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Tuesday, December 28, 2010




Recap: Despite a pledge to boycott Arizona because of its ethnic cleansing law, Mykel agrees to go to that state as part of a tour of Mexico. Mexican fans have put together a cover band of Mykel's old tunes (previous band: ARTLESS) and invited him to sing. He'll tour with Cojoba, a Puerto Rican band he loves... from New York.

Despite the worse case of jock itch he's ever had, Mykel, wearing a Fuck You Arizona t-shirt and combat boots, has boarded a plane for Phoenix. (His doctor warned him against those boots (but not the t-shirt). Mykel feels that ten days can't do much harm. Mykel will be wrong.)
On the plane, he sits next to a coughing/snot dripping yuppette. In a day, Mykel's got the bug... lodged in his chest as a stomach-wrenching, hacking, cough.

In Phoenix, Mykel meets up with Gilberto who he teaches to lie to get a car rental with a debit card.

Then on to Tucson.

There, he stays one night in Mexico-town with Güera (bass player of the ARTLESS cover band: Sin Arte) her dog Mona, a big guy named Beef, the band Cojoba, and Ivan from La Merma, another band that will tour with Sin Arte.
The first show is in Tijuana, a long drive from Tuscon. We've traveled in a rented car from Tuscon to San Diego. WE is Mykel, Gilberto the driver and tour organizer, and Cojoba. Sin Arte, won't be playing in Tijuana, but will be doing the rest of the shows in Mexico-- and a couple in Arizona.
It's a trolly from San Diego to the border. Then a long trip across the border, through a winding series of bridges and tunnels, through Mexican customs and immigration.

We're worried about being late. The show starts at 9. We're supposed to be at the club by 8. Our friends from Tijuana, in the band, VERBAL DESECRATION, are coming to meet us on the other side of the border. 
By this time, Mykel's boots are beginning to rub the back of his heels. Although the food is great, his cough is so severe, it's tough to keep down. And he reeks of the tea tree oil he's been applying to his balls for the jock itch. Between that and the cough drops he's constantly sucking, he smells like a eucalyptus forest.

We start this chapter just walking through the gates from Mexican immigration into the second most dangerous town in Mexico.

From the bridge to the town, Tijuana looks lit up. The city lights are bright against the night sky. The streets look alive... like a party's going on. Like a resort town in America. There are not a lot of people walking on those streets, but they are bright.

See that?” says Gilberto, pointing to a red arch way in the distance. “That's the marker. It's the gateway to the entertainment area where we're going to be playing.”

I love that he says we even though he and I will NOT be playing anything. It's like we're all one big family. Equal status. Yeah!

Wow,” I say. “That's far fuckin' away.”

Don't worry,” he says. “I spoke to Farinda and Alan. They're meeting us on a corner. Right down the street from immigration. In the parking lot of a Burger King. They've got a car. We could never make it on foot.”

Right down the street. Sure enough, there's a Burger King. A few cars are parked in the lot. No one we know.

Gilberto runs out, checks the street signs. Runs back. “This is the place,” he says.

This is NOT the place.

He makes a telephone call. I only understand a few words. Chiva (Mexican slang for beer.), tarde (late), Cómo debemos ir (how should we go?), esta muy lejos (it's very far).

They said we arrived too late,” says Gilberto after hanging up. “They went to the club, already. They have to get everything ready for the show.”

So how we gonna get there?” asks Ray. “This is the most dangerous city in North America...”

Second,” I correct him. “And not North America, Mexico.”

Ok,” he says. “But I don't want to just walk around the streets. Let's take a cab.”

We'll walk,” says Gilberto. “It isn't far, and I don't trust the taxi drivers here. They're worse than New York. You wanna pay seventy-five dollars to get driven around in circles... then mugged?”

I thought you said we could never make it on foot,” says Ray, “And look at all this stuff I have,” He points to his huge suitcase, sack of drum hardware, and SamsoniteTM cymbal case.

I only have a light backpack. “I'll take something,” I offer.

Ray hands me the cymbal case. It weighs half as much as I do. And we walk.

We walk up deserted streets. We walk up stairs. Over highway by-pass bridges. Down stairs on the other side. My boots cut into my legs... scrape my ankles... rub blisters into my heels.

We walk more. The scenery changes from touristy, to shady, to commercial. That arch that marks the start of the entertainment district never gets any larger. It just stands in the distance, always the same size, like we've taken a walk on a Moebius strip.

The pain in my legs, my ankles, my feet slows me down. The rest of the crew goes on ahead, leaving me lagging behind, by myself, in the most dangerous city in North America... second... in Mexico.

Before long, the blisters... instantly fully formed... burst and begin to ooze....

Now, I can barely hobble. The blood puddles under my feet. The boots have worn holes through the skin. Not only at my heel, but on the ankle. On the legs where the laces jam the top of the boots against my shin. It feels like my legs rest on two thawed packs of hamburger meat.

I can't go another step. I'll die.

There it is!” shouts Taina.

She points down the block at... at what? I don't see anything. Just a bunch of closed shops, with iron gates in front.

I'm going to die,” I say.

No really,” she says. “Right there. CHEZ BAR.”

I do see an old sign. Yellow and black, that says, CHEZ BAR. But the place is closed. Locked up. A big gate in front of the window. It looks like any other old building... gone out of business since the gringos were afraid to cross the border.

That place is shut,” I tell her. “It can't be right.”

She runs up to the door and bangs on it. Of course, nothing happens. She flings herself against the peeling wood. Shoulder to door, like in a cop show. Nothing happens.

Javier bangs on the gate in front of the window. Nothing happens. He bangs on the window.

I sit on the curb, unable to stand any longer.

Ray shakes his head. “Who organized this?” he says looking at his watch. “We were supposed to get here at 8. It's almost nine and the place is closed. What the fuck? You call this a tour?”

It's....” I start, but the pain of my bloody feet makes it too difficult to continue.

I know,” he says. “Punk rock.”

There is a noise from inside. A shuffling from behind the glass somewhere. A clomping, like someone in boots descending a staircase.

A tall guy in tight black jeans and a black leather jacket opens the door.

Que quieres?” he asks, looking like we just woke him up.

I'll translate the rest.

We're supposed to be playing here tonight,” Gilberto explains. “With Solution Mortal, Verbal Desecration, and maybe some other bands.”

We're Cojoba,” says Moe.

What's a cojoba?” asks the guy in black. “And there's no show here tonight. At least I never heard of it. Are you sure you have the right place?”

They don't know what we're talking about. They don't know anything about any show.

At least we can come inside and have a drink?” asks Gilberto in Spanish.

The guy shrugs, opens the door. We go in... up stairs... lots of them. Each step is agony on my bloody stumps. Somehow I make it to the top of the stairs and the bar. Inside the bar is a bartender, a few other guys in black, and us. That's it.

I'm sure this is the right place,” says Taina. “I remember the name.”

No creo que hay Punk Rock esta noche,” says the bartender.

What did he say,” Ray asks me.

You don't want to know,” I tell him.

Gilberto buys us each a beer.

While absorbing the reality of show? what show? I scope the place out. First, the mensroom.

For those who don't know me, I have to confess to a fault. I'm pee shy. It's been that way my whole life. No matter how much beer I drink, I can't let loose if someone is standing next to... or even near... me. Once the flow starts, it'll just stop right up if someone moves close enough. I usually use the stall. Even if the door doesn't shut, the wall protects me enough to start the flow.

And now, I've got this horrible jock itch. Whenever I go, I have to take out more than the usual and scratch. Scratch until I bleed! Any casual observer is gonna think I'm jerking off. I'll get busted for whatever it is they bust guys for when then jerk off in the bathroom.

I used to think the worst possible mensrooms are the ones where there are no urinals, but just a big open trench. Everybody's right in every body else's business. With only one stinky toilet, you could wait for hours. Yeah I used to think that was the worst, until I see the mensroom at Chez Bar.

This picture is NOT taken through the open door of the mensroom. There IS NO DOOR on the mensroom. That's it. Just a filthy tough with a drain. NOTHING ELSE. No door. No nothing. It's in full view of everybody.

If I ever have to go... I won't be able to. I'll fill up. Explode like an over-filled water balloon. POW! Blood and piss everywhere. I already had one beer.

I limp over to Taina. “I'm gonna die,” I tell her.

She doesn't get it.

I need protection,” I explain.

You can get condoms in the pharmacy next door,” she says. “Who'd you meet?”

No,” I tell her. Then I explain my problem.

Don't worry, Mykel,” she says. “I'll protect you.”

So, while rich drug dealers and corporate execs have their personal body guards, I have my P-GUARD! Just by standing in the doorway, Taina saves the night... more than once in that club.

I take care of my first needs while Taina stands guard. Over the flow, I hear Gilberto on the phone. I don't catch the words, but he speaks in that tone people use when they leave a message... not when they're talking to a real person.

After shaking off, one source of discomfort (temporarily) relieved, I limp over to Gilberto.

I tried to call,” he says. “but there's no answer. I left a message.”

I can't walk,” I tell him. “If there's no show, we're sleeping here tonight.”

There's a show,” says Gilberto.

Didn't you have a back-up?” asks Ray. “What are we gonna do?”

About this time some white people walk in. A bunch of them. Guys and girls. They look like college kids. Shorts, sandals. They're carrying instruments. Keyboards, saxophone, accordian, all kinds of stuff. Do they think it's polka band night?

You thought there was a show tonight too?” I ask as they huddle in a corner and speak English.

Huh?” says a friendly guy with a scruffy beard.

By now it's ten o'clock. Two hours after the “starting time,” and the club isn't opened yet. We're tired and angry. Gilberto has tried calling the guys from V.D... several times... voice mail... and more voicemail...

And I thought those guys were our friends. They slept on my floor. They drank my booze. I jerked off to a picture of the guitar player... and they “set this up,” then abandoned us. What the...?

A clomping comes on the stairs. Guess who? Fuck those guys. Am I pissed! I'm gonna tell 'em off. And then I see their smiling faces. Remember this is Mexico... and punk rock in Mexico at that... and suddenly, I don't think I've ever been so happy to see anyone as I am to see those guys.

The doors to the club open. Slowly a crowd comes in. The white guys play. They're a band called Thrash Attack. Despite the weird instrumentation, the music is really punkrock, if a bit... er... experimental.

Next comes Verbal Desecration, with one of their greatest shows... (until the next). Alan, the drummer, and one of the thousands of people who've slept in my apartment will also play in Solution Mortal. More about them later. Right now, Verbal Desecration takes the stage.

I don't know how they do it, but no matter the day, place, time, this band has the energy of a dozen other bands. I guess it does take a lot out of them, though. After their set, Alex, the bass player, naps through the rest of the bands with a pretty girl sleeping on him as a blanket.

Then Cojoba...I don't know how they did it... they must've hidden some... er... energy booster in a guitar case.

But they too manage to play a wild show after traipsing the same traips I traipsed, through the wilds of Arizona, Mexico, and the streets of Tijuana.

The crowd loves all the bands, and the pit is boisterous, fun, and what can I say? It's what punk rock's all about.

After Cojoba comes Solution Mortal. They are one of the reasons I came to Mexico. I've “known” S.M. since 1984, when I produced an international sampler cassette for ROIR. Called World Class Punk, it had bands from 23 different countries. Solution Mortal was the only band from Mexico-- and one of my favorites. I've probably paid them 73¢ in royalties by now... and never met 'em. Letters, checks, everything through the mail... for almost thirty years, and here we are meeting for the first time.

And these guys. As old as me... almost. Still playing punk rock. Jorge, Alan's brother, leaning so far out into the crowd it almost defies gravity. Singing with such an intensity. Everything with such an intensity. I forget my pain... for the moment. And go out there on the dancefloor, fists flying. Baddabadda. Baddabadda. Baddabadda. Baddabadda. BOOM! Baddabadda. Baddabadda. Baddabadda. Baddabadda. BOOM!

I'm not sure what it is with these Mexicans. Maybe it's all the beans and bad water. They just fart and shit out whatever it is about getting old that makes you short of breath, long on pain, turns your balls red and your feet to ground beef. They keep it up so much better than the gringos across the border. Maybe that's one reason the gringos are afraid of them. 

During Solution Mortal's set, a friendly, very drunken older guy comes up to me. Long hair, half closed eyes, he lumbers over to me and gives me a big hug.

¿Tu me recuerdas?” he asks.

It's obvious from my squint that I don't recuerdo.

It's me, Guicho,” he says in English. “I slept on your couch.”

Everybody slept on my couch,” I tell him.

He looks hurt that I don't remember him. Gilberto steps in to save me.

He's from Sociedad Discriminada,” he says. “Remember Mykel? It was THAT NIGHT.”

Jeezus! How could I forget? They played ABC NO RIO and got me the drunkest I've ever been without requiring immediate medical attention. They wouldn't let me pay for anything. Just kept buying the booze. One after the other. It's like my rich Tio from South of the Border shows up to show his nephew a good time. The hangover the next day DID require immediate medical attention... or at least that's what it felt like.

Ah claro,” I say. “Ahora me recuerdo. ¿Cómo podría olvidarlo?”

He laughs and we take a few pictures. Then Sociedad Discriminada, plays. A bitchin' set with the same political masks they used so well in New York.

After the last band plays the last notes of the night. We three drunken oldsters drink together. We talk about how many people didn't make it. Who died, who's almost dead, and who should be dead. That's what old people (and punk rockers) talk about. Old men in general talk about their prostates and how prices have gone up so much... Tonight, we are not old men in general... but we are old.

Wadda way to start the tour. Wadda great show. Now, we've got to get to Guaymas for the next show. THAT is a fifteen hour ride. Then immediately on stage. Sleep on the way. That's it. Sin Arte, “my band,” will debut. My first show in Mexico.

Right now, we don't know how we're getting to the next town. We left the van in San Diego. We're all drunk, as is everyone else in the bar.

There are 6 of us (Cojoba, Me, and Gilberto), plus a shitload of stuff. And I'm a cripple. So how are we going to manage the trip? Stand on the street and hitchhike from the most dangerous town in North America?... Ok second... in Mexico

You should have planned this better,” says Ray after we get out of the club and are standing on the street with our bags. “What are we gonna do now?”

More later.

[This is part 4 of Mykel's Mexican adventure. To read the rest:

The story of the Yellow Chili Pepper is here.

(Want even MORE Mykel? Check out his home page!)  

Monday, December 13, 2010

MEXICO THREE: The Road to Tijuana

The Road To Tijuana 

Quick recap: Despite a pledge to boycott Arizona because of it's ethnic cleansing law, Mykel agrees to go to that state as part of a tour of Mexico. Mexican fans have put together a cover band of Mykel's old tunes (previous band: ARTLESS) and invited him to sing. He'll tour with Cojoba, a Puerto Rican band he knows from New York.

Despite the worse case of jock itch he's ever had, Mykel, in his Fuck You Arizona t-shirt and combat boots, has boarded a plane for Phoenix. (His doctor warned him against those boots, but Mykel feels that ten days can't do much harm. he will be wrong.)

On the plane, Mykel sits next to a coughing/snot dripping yuppette. He immediately catches her disease. In Phoenix , Mykel meets up with Gilberto who he teaches to lie to get a car rental with a debit card.

Then on to Tucson.

As we start this entry, Mykel has made the trip to Tucson where he has stayed one night in Mexico-town with Güera ( bass player of the ARTLESS cover band: Sin Arte), her dog Mona, a big guy named Beef, the band Cojoba, and Ivan from La Merma, another band that will tour with Sin Arte.
The first show is in Tijuana, a long drive from Tuscon. And Tucson is where we start this story:

The plan is to get up at 8, hit the road by 9 and drive leisurely from Tucson to Tijuana.We can be at the show just at 8 when the first band will go on. It's the only show that Sin Arte won't play, but among the bands scheduled that night  is SOLUCION MORTAL. A band I've known through mail correspondence for more than 20 years!! It's a reunion, and one I don't want to miss.

Up at 8? Who are you kidding? These are punk rockers... and MEXICANS (mostly). The only time they see 8AM is when they stay up for it. At about 9:30 we groggily make our way to the corner Tacqueria. Anna's. (Best tortillas in town, and that's not only my word.)

I try speaking Spanish to the owners of the place, but they answer me in English. Maybe they think I'm the Arizona secret police trying to entrap them into revealing their alien identities.

We order tacos and coffee and by 10:30 are back at Güera's and almost packed. Of course, tacos and coffee do what tacos and coffee do, so there is a line at the bathroom. Unfortunately, I'm last on line, and equally unfortunately I forget to bring my gasmask.

If I was starting to cough from my tubercular plane neighbor, I'm now near vomiting. And those spices! They're great going in, but coming out.... ¡Ay, caramba!

It's gonna be 12 hours from Tuscon to Tijuana...

Hey Mykel,” breaks in Gilberto. “It doesn't take 12 hours from Tucson to Tijuana. It takes 7 hours... 8 if we have to wait at the border. Waddaya talking about?”

It's the story,” I tell him. “It's gotta sound good or it'll be boring.”

Don't worry,” he tells me. “It won't be boring.”

So at eleven AM we're off in Gilberto's Phoenix-rented van.

Before we leave, Donn, the Sin Arte drummer who is not making the trip, suggests stopping in Yuma.

It's a weird little town,” he said. “You gotta go to Mr. G's. It's got the best refried beans in Arizona. You'll love 'em!"

From the best tortillas to the best refried beans. Okay, we'll see.

In the van, I DON'T get the hump. Being 5 foot 3 inches and... er... small boned, I ALWAYS get the hump. 

This is a bit of luck that portends trouble ahead. I hate it when something good happens. It means something awful will happen later to make up for it. Not much goes on between Tuscon and Yuma except a bunch of cactus. 

And some really weird mountains that look like God just piled a bunch of stones on top of each other until they were big enough to make a mountain... Then moved on to the next pile of stone.

Ray complains about the tight quarters and the long drive. He thinks things should have been better planned. It's his first tour, so he has yet to learn that every complaint, everything that goes wrong, every pain, fuck-up and annoyance is PUNK ROCK.

About three hours later we're at Mr. G's

  It's not really too impressive: a drive in with a Pepsi sign bigger than the restaurant sign.

Inside is a long line waiting to be served. We are the only people here who wear less than a size 52 belt. Well, some of them don't wear belts.

One guy, gray crewcut, Diamondbacks t-shirt, wears his jeans so low he could be on a NY guy from the hood. Except, that those jeans have a belt. Pulled tight below his huge belly. He looks like a balloon tied at the bottom. I wonder if there's any circulation in his legs.

There are three menus on the wall and you can choose one. One of the others has expired and the third one... I don't get.

Ray doesn't look to happy with the exotic food: fish tacos, refried beans. All kinds of delights. 
Ahead of us on line is a cop. In uniform, weighing in at about 300 pounds. The flab from under his chin hangs to his chest. His face is nearly hairless, like an adolescent's, though his body says he's in his late 30s. His right cheek sports a band-aid. But I can't imagine it came from a shaving accident. I can't imagine him shaving.

So what's good?” I ask him.

He smiles... grins actually. Not a malicious, cop-like grin, but a real howdy stranger it's nice to meet you grin. It's infectious.

It's all good,” he says. “This place used to be a little bitty place. But they's so good. They jus' expanded. Clean cross the road. Yessir, it's all good.”

I heard about the refried beans,” I tell him. “They're famous.”

Oh yeah,” he says, “get them. But the hamburgers. They got hamburgers here... Hoooeeey.” He clicks his tongue. “You get a wet mouth just thinkin; 'bout 'em.”

Ray orders a hamburger

I get a fish taco and, of course, the refried beans.

They are good. They look like my morning experience in the Tucson bathroom, but the taste! I don't know how they do it. Something about the pork fat or the chili. Wow! If I weren't boycotting Arizona, I'd eat this stuff. Ah, wait a minute, I AM eating this stuff. Ok, I feel guilty, but it is fuckin' good.

Ray is off in the fixin's corner with the cop. They're chatting up a storm. Ray's laughing. The cop's laughing. 

They're old friends. The cop says bye to him... then to us... then walks out the door.

What were you talking about?” I ask him. “You sure got along well.”

He told me I look like Eddie Murphy,” says Ray. “I told him he looked like Andy Griffith.”

After Mr. G's we get back in the car and head for San Diego. There's more cactus. More rocks. Some pretty nice scenery. From Arizona we immigrate to California.

We have to stop at the gate while the uniformed people check us out, and maybe tear the car apart. They are looking for neither drugs nor Mexicans.

Are you carrying any fruits or vegetables?” says the Agricultural officer at the border.

No sir,” says Gilberto.

Ok, you can go,” he says.

In San Diego we head for the airport. We have to return the car in the U.S., then figure out how we're going to get to Tijuana. First, we follow the signs for the airport. Then, we find that the car rental space is miles away from the airport. We hit the first airport sign just as we approach San Diego. Then there's a sign for CAR RENTAL RETURNS with an arrow pointing right. We turn right. Nothing. Just a long empty road for a mile or two. Then a tiny sign CAR RENTAL RETURNS with an arrow pointing left. We turn left. This right-left-right continues for miles. Finally we get to a large sign with an arrow straight ahead. (Actually it points up, but we assume it means straight ahead.) CAR RENTAL RETURNS THIS WAY. And here we come to a huge parking lot... several parking lots. Each rental company has it's own set of spaces.

What's the name of the rental company?”asks Gilberto.

How the fuck should I know?” I tell him.
“You rented the car.”

Well, it started with A, I know that.” he says.


He shakes his head.



It was Advantage,” he says with italics. “I think we passed it awhile ago.”

Once we find the place, there is no trouble returning the car, though we lied when we rented it. We (actually, Gilberto) did have to pay a drop-off fee, but that was expected. From the car rental office we take a van back to the airport. I ask the driver the best way to get to Tijuana.

There's a cheap city trolley,” he says.“The Blue Line. It goes right to the border.”

How do we get it?” I ask.

Don't tell anyone I told you,” he says, “but if you take the Alamo van to the Alamo office, the trolley is right next to them. It's easy. You guys have bags. You look like you're going to rent a car. Just get in the Alamo van like you're customers. It's no problem.”

I thank the driver, then we get out of the Advantage van.

I explain the situation to the gang. We wait for the Alamo van. We don't have to wait long. When it pulls up, Gilberto goes in first.

Does this van go to the Blue Line?” he asks.

The driver shakes his head. “This van is for Alamo customers only. Sorry. You'll have to take a taxi.” and he waits until we get out.

What the fuck?” I yell at Gilberto after the van pulls away. “We've got 6 people and all that baggage. It'll cost a fortune to take a taxi.”

I guess I fucked up,” he says. “But let's just wait here for the next Alamo bus.”

Are you kidding?” I say. “It'll be who knows how long til the next bus. Besides, I know how this works. It'll be the same driver. You think he won't remember six Hispanic punkrockers with instruments... and me? We stick out like a chili pepper hemorrhoid. Come on, let's find a cab.”

Ray shakes his head. “This should have been better planned,” he said. “You had all this time. You could have arranged something in advance.”

You're right,” I tell him.

You're such an idiot.” I tell Gilberto. “We cudda been there by now, and you have to go spoil it by asking stupid questions. It's so obvious. We're gonna be late for the show in Tijuana. Are those guys gonna wait for us at the border if we show up at 8? The show starts at 8! What were you thinking?”

I'm on a roll.

Don't you know when to keep quiet. Is that a Mexican thing...” you don't want to know the rest.

It's punkrock.” He tells me.

So we wait. It's about fifteen minutes before the next Alamo bus shows up. It is NOT the same driver.

Alamo car pick-up?” he asks.

Yes,” I answer, giving Gilberto a little kick as we enter the van.

Yo se. Yo se.” he says to me.

When we arrive at Alamo, Moe needs to relieve herself and rushes into the rental office to use the facilities. I tell the rest of the gang to wait outside (and scope out THE BLUE LINE) while I check on the rental. I walk inside.

Can I help you?” asks a cheery young woman as I walk in the door.

I want to check on a rental,” I say.

She motions to the counter and I walk up and ask the nice bespectacled lady if she has my reservation for a van for today.

What's the name?” she asks.

Diego Rivera,” I tell her.

I'm thrilled when it doesn't even raise an eyebrow. I've been dreaming about the day when this Latino thing would rub off on me. Once a Dominican friend told me I was an honorary Hispanic. But can I actually pass? That would be a dream come true.

I'm sorry Mr. Rivera,” says the woman. “But I can't find your reservation...”

Just at this time, Moe comes out of the Ladies Room. I call to her.
Honey,” I say, “there seems to be a problem with our reservation.”
She catches on immediately. Plays along like it was rehearsed. (What a woman!)

See dear, I told you it wasn't Alamo," she says. " I'm pretty sure it was Avis.” 

Really, darling,” I say. “I think it was Alamo. But maybe we'd better check with the others outside.”
All this time, the woman behind the counter is smiling in sympathy with our predicament. I turn to her.

This is a bit embarrassing,” I tell her.

That's all right, honey,” she says. “You check and come back. Even if you don't have a reservation, we can help you.”

You may be right, Frida,” I say to Moe, who takes me by the arm. We walk out. Meet up with the others (who've discovered where the trolley station is)... and head down the hill to that station.

Buying our tickets in a vending machine, we're on the trolley and at the border in no time. In order to get to Mexico, we have to cross a highway, then go through a maze of tunnels and bridges to immigration, dragging instruments and luggage all the way. Ray has his drum hardware, cymbals, and a huge suitcase. Moe has her guitar, and a smaller suitcase. Javier has his guitar and a backpack. Gilberto, Tainia, and I have backpacks only.

You were great back there,” I tell Moe. “You go to acting school or what?”
She laughs. “Comes naturally,” she says.

We talk some more while we walk the maze to immigration. It turns out that both of us have new passports and we want them stamped at the border. We heard that some people just go through and don't get stamped. I know from experience, though, that if you ask for an immigration stamp, you'll get one.

As we walk, I notice that my boots are beginning to rub against my heel, like new shoes do. That's not supposed to happen. These are old boots. Not worn in awhile, but still old. Ah well, it's not so serious, and the walk is not long. We're going to meet our friends from VERBAL ABUSE just on the other side of the border. They'll be giving us a ride to the club. After all, this is Tijuana... the second most dangerous town in Mexico... and that's saying a lot. We're certainly not going to walk the streets without knowing where we're going.

After an interminable walk just through the immigration maze, we arrive at the customs area.

Just tell them you're going in for one night.” says Gilberto. “We have our instruments because we are playing at someone's birthday party. Got that?”

We all nod.

No problem,” I say.

So we get to the border. Gilberto leads the way. Most of the others crossing are Mexicans going home for the weekend. There are a few college students from San Diego looking to buy drugs or drink at 16. Our crew looks as suspicious as an airplane headed for the World Trade Center.
(Here's the band IN Tijuan.. Farinda was not with us at the border crossing... still pretty shady, huh?)
The path forks strangely on the other side of the bridge. By this time, I'm starting to limp because of the strange pressure of my boots against my heel and leg. Gilberto leads us along the right branch of the fork.

Of course, we're stopped by some guys in uniform. The guards ask Javier and Ray to open their bags. They look at the instruments and ask if we're going to be working in Mexico.

Oh no,” Javier tells 'em in Spanish. “Our friend lives in Tijuana. We're just playing at her birthday party.”

He waves us through.

The rest of us pass easily, although along the march to the exit, we're required to push a button that lights up either green or red. It's supposed to be random, but I swear I see an agent's leg twitch at each press of the button. Like she's controlling the process.

Once inside the country, I remember that our passports weren't stamped.

Let's get 'em stamped,” I say to Moe.

She agrees and since her Spanish is better than mine (born in The Bronx, but her family's from The Dominican Republic... which accounts for the WOW), she asks a man in uniform how we go about it.

The nice immigration agent points to the other side of the fork. Moe, carrying her guitar, and I walk over there. 

We face a long line of windows. Through some we can see empty offices. Others have bored or eager-looking young bureaucrats behind them. We ask at one, the man behind it, pale-faced with a white shirt and loosened tie, points down to another. Then another. Finally we end up in an office.

Behind a desk sits a middle-aged guy. Glasses, thinning hair, he could work in any government office anywhere in the world. Moe does the talking. I understand about half of what she says. Trabajo (work) fiesta de cumpleaños (birthday party) no vamos a trabajar o tocar en un lugar público (we're not going to work or play in a public place)... you get the idea. It takes some time, but eventually he stamps our passports and wishes us a good time in Mexico.

We walk back to meet the others.

There they are!” shouts Taina when she sees us emerge from around the corner.

Where were you?” asks Ray. “We thought you were kidnapped by druglords. Jeezus. You just disappeared without telling anyone.”

We were just talking with the officials,” I explain. “We wanted to get our passports stamped, but they gave us a lot of shit about working in Mexico and stuff like that.”

You what?” says Gilberto. “Fuck! That's just what I wanted to avoid. First, we were worried about you. Second, we don't want them to have a record of us. That shit can stay with you. You're such an idiot.” He tells me. “We cudda been there by now, and you have to go spoil it by getting your passports stamped? It's so obvious. We're gonna be late for the show in Tijuana. Are those guys gonna wait for us at the border if we show up at 8? The show starts at 8! What were you thinking?”

He's on a roll.

Don't you know when to just keep walking. Is that a gringo thing?...” you don't want to know the rest.

It's punkrock.” I tell him.

--More later.

[This is part 3 of Mykel's Mexican adventure. To read the rest:

The story of the Yellow Chili Pepper is here.

Friday, December 10, 2010

MEXICO TWO: Viva la corrupción! (Long Live Corruption)


Man's need for rules and his propensity to follow them is equaled only by his desire to reject rules and be free of them. --Thomas Szasz

I meant to blog this trip chronologically, but certain events connect dots bigger than those connected by the simple scythe-carrying Chronos. Sometimes those events change the way you think. An epiphany, the Christians call it. A flash of insight that makes you realize something you've never considered before. Take corruption. I used to think it was a bad thing.

Here are three stories:

Guaymas: (Northern Mexicans don't like to pronounce G's when they start words. So the town is pronounced Why Mas? I say, Why not?) I wasn't exactly in the middle of this story there, but heard about it from Gilberto. Here's Story 1.

It's late. Sometime after the show. There are weird laws in Mexico. You're allowed to drink in the bar, but not in the attached music hall. After 10 you can drink anywhere. You can only buy beer retail until 9PM. After that you can only drink in a bar... until 10, when you can also drink in a music hall.

We'd just driven 15 or so hours to get to this town. From Tijuana. By now, beers were needed by all. While the early bands played, those of us not playing ran back and forth from the bar to the band area. I'll have some details of that show later. Sin Arte, the Mexican version of Artless, had to cancel. Ivan, the bass player, was evicted from his Arizona apartment that day, and had to move to Tuscon. It was gonna be our first show. Sad.

Some of us went out to stock up on booze before the stores closed. We hear there are a couple illegal places that sell after hours, but only Gilberto has the details.

I drank while Cojoba plays. Despite 38 seconds of sleep the night before, they played a good show. Also playing is one of my favorite bands in the world, VERBAL DESECRATION. I've probably already said it, but I'll say it again. Alan Jr., the singer, is one of the best performers in punk rock today. I could watch him all year.

Gilberto, who had driven the whole way, was enjoying beer number I can't count. I was racing back and forth from bar to stage, Gulping from a can of Tecate and then racing back to see the band. Suddenly, Gilberto disappears to buy some of that illegal late nite booze.

(On the left, you can see Gilberto with his RELAX GRINGO I'M LEGAL t-shirt with Taina, singer of Cojoba.)
When he returns, here's what he tells me:

He's driving along the streets of Guaymas, no idea where he's going. Completely sloshed, with a truck full of illegally bought beer. He' careening our pick-up truck right and left across the streets of the town which is pretty much shut up for the night.


The flashing red and blue lights in the rear-view mirror. Uh oh. The cop gets out, flashlight in hand. He's not a big guy, slightly chubby, a bit haggard looking. I'll translate the conversation for the gringos.

Cop: You know why I stopped you?
Gilberto: I...uh... I... who? Where am I?
Cop: I think you were maybe having something to drink? And you maybe were buying it after hours?
Gilberto: I... uh... huh?
Cop: You know, I've had a long night. Just give me money for a cup of coffee and then get out of here.
 Gilberto hands him 20 pesos (about $1.80). The cop shakes his head, gets back in the cop car and takes off. Somehow Gilberto finds his way back to the club.

Story 2. We've just been to a beach near Guaymas. Only Ray actually went in the water. The rest of us just took our shoes off and played with the scorpions in the sand. We were with Sabo, aka The Buddha of Guaymas. He's a really fat guy whose nicknames for everyone catch on immediately. Ray is Michael Jordon. I'm Pinche Viejo Mariguano, (loosely translated: Old Stoner). 

The waitress at a seaside restaurant is Verijas Lilas (Purple Snatch). On our only free day Sabo takes us on a tour of the area. He has his own pick-up truck. Moe and Ray ride inside, the rest of us in back.

Taina & Javiar in the back of the party truck.

What a glorious trip! Riding in the back of a pick-up. 6 people, among the cactus and desert. Mountains and sea. Downing can after can of Tecate. Wow! Did I feel Mexican! Here's a toast to Mexico and Mexicans! We all raise our cans to the passing cars. It's a steep road from the beach to the highway. It takes careful maneuvering, quiet, sober, thoughtful.

Then there's us. SLAP! Sabo hits the curb. We back up. BAALOO BAALOO! Some one leans on a horn behind us. We toast him too. We're off. Down hill. Seems like we're going pretty fast. Do the breaks work? SCREEEE!

BLAM! We're all thrown to the back of the truck. I manage to grab kind of lead pipe that keeps me from being flung over. I guess the breaks DO work.

BLAM, we hit the curb on the other side.

Careening through the street, toasting every cute chiquita and necktied businessman we see. Salud! Salud! (I try Potato Salud!) but nobody gets it. We all grab more beers. I don't know how they do it, but Mexicans have developed an endless sixpack, similar to the bottomless cup of coffee at IHOP. You take a beer out of the cardboard and there are still six beers left. It's magic! The beer just keeps coming.

Uh oh, we're suddenly in a land of strip malls, McDonalds, Walmarts. Did we cross the border and not even know it? We park in a parking lot. Sabo and Moe go into THE GENERIC GIANT SUPERMARKET to do some shopping. The rest of us wait in the lot, sitting in the back of the truck, continuing to exploit the endless sixpack. A car pulls up next to us. It's a black and white car, with lights on top. Uh oh.

Three cops get out. Two short ones, about my height. One taller with heavy jowls and a bad complexion.

Although Taina and Javiar both speak perfect Spanish, they are Puerto Rican and their accents would stand out like a hard-on in church. Gilberto, our only real Mexican, gets out to talk to the cops. He speaks to the big one. I translate.

Gilberto: Hello. Is there a problem?
Cop: You know there is a problem. You were all drinking. Where's the driver?
Gilberto: He went inside with a friend. They're going to buy groceries.
Cop: We can take you all to jail. If anyone is drinking in a car or drinking in public we have the right to take you to jail.
Gilberto: Come on. I'm Mexican. I know you can't do that.
Cop: Okay, you're right. But we can make trouble. We can wait for the driver and take him to jail.
Gilberto: I understand. How's a hundred pesos (about $9)?
The cop nods.

Gilberto hands him the money. The cops go on their way. And the party continues.

Story 3: Agua Prieta is a dusty Mexican town just across the border from Douglas Arizona... a dusty American town. It's where Gilberto's aunt and uncle live and it's now one of my favorite places in the world. According to Gilberto, it's controlled by the drug cartels, and all the fancy restaurants, bars and clubs in town are owned by them. Gilberto's uncle owns the best “non-drug cartel” restaurant in town. You'll read more about this amazing city in future entries. It's filled with colorful characters, a great strip club, and the world's only BURGER QUEEN.

Right now I need to introduce you to one of the local characters: Barichu. He's a tall handsome guy in his mid-20s. He wears a black leather jacket, is talkative, and notorious in this small town. His picture was on the front page of several local newspaper... under the headline: POSSESSED BY DRUGS? OR BY SATAN? The story tells how he started yelling at the police and as they surrounded him. He pulled out a plastic gun and shouted BANG! BANG! at them. In America he'd be dead. 

Another paper talked about "Fire Arms Threat to Police" without mentioning (in the headline) that it was plastic:

In Mexico, he got beat up and thrown in jail for awhile. Check out the bandaged nose. Every cop in town knows the guy. He often suffers from black eyes and bloody noses. 

One of the many other reasons I like him is he said to me “Mykel, tu eres una leyenda aquí.” A third reason is that he's known as “Sonora's GG Allin.” (Sonora is the Mexican state where this blog entry takes place.) One of his more notorious tricks was to pound dried dogshit into a powder... and snort it.

Here's a picture of me and Barichu in front of the strip club, Guau Guau, in Aqua Prieta.

So it's the middle of the night. We've been at the strip club (boy, THAT'S a story) finished a couple buckets of beer, seen... well you'll hear later. Right now we're piled in Gilberto's rent-a-car. He's driving. There's me and Barichu in the back, rolling a joint from a shoebox full of weed. Gilberto is in the front with Paige, a visiting friend from Boston, and another local guy whose name I can't remember. 

The town looks deserted. Good thing too, as we're careening across the street, from side to side, like a stripper's hips against a pole. Up ahead is a red light.

Go! Go!” shouts Barichu in Spanish. “There's no one around. Just go.”

Er... I don't think that's a good idea,” I say. “Cops don't sleep at night. They may be looking for...”

Gilberto steps on the gas, ending me mid-sentence. FOOOOOOT. Right through the red light. And the next red light. And the next. Although it's physically impossible to drive both on the right and the left sides of the street simultaneously, Gilberto does it. I cover my eyes.

I do not cover my ears, however, and so hear the police sirens coming from behind us. I knew it.

We stop. Pull over. Lights flash in the rearview mirror. Gilberto gets out of the car. Jeezus, drunk driving, running three lights, speeding. It'll probably cost us $20 to get out of this one. Then Barichu gets out of the car.

I hear some yelling behind us. Some shouting. Lots of Spanish words I don't know. What sounds like boots stomping in mud. Suddenly a cop gets into the driver's seat of our car, the place vacated by Gilberto. He wears no hat, but he does wear a turtle neck sweater. Pulled up high, the turtle neck covers most of his face. Everything except the eyes. He looks like a giant uncircumcised penis... the glans just peeking through above the foreskin. With three of us in the car, he starts it and drives... somewhere.

You're taking us home?” asks Paige.

Wishful thinking.

Without a word to us, the cop pulls over... somewhere. It's even more deserted than the already deserted center of town. He gets out of the car. A few seconds later, Gilberto gets in the car and kneels on the front seat.

Barichu pissed them off. We got to get a thousand pesos together or we go to jail,” he says.

Barichu gets in the back seat. The rest of us pull out our wallets. I've got 300. The guy whose name I forget kicks in a couple hundred. Gilberto puts in what he has. Paige has no pesos, but throws in about thirty U.S. dollars. Barichu yells at all of us. he has no money. 

Gilberto counts what we give him. Twice. “I think we got it.” he says. “Let's hope so.”

Barichu yells at him.

Outside, there is more talking. Barichu gets out of the car again. Uh oh, this is gonna do it. I'm gonna spend the night getting buttfucked by the Frito Bandito. But no. They got their money. They let us go.

Barichu and Gilberto get back in the car. Barichu says he wants to move to Boston where Gilberto lives because the cops here always beat him up. I tell him that in Boston he'd be dead. He doesn't believe me.

On the trip back to Gilberto's uncle's house, I think about corruption. Three times. In the U.S. each one would've landed us in the slammer. We'd have to spend days in court, probably get licenses taken away, have a criminal record, spend thousands on fines and lawyers fees, and what do the cops get for their work? Bubkas.

In Mexico, we're stopped by the cops three times. All for legitimate reasons. It costs us a total of around $60 dollars to get off. (I later found out that Gilberto gave the last cops only $50, telling 'em they weren't worth a hundred.) Every cent of that goes into a hard-working cop's pocket. We have no criminal records (at least not here in Mexico). No time in jail. That is corruption. And contrary to what I'd long thought, I now say.


[This is part 2 of Mykel's Mexican adventure. To read the rest:

The story of the Yellow Chili Pepper is here.