Change of allegiance

I DID AN INTERNET search for myself. At the top of the list was an interview I did in 2007 with a website named Expat Interviews. I was the interviewee, not the interviewer.

The website appears defunct now, but the interview is still online.

us

I would provide a link, but since the interview has my real name, that would blow my cover. You’ll just have to take my word.

I was surprised to read that, almost eight years after I moved over the Rio Bravo, I said, given the opportunity, I would return to the United States, not stay here. I recall that I felt that way for a good spell after moving to Mexico — culture shock — but I did not think that attitude still prevailed after eight years.

My child bride would gladly move to the United States, then and now.

What kept me from moving back over the border was finances. It was true then, and it’s true now. Our income is a paltry $540 a month from the Hearst Corp., my former employer, and Social Security. That’s it. We also have investments that I accumulated during the roaring 1990s, but if you start spending savings, you’ll eventually have none.

mx

We do dip into savings on occasion. The cars, my wife’s pastry kitchen and the renovated upstairs terraza. Of course, the construction of the Hacienda itself.

The Downtown Casita was purchased in 2010 with an inheritance.

Interestingly, this is not the first time I have returned to Expat Interviews to read what I said. I see that I returned in November of 2013 and left a comment which said I had changed my tune and wouldn’t return to the United States given the chance. No way, José.

I would not be happy in the United States today, and not just due to finances.

It’s a sad, troubled, downward spiraling nation.

Plus, I have become accustomed to Mexico’s wacky ways.

The modern mountaintop

MY HOMETOWN has a new hospital, a large, snazzy spot just two blocks from the main plaza. It’s called the Bora Medical Center (yes, in English*) and Hospital.

The website, like the medical center itself, is still not completed, but both are up and running, open for some business if not all. That will come later, they say.

This is the second significant private medical facility to arrive here, the other being the far humbler but still quite good Clínica Pátzcuaro, as some call it.

When you grow old, medical facilities rise in importance.

When I moved here almost two decades ago, there were two small government hospitals and a few clinics. I would not have voluntarily spent one night in any of them.

Before moving south of the border, I frequented bookstores in Houston, sitting and thumbing through all the “Retire in Mexico” books available. Most did not even mention my current mountaintop pueblo, and those that did didn’t have much good to say about the place, mostly that it got real cold in winter, which it does.

I wish that would keep more Gringos away, but it ain’t working.

When I arrived, there was only one internet provider. Now there are various. What passes as a ring road, called the Libramiento, was a potholed four-laner. Now it’s a smooth six-laner. There were no traffic lights anywhere. Now there are quite a few, all on the Libramiento.

We did have a movie theater that was hidden on the edge of the central market downtown. It was an old, dingy place with two screens and mildewed seats. One showed X-rated movies, and the other showed mainstream fare that had debuted months earlier in the nearby state capital. That theater shuttered years ago.

A huge lot on the Libramiento is currently being leveled. Reliable scuttlebutt says a movie complex will be built and a Domino’s pizza too. Twenty years ago, there were no Gringo-style convenience stores. Now we have lots, a Mexican chain called Oxxo.

When the first Oxxo arrived, many in the Gringo community were outraged. It conflicted with the “authentic” look of the town, they whined. Mexico ignored them, and good for that. Oxxos are very convenient. You can even pay bills and send money about anywhere via an Oxxo cashier. I wish they had ATMs, however.

Two decades back, there were no chain supermarkets. Now we have two. One is the Walmart-owned Bodega Aurrerá, and the other is the Mexican chain Soriana.

I want a Costco and a full-fledged Walmart. A Best Buy too.

We had no department stores till a few years ago when the Coppel chain constructed a large, two-level store across the street from the Bodega Aurrerá.

Mexico now has its own Amazon, which debuted about five years back. It’s just as good and efficient as the branch above the Rio Bravo. It even sells Alexa.

Speaking of Gringos, when I arrived on the mountaintop, there were about 40. Now there are 10 times that number or more, and newbies arrive every year. I wish we could funnel them all to San Miguel de Allende. It’s warmer there, and they’ll be happier. You don’t even have to learn a word of Spanish in San Miguel. Everyone speaks English.

* * * *

* This is a bit disturbing. When the natives speak English to you, it usually means you’re gonna be charged more.

Uprooting one’s roots

datura
At the top of the stairwell.

FOR THE FIRST decade after moving to Mexico I visited the United States once a year for a week or so. The primary motive was to see my mother.

The first three or four years I did it alone, flying. It was not until 2004 that my child bride had obtained a U.S. visitor visa. We then continued the trips, sometimes flying, other times driving. It’s a long way from our Mexican mountaintop to Atlanta, which is where my mother lived.

My mother died in January 2009 at age 90. After that, we’ve only been above the border once, a few months later, and that was to do paperwork related to my mother’s death. We went to San Antonio for that.

I have not visited my natal nation in nearly a decade. Instead I’ve remained down here in tumultuous Mexico and, oddly, life here has begun to seem normal. This is so even though I continue to equate Mexican life to Alice’s Wonderland.

This is because so many things here don’t make a lick of sense.

I almost never speak English, and I find myself forgetting English words on occasion. And though my Spanish is quite passable, I hardly would qualify as a Spanish professor. This occasionally leaves me dangling in a verbal limbo.

I find myself picking up Mexican habits. More and more, I respond “yes” to most queries. It’s easier that way. And doing something mañana instead of today leaves more relax time for today.

My driving habits cannot now be described as admirable.

One local habit I’ve not acquired and never will is epic, rampant, shameless lying.

I won’t be crossing the border again, ever. Everything I need can be found nearby. I watch America on the internet, and it looks disgraceful and sad. Walking the sidewalk here, on the other hand, I see people smiling.

With two exceptions, I have no relatives above the border. They all died except my sister and daughter. The first I do not like, and the second does not like me. I own no property in the United States.

I have no U.S. identification papers aside from my passport which I will not renew when it expires. Don’t know why I did it last time.

At this moment just past dawn, the church bell is slowly gonging down on the plaza, so someone died. It’s a mournful sound, but I feel pretty good about things in spite of having uprooted myself from the dirt from which I sprouted.

bones
On the stairwell landing, halfway down.

You never know where you’ll end up

OR WHO YOU will end up with, for that matter.

There’s a photo of me pasted to our refrigerator door.  I was 19 years old and standing with one of my best friends at the time in my barracks room at Castle Air Force Base in Central California. It was 1963.

The friend, Adrian Landres, died about a decade ago.

I paused and looked long at that photo this morning. What a fresh-faced young fellow I was. I sported a sweatshirt tucked into blue jeans and had a watch cap on my head. I was smiling broadly. I had no clue about the future.

Or about much of anything, for that matter.

Adrian was wearing a slick suit he had tailor-made during an assignment somewhere in the Far East.

If someone had told my smiling self that I would spend the last couple of decades (or more) of my life in the middle of Mexico, married to a Mexican, how would I have reacted? With incredulity, I suspect.

Still in Houston in 1999, I visited bookstores (remember them?) and sat in cushy chairs with Retire in Mexico publications. Virtually nowhere did I see references to the mountaintop town where I now live. I recall just one mention of it that said it was not a popular destination due to its being quite cold.

It can get cold. Bring a wrap.

I imagine that advice has changed lots in the past 19 years. When I landed here, there were about 40 Gringos in residence. Many were quite odd, present company excepted, of course. Now there are at least 10 times that many.

And they’re not nearly as odd.

The place was colonially cute but tatty when I moved up from the nearby state capital (eight months there), and it did not change much until renovations got under way in a major way about two or three years ago.

It started with the streets and sidewalks in the dead center of downtown. That work is still ongoing because it’s incredibly labor-intensive. And just this weekend, the city government began a painting project that will freshen the façades of homes and businesses in the downtown zone, free to the owners.

We are a major-league tourist attraction, and the town fathers want to amplify that. Our “look” is from centuries ago, plus we’re one of the top Day of the Dead destinations in all of Mexico.

This is all fun to watch and, of course, it’s increasing the value of our two properties. Here are photos I stole from an online news website.

Screenshot (1)

Screenshot (2)

You never know where you’ll end up or who you’ll end up with. Life is full of surprises and unforeseen detours, eh?