The first ride

beach
On the Gulf Coast beach at Biloxi, Mississippi.

MY WIFE’S INITIAL visit to the United States was very surprising to her. “How clean,” she remarked as we walked through downtown San Antonio on our first night, having just driven up from Laredo. I think she meant “how orderly” because Mexico is clean, but sometimes it’s not too orderly, part of its romantic, chaotic charm.

It’s not that she was some provincial bumpkin who’d never been anywhere. She spent six months in the mid-1990s in Spain doing postgraduate studies in civil engineering in Madrid. She took advantage of that opportunity to travel all over Europe in her spare time.

But she had never been above the Rio Bravo until we drove up there in 2004 a year after our wedding. Before the trip, she was fond of saying that she had little interest in visiting. Hadn’t lost anything up there, she repeated with a smirk. There was a strain of anti-Americanism in her family.

All that changed immediately when she saw Texas … and Louisiana … and Mississippi … and Alabama … and Georgia. We drove in our little Chevy Pop, which is something like a Geo Metro. No AC, no stereo, no power steering or power brakes or power windows, no power anything. It was the first car I purchased in Mexico.

We spent a couple of nights in San Antonio, strolling the Riverwalk. There was a side trip to Bandera where we ate barbecue on the main drag. It was followed down the street by root beer floats. There’s no root beer in Mexico.

We drove on to Houston, my old home town, for a few more nights. We visited with a few of my previous coworkers who were still wage-slaving on the Houston Chronicle. Then on to New Orleans for rides in the streetcar on St. Charles Avenue and beignets at Café du Monde abutting the river in the French Quarter.

We hired a carriage, horse and driver for a romantic ride. Though she has seen Paris, New Orleans made a big impression on her. We walked the sidewalks of the Garden District. We ate oyster po’ boys.

The stretch from New Orleans to Atlanta is a long, mostly boring haul. We spread it over two days, spending the night in a Holiday Inn somewhere in the sticks of Central Alabama. The best thing about that night was a fried-catfish plate at a nearby restaurant. Alabama knows how to fry catfish.

She’d never had fried catfish. She’d never had oyster po’ boys. She’d never had a beignet. She’d never had a root beer float. She was happy. And her opinion of the United States changed forever. She was in love with the food, the shopping (Target in particular) and even the people, especially Southerners.

Southern people are genuinely friendly, unlike the famous (feigned) friendliness of Mexicans who grin and hug you to death if they know you and cast you a stone-faced glare if they do not.

A Mexican’s face is a mask, and so is his smile. — Octavio Paz.

We made it to Atlanta where we stayed about a week, visiting my mother, doing more shopping, more eating, and then we headed south, mostly repeating the route north but with briefer layovers.

The trip had begun the first week in March, so the car’s lack of air-conditioning was not a problem. But we almost got nailed on the return drive in mid-March, just one day, the leg between Houston and the border at Laredo. We sweated a bit. Ironically, on entering Mexico, things cooled off. There are mountains.

My wife returned a changed woman. Before she loved only one Gringo. Now she loves them all. She wants to rent a home and stay in the United States for months at a time. She wants to eat po’ boys and barbecue and beignets and catfish every day. She wants to roam the aisles of Target with a debit card and a smile.

Other trips followed, but it’s been six years now since we’ve been above the Rio Bravo, and she’s unhappy about that. Maybe we’ll return some distant day, but only the Goddess knows when … or if.

We haven’t lost anything up there.

38 thoughts on “The first ride”

  1. I love Mexico, but I am happy to be back in the USA just to eat some good southern food, so I understand your wife’s perspective. I had real biscuits with my breakfast in New Braunfels and great Tex-Mex in Austin. In Florida now, I couldn’t wait to get to the coast and eat fresh fried shrimp and key lime pie, though we paid about 3x for our meal that we would have paid in Ajijic, it was 75 degrees and we had a waterside table. Next time you visit Texas, take your wife to the outlets north of San Antonio and to the quaint shops in Gruene.

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    1. Bonnie: Nowadays, Mexico has it all over the U.S. in most aspects. Dining, however, is not one of those ways. We are still mostly addicted to corn and cream and cheese. The shopping here, mostly in the big cities, is pretty much what it is in the U.S. We don’t have Target, however. Maybe someday. Chains are moving down here at a good pace. All I have to do is wait.

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      1. Don’t hold your breath on Target. They tried to enter Canada, a culturally much more similar market, and had an enormous fail and are now pulling out. I suspect that Target has now sworn off foreign adventures. In fact, it is the rare U.S. retailer than can be successful across borders. Though extraordinarily competitive, the USA has a wealthy base of shoppers, and terrific infrastructure and logistics, and a reasonably straightforward business culture and tax system. Overseas, U.S. retailers find things are a LOT more complex.

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        1. I would have thought Canada would have been a natural for Target. That shows just how wrong I can be. That was a massive investment for the company.
          Sadly, every time I go to the mall, there are two or three more empty stores. The local Macy’s is closing. I could never afford to shop there anyway. Still it is sad.

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          1. Señor Gill: Macy’s is closing? In the 15 years I have been in Mexico, the commercial world has changed immensely. Again, I’m guessing that online shopping is causing these physical closures. Online shopping is not a big issue yet in Mexico. American big-box stores are opening, not closing.

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            1. Macy’s is doing quite well, but they continue to close underperforming stores. In general, because department stores are one of America’s oldest formats, there are a lot of them that are located in places where business has moved on to different neighborhoods and thus need to be closed. This is true for all the dept store chains, with the possible exception of Nordstrom, which is newer.

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        2. Kim: I prefer to stay optimistic that Target, one of my all-time favorite chains, will one day open a big store just up the road from the Hacienda. We have a large construction going on right now within walking distance. Could it be a Target?! I pray so.

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          1. I’ll bet you serious amounts of money that that construction will not become a Target, and I’ll better serious, but lesser, amounts that Target won’t be in Mexico in the next ten years.

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            1. It seems like when stores like Target enter countries like Mexico, that they take in local investors as partners. It may happen, and then again, it may not.

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              1. Señor Gill: From what I have heard, both Sears and Costco here are, to a great degree, Mexican-owned. I think Carlos Slim, our Telmex tycoon, has a hand in Sears. I could look it up online, like Kim G. would do, but I’m too lazy for that.

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  2. Lots of expats and foreigners like visiting Target when in the US. It’s affordable, clean, and practical. Unlike it’s cousin, Walmart, it’s usually not overrun with Bubba and company. You should take your wife to Target. Retail therapy will make her happy.

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        1. Laurie: I appreciate the kind offer. Truth is, I doubt we will ever be in New Orleans again. If we were to head north again, it would be only as far as San Antonio and possibly Houston.

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  3. I shared a vacation with a Brazilian lady visiting Florida in 2003. She absolutely adored shopping at Target and it bored me silly. I chalk it up to scientific marketing and the theory that opposites attract. I was born a blue-eyed blond and I never dated a blue-eyed, blond woman. I always preferred brunettes. I think the reason there are so many expats is that they have overdosed on American culture. Perhaps opposite cultures attract.

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    1. Andrés: I don’t think opposite cultures attract. Latinas attract me, but I’ve narrowed it down to one. As for the American culture, I think it’s a lost cause. I read a news story a couple of days ago about the Super Bowl ads and how they’ve become feminized. That reflects the principal problem of the U.S.

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  4. FYI. Target is a French-owned company that has its headquarters in Minneapolis. They are currently closing their Canadian operation. That is 133 stores and 17,000 employees. That works out to about 128 employees per store.

    That is not good news.

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    1. Señor Gill: Did not know that. So maybe Tarjay is the proper pronunciation. Those closures are bad news indeed. Wonder why. I think they are stupendous stores. Could be that so many people are buying things online these days.

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      1. Tarjay bought another, similar company that was failing when it was bought. I guess they didn’t like Tarjay any better. K-Mart and WalMart are the go-to stores in Ontario.

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      1. Being traded on the NYSE does not mean US ownership. With stock companies, it is really difficult sometimes to ascertain who is the majority stockholder.

        Sometimes this leads to misconceptions. Currently, there is a program airing on PBS that alleges that the Firestone Rubber Company was complicit with the actions of warlords in Liberia. But nowhere in the program do they reveal that Firestone has been a Japanese company since 1988.

        It wasn’t a case of U.S. corporate greed, but a case of Japanese corporate greed. To not tell the truth is in my opinion dishonest.

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        1. Robert, you are right that being traded on the NYSE doesn’t necessarily mean US ownership. That’s why I posted the link to the owners with my comment. If you are traded on the NYSE, major shareholders must report positions to the SEC within 30 days of acquiring shares. So, in this case, Target is American-owned and operated from its headquarters in Minneapolis.

          Target is the legacy of the old Dayton-Hudson Corporation. In 2004 or 2005, then Dayton-Hudson finally sold its legacy department store business (Daytons, Hudsons, Mervyn’s) and renamed itself Target Corporation to reflect what had by then become 85% of its business.

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  5. You’re always welcome in Boston, though I strongly advise that you come some time between mid-June and mid-October. Any other time, and you’re likely to freeze your nalgas off.

    I’ll even give up my bedroom and sleep on the sofa.

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where unfortunately we don’t have a spare casita.

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    1. Kim: Thanks for the invite. I’ve never been in Boston, and would surely love to visit. Not likely at this point, however. But I am perplexed. I have seen photos of your big house. It only has one bedroom?!

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      1. The house isn’t all that large. Technically it has three bedrooms, but one is tiny (too small for a queen bed and now my office anyway) and one is occupied by my housemate.

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  6. Romancing Texas. Very nice. I spent 20 years in Houston. Made my escape to Austin 15 years ago. Maybe you’ll take your bride a tad farther north next trip and show her where your Mexican Freetail bats like to summer—under our Congress St Bridge.

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    1. Ms. Bachelorette: You escaped to Austin 15 years ago, and I escaped to Mexico 15 years ago. So we were in Houston at the same time, where I lived for the previous 15 years. Perhaps I passed you on the sidewalk. As for the bats in Austin, I have seen them (with ex-wife No. 2), but my current spouse has never set foot in Austin. Perhaps one day.

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