Author: winemakerfw51

There’s More Than Tacos at the Taco Stand

I’ll have to admit that, when I first arrived here, I was a little wary of the taco stands. I’ve since learned that a trip to a taco stand can spice up your taste buds, if not your life.

Maybe you’re intimidated, like I was, because you’re not sure about the cleanliness, what to order, how to order it, and how to eat it without embarrassing yourself.

Frankly, I’m more intimidated by the menu and food at Taco Bell.

The best way to find a good taco stand is to follow the locals. Generally, their concerns about quality and food safety are the same as yours. If you see lines waiting to order and be served, most likely its product and reputation are good.

Most foreigners stick to tacos at the taco stand. They probably don’t realize there’s a lot more variety available. Did you know you can order items like quesadillas, gringas, campachenas, vampiros, or tortas? Sounds confusing? Don’t worry. All of these concoctions are variations on a theme.

So let’s introduce you to all these yummy choices starting with tacos as made in this area of Jalisco. Mexico is a very diverse country, and there are lots of regional and family variations.

Everything Corn Tortillas

Tacos here are made with soft corn tortillas, warmed on the grill, and filled with a meat of your  choice. The meat is cooked on the grill and chopped before it’s heaped on a waiting tortilla.

Taco meats and tortillas on the grill; fillings are on the table to the left

The meats are mostly beef (res), chorizo sausage, and pork (puerco, carnaza, and adobada). More exotic are tacos de cabeza that use all the parts of a pig’s head from ears, tongue and lips to eyeballs and more.

If you add grilled cheese to your taco, you have a campachena. It’s a few more calories, but the cheese adds a gooey surprise. Vampiros are like mini tostados. In this case, the corn tortilla is allowed to crisp on the grill until the sides curl up into a little cup. The cup is filled with cheese and meat and heated until the cheese melts. These delicious morsels are not to be mistaken with the pink drink of the same name.

Foreigners are familiar with tacos dorados or barbacoa found at the tianguis or on the plaza on Sundays.  These start with stewed meat that is put into a tortilla, folded over and crisped on the grill until golden.

Pork and onion layers with pineapple for making tacos al pastor

Tacos el pastor are cooked on a vertical spit like gyros. Thin slices of pork are layered on the spit with onions and pineapple and their juices flavor the meat as it cooks. The cooked meat is sliced off.

You can add an array of condiments to your taco. Usually they include chopped cilantro and onion, radishes, cabbage or lettuce, beans, an assortment of pickled vegetables, and of course the ubiquitous salsas of various heat. It will come as no surprise that a few tacos can make a filling meal.

Tortas

If you want to venture further afield, a good bet is to order a torta. Tortas are grilled sandwiches made with rolls (bolillos). The rolls are smeared with crema and toasted on the grill with shredded cheese. The cheese melts into the bread, and meat of your choice is spooned on top. When you add condiments to your torta, you have a feast. And the experience in your mouth is magical. The combination of tastes is much greater than the sums of the individual ingredients.

In this part of Mexico, you see road signs everywhere for tortas ahogadas. They’re a little bit different – a Mexican version of a pulled pork sandwich found up north. They’re made with chopped carnitas, pork that’s generally cooked in vats of fat until it falls apart. The chopped pork is heaped on a roll and doused in thin gravy.

Quesadillas and Gringas

Quesadillas can be found on the menus of many North American restaurants. Most taco stands here can make them. They’re made with flour tortillas, filled with cheese, folded over and grilled until the tortilla is crisp and the cheese is runny. If you put chicken, meat, or shrimp in them they become gringas (which is also the name of a female North American).

Are you still intimidated? Armed with this information, you should be able to navigate most taco stands.

But, if you’re still not sure what to do, just observe what the locals do, follow their lead, most of all have fun. Buen provecho!

Pizza Partisans

They say that there are two things that expats should never discuss in social situations…politics and religion. So, if we find ourselves in unknown company, it’s always wise to avoid such conversations, if for no other reason than to keep your friends. After all one of the reasons why many of us moved abroad was to escape the politics that are poisoning the U.S.

A recent event prompted me to dust off my rusty computer keyboard to propose a third verboten topic…PIZZA!

I was sitting with a group of people having breakfast at the plaza when the conversation turned to pizza and the establishments that make it here in town. The group started to talk about one particular place. In my foolishness, I chimed in that I thought the quality of that establishment had gone down. A woman at the table became physically agitated, and almost jumped out of her chair to challenge the notion.

You would have thought I had thrown a fire bomb on the table; Or that I told a Republican that Donald Trump is a Russian agent; Or told a Democrat that Barak Obama’s birth certificate is a forgery.

Whoa! I was taken aback — so much so that my chair almost toppled over backwards. Suddenly, this woman told me in no uncertain terms that the quality was the same if not better, and then challenged me to state the reasons for my opinion. No matter how hard I tried, my reasons weren’t good enough for the pizza partisan. She had developed pizza derangement syndrome!

Let’s face it, tastes in food are personal – especially pizza. I even wrote a blog post and an article for Ojo del Lago, a monthly magazine where I live in Mexico, about why I don’t like Lima Beans. Regardless of the best efforts of friends to change my mind, I still hate them.

So, what is pizza? In the New York area they sometimes call it a tomato pie. Dean Martin referred to the moon as a “pizza pie.” It’s a simple food with a baked yeast crust on the bottom and toppings on top. In Chicago, they make it in a pan with a baking soda crust. It has become a universal food, to which the Italians may claim its origins, but not its various regional and personal incarnations. Pizza knows no international borders. Its enjoyment isn’t limited to any racial, ethnic, political, or religious group. Even vegetarians and meat lovers can share its pleasures. And, you can feel “safe” that probably no one has ever been accused of cultural appropriation for eating pizza.

In the past thirty years, the north American population has been introduced to a myriad of different pizza varieties. Gone are the days when the pizza that your neighborhood pizza parlor made was good enough. I remember when people, especially in Italian neighborhoods, would argue over whether Neopolitan or Sicilian was better. Today we have crispy crust, thin crust, medium crust, Sicilian thick crust, Chicago style, fancy focaccia, Stouffers French Bread Pizza, Tostinos Pizza Rolls, lamajeun, flat bread, and I’m sure I missed some.

Everybody has their favorite style and favorite toppings. Even Dominoes in the U.S. has thrown in the towel, and now offers a selection of four different types of crust…one for (almost) every taste.

There are some absolutists when it comes to food, and it’s often because of regional preferences, or what they remember eating when they were younger. While I’ve seen plenty of Mexicans put ketchup on pizza, you’ll never convince a Neapolitan that it’s OK. And likewise, you’ll never convince a native New Yorker that ketchup belongs on a hot dog.

But, you may like your pizza or hot dog with ketchup. Who am I to tell you you’re wrong? At the risk of getting the dander up on the backs of pizza partisans reading this, I confess that I’ve never understood mixing pineapple with ham on a pizza…heresy! That combination belongs at a luau or Easter dinner. And, thank goodness no one has thought to top a pizza with lima beans!

When all is said and done, we’re lucky that there’s no lack of pizza options at Lakeside. Whatever you like, you have a choice.

As for the pizza place that I said has seen better days, I still buy pizza there. I like that style of pizza.

Becoming a Karaoke Singer

I stood in front of the computer screen with a microphone in my hand.

It was Tuesday night – karaoke night – at Mama’s Bar. The hour was late, I had had a few too many glasses of wine, and the place was almost empty. About a dozen friends sat at the table I had just left, waiting in anticipation for my karaoke debut. I had never sung in public before.  With so few people present, it felt safe. I stood there detached from myself and anaesthetized from fear.

Chris, the “karaoke DJ,” looked at me. His eyes were looking for acknowledgment to one of two questions: “Are you ready?” Or possibly, “Are you sure you want to do this?” I nodded in the affirmative.

The song I had chosen was “Fields of Gold” by Sting. The fifteen second introduction seemed to last forever. The dots at the top of the screen started their countdown. The first four lines of the song appeared on the next screen. I opened my mouth and took a deep breath…

And so began my new past-time as a karaoke singer at the age of 70.

Some people retire to Lake Chapala in central Mexico with plans to pursue a long put-off dream or continue, in earnest, a passion developed in their former life. It might be painting, writing, tennis, golf, bridge, or any number of pastimes.

Others, like me, are traveling through their retirement as a voyage of discovery and a chance to redefine themselves. Taking this path usually means trying a lot of new things, or just doing whatever you want. Since turning 70, I’ve walked the Camino de Santiago and flown in an ultra-lite for the first time. A song, “Live Like You Were Dying,” sung by country singer Tim McGraw, expresses my attitude perfectly…

…”Someday I hope you get the chance
To live like you were dying

Like tomorrow was a gift
And you’ve got eternity
To think about
What you’d do with it?
What could you do with it?
What did I do with it?
What would I do with it?”

Believe me, when I started my retirement journey, singing and singing karaoke weren’t in my plans.

My first real exposure to karaoke was at a Japanese restaurant in Massachusetts. On Thursday nights, 20 and 30 somethings would drink themselves silly, and compete to see who could butcher their chosen song the most. It was pretty pathetic.

Karaoke at Lake Chapala has been elevated to a more mature level. On any Tuesday or Friday night, Mama’s Bar entertains an eclectic clientele. Sure, there are singers worthy of the Gong Show. But there are a number of very good singers who, in their younger days, sang in bands, performed on stage, and in church choirs. And then there are those of us whose musical talents entertained the walls of a shower stall, or “sing-alongs” with the car radio. We’ve discovered that we love to sing, and karaoke lets us explore our fantasies. For several minutes, we can vicariously be a rock, Broadway, or country and western star.

When I moved down the street from Mama’s a few years ago, I started going to karaoke on Friday nights. I observed the happenings for almost two years. I sat at the bar or at a table with friends and sang to myself. The noise level was high enough that no one heard.

Secretly, I knew I could sing. But, I just needed to overcome my inhibitions.

Before I ever contemplated singing in public, I sang along with Youtube videos. Without Youtube, I don’t know where I would have found such a broad spectrum of musical genres and styles. Karaoke introduced me to country and western, a genre I had previously scorned. Kenny Chesney, George Straight, Merle Haggard, and Allen Jackson became parts of my repertoire, as well as Michael Buble, R.E.M., Radiohead, Meatloaf, and Queen.

Before karaoke, my problem was that many of the songs I wanted to sing were in the wrong key, and I had to restrain my voice when singing in my living room lest my neighbors complain. So, it was liberating to have the words in front of me, microphone in-hand, and Chris, the DJ, magically adjusting a song’s key to my voice. I could open my mouth; sing from my diaphragm; and belt out a song with the best of them.

Lo and behold, I discovered, as did the people who had known me for years, that I could sing…pretty darned well.

When I first visited Lake Chapala, I asked an expat resident of 15 years, “What do you do here?” He replied, deadpan, “Whatever I want.” And sometimes that means just having a beer, as so many expats are known to do. One day I happened on a fun song by Kenny Chesney. He appropriately captured that retired expat attitude in a song called, “Beer in Mexico,” part of which goes like this:

“…Too old to be wild and free still
Too young to be over the hill
Should I try to grow up?
But who knows where to start.

So I just
Sit right here and have another beer in Mexico.
Do my best to waste another day.
Sit right here and have another beer in Mexico.
Let the warm air melt these blues away…”

And, I’ll just sing a little karaoke once in awhile too.

Still Retired, Still Single, Still Writing

Dear Followers and New Readers,

It’s been almost two years since I’ve posted to this blog. I hope you’ve been well.

A lot has happened since I tried “giving ice away in winter,” my last blog. I’m still living in Mexico, and the weather is still beautiful. At the risk of being a NIMBY, it’s unfortunate that the baby boomers, of whom I am one, have discovered this wonderful part of Mexico. It seems that there are a lot more people, cars, and everything has gotten more expensive. In the past, the snowbirds would invade for the winter and go home. Then the sunbirds, avoiding the heat of the southwest, would take their place for the summer. Today, more people are opting to stay here all year long.

At some time in the past two years, I was introduced to country music, and discovered a song by Tim McGraw, “Live Like You Were Dying,” and it has inspired me to live my retirement to the fullest. The premise of the song is: if you knew you only had a short time left on this earth, what would you do with it? I’m not talking about a bucket list, but rather a creed about how to live life every day.

So in the past two years, I overcame my fear of singing in public, and now sing karaoke two times a week and open mic two times a week. I sing an eclectic variety of music, including contemporary, country, and blues. No opera yet!

I always loved flying and have been intrigued by ultra-lights for years. At one time in my life, I even took flying lessons on a single engine Cessna. About a year ago, I discovered that a friend was taking ultra-light flying lessons. So I hitched a ride with him one day across a mountain to the village of San Marcos where took a demo flight with the instructor. What a rush! Talk about flying by the seat of your pants.

In the spring of 2017, I had a hip replacement. But I didn’t let that stop me. In the fall of 2018, I walked a 100 mile portion of the Portuguese Camino to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Since then, I’ve written a book about my experience which I’ll introduce to you in a future blog post.

I’ve also written a number of short pieces that are appropriate as blog posts, and I’ll be sharing them with you about tacos, pizza, karaoke, and the Camino.

Looking at the future…let’s see what’s next…could it be motorcycles?

Giving Away Ice in Winter

Hey, what’s so difficult?

Send an email to 20 people you know and tell them that you’ve got a free book for them. All they have to do is, when they get a notification email from Amazon, click on a link and claim the gift.

You see, I had just published my first book for Amazon Kindle. It was about online dating: 50+ Online Dating Profile Tips for People 50+:How to Write an Awesome Online Dating Profile that Attracts People You Want to Meet.

To get people to buy my book, I first needed to get them to know it’s available, or raise its visibility. Amazon uses an algorithm based on sales and reviews to rank and place a book. That makes sense. Amazon wants to make money, so if you want to be highlighted on the first search page, it helps if you’re making them money.

So, when someone accepts my gift, it counts as a sale. I’m paying for it, but it’s just a promotional expense. And, at $.99, it doesn’t break the bank. Before I gifted my book, I sort of explained this in an email to my 20 friends. Granted, writing an online dating profile is probably not what my 20 friends were thinking about when I approached them. However, even if they couldn’t use the book or didn’t want it, I implored them to please just accept it.

I forgot to also tell them it doesn’t matter if they don’t have a Kindle, you don’t need to have one to accept the gift.

OMG! When I decided to do this, I forgot the population I was dealing with – most over 60. You’d think they’d just crawled out from under a rock holding a flip phone, and thought a tablet was something you took once a day to control cholesterol.

For about half the group, you’d think I was asking them to commit suicide, kill their first born, or scam them out of their social security number.

I’m sure several ignored my email, thinking, “What does that jerk want now?”

Others probably opened the email, and filed it for later action which, at my age, often means, when hell freezes over. That’s not meant maliciously. But chances are that I’ll innocently forget about it…until hell freezes over or someone destroys my email account. As I write this, I have over 6800 unopened emails dating back to 2000.

Some let me know that they don’t own a Kindle. To them I counseled that they could view my book on a smartphone, tablet or coputer with an app from the Kindle or Apple store. What I actually wanted to do was yell at the top of my lungs through the Telmex DSL line that I didn’t care if their computer was a vintage 1982 Osborne 2 computer running the CP/M operating system: “Just click on the F**king link and accept my gift. I need the sale for my Amazon rankings. Can’t you help out an old friend?”

Then I got this response…”But, I don’t have an Amazon account.”

Hopeless!

Imagine walking up to someone you know and trying to hand them an envelope with 2 tickets to the next Bruce Springstein concert (I’m in no way comparing my book to The Boss).

“Gee thanks!” They say, as their eyes narrow and they look at you sideways, all the while slowly running their fingers over the envelope trying to ascertain its contents and that there are actually tickets inside. “What’s the catch? Why do you want to give me Bruce Springstein tickets…for free?”

“There’s no catch,” you explain. “I put the anthrax in the tickets I gave Joe.”

Unphased by your answer, your friend asks, “When is it, the concert that is.”

“Two weeks from Tuesday,” you answer.

“Where is it?” they continue.

“At the stadium,” you say.

“Oh I hate that stadium,” they complain, rolling their eyes. “I don’t know if I can make it.”

They reach out to hand the envelope back to you.

You hold up your hand and suggest. “Wait, just keep the tickets. Give them to your kids or another friend. Or, how about that bum on the street corner over there panhandling for a cup of coffee or whatever.”

They look at you with a furrowed brow. “Are you sure these are legit?”

Now to be sure, my book isn’t everybody’s shot glass of tequila. It’s about helping people over 50 improve their online dating profile and avoiding many of the mistakes that prevent them from finding the kinds of dates they want to meet.

Maybe my next book will be about how to gratefully accept a gift – even if it’s something you can’t use or don’t want – even an electronic one.

Hey, I’m not looking for a thank you. Just click on the stupid “accept” button!

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My New Book Helps Singles Over 50 Improve Online Dating Prospects

Today, I released my first book for Amazon Kindle, 50+ Online Dating Tips for People 50+: How to Write an Awesome Dating Profile that Attracts People You Want to Meet. I’m using a pen-name, J.C. Elliot.

I started writing the book about four-years ago, while I was actively involved with online dating. I recently picked up the draft, and decided to finish it.

The purpose of my book is to help people over 50 do a better job of writing a profile. It helps prepare older divorced or widowed people for the challenges they meet. Many are going through or have been through physical life changes that can test their vanity. They’re anticipating retirement and the financial concerns it brings. Many of them haven’t dated in years and are often hesitant to use unfamiliar new technologies to find dates. They’re not sure what to do or what to expect online.

50+ Dating Profile Tips for People 50+ steps readers through the process of writing a profile from evaluating what they are looking for to communicating it effectively. The book also provides advice about the importance of photos and how to take them, as well as how to write what I call the “About Me Essay,” and how to edit it.

You can download and print 3 Profile Worksheets and Editing Checklist

Finally, the Appendices include three worksheets and an editing checklist to simplify the preparation of the profile by helping people prepare the information readers will need to complete a profile before going online, or improve the one they already have. The worksheets will also be available for readers to download and print.

I’m a retired marketing consultant, and recently dated online for more than 2 years. I wrote this book because it quickly became evident to me that most people don’t understand an online dating profile is about marketing one’s self.

The book is only 50 pages, is written in a conversational style, and is a quick read. The last third of the book contains the worksheets and checklists.

For a limited time, my book will be available for $.99. You can order it from a link at the bottom of my book’s website or order directly from Amazon here.

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Holiday Cooking Challenges

One of the biggest cooking challenges when you live in a foreign country is finding the right ingredients to make the things you did before. Normally it’s not that important to me. Since I moved to Mexico, I do very little cooking. Most of the time, it’s cheaper to eat out – especially for dinner.

When I do cook, however, I often need to be creative in my selection of ingredients. In Mexico they don’t use many ingredients we use north of the border. Likewise, there are many ingredients here that are quite interesting that we never see up north. Very often, I need to find a reasonable substitute.

There’s a supermarket up the street called Super Lake that carries almost anything you are familiar with in the U.S. and Canada. If you insist on using the American brands, you’ll pay a premium.

When it comes to holidays, everyone has their favorite foods. For Thanksgiving and Christmas here, turkeys abound, and spiral hams are popular. There are sweet potatoes and cranberries, string beans, peas, corn, brussel sprouts, packaged stuffing for the turkey, and even pumpkin for pies.

Potatoes, however, are problematic. Most of the year, the only potatoes you can get here make poor mashed potatoes. The first time I made them they turned out like wallpaper paste, and were impossible to clean up afterwards if you let them dry (and even if you didn’t). During this season, we can be thankful that there are a few stores that carry russet potatoes which make a much better version of mashed potatoes.

This year I was invited to a pot-luck Christmas dinner. I decided to bring a modern family favorite. When growing up, mashed yellow turnips were a part of Thanksgiving dinner. My ex and I found a new way to use turnips in the 1993 Thanksgiving issue of Bon Appetit magazine. We discovered a recipe for a root vegetable casserole that combined mashed potatoes, turnips, and parsnip that was a hit – even with people who didn’t like turnips (see the featured picture at the top). It’s been part of Thanksgiving dinner ever since.

Mexican White Turnip called Nabo

Mexican White Turnip called Nabo

I had three challenges in finding the ingredients to make it here. First, I needed to find russet potatoes. Second, there are no yellow turnips here. But at least there is a mild white turnip, called Nabo. Third, there are no parsnips here.

For substitutes, I wanted to get the orange color of the yellow turnips and the spiciness of parsnips. So, I pureed cooked carrots and added ground allspice.

The original recipe ingredients are directly below, and my Mexican version follows. The cooking instructions are basically the same with differences noted.

Root Vegetable Casserole

Original Version

Mexican Version

7 cups canned low-salt chicken broth

3 lbs. russet potato (1.5” pieces)

1.5 lbs. rutabaga (1/2” pieces)

1.25 lbs. parsnip (1.5” pieces)

8 garlic cloves

1 bayleaf

1 tsp. thyme

3 large onion thinly sliced

¾ cup (1.5 sticks) butter at room temperature

Salt and pepper

7 cups canned low-salt chicken broth

1.5 Kilo russet potato (1.5” pieces)

.75 Kilo. Nabo (1/2” pieces)

2 large carrots (diced)

8 garlic cloves

1 bayleaf

1 tsp. thyme

¼ tsp. ground allspice

3 large onion thinly sliced

170 grams butter at room temperature

Salt and pepper

Directions:

Butter 13”x9”x2” glass baking dish

In Mexican version only, put 1.5 cups of chicken broth in a small pot with the carrots. Bring pot to boil, reduce to simmer until carrots are tender. Transfer carrots to a blender and puree. Add remaining broth to large pot below

In a large pot put first 7 ingredients

Bring pot to boil, reduce to simmer until veggies are tender (approx. 30 minutes)

Transfer veggies and pureed carrots to a bowl

Add 1 stick (approx. 100 grams) of butter to bowl

Beat until mashed but not chunky (a Kitchenaid mixer with large paddle works well)

Season mixture with salt and pepper

Melt remaining butter in a large skillet on medium heat.

Saute onions until lightly browned. Reduce heat to medium low and continue for 15 minutes

Season onions with salt and pepper.

Spoon root vegetable mixture into the prepared baking dish and smooth.

Distribute onions evenly over the vegetables

Reheat casserole for 20 minutes before serving

Buen provecho!

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Party in the Streets

Wow! Last night there was a party in Ajijic. It’s a party that happens once a year celebrating the town’s patron saint, San Andres. Raul, a waiter in a restaurant, asked me if I was going. I wasn’t planning on it, but on his suggestion, I wandered on up to the plaza to check it out.

plaza-1-2

ferris-wheel-2

The plaza was alive, teaming with people. Vendors, I had never seen before set up shop around the plaza. Almost every kind of Mexican snack food was available hot dogs hamburgers, tacos, tamales, peanuts, garbanzos, cut up fruits and cooked vegetable, cookies, cakes, ice cream, beer, soda, tequila.

The noise was deafening. Amusement rides blocked Calle Colon, and loud speakers boomed carnival music. Bands played on a big stage and on every corner, as well as in the restaurants –  mariachis, bandas, and even folk musicians. After I left, I know there would be firecrackers in the church courtyard. No Mexican fiesta would be complete without them!

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Moms and dads held their children’s hands, carried babies, and pushed strollers. Lovers also held hands and danced to the music. The restaurants and food stands were full, and hundred just sat and walked around socializing.

When I first arrived in Ajijic two years ago, I lived within walking distance of the plaza. I attended my first San Andres and wrote about it here. Although I couldn’t capture the sound, which is half the experience of being there, I took a few photos to share.

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The New Political Transparency

To think that you can cover up anything today is hubris.

This is the first election where alternative media, activists, whistle blowers, and troublemakers on the right and left, are using the technological tools at their disposal to put the privacy and pasts of the political class at risk – and anyone else they so choose. No longer can politicians or anyone with political ambition take for granted what they do, no matter how secret or nefarious. It’s never safe from watching eyes.

I don’t write about politics on this blog. But, you have to agree: this has been one very weird political season. As I write this, the election hasn’t been decided yet, but it compels me to comment…hopefully for the last time

This election will go down in history as the election in which technology in the hands of everyday people triumphed over the political classes’ attempts to hide their dirty secrets from us.

It doesn’t matter which side you support, your side’s dirty laundry is starting to stink. Before this year, it was easy to keep the lid on the laundry hamper, hide it in a closet until the votes were cast, and then let the laundress dispose of it.

No longer. As one Reverend Wright, from Chicago, is attributed to have said: “The chickens have come home to roost.”

I have a good friend and business mentor who counseled me to always be honest in your business dealings because you never know when your past will come back to haunt you. Of course, if you’ve got nothing bad in your past, you don’t have anything to worry about. But, who among us can make that claim.

It’s getting more and more difficult to hide any questionable aspects of our pasts.

Technology has made our lives and our pasts public. We are constantly being watched and tracked by cameras, bar codes, software in our cell phones, retailers, social media, etc. Many people just give their lives away on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and yes…those evil emails. Even this blog exposes my private, inner thoughts to the world (Ah ha..but only some of them!).

As we make ourselves increasingly vulnerable, many ignore how our actions today will affect our future. Today’s posts and electronic communications will be tomorrow’s past.

And this brings me around to why this election is different. The curtain is pulled back. The electronic trail of corruption is being revealed. It’s impossible to hide it anymore…even naively on private servers or with sophisticated encryption. Hackers with evil intentions can find all our nasty secrets if they’re so disposed:

  • It may be a college term paper you wrote 30 years ago
  • It may be something about which you commented in private.
  • It may be a surveillance photo putting you someplace you didn’t want your spouse to know.
  • It may be a private cell phone video that captures an awkward moment that’s beamed to the world on Youtube.
  • It may be a racial slur you sloppily made when you were drunk.
  • It may be a top secret memo.
  • It may be a sexist remark said in a locker room.
  • It may be the people you’re friending or the posts that you’re sharing on Facebook.

The distribution of information has also been democratized, neutralizing the power of the mainstream press. Unedited news travels at lightning speed, instantly dispersed and shared on Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms by you and me and those seeking political advantage.

When a presidential candidate can deliver a message directly to voters via Twitter or Facebook posts, do we even need 20th century media outlets anymore to distribute our information.

We’ve all heard the politicians promise transparency only to hide their questionable and often illegal actions from public view. So is this awakening political reality going to usher in a new era of transparency? Not in the usual sense. It is the new political transparency. But the politicians don’t control it anymore.

It will have to be a stupid scoundrel who thinks they can get away with anything in the future…even powerful politicians. One thing scoundrels fear – being exposed. They’d better be looking over their shoulder like never before.

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Counting Nickels, Dimes, and Library Fines

Rules.

Every organization has them. No bureaucrat ever lost their job for obeying the rules…no matter how absurd or stupid. Rules exist so bureaucrats and other petty functionaries never have to make a decision that could cost them their job.

Most bureaucrats don’t need to think. Everything they need to do their job is buried somewhere in a law or regulation.

So what happens to your average bureaucrat when you ask them to…GASP…think?

In most circumstances, it’s not very pretty.

Think about the U.S. and what a mess it’s in. The largest growing segment of the U.S. economy for the last 8+ years has been government. That means the U.S. has been hiring more bureaucrats than at any time in its history. In that same time, it’s promulgated 10s of thousands of new arcane regulations.

In addition, for the last 40+ years, the country has invested trillions of dollars in its education system to teach people “critical thinking” skills. More and more, these graduates with supposed “critical thinking” skills are winding up employed as bureaucrats where thinking is not required. Does anyone see a problem here?

But I digress too much.

Several absurd events happened in the past several weeks that have pointed out the silliness of some rules and not thinking through whether the consequences of them achieve the desired result. This absurdity didn’t happen at the hands of a government or corporate bureaucracy. Rather, by the rules and actions of a small local organization here at Lakeside that many hold near and dear to their hearts – The Lake Chapala Society (LCS).

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m a card-carrying member (which you must carry to participate in some of its programs). In fact, LCS membership is so guarded that, to get a membership directory, you need to be cross-referenced in two computer systems which don’t talk to each other (in 2016!), and sign over a portion of the inheritance you planned to give to your children.

That said, in jest of course, I gladly pay my dues and member discounted fees to participate in LCS activities.

So what brought me to the point of trashing a fine organization that makes a positive contribution to the community, and helps Mexicans and expats alike?

Bureaucracy!

Today I went to LCS to purchase a ticket for an event at the member-discounted price of 100 pesos (about $US5.00). That seemed like an easy enough thing to do.

After filling out the requisite and redundant paperwork, I handed the lovely woman, in her eighties, behind the desk, 100 pesos for my ticket, and my “never-leave-home-without-it” LCS membership card. She took my card, and accessed the computer screen in front of her to see if I was “legal.”

“You owe us money,” she said blankly, never taking her eyes off the screen.

“What’s it for, and how much is it?” I asked her.

Calling to a man at another computer on the other side of the room, and obviously on another computer system, she asked, “Can you find out how much this man owes?”

“He owes 4 pesos for overdue books,” came the retort.

Looking up at me she said, “You’ll have to pay that fine before I can give you a ticket.”

I smiled in incredulity and asked, “Can I pay you?”

“Oh no,” she said, “you need to pay at the library.”

I was still smiling and took in the absurdity of the situation. She was only a good little bureaucrat and doing her job. She wasn’t trained to tell me to make sure I pay my fine the next time I take out a book. Even the library in my old home town didn’t start enforcing fines until you owed $US5.00.

After visiting the library where they salivated over my 4 pesos, I returned to get my ticket, spirits intact and smiling all the way.

So, take this in: I want to give LCS 100 pesos and they won’t take it until I pay a 4 peso fine. Did it ever occur to the powers-that-be at LCS that I could have just as well said F-U and walked out with 104 pesos still in my pocket and not theirs.

I’m an LCS member, and I needed to jump through hoops to get a 50 peso discount. It took 10 minutes, and the people behind me were probably getting annoyed. I needed to fill out a paper form, have my name cross-referenced in two databases, walk to the adjoining building to pay a fine, and get back on line to be cross-referenced again.

It was almost as bad a going to the Registry of Motor Vehicles!

If I were a non member, I could have walked in, paid 150 pesos, gotten a ticket, and walked out – no questions asked. It’s a good thing I wasn’t renewing my membership at the same time. I could have spent the whole day there.

But Mexico has co-opted me to be patient with all kinds of bullshit. I just don’t expect this kind of BS from an organization that’s run, for the most part, by North Americans, and many of whom are well-aware of the changes in technology that have taken place in the last few decades.

Directories and library fines, however, aren’t the only things at LCS that keep me shaking my head. It seems that every week they devise some new silliness to confound members and stick it to non-members.

I recently went to a singles function at LCS. In their wisdom, they decided to charge non-members 20 pesos to attend. I suppose the idea was to demonstrate the benefits of having a membership: you get in free!

However, once you got in, drinks were 2-for-1. So, for 20 pesos, you could get a free drink that costed 30-50 pesos depending on your preference. Now 20 pesos (about $US1.25) isn’t going to break anyone. But it’s not going to give anyone an incentive to join the organization either.

I suggested that instead of charging an entrance fee, they only allow members to get the 2-for-1 special. I know a lot of non-members who might be enticed to join with the promise of a free drink at every LCS event.

Then there’s the silliness of the Open Games group that meets on Monday afternoon from 1-4. It’s closed to non-LCS members from 1-2. What secret things happen between 1 and 2? I know many people that participate in that group, and I’m sure that no one is checking IDs at the door. So why exclude anyone?

Then there are computer classes that require Internet access. I took one to learn how to use my new Android tablet (BTW only open to LCS members). LCS’s computer systems and Internet capabilities are so antiquated that everyone in the class couldn’t get Internet access, including the teacher, who happens to be on the Board of Directors, at one point.

This brings me to the point that the computer system there never seems to improve, causing frustration to staff and users, and inconvenience to members. LCS’s systems don’t talk with each other. I have a feeling one speaks English and the other speaks Spanish. So that simple transactions take multiple entries into multiple systems. I can’t imagine the errors that are occurring every day, especially with a volunteer workforce.

When you go to some restaurants or Walmart, you get a detailed receipt after you’ve paid… from a cash register. Not at LCS. There, in the second decade of the 21st century, most transactions are done on paper. There are separate cash boxes for everything: newspapers, membership, library fines, tickets, etc.

I’m sure the members of the board of directors have heard of cash registers. Just think how easy it would make everything to put all the cash in a $US50 cash register and, just like Walmart, itemize each transaction when entered. Then staff could run a report at the end of the day that tells them how much was sold in each category. Maybe they could spring for a slightly more expensive system that actually interfaces with their accounting system.

Ah, but, you can see the problem with that: the computer systems don’t talk with each other; how are they going to talk with a cash register? Especially when it’s probably built in Korea and speaks Korean!

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