Ride down the mountain

IT’S ABOUT a 40-minute Honda ride to the state capital on a smooth four-laner. We went there today, as we do most Tuesdays, to go shopping, mostly at Costco and the fancy-pants Walmart offshoot called Superama.

Along the highway, coming back, we saw smoke rising from a number of spots amid the near-distant mountains. Brush fires. That’s why we’ve had some air pollution in recent days, not enough to bother me, but some people are irked.

There are berry plantations en route, also ranches and cows. At times military trucks barrel by, the Army mostly but occasionally the Marines.

Helmeted guys with serious expressions stand in the back of those trucks with macho weaponry, most notably very large machine guns. The Army vehicles are green while the Marines sport gray.

The Marines are said to be more honorable, better trained than the Army. I’ve never had any trouble with either. I support the military in principle though I’m not sure why Mexico needs a military. Who are they gonna fight? Guatemala? No contest. The United States? No contest again, but in a far different way.

Costa Rica gets along fine with just police.

My solution to Mexican law enforcement is this: a national police force, nothing else. We have that already, the policia federal. Just let them take care of everything. They’re already armed to the proverbial teeth, including military-style equipment.

But our new ding-a-ling president has formed yet another separate military outfit. It’s hard to keep up. Mexico changes its policing and military on a regular basis, trying to get it right at last. Maybe someday it will.

Buddy Holly sings on the Honda’s stereo. The rear of the car is loaded with merchandise like olives, croissants, Philadelphia cream cheese, hydroponic lettuce, carrots and celery.

We also had the Honda cleaned inside and out at a downtown carwash. That was following a stop at Star Medica where I finally got the first of two chickenpox vaccinations. The follow-up will be done in another month. I’ll breathe a sigh of relief.

Heck, I’m already breathing more easily. I’m glad just to be breathing. Some will remember my chickenpox scare of six weeks ago, an event worsened by idiocy.

A honcho from the glass place passed by the Hacienda on Monday to take additional measurements for the domo, which is almost done, glass-wise. He said they’d finish the work tomorrow or Thursday. Bet on Thursday. When that’s done, we’ll do the electric.

In the meantime, it’s bone dry hereabouts. We’ll have rain in about three weeks, and everything will morph. We won’t see mountain brush fires driving home from the state capital, but we’ll still see soldiers, and we’ll still have croissants, olives and cream cheese in the Honda, which will be nice and clean from the carwash.

And I’ll be fully vaccinated. Good for decades more.

The AMLO sandwich

sandwich
What might have been and what perhaps still will be.

THE POPULIST president Mexico elected last year got off to a rip-roaring start in December, his first month in office. He wasted no time in causing chaos. He’s known by his initials, AMLO.

Here’s what he did, if you can believe it. Mexico has a longstanding and, apparently increasing, problem with gasoline theft by organized gangs. Their favored modus operandi is to tap into a pipeline, preferably in the boonies, and siphon it into tanker trucks.

Mexico is a major oil producer and has lots of refineries.

AMLO’s solution to this problem is to stop sending gasoline via pipelines and to transport it instead in Pemex tanker trucks, often accompanied by armed patrols. The fly in this ointment is that you cannot send anywhere nearly as much gasoline by tanker trucks as you can by pipeline.

This has resulted in severe gasoline shortages in parts of the country. Alas, one of the heaviest hit parts is right here on my mountaintop.

Most of our gas stations are closed all day. The ones that occasionally have gasoline have lines up to a half-mile long. I drove by one yesterday afternoon just up the highway from the Hacienda.

Here is an apt analogy to AMLO’s solution to the pipeline thefts: Say you want to halt bank robberies. The obvious remedy is to remove money from banks, right? Unfortunately, while bank robbers won’t have access to money in the banks, neither will customers.

* * * *

The AMLO sandwich?

Until this situation gets resolved, we’re not wasting gasoline on our habitual weekly drives to the nearby capital city to high-brow shop at Costco and Superama.

We’re sticking close to home. The Honda still has nearly three-quarters of a tank of petrol because I filled up Dec. 31 and have driven little since.

Costco is where I’ve purchased hydroponic lettuce for our nightly salads for years. I used the final lettuce Thursday night. Since no supermarket where I live stocks hydroponic lettuce, I planned to switch to egg sandwiches.

I was planning on calling them AMLO sandwiches.  It would have been a painful transition in spite of the fact that I like egg sandwiches. We are critters of habit.

But yesterday I decided to check the lettuce in our mountaintop supermarket. No hydroponic, of course. The store’s nod to highbrow is some sort of Italian greenery, so I bought four questionable bunches, brought them home and disinfected them.

No need to disinfect Costco’s hydroponic lettuce. It’s fast and easy.

We have bagels for only three mornings more, and the croissants are all gone. We’re just six weeks into AMLO’s six-year term.

This could get mighty ugly.

We are the bourgeoisie, so I guess we had it coming.

* * * *

(Here’s a Washington Post story on our gasoline crisis.)

 

Down the mountain

cafe
Are we in Paris?

WE DRIVE down the mountain every week to the state capital, mostly for shopping at Costco and Superama.

And to grab a lunch.

We rarely go directly into the center of town because traffic is snarly, and free parking is hard to find.

Yesterday, while my child bride was doing chores, I drove downtown for a look-see. That array of sidewalk tables sits across from a music conservatory called Las Rosas.

The Roses.

When I lived in the capital for seven months in 2000, I occasionally ate here. At the time there was only one establishment on this end, and another on the far end.

Those in the middle were not there.

cops
Cops, cops, cops.

Mexicans are fond of protesting in the streets and highways. More often than not, it’s teachers who want guaranteed jobs and the right to bequeath those jobs to unqualified relatives at retirement. Teachers also loath competence tests.

To counter these malcontents, police often take to the streets en masse. That’s what you see in the second photo. They were just standing there in body armor and shields.

I saw no impending strife nearby, so …

Being a cop must be very boring at times.

church
Scads of churches.

Sidewalk restaurants, cops and churches. The state capital is full of churches. That’s one just above. I snapped the photo while sitting on a bench in a plaza of yet another church directly behind me. Churches galore.

We sit at sidewalk eateries. We want guaranteed jobs. And we kneel and pray everywhere. All of those things happen in quantity down the mountain in the state capital.

It’s only 40 minutes away.

Thirty minutes if you really haul butt.

Living dangerously

street

livingRECENTLY, I’VE received word from people above the Rio Bravo that living in Mexico is a war zone or a hellhole. I became worried and decided to investigate.

After all, we do reside in one of the “most dangerous” Mexican states, according to the U.S. State Department, an agency rarely given to error, as everyone knows.

Normally, every weekday morning, the two of us take our exercise walk around the nearby plaza, but since we’d never witnessed violence on the plaza, we decided the mayhem must be taking place elsewhere in the hardscrabble ‘hood.

We left the plaza and headed down some ominous-looking streets. Surely, we would find the war zone quickly.

There was a Hellish cast to the blue skies.

* * * *

But before I tell you what happened next, and how we managed to arrive home unscathed, know that yesterday we drove the 40 minutes down the mountainside to the state capital, a spot where no sensible soul sets foot unnecessarily.

First, we went to the snow-white Star Medica hospital and got our yearly flu shots. Then, with ballooning trepidation, we drove down a flower-rimmed boulevard to an office of the ETN bus line where we safely made a ticket exchange.

The red splashes on the street were bougainvillea instead of blood.

Then, breathing sighs of relief due to our stretch — so far — of good fortune, we headed to the Superama supermarket — part of the Walmart chain — for purchases. Following that scary venture, we had lunch at a vegetarian buffet.

The restaurant’s clientele consists primarily of medical students from a nearby university. Surely, most are studying to patch bullet wounds, grenade gashes, and to reattach severed heads that roll across all cantina floors.

Next on the agenda was a stop at Costco. Then we went to an ice cream stand before dashing back to the Honda, heads down, expecting gunfire at any moment.

Again, luck was with us. Not even a flesh wound.

* * * *

We made it home, and the next day dawned, this day, and now we’re walking through the neighborhood in search of our war zone.

Something blood red approaches down the street, and there is noise. We freeze in place. Is this it? Am I about to meet my Maker?

It comes closer, a marching band and rows of students in scarlet uniforms. They’re from the nearby school, rehearsing routines for Revolution Day next month.

We stand on the sidewalk as they pass. Many of the kids giggle on spotting the tall, strange Gringo in their neighborhood.

They decide not to murder us.

As music fades behind, we trod on, apprehensively. But nothing happens, and we return to the Hacienda intact, still wondering where the war zone might be.

I toted my camera, expecting to shoot exciting footage that I would sell to international media outlets. There would be corpses, blood and body parts. A Mexican Robert Capa.

I was disappointed. But I did take these photos.

The war zone remains elusive, hidden. Maybe mañana, amigos.

Maybe mañana.

house