Casa Del Maya B&B

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Pop Tarts

I love Pop Tarts. 

That’s right, I said it.  Do I have to say it again?  Call the men in the white coats.  Slap me in the face and try to knock some sense into me.  Make an appointment with a psychiatrist, I don’t care.  I love Pop Tarts, I always have loved Pop Tarts, and now I’m coming out of my Pop Tarts closet – most likely the ultimate and most crowded closet in the universe.  And I don’t mean the Pop Tarts of today with their namby-pamby icing on top; I’m a Pop Tarts purest.  I’m talking Pop Tarts that are nothing more than flour, lard, brown sugar, and cinnamon.  In MY day, we knew what a Pop Tart was.  And I loved – love – them.  And my Mom loved them, too.

I can remember the day I first found out about Pop Tarts.  Mom brought home a box because she got it free from the Kellogg’s salesman.  You see, Mom worked at the A&P store in the little ‘burb we grew up in.  She usually worked 7:00 AM – 4:00 PM, sometimes 12:00 – 9:00 PM, 5 days per week, so anything that helped her get out of the drudgery of raising 4 ungrateful little yard apes was a plus for her.  That job was her escape, I now know.  Mom never wanted to be a housewife; she worked 35 years at A&P, from the day our local store opened until the day she, and the store, retired. 

In the “60’s, convenience foods were popping up on every grocery aisle.  They all were de rigueur in our house.  Frozen orange juice, pot pies, tater tots, packaged bologna, Pop Tarts.  With very little effort Mom had the three meals covered. 
     Now, frozen orange juice was a wonder at our house.  I would stand in the kitchen doorway and watch my Mom wrestle with the cardboard can.  When she “made” orange juice she would take a can from the freezer, use the can opener on one end, run the can under the faucet to “loosen” the unnaturally orange colored blob of ice, shake it over the empty pitcher, hoping it would fall out and down into the pitcher, then proceed to the next step and open the other end of the can and squeeze and squeeze the cardboard sleeve until most of the stuff was in the pitcher and the rest was dripping down her hands, onto the counter, and onto our new indoor-outdoor carpeting Dad had installed recently in the kitchen (oh, we were so very chic thanks to Sears, Roebuck and Company). 

She’d spend the next five minutes cleaning up her mess, drying her hands, and putting her hair back in place while I stood there wondering why she didn’t just take the orange juice out of the freezer about a half-hour earlier to set it on the counter and allow it to thaw so she could simply pour it into the pitcher.  But Mom hated domesticity so much that all that anger and frustration from having to perform her wifely and motherly duties just wouldn’t allow her brain to think of household shortcuts, or what today we call, life hacks. 

But, by God, we had orange juice for breakfast…with Pop Tarts.

                Now, I don’t know if my Mom really believed in a higher power or not.  She was a “fallen” Catholic who was excommunicated by the church for throwing her child-beating first husband out of the house.  But I guess God likes marriages to stay together more than He likes children who aren’t black and blue, so after her second marriage the priest at Our Lady of Lourdes asked Mom never to come back to his church.

                Anyway, I swear the day Kellogg’s introduced Pop-Tarts Mom got down on her knees to thank the heavens above.  No more would she slave to pour cereal out of a box, into a bowl, pour milk over it and shove it in front of my sister and me.  She would never again have to even THINK of cracking an egg or frying up a little bacon for breakfast for her snotty little monsters…just open the box, tear open the paper bag and pop two brown-sugar cinnamon (my favorite) or blueberry (healthier) tarts into the toaster and try not to burn them.  And if she did burn them – which she often did, no problem.  Just cut the edges off and toss them on the table. 

Now that I remember it, Mom had a real problem burning things.  The joke in our house – okay ONE of the jokes in our house - was that Mom couldn’t cook or bake anything with flour in it without burning it.  Until I was in high school I thought biscuits were supposed to be black on the bottom.  One day at school I saw another kid’s toasted sandwich and told him, “You better not eat that, your Mom didn’t cook it right.  It’s supposed to be black!”

When I was 17 and began working in my uncle’s restaurant I learned that pre-heating an oven will prevent burning, as long as you don’t go over the recommended baking time.  But my mother was unable to grasp that little concept, even after I told her about pre-heating the oven.

“Jordy, I don’t have time for that!”

So every morning APT (After Pop Tarts), we would get to choose: one Pop Tart, or two?  Plain, or toasted. 

“PLAIN, Mom, for God’s sake, don’t go near the toaster!”

Add a glass of milk and a little orange juice made from frozen concentrate and we would be out the door and on our way to school…and Mom was free until 6:00 when she would toss 6 chicken pot pies into the oven and sit on the porch, smoking cigarettes and waiting for her second husband, my dad, to arrive home while the pot pies turned black on the bottom.

                Did I say I also love chicken pot pies?  No, not the beef ones.  Yuck!  Only chicken pot pies in our house.  The ones with the crust on top AND the bottom, please.  Ah, that tasteless, dry brown crust, the expertly diced peas and carrots, the rubbery squares of pressed chicken parts, and the gelatinous chicken gravy pulling it all together into a meal fit for the queen of A&P.

                It wasn’t really as bad as I make it sound.  And when I say I love chicken pot pies, I mean it.  The foods you grow up with hold a special place in your memory – no matter what they are.  They harken us back to simpler times, family sitting down at the dining table together, arguing about who is the stupider brother or telling on them, (“Bill peed in the sink!”) or regaling the family about that new TV show, “Lost In Space” (“It really happened, you know.”)  And in the end, dessert!  And if the A&P didn’t have a ready-made loaf-shaped pound cake wrapped in cellophane, no problem.

“Who wants a Pop-Tart?”

Monday, June 27, 2016

Careful, There

They say, “Careful what you wish for.” 

(Who is “They”, you ask?  Anyone to whom I’ve ever complained about my life.  “Oh, Merida is SO hot in May.”  “Oh, I WISH it didn’t rain so much in the summer.” I have a great life, I’ve been extremely fortunate in my oh-so-various jobs over the last 40 years, so whenever I have the least little complaint someone calls me on it by either pouting out their lips and saying something like, “Oh, pooooor youuuuuu!”  Or they say, “Careful what you wish for”, which really means, “Shut up, you ungrateful piece of crap.”)
But I digress.

They say, “Careful what you wish for”.  As I turn 60 this year and Steve and I begin to contemplate a retired life, that phrase keeps popping into my head during certain times in our lives. 

(60!  I look at that span of time and realize I have much more time behind me than in front of me and that scares the hell out of me and makes me want to run and hide in a cave – a well-appointed cave, mind you.)
But, again, I digress. 

(A symptom of being almost 60.)
Shit, did it again.

So there are times in my life when I have achieved something, gotten something I wanted, ended up in a place I wanted to go, started that “dream” job, gotten married(!)…and then experienced that feeling of regret, or longing for something else, something more – felt that feeling of ennui.  I realized about a decade ago that I’m an extremely restless person - I always have been, but just realized it when I was in my late 40's.  I’m rarely satisfied with the status quo;  I have to be constantly busy.  And in that busyness I have, sometimes, experienced a sense of accomplishment and tranquility.  I have been very lucky to pretty much always gotten whatever I wanted.  But then, when I do get what I want, I hear myself say, “Careful what you wish for.” 

(Several years back I had the job I always dreamed of.  I was a theatre teacher, and I loved it…for three years.  Then those old feelings began to set in and I got utterly bored.  That was the ultimate “Careful what you wish for” because after that I was not only utterly bored, but utterly lost.  If my “dream job” couldn’t keep me satisfied, then what could I do that would?  Which brings me back to the present…)
Oops, did it again.

So here we are in Merida.  A wonderful city.  A growing city.  An historic city full of vibrant, hard-working, forward-thinking people, young and old.  We have a great little business, we meet people from all over the world, our back yard is a paradise, we are putting aside a little money for retirement.  It’s a great life.  But as I approach 60 years of age, as my knees snap and crackle, as my right ear canal pops when I chew, when the knot on the sole of my foot aches, and when that palsy shake begins again in my left hand, I cannot help but look forward to the time when we might retire. 

(I seem to be rapidly deteriorating, physically AND mentally.  The worst is the palsy in my hand.  Thanks for the remembrance, Mom.  Whenever I look in a mirror – and I try NOT to do that very often – I see my father.  But in every other way, including that nice palsy in my hand, I am like my mother.  Hers started when she was in her mid-70s.  I guess it begins earlier and earlier with each generation.)
Ah, digression…another symptom of dotage, I suppose.

Our retirement plan is to live 6 months in one location and 6 months in a different - warm - place each winter.  But then I wonder what I would DO all day.  I have no hobbies, other than writing.  I don’t like video games.  

(as so many of my Facebook friends seem to – “Jon just invited you to the Angry Birds Challenge”, whatever that is.  I still have no idea what Candy Crush is.) 

Do I take up pottery?  Continue to post a blog every day and continue to get lost in the untold millions of Internet blogs all searching for an audience?  How many books can I read in a day?  Do I make cute videos for my Facebook page?  Or, better yet, make a bunch of those really awesome memes and pass them around the World Wide Web?  “Live For Today!”   “That Person In The Mirror Is Your Best Friend!”  “Careful What You Wish For!” 

(Okay, I admit it…I just looked up “meme” to find out exactly what it means.  Seems it is a piece of text, video, or other image, altered in some way, conveying some kind of message, and meant to be shared across the Internet.  (Across the internet?  Around the internet?  Throughout the Internet?  On the Internet?  To the Internet?))
Oh, this is getting really bad…a double digression. 

(I see your double and raise you a triple.)
Okay, so in retirement I will have more time for the things I now squeeze in each day.  I won’t have to rush through my stationary bike ride or “run” to the store for something we need for the B&B, or beg the workers building the palapa to “hurry and finish because we have guests tomorrow.”  I will be able to complete projects on MY schedule.  So the house is torn up; who cares?  No more rushing to answer all the emails piling up in my inbox.  I will be able to get back to bike riding for fun. 

(I used to be such a bike rider.  When I was a kid I would bike sometimes 50 miles a day.  There is a road in Louisville - River Road - which runs from downtown Louisville, along the Ohio river about 25 miles to a little suburb on the East Side of the county.  I cannot tell you how many times I biked along the river, stopping here and there, exploring abandoned riverfront houses, grabbing a Coke at a local store.  I cannot wait to get back to biking.)
Uh, yeah.

But then I wonder about filling an entire day.  How do I do that?  “Careful what you wish for.”  I can’t bike 12 hours a day.  I cannot watch movies all day long.  I cannot exercise more than about an hour.  So what do I do with the other 14 ½ hours each day.  Oh, sure, eating takes up 2 hours, if I stretch it.  So that still leaves over 11 hours a day to fill.  And I don’t want to just fill them.  I want to DO something. 
I have never been the type to sit around very long.  Don’t get me wrong, I can potato a couch like no one I know, but even I get tired of sitting. 

(Unless it’s for a binge-watching session of “Grace and Frankie” or “Scandal”, my new guilty pleasure.)
My new goal is not to diversify, but to concentrate on one or two things and try to be as good at them as I possibly can.  Can I write 4-6 hours every day?  Will my fingers allow me to become the pianist I never was?  Long story short (I know, too late), is that I will never, really completely retire.  I will have to have something to work on…something to build - create.  And I already have my next start-up in mind.  I’ve begun the financial prognostications and am working on what it will take to bring it to fruition.  The only difference is that there will be no pressure to make it an instant success.  I will be retired.  I will be able to take my time.  Mold it. Research it thoroughly.  I may be soon asking my friends to join me on my new venture – hiking tours through Italy.

So as you can see, I have no answers, really.  I just keep trying new things in the hope that one will stick and that it will continue to challenge me and keep me interested.  I mean, I really love hiking.  It's the one thing I don't get to do enough.  So perhaps that will be my answer.  Maybe I'll spend my 60's and 70's walking as many of Italy's hiking trails as I can find, and along the way have another great business, peace of mind, and a fulfilling retirement.

And if it is a complete failure, just wave as you pass me on my bike.  

Monday, June 20, 2016

The First Jump is the Hardest

Like anything you do in life, practice makes perfect.  And so it is with your life jumps – the first jump is the hardest.

            My first jump came at age 32.  I had been in a relationship for 2 years, finally completed my college degree, and gave up a 3-decade life in my hometown of Louisville to follow my partner to Washington, D.C.  Looking back on the move, it now seems like nothing.  But it was a big change for me at that time.  I left my family, friends, and all that I thought I knew to explore life elsewhere.  What if I didn’t like it in D.C.?  What if the relationship fell apart and there I was all alone in a strange land?  What if I failed?  Of course, none of that happened.  Since then Steve and I have made many jumps, in our geography, in our careers, and in our outlooks.  And that’s the thing about jumps: Over time they become easier and easier until you are able to take subsequent jumps without all the questioning and insecurities and make them with joy, excitement, and a vision to the future. 

             Our lives in Washington were fun because things were so different there.  I never had it on my radar to live in the nation’s capital, and the plethora of opportunities to work and enjoy life were exciting to me.  But ultimately neither of us was satisfied with our careers – Steve’s work writing speeches for a Congressman left him disillusioned, and I was fired from my hotel restaurant management job for being gay.  Three years into our D.C. lives we “discovered” Key West on a vacation trip.  Here were many more people like us – open and clueless.  So like so many people who return from vacationing on that idyllic little island, we talked about making another move and relocating to the Florida Keys. 

            In August 1992 we made like the “Beverly Hillbillies” and loaded up a truck and moved to Cayo Hueso.  Our second life jump saw everything we owned locked in a U-Haul behind the old green and white Key Wester motel, where the Beatles once stayed.  We know because the place was festooned with photos of the iconic band in Key West and in their rooms at the motel, with plenty of placards explaining it all to us.

            We found a house rental and jobs, in that order, in the first two weeks, and stayed 15 years, with one two-year break in Chicago, where I worked for the best business leader I have ever met.  To this day I always ask myself, “What would Rich do?”.  That life jump to Chicago, brief because we missed Key West, was one of my best if for no other reason than meeting and working with Rich Melman.

            When we finally were able to tear ourselves away from Key West, we decided our next life jump was to be either to Tucson or St. Petersburg.  We scoped out both with visits, and decided St. Petersburg afforded greater opportunity for house flipping, which was what we wanted to try next.  We had a great time until the recession hit.  We saw the writing on the wall and ceased flipping and went back to “real” jobs. 

            Hated our jobs, hated our lives.  So in 2010 it was an easy decision to make a huge life jump – for certain the biggest yet.  We had wanted to open a Bed & Breakfast for a number of years, but found it impossible in the U.S. due to the high costs.  Then it hit us: Italy is affordable, and what a fabulous place to live!  So in September we moved to an old farmhouse we purchased in the Le Marche countryside, fixed up the house ourselves, and had, without doubt, the time of our lives.  We ate cherries, figs, grapes, persimmon off the trees on our property, and enjoyed fresh vegetables from our garden all that next summer. 

            But the recession soon came to Italy, as well, so we were forced to modify our B&B dream and make another life jump.  We sold the house and found Merida, and that has been the best thing that could have happened to us.  The B&B has been a dream, business is great, Merida is fantastic, and nowhere will you find finer people. 

            Now we talk about life jumps as easily as we talk about going to the grocery store.  What and when will be our next?  Who knows?  But once you jump, you won’t look back.

Monday, January 18, 2016


Okay, I get it.  I finally get it.  Took me a while, but I finally understand why everything in the Yucatan made of wood is so highly varnished.  And I’m finally on the bandwagon, desperately trying to keep things from rotting.

When we moved to Merida I would see many brightly varnished wood pieces and wonder why they wanted to ruin the look of the beautiful wood with those tacky, glossy finishes.  I hated that look.  When looking for furniture I would pass by the varnished pieces in favor of those with more natural finishes that brought out the natural beauty of the wood.  I thought it was just about the way the local denizens liked their wood.  But after four years of refinishing, revarnishing, replacing, and repurchasing furniture, doors, and windows, I have finally seen the gleaming light reflecting off the high-gloss furniture.  It’s not about beauty or any aesthetic, it’s about protection.
We have replaced wood wall hangings, furniture pieces, and every door in the house – in only four years!  So now I’ve come to realize how much I really, really like highly varnished wood in my house.  I have gallons of Spar urethane at the ready, and I slap that goo on every piece of wood I see on the property.  Now our wood pieces glow with the reflected light of the sun by day and security lights by night.  Our furniture can be used as mirrors.  I stood in front of one of our room doors for 20 minutes before I realized I was talking to my own reflection!

And it doesn’t end with the wood.  Our concrete floors in the garden glisten with acrylic sealer.  The painted window sills are now sealed to guard against dirt, water, and mojo.  Even our little diablo had to get a couple of coats of varnish to protect him from the elements.  All that’s left to varnish is Steve; don’t know if it will stop the deterioration, but I’m willing to give it a shot.

Now I LOVE the look of highly varnished furniture.  It looks so rich, so upscale, so protected! 

Living in a different country really does broaden your horizons.

Monday, October 26, 2015

What A Drag

                Both my brothers loved car racing when they were in their teens and early twenties.  Our grandfather owned a professional race car and I guess that’s why so many in our family love the sport.  But my brothers Bill and Terry not only were early spectators, they eventually got into the game.  And God help anyone or anything that tried to come in between their beloved auto racing.
  Drag racing is a sport for those without millions of dollars to pour into stock car racing.  Our grandfather’s stock car racing hobby cost him a few dimes, but you can be a part of drag racing for almost nothing.  All you need is a car and the willingness to see it crash into a million pieces.  Bill and Terry had no money, so drag racing was where they started their hobby.

                I don’t remember when drag racing “season” was when I was growing up, but I do know it was warm weather, so it must have been spring and summer.  Almost every Sunday my brothers drove their piece of crap Pontiac to one of the tracks in and around Louisville, and about once a month they would drive an hour and a half, all the way to Lexington.  The cars were better, there, and the winnings were higher. 

After the Pontiac blew an engine, they pooled their money and bought another hot rod.  I don’t remember what that car was, but it didn’t last too long, either.  I think the transmission fell out of the car onto the race track.  They went through several cars this way, until Bill set his sights on his dream car: a ’65 Ford Fairlane.  Ahh, what a car.  At nine years old I knew almost nothing about cars (and wasn’t really interested, truth be known), but I could tell the way Bill treated that car that it was something special…especially to Bill. 

                That car was in mint condition.  It was cherry red, with white sidewall tires, which were all the rage, then.  Bill parked it in our back yard, neatly tucked up against the back of our house, covered with a tarp.  That car was not for the street.  Oh, no.  The ’65 cherry red Ford Fairlane had a 289 bored over 30, 4-speed on the floor, and a chrome gear-shift knob.  Even 9-year-old little brothers knew it was exceptional (well, at least the gear-shift knob).

                Bill owned this car outright.  Terry would still go with him to race it, and with this car they more often than not drove to the racetrack near Lexington.  I loved it when I was able to tag along with my brothers on Sundays because Mom always gave us the money to stop at Kentucky Fried Chicken to get a bucket of chicken to take to the track.  It was her little bribe to Bill and Terry to take me along, and it was her little bribe to me to agree to go along. 

                Little kids were very popular at the drag races.  Young guys who had their own pesky little brothers at home suddenly matured by about 10 years when they were at the track and treated us like we were cool.

                “Hey, man (“man” was “dude”, then), you gonna’ race today?”  Then they’d laugh at their own joke.

                I was pretty backwards, socially, and only stared at them, chomping on a fried chicken leg.

                The first five times Bill raced the cherry red Fairlane, it won.  The car could do no wrong, no matter who drove.  At first Bill was so nervous with the car that he let Terry race.  When he won three times in a row, Bill got behind the wheel and continued the streak.  My unathletic, short, stout brother Bill, who had always suffered from asthma and was a very bookish kid, seemed in his element with that car.  Everyone envied him that car, and he was elevated from being Terry’s brother (my brother Terry was a local football hero), to being pretty cool in his own right.  For a time he even dated an Italian bombshell who lived down our street.  And he owed it all to that car, so he treated it better than I’ve seen him treat anything since.

                The problem with having something everyone envies is that someone else is going to want it, too.  Bill knew this.  Even though we lived in an upper-middle-class, safe neighborhood, he was very cautious with the car.  That’s why he always parked it in the back yard against the house covered with a tarp.

Except one night.

                Returning home Sunday evening after another successful day at the races, Bill decided to park the car in front of our house…on the street.  Now who could have guessed that that same night one of those people who envied Bill his car would try to make it his own?

                At about 6:00 AM the next morning all hell broke loose in our house.  Mom was running to the back of the house to Bill and Terry’s room, screaming, “They’re stealing your car, they’re stealing your car!!!”

                Terry, already in his pajamas, was out the back door in a heartbeat, down the steps, and running towards the car to stop the theft .  Brother Bill was a little slower.

                Clad only in white boxer shorts, Bill jumped out of bed and reached under his bed for the nightstick he kept at the ready for just this occasion.  He then ran for the bedroom door just as Terry was out the door and throwing it closed behind him.  Bill hit the door with his face, fell back, then quickly shook it off.  Someone was stealing his dream car and he was not about to let anything stop him from making sure they weren’t successful.

                Bill ran through the house toward our front door.  Mom was standing there with the door open.  Bill leaped across the threshold, turned right for the stairs, dove down the stairs, landed about halfway down, lost his footing, and tumbled down the rest of the way, smacking his head and breaking his right ankle.  Not realizing he was hurt and still focused on his car, he jumped up, and with his first step knew something was amiss due to the bolt of pain that shot down his leg and foot.  He began hopping on one foot, in his white boxers, nose swelling and red, a trickle of blood running down his face, and with the night stick raised high in the air ready to smash down on the thief.

                By the time he reached the car, which had only moved a few feet, Terry had grabbed the guy out of the car and had him pinned over the left front fender.  Bill managed to get in a couple of hits with the nightstick before Terry said, “I got him.”

                When the police arrived to take the guy away, Bill was still standing in his underwear next to his cherry red Fairlane.  He looked like he could have been the inspiration for “The Walking Dead”.  We didn’t have smartphones with cameras back then, and that’s a real pity because all we have left of this incident is family lore.

                But maybe that’s even better.


Sunday, October 25, 2015

Humpty Dumpty

A Facebook post on a page about the city in which I grew up brought back a memory that fairly illustrates growing up with my father in the 60’s and 70’s.  Not a deep thinker nor calming influence, he.

                Throughout the 60’s the Big Boy franchises were very popular.  As soon as teenage boys got hold of their licenses they headed to our local Frisch’s Big Boy.  The glass-front building was trimmed in red.  In the rear was the drive-in area.  You parked your car in the best spot you could, one that would make sure you were seen and also that you could see everything going on.  The best spots were pretty much “owned” by one or two guys; whenever they arrived on the scene, whoever was in “their” spot vacated immediately to make room for the man in charge.  My brother, Terry, was one of those men.  He was athletic, tall, and was given the best genes in the family.  He was a naturally gifted football player and the local public high school competed against the local private Catholic school for his attendance at their schools so he could play on their team.  Whenever Terry and his friends arrived at Frisch’s, they were guaranteed a spot in the drive-in.

Through Terry my father learned about Frisch’s Big Boy being the local teen hangout.  This is important because my father thought he was way more clever than he really was, and thought he understood teenagers more than he really did (if at all).  So when one night we endured an onslaught of eggs from a carful of local kids, he was certain he was going to catch them and make them pay.

My mother worked 35 years for A&P.  She began in the meat department shortly before the store, just 10 blocks from our house, opened, and retired as head cashier when it closed.  Most of the time Mom walked to work and home again.  But once in a while my father took a night off getting drunk on beer to pick Mom up.  He spent a lot of time at the little grocery store behind the Sears store where he worked, drinking with other Sears employees and L&N railroad employees from the next block.  We got to know the grocery store owners very well.  I used to call, anonymously, and ask them really clever, funny questions, such as:

“Do you have pickled pigs’ feet?”

“Yeah, we got ‘em.”

“Well, put some shoes on and no one will notice!”  Then I’d hang up the phone and roar with laughter.

Another good one: “Do you have Sir Walter Raleigh in a can?”

“Yes, we got it.”

“Well, you better let him out before he suffocates!”  Again, roars of laughter pealed through our house.  Really, I should have been a writer for ‘Saturday Night Live’…I’d be a Billionaire!!!  (Actually, I have the “Hee-Haw” television show companion magazine to thank for these zingers.)

I did this, not because I disliked the store’s owners (actually liked them very much), but because it was one way of dealing with my anger at my father’s drinking.

Anyway, on these nights my father wasn’t holding up the little store’s meat and cheese display case, he, my sister, and I would pile into the car to go pick up Mom after she got off work.  My father always parked on the street, out front of the store.

One very hot summer evening we were all getting into the car.  Dad jumped into the driver’s side, I slid into the middle, and my sister spread out in the back seat.  Mom had some groceries and was putting them into the car when another car, full of teen boys, pulled up alongside ours and lobbed three fresh eggs through Dad’s open window.  The eggs smacked open on top and on front of the dashboard, slowly dripping down into the heater vents, onto the floorboard, and, of course, all over us.

My Dad’s first reaction, as usual, was to blame Mom. 

“If you weren’t so goddamn slow we’d have been gone before they drove by.”

Mom just took it, as usual.

Mom’s first reaction was to clean things up.  She wanted to go back into the store to get some rags to clean up the car, and us.  But Dad would have none of that.

“Get in the goddamn car; I’ve gotta’ go find these little sons of bitches.”

“Oh, Glenn, how are you going to find them?”

“I know where they hang out.  They’ll be at Frisch’s in a few minutes, probably bragging to Terry about what they just done.  I’ll bet they’re friends of his.  Hell, he prob’ly put them up to it!”

Terry and my other brother, Bill, are children from my Mom’s first marriage, so of course they never could do much right, as far as my father was concerned.  My Mom was forever trying to take up for them; my father was forever blaming them.

Dad drove us home, practically shoved us out of the car, and took off for Frisch’s to catch these local snot-nosed thugs who pelted our nice Ford station wagon with chicken embryos.  Mom wanted to clean the car, first, but Dad said no.

“I’m going to make those little bastards pay.  They’re going to clean every inch of this goddamn car and make it look brand new.”  We stood on our front-porch steps, watching Dad frantically throw the car into reverse, practically taking out the utility pole that stood in front of our house, jammed the gear shift down to D, and took off towards Frisch’s.  Wow. 

I pictured a carload of bloody teens, returning home and trying to explain how some man had beat the living shit out of them.  Because if my father had found those kids, that’s exactly what he would have done.  He had an irrational temper, and many times in my life did I witness it come to its tempestuous fruition, not the least being the time he was playing football with my brothers and fell and cracked a rib.  He broke a coke bottle against the house and threatened to slice both my brothers open at the necks.

“They did that on purpose!” he said, finishing off another beer.

The car sped up Grandview Avenue, barely slowing down at the busy intersection with Breckinridge Lane. 

Two hours later Dad returned home, dejected and exhausted from all the anger.  He couldn’t find the kids that perpetrated that heinous crime, but he had threatened about a dozen kids to call him and tell him if they learned who had “destroyed” his car.  Yeah, he understood teenagers really well.

He came into the house and went right to bed. 

The next day was a Saturday, so everyone was off work or out of school, except Mom.  That’s when Dad decided the car should be cleaned.  But by then the eggs had dried solid, almost melding into the plastic of the beige dashboard.  We scrapped and scrubbed, scratching the dashboard in places, until we had removed as much as possible.  It wasn’t until the following winter, when Dad first turned on the car’s heater, that he realized we hadn’t completely removed the eggs from the car.

“Goddamn kids!”

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Merrily We Roll Along

                If you want to get to know a place, its people, learn the customs, etiquette, mores, then take the bus.  A bus may not be the quickest method of transportation to your destination, nor the most direct, but there is no quicker way to immerse yourself in the local community and learn about its people.  From the drivers, the routes, even the buses themselves, to the bus riders, taking a bus may be the single best way to know a place.  And it’s ALWAYS an adventure.

                Whenever I get on a bus I try to have my seven pesos in the palm of my hand.  The bus drivers are so experienced at the payment transaction that they have the bus ticket in their hand before I reach them, so I press the peso coins into their hands as they hand me the ticket while simultaneously entering the flow of traffic and shifting gears.  If I have coins smaller than pesos (which I often do in order to get rid of them), then I am prepared for the less than thrilled look I get from the glaring bus driver.  Money is money, right?  But when you see the wobbly, open coin box in which the drivers must organize the coins, you will understand their dislike of these tiny centavo coins. 

The coin box is a simple square box with dividers running up and down.  The various coins fit in the various columns made by the dividers.  This box sits on a metal stand attached to the bus floor.  Many the time I have seen coins go flying after the driver took a tope with too much speed.  So then he steers the bus with his left hand, keeps the pedal to the metal, and bends over to collect the silvery specks from the bus’s floor.  I have more than once seen my life flash before my eyes during one of these occurrences, certain we would end up splattered across the back of the bus directly in front, becoming a gruesome addition to the Julio Iglesias concert ad, or being thrown through the window of the corner OXXO.

When we first arrived in Merida and began taking buses to the mall, the movies, or Costco, there we many times when my lunch did not remain firmly seated in my stomach – nor my own body, for that matter.  Some of the drivers are downright loco!  I’m never surprised when I see a bus accident.  Combine a large, metal bus with a powerful engine, the narrow streets of Merida, and a driver doing his best to get us all into heaven a little early (okay, I’ll probably go to Hell, but you get the idea), and you have a situation fraught with fright. 

There are basically two types of bus drivers:  The first is methodical and slow.  He stops at stop signs (a rarity for many Yucatecan drivers), keeps both hands on the wheel except when shifting, and makes gentle arrivals at his stops.  He is Ward Cleaver from “Leave It To Beaver”: Confident, kind, smiling, and all-knowing. 

“Do you pass Walmart?”

“I’ll stop right in front for you.”

Just the kind of driver you want running things.

The other is Jack Black on acid.  This guy must be paid by the fare, because it is his sworn duty to get around as many other buses as humanly possible, swerving the bus in and out of traffic as if he were driving a Maserati in his attempt to be the first to reach the next bus stop and its waiting riders.  He has a CD player belting out Techno-Pop from a very loud speaker on the dashboard.  He’s got a gallon of tea sitting between his seat and his side window, a bag of pork rind skins between his legs, and he’s steering the bus between all available lanes while stuffing skins in his mouth and taking a swig of tea as he grind-shifts gears and talks to his buddy sitting on the dashboard.  And when he stops to pick up or let off passengers (and he HATES to stop to let someone off the bus – such a waste of time!), he hits the brakes 10 feet from the stop;  the bus’s metal brakes screech like the best horror-movie scream queen and the bus hits its mark like it hit a brick wall.  God help anyone standing and not strapped to one of the hold bars.  I’ve seen women experience instant facelifts as their bodies were propelled forward and their skin left at the back of the bus. 

For the most part I seem to be oh-so-fortunate enough to always board a bus with a Mr. Black driving.  And I know that when those exit doors open I better hurl myself onto the sidewalk or the doors will quickly close and I’ll be stuck, half in and half out of the bus as the driver slams the gas pedal to the floor and I’m left hanging there, my head slapping every street sign as the bus speeds down the street.

These buses are something in and of themselves.  They are basically metal boxes sitting on a metal frame.  Whether these boxes are actually bolted to the frames I cannot say for certain.  One time we had to swerve around a bus in the road whose rear axle lay about 50 meters behind the rest of the bus.  I was not in the least surprised.  Some of these buses look and feel as if they have been on the road for 20 years.  The seats are graffiti-laden plastic sitting on metal frames that are usually bolted to the floor.  I say usually because I have actually sat in a seat that rocked back and forth as if I was on a roller coaster.  The entire two-seat assembly should have given up the ghost long ago, but, no, it kept rocking back and forth as the bus again and again jack-rabbit accelerated and brick-wall stopped.  One time there were no seats in a space where clearly there should have been.  I sat in the following row and when I looked down I was looking through the floor of the bus to the street. 

Windshields are often…no, usually broken.  (Don't let the photos fool you.)  Some have a crack or two while others are downright shattered.  Between the broken glass and the bus’s stops painted on the glass, I cannot see how the drivers can see through them.  And when it rains the drivers must be going on memory. 

The passenger windows are also often broken, and sometimes pieces of cardboard have replaced the missing glass.  And air conditioning?  Forgedaboudit.  If you are fortunate enough to board a bus with a/c, it will either be dripping water down onto the seats below it at the back of the bus, blowing hot air, and/or making so much noise that you’d rather be sitting in a classroom in the open desert as someone pulls their fingernails down a chalkboard. 

Recently a new bus company put 82 brand spankin’ new buses on the streets of Merida.  The first morning, one of them was totaled.  That afternoon I think I rode that bus to Costco.

I often wonder about the economics of city transportation in Merida.  I mean, who can make any money on just seven pesos (about 40 cents) per rider?  I suppose the city subsidizes the bus companies, who are all private, and I am very grateful.  We go to the movies for 40 cents each.  We go to the mall for 40 cents each.  We can even go all the way to a little pueblo, Dzitya, for 40 cents each.  So it is a service we appreciate.

The best part of riding Merida’s buses are the people.  They are wonderful.  High school students ride the buses home after school.  They are never impolite, loud, or rude.  When an elderly woman boards the bus they will rise and offer her their seat.  We also see a lot of young mothers with their babies.  The babies are never, ever crying or unhappy.  I can’t figure it out, but it is the truth.  Not like when we get on a plane and see a baby come on board and we have that “oh, no” dread.  The babies on the buses in Merida are content, happy, and full of wonder.  They look around to take in their surroundings and will smile at you if they make eye contact.  I wonder why they are different.

And no one stinks!  How can that be, you ask?  Well, I don’t know.  All I know is that I have been on many a bus that was crammed with people.  Every seat was filled, and the aisles were shoulder to shoulder.  The drivers will cram as many riders onto his or her bus as humanly possible, and often as inhumanely as possible.  But I have never had a bad experience with my nose.  I might have a case in court for frottage, but at least they smell good.  Everyone is very clean – perhaps more so than me – and almost everyone wears perfume or cologne.  Now I know a lot of people do not like perfumes or colognes on people in public places, but I very much appreciate it.  Makes for a very pleasant experience.

One characteristic I find very endearing and enlightening about people in the Yucatan is their generosity.  About twice per month we happen onto a bus where a street performer will be performing on the bus for coins.  We have seen singer/guitarists, magicians, and clowns, and I am always astonished as to the number of riders who pull out their coins and drop a few into the performers’ hands.  And that is true everywhere in Merida; Meridians who don’t have much themselves are very generous with what they do have.

We have learned several bus routes in our years in Merida.  We tend to use the same routes as we tend to need to go to the same places.  Our next goal is to expand our knowledge a bit and discover what other parts of Merida we can travel to on a bus.  We just have to make certain we bring our cups and hard hats.