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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.

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