralled, but we decided on four cruises during the next three years.
  • September 2021: Vancouver to Tokyo
  • October 2021: Rome to Fort Lauderdale
  • February 2022: Antarctic, Argentina, Uruguay, Falkland Islands, Chile
  • February 2023: Cape Town to Dubai
If circumstances work out, that should be an interesting group of tours. For the first two, hotel and flight reservations have already been made.

Until then, I will be content with my beach views in Mexico. Whenever I feel hemmed in, I can dream of those far-ranging trips that are on the calendar. 

For now, though, Mexico and dreams will be good enough for me. 

Sunday, January 03, 2021

the comfort level decreases

It was either my fifth or sixth trip to Oregon since August.

For several reasons (the virus being primary), I would have preferred not to fly north until the our current bout of infection at least abated somewhat. But life does not always offer us what we prefer, so we do the best with what is on offer.

I have written previously that my flights north have been rather uneventful. The airports were almost deserted, flights were sparsely populated, and the entire system was built around procedures to lessen the possibilities of infection. There were major exceptions, such as, when a group of traveling vigilantes tore down the police tape preventing access to tables at Wolfgang Puck's bar. But that was fueled by booze and was an exception designed for an interesting story.

This trip was a lot different. For the first time since the outbreak, I felt uneasy about flying.

My timing was bad. I flew out of Manzanillo on the day after Christmas on a flight that was only about half full. Christmas is one of the busiest flight days on the calendar. I thought I was going to be just as fortunate as I have been in the past. All seemed well. I was the only person going through security at the Los Angeles airport Sunday morning.

But that is when the comfort level took an October 1929 spiral. Once past security, I encountered more passengers than I have seen since before August of this year. It turned out my perception was not idiosyncratic. The news reported that it was the busiest fly day since the virus started working its way through The States.

On this trip, I stopped at Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, and Redmond airports. All were markedly more crowded than they have been in the past.

Thankfully, even though social distancing was rare, everyone seemed to be conscientious about wearing masks. At least, it seemed that way. Apparently, the Alaska desk clerks did not have that same opinion because, like angry Moms, they repeatedly chided customers sitting in the waiting area to "put that mask back on."

Warnings of that nature were not necessary at Alaska's Board Room in Los Angeles. California has imposed some of its most restrive conditions because of the recent surge of cases in the state. When lounge members discovered no booze was being served and that food was on offer only to be eaten away from the lounge, most of them immediately turned around and left. Apparently, the ability to social distance was not high on their list. Another passenger and I had the full lounge to ourselves.

Due to the food restrictions, only Wolfgang Puck's was open for food in my terminal at Los Angeles. Even Hudson News was not offering their traditional faux sandwiches.

There were at least twenty people in Puck's line when I joined it, and that many more soon lined up behind me. Out of necessity, we were movie-line close. People then sat shoulder-to-shoulder wherever they could find a seat.

One oddity I ran across in Portland and Seattle was the presence of large dogs. All flying with their masters. There were more than usual in Seattle, but I counted at least 20 in Portland. Almost all of them were disguised as service dogs.* 

If they truly were service dogs, they were not well-trained because most were begging or sniffing food at neighboring tables in the food court. My concern was the dogs' masters were doing nothing to protect their charges from exposure to the virus from the rest of us.

Apparently I was not the only passenger to feel a bit uncomfortable on this trip. Alaska has a general policy on its aircraft with six-seats across to leave the middle seat open to facilitate some distancing. (Of course, the passengers in front and behind are well within the social distancing zone.) But that sacrifice of revenue appears to buy some psychological peace with flyers.

But leaving seats open is not always possible. The commuter flight from Seattle to Redmond is on a rather small Bombadier Q400. The seating is two and two throughout the airplane. The size of the cabin mitigates against leaving some seats open.

Apparently, there were about five unsold seats on my flight. The desk clerk had started a waiting list for people who preferred not having a person sit next to them. Unsurprisingly, the list had more than five people.

The clerk had requested everyone to stay in the waiting area if they were on the list. He started with the first name. Called it five times and moved on to the next. Some people did not respond. When he filled the rows with the five empty seats, he stopped calling.

Apparently, the woman at the top of the list had wandered off to do a bit of shopping. When she returned, she had one of those meltdowns that make you wish you were somewhere else. She berated the clerk, asked him "don't you know who I am?," and threatened to have him fired. You know: the usual entitled list of assaults.

He calmly told her, he had called her name, but she did not respond. If she felt uncomfortable, he could book her on the next flight, but he could not guarantee an open seat would be available on that flight.

She stomped on board, threw herself into her seat, and glowered at the man sitting next to her. She then brought up the same arguments with the flight attendant -- demanding to be reseated. The flight attendant told her the same things she had already heard from the desk clerk. The desk clerk then came on board to calm her down.

I honestly thought they would eventually remove her from the airplane -- if only because of the rather vile things she was saying about the man sitting next to her. He just ignored her. I suspect he was married.

In the end, I was very impressed with how the Alaska personnel handled the situation. Even though the woman was not evoking any empathy from her fellow passengers, the staff treated her as a passenger who was in obvious distress. After all, none of us knew what she was going through in her life. She may have been on her way to assist her dying mother.

When the clerk left, the woman took off her parka, reversed it, and stuck her head into the back of the hood. She spent the entire flight in her Nanook of the North cocoon.

At one level, the parka woman and I were akin. The serenity I have found in flying for the past six months is quickly diminishing as more people join me in the airports.

But that is the point for people who ask me if they should fly to San Patricio Melaque for what remains of the northern visitor winter season. Last week's flight has challenged my comfort level. I leave it to others to determine if they will feel like the woman in the parka if they choose to board an airplane.

As for me, I will not have to make that decision again until March.

Whatever you decide, I hope you have an adventurous flight where you learn something new -- just like my Mom tells me.

* -- That may be the last time any of us see that many dogs in the airport. Alaska has a new "emotional support animal" policy.

"Effective January 11, 2021, Alaska will accept only service dogs which are trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability. Emotional support animals will no longer be accepted."