Cash from abroad


EVERY FRIDAY this long line forms outside the ATM of the Santander bank. Often the line goes halfway down the block before it disappears around the corner.

This is a relatively new scene, starting about two months ago. I have a theory. These people are withdrawing cash that was deposited by relatives above the Rio Bravo.

They are a motley bunch from the lower economic regions. Young, for the most part, with a good percentage, mostly male, to whom the adjective cholo would apply. Bandannas, sunglasses, hoodies, pants drooping low.

They’re not just from our town because many come in minibuses from outlying villages. The minibuses bring them, wait, and then return them to the sticks.

The good thing about this for me is that the long line usually attracts a churro vendor who hawks his goodies out of a basket. Churros go real good with café Americano negro.

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(Where’s Waldo? Just barely noticeable in the shot above is the subject of another photo.)

A day in the life

HAVING STOPPED working for “the man” many years ago — in 1999 actually — one would think I’d have plenty of time to fill, and sometimes I do.

Sometimes not.

lifeI took a shower this morning in the pre-dawn darkness. It was the first trial of the solar water heater after it had sat on the roof under moonlight. Would there be hot water? Yes. Not as scalding as that boiled under daytime sun, but quite adequate.

I am happy for that.

And why would an unemployed geezer shower before dawn? To be at the bank door at its 8:30 opening downtown. I had business with one of the “executives.” If you get there later, expect quite a wait. I was No. 2 in the door, and was sitting next to an “executive’s” desk in a nanosecond.

What was my business?

Last week the bank (BBVA Bancomer) phoned me about suspicious activity on my spanking new credit card, a card I have never used anywhere except online. (Yes, I have beefy computer protection.) To make a long story short, I opted to cancel the card. I was told that in five business days, a replacement would be awaiting me at the bank branch. That would have been today.

The “executive” told me it had not arrived. I was not surprised because I’m in Mexico. Come back next week, so there’s another predawn shower on my dance card.

Permit me to tell you an amusing story, something I’ve never witnessed at my other banks, HSBC-Mexico and my former Banamex. When Bancomer opens every morning, the branch manager and the other “executives” all gather at the door and greet you as you come in.

¡Buenos dias! ¡Buenos dias!  I’ve never had a bank so tickled to see me.

The credit card thing is no big concern. Connected to that same account is another credit card with my wife’s name and a different number. It still works fine. I just had to switch a number of monthly online payments to the second card.

While sitting at the exec’s desk at 9 a.m., my cell phone rang. It was Ramón, my contractor guy, who told me he and his crew would be at the downtown Casita at 10 a.m. to install a metal door to the second-floor balcony. Perfect timing. I had enough minutes to walk through the outdoor market nearby to buy avocados, tomatoes and strawberries. And to check my PO box.

When Ramón and his crew pulled up outside the Casita just before 10 a.m., I was sitting in a chair on the balcony reading a book on Kindle. Apparently, that amused Ramón who hollered up that he hopes to live that way one day.

I hope he gets to live that way too. He works hard.

The metal door replaces a silly plywood number installed by the home’s builder five years ago.

I left the Casita in the hands of Ramón, and I returned to the Hacienda, about 15 minutes distant, for breakfast No. 2. Since I’m writing this shortly after High Noon, the headline here would be more accurately written as “A morning in the life.”

The day is scarcely half over.

The switcheroo

New ImageA PAIR OF YOUNG ladies rang our doorbell this week. They said they were from City Hall and that all the house numbers in our neighborhood were being changed. They even had a can of black paint and a brush to slapdash the new numbers on the exteriors.

They said they wouldn’t do it on our front wall due to our stunning new paint job, done during the recent bakery construction, plus the old address numbers attached out there are artsy ceramic tile.

But we will have to do it. You can’t opt out.

My child bride answered the gate, not me. I would have asked questions. The first to enter my mind was, Does CFE know about this? That’s the Comisión Federal de Electricidad, the light company. In order to get most anything official recorded here, one usually must show a comprobante de domicilio, a proof of residence.

Your latest CFE bill normally does the trick. Your phone bill will work too, but we have no phone bill. A water receipt will suffice, but our water receipt is handwritten down on the plaza and doesn’t show an address.

The only option we have is the CFE bill.

You might ask: Can’t you just show your driver’s license? Makes sense, but you usually cannot. We also — unlike the silly Gringos — have laminated voter-identification cards.* That won’t work either, even though you have to show the light bill, etc., to get a driver’s license or a voter-identification card at the get-go.

Sometimes logic is in short supply hereabouts, but it’s what makes us so freaking colorful.

I went to CFE’s website and signed into my account. There is the old address, not the new one.

Here’s what I will do. I will buy the new numbers on more artsy ceramic tile, and I will attach them to the property wall just below the previous numbers. Yes, we will have both. Other than that, I’m not changing anything unless the CFE bill appears with the new numbers one day.

If that happens, I may have to change lots of stuff — banks, driver’s licenses, passports, online shipping addresses and so on. The list will be lengthy. Time will tell, but until then we’ll just have two addresses.

While this will be an inconvenience, I understand why it’s being done and embrace it. Currently, many — likely most — houses in our neighborhood have no number outside at all. And when they do, they often make no sense, as if the residents simply made them up, which is quite possible.

Let’s say our old number is 32. Guess where the old 34 is? Instead of next door where it belongs, it’s about four blocks down that-a-way — and on the other side of the street!

This explains why deliverymen often ask not only your house number but what two cross streets you are between. Our being next door to the only sex motel in the neighborhood simplifies matters for us.

If you’re delivering something, and you hear squeaking bed springs and howls of glee mixed with moans, well, you’re almost at the Hacienda. Brake soon and keep an eye peeled.

This standardization of addresses is just one detail in the ongoing modernization of Mexico, a good thing.

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* This sensibly insures that only citizens vote, plus it doubles as an official ID. Nobody thinks there’s anything discriminatory about their voter ID. We think it’s just common sense.

In good standing

LOTS OF THINGS change when you move over the border.

Your trustworthiness, for example. If you had a superlative credit rating in the United States — as I did and do — you immediately lose it when you move south. It’s not that you lose it. It’s that Mexico pays it no mind.

One would think that with today’s global interconnectedness, especially in monetary matters, that a sterling credit rating would follow you, but it sometimes does not.

After about eight years with a checking account with Banamex, one of Mexico’s largest banks, I decided to ask them for a credit card. There had never been an overdraft or any problem whatsoever with that checking account.

First, a little background:

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In 2000 I moved over the Rio Bravo with four U.S. credit cards, two from the same institution. About three years later, I had to cancel the two from the same institution due to problems with skanky Sky TV. (Don’t ask.) That left me with two cards.

Flash forward a few more years. A renewal card, a Wells Fargo Mastercard, arrived in my local post office box. To activate it, however, Wells Fargo insisted that I go to any local bank and ask the manager to jump through an incredible series of hoops designed, in some mysterious way, to prove that I am who I am, not some Mexican crook.

dollarI knew that would be a major headache.

Cancel the freaking card, I told the surly Wells Fargo “fraud” rep who was giving me his best Mike Hammer impersonation on the phone.

That left me with just one credit card. Whoopsies!

Try to get a credit card from a U.S. bank, no matter how sterling your credit rating is, after you tell them you now live in Mexico. Might as well confess you’re in the Taliban.

The remaining credit card, a Visa I’ve had for 24 years, thinks I live in Miami. I have a mail service there. The renewal card goes to Miami, and I have it expressed to a DHL office in the nearby capital city where I pick it up at my leisure.

That’s it with the background.

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So I ask my Banamex for a Mexican credit card. The only thing they will give me is the most basic card with a 15,000-peso limit, a bit over 1,000 U.S. dollars. In contrast, my U.S. Visa card has a $25,000 limit. Banamex has higher-limit cards, but it won’t give one to me.

No way, José.

Why? I had no credit history in Mexico. Even though Banamex is owned by Citicorp, it seems they cannot or will not access my credit history above the border.

So I get the basic card, use it here and there and cancel it when the second year’s annual charge comes due. The first year was free. I’m back to just one credit card.

Then a light bulb ignites over my aging noodle. Banamex also has a branch in Los Angeles (BanamexUSA) where I have had a separate checking account since 1999.

I will ask them for a credit card, and since they live above the border, they will check my Gringo good credit rating. Surely, they will.

I apply. They say no way. Forget it. Why? I have no credit history in Mexico. Apparently, the one year with the basic card at Banamex in Mexico meant nothing, and they don’t check my credit rating in the United States.

I write a letter to the headman in Los Angeles politely pointing out the utter silliness of their system. And I get the credit card! Now I have two, which is enough.

A year ago, I left the minimum required in the Banamex account here, and moved a block south, opening two accounts at HSBC, where there are shorter lines and a better website. We moved a fat chunk of cash from investments above the border into my wife’s account, which made her qualify automatically for a credit card with a high limit and no annual fee.

A year ago, I signed on with the Mexican credit bureau, headquartered in Mexico City. For an annual charge of about 18 bucks you can keep track of your credit rating in Mexico. A year ago I had no score at all. Now I’m in the top 25 percent, credit-wise.

How that came to pass, I have no idea.

But we now have three credit cards between the two of us. One works best above the border. One works well on either side. And the third works best in my new nation.

All is well and good.

P.S. I use credit cards only online, 100 percent. I never carry one.