Fun

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.

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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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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Getting Attention Mexican-Style

…Or how I spent my Sunday afternoon.

So we’re cruising along somewhere about an hour north of Puerto Vallarta at 65 mph. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon. The traffic was moving along nicely. We were returning from a wonderful three days respite living at the beach in PV, and the conversation in the car was lively.

All of a sudden I was jamming on the breaks. A long line of cars and buses is stopped ahead. We started asking ourselves the obvious questions. What could the problem be: was there an accident, a broken down car; how long was the back-up

Little did we know that five miles up the road, a small Mexican town was protesting the disappearance of one of its own a week earlier. More succinctly, they were protesting the lack of response from local officials and police. How does one get attention of the police? They blocked the main highway that carries traffic to and from Puerto Vallarta.

Apparently, this is how small towns and indigenous people get attention when the police and politicians ignore them. I have a friend who has spent a bit of time in Chiapas, which is a state in southern Mexico where the indigenous peoples were in open revolt against the Mexican government. She says things have recently gotten dicey there because promises made haven’t been filled. Randomly blocking major highways is a favorite attention-getting tactic.

These blockages are different from the publicized gang roadblocks and shakedowns in several Mexican states. Gang shakedowns are one of the reasons why the U.S. State Department warns against travel in several areas of Mexico, and travel at night, in general.

According to an article on a local website, the “manifestacion” we came across started at 9 am, and we stumbled upon it around 2 pm. Apparently the demonstrations attracted the Federales, state police, and the local constabulary.

We dutifully waited our car with the air conditioning running for a half hour. Cars started turning around. As each car turned around, we inched up a little more.

For us turning around was not really a good option. There really was no alternative route. We would have had to travel an hour back to the turn-off for the carraterra libre (free road). Once word spread (I don’t/can’t listen to local traffic reports), that road would be no piece of cake either. In another 70+/- kms, we would be cruising on 4-lane toll road. We’d take our chances.

My friend was getting a little antsy, so she decided to take a walk in search of an answer to the question going through everyone’s mind: “What’s going on?”

She disappeared down the hill, walking along the line of busses and cars that snaked around the curve ahead. Fifteen minutes later she arrived back with at least three rumors of why the back-up existed – one of which was the real reason. Who was kidnapped, however, wasn’t exactly clear. Some people reported it was the village’s mayor. Other rumors circulated that there were narcos in the village and the police were disarming the villagers, or having a shoot-out. We saw some firepower pass us in the other lane, but it was unclear whether they were good guys or bad guys.

Now this may sound a little scary, but truthfully it was a pain in the ass. It wasn’t how I expected to spend Sunday afternoon, watching men and children pee on the side of the road (I don’t know what the women did), families pick mangoes from roadside trees, and twenty-somethings break out 6-packs of beer and have a picnic. Thank God the bugs were taking a siesta.

Finally, about two hours after becoming entrapped, the line started to move – steadily. As the police waved us by the lane they cleared among the demonstrators, you can see what we saw in this article’s pictures.

As we drove by, my friend took a few photos. “Stop,” she pleaded. “I want to get some more pictures.”

“Are you kidding,” I answered. I could just imagine what the police would think of a car with U.S. plates stopping, and a gringa jumping out and snapping pictures.

The rest of trip was uneventful until we got onto the Guadalajara – Chapala highway. We were almost home, encountered a major downpour. Once again, traffic ground to halt. About one kilometer before the airport, a tree was knocked down on top of a hapless VW, blocking two lanes. 9 hours after leaving PV we arrive back in Ajijic, a trip that should have taken no more than 51/2-6 hours.

Postscript: It was a good that we didn’t turn around and take the free road from PV. When the toll road ends it merges with the free road just before Guadalajara. The free road was backed up as far as we could see.

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In Defense of Lima Beans

Oxymoron?

As far as I’m concerned, there is no defense of lima beans. And believe me, I’m not very concerned.

But I needed something to write about, and the idea for this subject popped into my head. I’m sure this post will leave a bad taste in the mouths of some of my readers who like lima beans. And some of you might be thinking that to choose a topic like this, there must not have been too much in my head to begin with.

You see, I don’t hate many things in this world. Hate’s a very strong word. But, in no uncertain terms, I hate lima beans. My ex even got me a “hates lima bean” tee shirt once by artist and cartoonist Hal Mayforth. I contacted Hal to get the image, but it he couldn’t get to it. So, I found the above image from a blog called Deep Friar.

When I told several friends about this blog’s topic, they tried to convince me that, with the right recipe, I could transform lima beans into a wonderful dish. Sorry folks. That’s like saying you can remove the taste of liver by bathing it in something like hot fudge sauce, or the sliminess of Okra by disguising it in a bowl of curry, or change the funky taste of Papaya by mixing it with strawberries.

Just think of the food you detest the most. Then think of the food you love the most. Would you risk ruining the latter by mixing it with the former? I remember when I was a kid and sick. The doctor told my mom to mix aspirin with apple sauce or Hershey’s chocolate syrup. For years, I could eat neither. I’ve never known why someone would want to ruin a perfectly good ear of corn by mixing its kernels with lima beans. I guess that’s why they call it “suck”-a-tash.

I have nothing against most types of beans. I’ll eat fava beans, navy beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, black-eyed peas, green beans, black beans, garbanzo beans, cannellini and more. I’ll eat barbecued baked beans, refried beans, cassoulet, chili with beans, black beans with rice, chana, minced pork with fermented black beans, dim sum filled with sweet bean paste, and roasted garbanzos from a street vendor in Chapala.

Unfortunately, there is an odd combination of flavor and texture that makes lima beans thoroughly objectionable to my pallet.

I’m pretty sure lima beans were put on earth to teach little kids how to turn up their noses. Or maybe to show them that no matter how bad calves liver tastes, there’s something else on the planet that tastes worse.

They never tell little kids that there are laws against cruel and unusual punishment. Kids shouldn’t have to make a tortured decision about whether to eat their lima beans or go to bed without dessert. I can just see some disgruntled thirteen year old pulling out the cell phone that their parents bought them and reporting them to “children’s services” for the dinner table equivalent of water-boarding.

But, a lot of us were told that we should eat all of the food on our plates because there were starving children in China. I never understood how gagging on food at the table would help anyone. And I never thought, at the time, to try retorting, “Jeez mom, if you want me to eat everything on my plate, please don’t put lima beans on it…and how about calf’s liver too. Just send the stuff straightaway to China.”

By the way have you ever seen lima beans on a Chinese restaurant menu? I think the Chinese are  an advanced civilization and passed on lima beans to us folk in the western hemisphere centuries ago.

Those early humans who came across the ice bridge from Asia tens of thousands of years ago were probably given sacks of lima bean seeds with the instructions not to bring them back. They probably then burned the lima bean fields and planted Bok Choy instead. Anyway, how do you think places like Lima, Peru or Lima, Ohio got their names? You didn’t know they had Chinese roots, did you?

Finally, there’s probably some person at NSA, who likes lima beans and will discover this post and flag it for subversive thoughts. I can just see myself, the next time I go back to the states, meeting with some gnarly customs agent, who after scanning his computer screen, turns toward me with an inquisitive look and says, “Are you the guy who wrote the blog post about lima beans?

I’ll look back at him in incredulity and nervously whimper, “Yeah?”

Then he’ll activate his walkie-talkie and call for back-up. As two tough-looking agents arrive and put me in hand-cuffs, he’ll inform them with pride, “We got him…the lima bean guy.”

They’ll lead me off to some room in the bowels of the airport, open the door, sit me down at a table, and undo my handcuffs. Then with broad smiles, they’ll watch as another agent walks into the room and puts a bowl of lima beans in front of me, and says, “Now, eat your lima beans. You’re not going home ‘til they’re all gone.”

I’m sure that this blog post has tested your patience, especially if you’re a lima bean fan. And I’m sure my ex will leave a comment for the second time in two years that says something like “Now, I’m sure you’ve lost your mind.” You can find the first post here.

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Thank you to Deep Friar, whoever you are, for the very appropriate image.

The Changes Snowbirds Never See

It’s May in Ajijic. Most of the snowbirds have left for the summer, and many full-timers are escaping the warm weather by visiting friends and family in more temperate climes.

The snowbirds don’t all arrive and leave at the same time. The influx starts in November and builds to a crescendo after Christmas. I remember my first year here, walking into Ajijic’s plaza. It was teaming with northerners, many holding street maps and trying to figure out where to go. The Mexican presence seemed to diminish.

Likewise, the snowbirds start leaving in small numbers at the end of February, peaking around April first. Some stay around until May or longer. While they’re here, just like any “resort” area they inject a healthy amount of money into the economy, and contribute to countless charities that help the locals year-round. They spur the advent of numerous theater productions, concerts, and entertainment from up north which makes life more interesting.

However, snowbirds also contribute to traffic problems, long waiting times at restaurants and supermarket lines, and over-crowded dance floors.

Last year, I travelled to Boston, to take care of some business in early May. I missed the changes that are now taking place in this area. When several thousand people leave a small town, you can see and feel the changes. There’s a more relaxed atmosphere that makes most of the things you do easier, except maybe if you have to deal with the government bureaucracy. That never changes.

My feelings are mixed about the snowbird exodus from the Lakeside area. On the one hand, I enjoy having fewer people around. There’s more time for, and in some ways it’s easier, to build friendships. On the other hand, I miss many of the people I befriended over the winter. In a way, it’s sad when they leave – even though you know you’ll see many of them again next winter.

Summer in Ajijic reminds me of a time, many years ago, when I lived three blocks from Harvard Square in Massachusetts. Every mid-May, the Boston area experiences a mass migration, as tens of thousands of college students and graduates leave town. Harvard Square, for a few months was left to the locals and the tourists. Life was easier. Then, in mid-August, just like the swallows returning to Ajijic, the area bulges with young people, and frenetic activity.

So, for the snowbirds that have already headed home, and have never experienced life in Ajijic at this time of year, I’ve compiled a list of the things that change when you’re gone.

  1. Everyone left here breathes a collective sigh of relief and looks forward to calmer summer months
  2. Some of your favorite restaurants go on vacation and close for extended periods of time.
  3. Sadly some of your favorite restaurants and businesses close their doors forever
  4. New restaurants and businesses open and eagerly await your return
  5. You don’t need a reservation, most of the time, at most restaurants
  6. You can actually dance at Adelita’s
  7. The swallows return, have their babies, make a mess, and leave
  8. Rainbirds (Cicadas) hatch and spend a month driving us crazy with their insanely eerie wailing (See my blog post from last year)
  9. It gets really hot in the afternoons (try 90+F)
  10. Dust from the dry streets is everywhere until rainy season starts
  11. There are a lot fewer traffic jams
  12. You can actually move at the Ajijic Wednesday Tianguis
  13. Starting in June, it rains a lot (mostly late afternoon or evening)
  14. The trees on the mountainsides turn green
  15. Calle Colon often becomes a rushing river when it rains
  16. You find out where all the leaks are in your house
  17. There are fewer fundraisers
  18. The Mexicans return to the plaza (not just the Guadalajan’s on the weekend)
  19. Come about September, we look forward to your return, and the fun and craziness you bring.

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Small Town – Small Minds: Epilogue

OMG! Everybody’s talking about my article.

About a month ago, a local magazine called Ojo del Lago, published one of my blog posts, “Small Town – Small Minds –Being Single at Lakeside” in its April issue (page 18). Since then, the reaction I’ve received is worth sharing.

I first read the post at a meeting of the Ajijic Writers Group. As I read it, I could hear chuckles and an occasional laugh. When I finished, the group clapped and numerous people gave me a thumbs. One person commented that I had “nailed” it…It being the state of senior dating in our small community. That wasn’t the only time I was told that I had “nailed” it. A married member of the group told me that the rumor situation is no different for married couples.

The editor of the magazine and one of the founders of the Writers Group, Alex Grattan, asked me if he could publish it. I agreed, but had some reservations. The post was personal, and I knew it would hit a nerve with Ojo’s audience. It did. As I learned later, I had described a common feeling among many of the singles at Lakeside.

A few days before the print version was published the online version  of the magazine went live. On April 3, I posted the story to my blog. Simultaneously, and unbeknownst to me, someone linked to another of my blog posts, “25 Reasons Not to Retire to Lake Chapala,” on the Facebook page of a group called Focus on Mexico. That group promotes moving to the Lake Chapala area, and runs informative “discovery” group tours.

It seems as though, the Facebook post got shared quite a bit, giving more exposure to this blog and the “Small Towns” blog post.” In fact that Facebook post resulted in the most views this blog has received in one day – 486 viewers and 692 page views! Over a four-day period, this blog had more than 1200 page views. A big THANK YOU goes out to whoever posted the link on Facebook.

The article has caused a bit of a stir in this sleepy town. It was viewed almost 900 times on Ojo’s website. It’s been the subject of many conversations in the plaza. Someone came up to me and said, “You had to have big cajones to write that.” I replied that it didn’t take any cajones to write the post, but I knew I was taking a chance in letting it be published in Ojo. This is a small town, after all.

I’ve had strangers walk up to me on the street and ask, “Are you the guy who wrote that article on being single?” Not sure whether I should put up my guard, the reaction was invariably something like: “You nailed it!”

Here’s a few of the comments I’ve received:

“Thank you for writing the article.”

“Someone needed to say that.”

“I’ve felt that it was me you were describing.”

However, not everyone was a cheerleader. One online commenter completely missed the point of the article, and made assumptions about my emotional fragility and sex life, and thought I was paranoid and should see a therapist. The article was an observation of behavior of many people here at Lakeside. It was meant to expose and poke fun at the busy-bodies here. I decided to write it after multiple instances of discovering I had been the subject of baseless rumors. There’s no paranoia involved. I don’t look over my shoulder and stay up wondering about who’s talking about me, and I clearly state that I don’t care what they say.

For the single people here, the article struck close to home. A lot of people have been “victims” of the whispering busy-bodies, and have felt their nosy eyes upon them – trying to judge. While I still claim, the rumor mills make it difficult for some insecure people to date, the overwhelming majority of people told me that they don’t care; that they just ignore the watching eyes.

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“Moving On”

When I first came to Lakeside from Massachusetts, one of the things I noticed was how many people from South Dakota seemed to be living here. There were South Dakota license plates everywhere.

Even my neighbor had them. When I met him, I said, “I see you’re from South Dakota? Seems like there are a lot of you guys down here.”

To which he grinned and laughed, “No, I’m from Minnesota,” he replied.

Now, Minnesota is right next door to South Dakota, so I inquired further. “So, what’s the story with all the South Dakota plates here,” I asked.

The reason, in most circumstances, is enlightened self-interest.

Many, when they move here, want to cut expenses. They drive their car down from the states. But, many states make it expensive to keep their cars here and maintain their plates. Knowing that the Mexicans are pretty lax about expired U.S. plates, people will often drive around for years with expired U.S. plates. I’m not sure what they do for insurance, if anything. The biggest scofflaw I’ve seen is the owner of an old junker with 1993 Connecticut plates.

When I brought my car down here in October (see my “Road Trip” series of blogs starting in October 2015), my Massachusetts plates were still attached to it. Over the next few months, I’d look, with envy, on every car with South Dakota plates. Every month I’d see the debit on my bank statement for auto insurance, and then my annual excise tax bill arrived, and I’d need to shell out $40 to have my car inspected every year. I was paying almost $700 a year for the privilege of having those Mass. plates. That’s one month’s rent plus utilities!

You see, to keep those Mass. plates, you have to keep minimum insurance coverage on your car or lose the plates. If your car is not on the road, I can’t see any good reason to keep insurance on it. Maybe, the banks want to protect their collateral, but more likely, it’s an insurance scam. I wonder how many insurance company lobbyists it took and how much in political contributions (bribes?) to get that little piece of legislation passed. It happens all of the time in Massachusetts!

Snowbirds who store their cars over the winter reduce their coverage while they are away to reduce their costs. In Massachusetts, even minimum insurance coverage can be pricey, especially in a “high risk” area. But I don’t need Mass. insurance here, because they wouldn’t cover my car here anyway. I pay a little more than US$300 in Mexico for full auto insurance coverage – half of what minimum coverage costs back home. So, why pay for insurance I don’t need?

There’s one county in South Dakota, Clay County, that will register your car that’s garaged in Mexico. It can save a lot of money. You are not required to maintain auto insurance, get your car inspected, or pay an annual excise tax.

I recently made the “move” from Massachusetts to South Dakota. The process was simple. The clerk at the Clay County Treasurer’s Office helped me fill out the necessary form and told me how much registration would cost – all over the phone. After they received the required documents by mail, my new plates and registration were in the mail the same day.

When they arrived, I cancelled my Mass plates and registration, and am waiting for a rebate from the insurance company.

So, I guess I’m doing my part to pay for the roads, schools and the friendly people in the Treasurer’s office in Clay County. And, why not?  I wouldn’t want to live there, but the good people of Clay County are making my life better here.

Visitors from the North

I haven’t posted in a long time. December 9 to be exact.

I’ve had the privilege of having guest for two weeks… a good friend and my two kids. My friend from Boston is considering spending several wintery months in the friendlier climes of Lake Chapala. It was fun showing her around.

My kids endured another week with their dad dragging them from one hang-out filled with old fogeys to the next. Thanks to a friend who allowed us to use her condo, they also got to dip their toes in the Pacific at Puerto Vallarta.

Puerto Vallarta Sunset2

Puerto Vallarta beach1

For dad, at any rate, it was a special time. There is something special about interacting with your kids as adults. Especially when you haven’t seen them in 5 months. It takes a long time (that passes very quickly) until everyone can spend time together without the drama associated with growing up…at least some of the drama.

Puerto Vallarta beach2

Puerto Vallarta Sunset1

Dad is still concerned. The kids still roll their eyes and moan “yeah, yeah, yeah.”

But this time, my daughter actually asked me advice about financial matters instead of me doling it out unsolicited.

Hah! We have progress.

While I know more about financial stuff now than before my divorce, I was taken a-back. She wants to save. Good for her!

“Do you have an emergency fund?” I asked her.

“What’s that?” she asked me.

“It’s having enough money so, if something happens to you or you lose your job, you can pay your bills until you find a new one. You should have at least 3 months and possibly more depending on your obligations.” I counseled her.

We talked about her assets and expenses and then I suggested, “When you’ve funded your emergency fund, let’s have another talk,” I continued. “And besides, with the volatility in the stock and bond markets, it may just be a good idea to stay liquid in cash.”

So, on a Sunday morning two weeks ago my kids journeyed back up north. We all left for the airport at the ungodly hour of 3:30 am so they could make their 6:15 flight. Apparently, they had a problem with a prick in DFW customs who almost made them miss their connecting flight.

After a week and a half of guests, being alone feels good…maybe a little empty, but good. I spent the day doing domestic things like laundry, making beds, and, yes, making another yummy meal from leftovers in the refrigerator. After a gin and tonic and a few glasses of cheap Chilean wine with dinner, and an absolutely incredible sunset on my mirador, I find myself at the computer writing to you good people.