The Other Side of Paraiso

The wind in Rosarito has been relentless this month. It’s usually a straight north wind, blowing down the beach, but sometimes coming in off the ocean. Some days, the wind will blow in opposite directions at the same time, a Santa Ana blowing in from the desert colliding with the breeze coming on-shore. Alfredo, one of the security guards at my building, assured me that the wind dies down in the summer. I hope so. Some people hate the cold, some people hate humidity, or heat; I hate the wind. It’s always bugged me. Even one of the vatos was bitching about it the other day and since he can’t even afford a pack of cigarettes, you’d think he’d have bigger things to worry about. “Hace fucking viento”, he said to me when I walked past, right before asking for a couple of smokes.

There have been a couple of other incidents in the past month I’ve struggled with, too. The other day at the ATM outside a Banamex, a man approached me and asked if the machine dispensed American money or Mexican. WTF? I told him that it only dispensed pesos. “No, no, no!”, he replied. That’s when I noticed another guy approaching the ATM, and I knew immediately what was going on. The first guy was going to show me on his machine how to convert pesos to dollars, while the other man was about see if I’d already typed in the  PIN on my machine. The reason I knew this was because the same thing happened to me at the same ATM last fall. That time a man explained to me that my ATM wasn’t working but that his was. I’m not exactly sure how he had tampered with it, but sure enough when I tried to get some cash the display screen ask me to try again another time. I had already typed in my PIN, of course. When I moved over to the other machine, I was told again that the bank was unable to process my request and to try another time. That’s because the helpful asshole’s partner had already entered the kiosk and hit up my bank account for the daily maximum of 3000 pesos on the ATM I was originally using. This I found out the next morning when I went on-line to see my account. 

So the second incident fell under the category of “Fool me once, shame on you.” This time the two guys scattered when I put on my psycho face and screamed at them that I knew exactly what they were up to. I’ve since learned that this is one of the more common rip-offs down here, and learning this pissed me off even more than loosing the the 3000 clams. To know that I’d been victimized by a scam that was usually aimed at Canadian housewives on holiday in Mexico was a serious blow to my own sense of street cred. “But you’re about the most street wise guy I’ve ever known!” a friend said to me after the first incident. Well, apparently not.

Something else happened just this past weekend. My son Jack came down to visit, so I took him on a food-tasting tour of the area. We wanted ceviche, so we went to the nearby village of Popotla, where the fish goes right from panga to plate. We chose the most popular stall on the beach and waited our turn to order. And waited. And waited. There were two people behind the table: a young guy shucking oysters and a woman preparing the ceviche. While we waited, others came to the table and were promptly served. Still, my son and I remained vigilently patient. Finally our order was taken–four tostadas and a beer–and the ceviche was promptly delivered. But not the beer. Again, we stood there for a good 5 minutes before finally giving up on the beer and taking a seat at a plastic table in the sand. The beer never arrived.  

When it was time to pay up, I was surprised to hear that I was being charged for the beer. When I protested, the woman at the table accused me of having drunk the beer and hiding the can. I ask her why she was insulting me, but she merely folded her arms and stared coldly. Finally the hombre intervened and asked if I still wanted the beer. “Fuck yeah”, I replied, “especially if I’m going to pay for it anyway.” I took the beer and we strolled back into town.

Later, I tried to rationalize what happened. After all, it was a full moon and the woman had probably been standing in the sand chopping fish since dawn. But why had I heard the term “gringo” tossed around no less than 4 times while we were settling up? Why was I accused, as a gringo, of trying to dodge paying for a buck fifty beer? The full moon was working on me, too. Late into the evening, I was improvising, in Spanish, ever more insulting things I could have said to the woman, but didn’t. 

You see, guys like me are not used to even the most subtle forms of bigotry. I am pure Anglo, in the most literal sense of the word. Until now, this kind of shit has been directed at others, not me. 

And I’d like to say that I’ve learned something from all this, but I haven’t. Yeah, sure, how many times has some Mexican woman, perhaps struggling to convey herself at a carry-out in San Diego or L.A., heard the words “beaner” or “mex” spoken among the employees from behind the counter. But, then, so what?

I look outside the window now. That god damned  wind has picked up again. The ocean is moving north to south like an enormous river.



One thought on “The Other Side of Paraiso”

  1. I experienced similar things (and maybe even worse being a woman…) when I lived in Italy. Every now and then, a friend or my aunt “would set me straight” and I’d learn how to navigate better the next time. Boy, did I make a lot of dumb mistakes though not ever thinking that I was being ripped off, cheated, lied to, discriminated against, and mistaken for a prostitute (!!) etc, because I was an American, and/or an American woman or because I had the audacity to “go out alone.” I can honestly say I don’t do that to people, in fact, I go out of my way not to. Oh well, I sure have my street cred now!