Tag Archives: Costco

Change of scenery

houston
Where I lived for 15 years. Houston.
street
Where I’ve lived for 17 years.

THE FIRST five years of my life, I resided in the countryside, a farm not far from Sylvester, Georgia.

The latest census puts Sylvester’s population at about 6,000 souls. Lord knows what it was in the late 1940s when I was toddling around there in the dirt.

My current mountaintop pueblo is home to about 80,000 folks, dwarfing the population of Sylvester, but 80,000 is a far cry from the 6 million you’ll find in Houston’s metropolitan area or even the 2 million in the city itself.

Before moving to my mountaintop, Houston was where I lived and worked. I don’t work anymore unless you count pulling weeds and watering veranda potted plants.

I play and relax.

The switch from Houston to this mountaintop pueblo was a drastic move. I’m a big-city boy. And my child bride is a big-city girl. Why are we here?

Lack of communication.

One morning, about two years after constructing and moving into the Hacienda, we were sitting on the veranda in our wicker rockers, talking. We discovered that we’d both have preferred settling in a big city.

How did we not know this? Answer: I assumed she wanted to live here because relatives live here, especially her favorite sister. She assumed I wanted to live here because I was here and had moved here intentionally.

But we never discussed it specifically. Dumb, huh?

Why not sell the Hacienda and move elsewhere? Actually, about that time, I did advertise it online, and got an offer for twice what we had paid to build this place.

But I chickened out because I love our home, and there is a large city nearby, the capital down the mountainside. But, aside from weekly Costco shopping jaunts, we rarely go there.

We’ve become small-city folks. But every time I see a photo of Houston, I sigh. And she likely does the same when we make our twice-a-year visits to Mexico City, which is where she lived when I found her.

But we can stand in the yard on dark nights and see stars from horizon to horizon. And I never heard roosters at dawn or burros anytime in Houston.

Just occasional gunfire.

* * * *

(Note: We’ll be home this afternoon from San Miguel de Allende where we fled on Sunday to avoid the worst of Carnival in our hardscrabble neighborhood.)

Two to tango

WE MEXICANS are really incensed. We have been disrespected, as they say in the ‘hood. Oh, the effrontery!

The pinche (look it up) Gringo President Trump wants to build a wall along the border. What a slap in our faces.

And how undeserving!

We’re mad as hell, and we’re going to stop shopping at Sears, Costco and Walmart. Of course, that would only put the Mexican employees out of work, but it’s a price worth paying, shooting ourselves in the foot.

Those of you above the border cannot imagine how insulted we Mexicans are at this wall idea. Insulted, I tell you!

Here’s a post we might have titled Border Wall for Dummies. It  is the entire nasty matter in a nutshell.

First, both nations are equally — well, almost — at fault. For decades now, both Democrat and Republican administrations have ignored or even tacitly encouraged the immigrant invasion over the southern border.

Second, millions of Mexicans have been sneaking into the United States, tunneling below ground, climbing over fences, flying in with tourist visas and overstaying, backpacking across the arid deserts, you name it.

Some have been my relatives.

And all are in the United States illegally, millions, building neighborhoods, packing “sanctuary cities,” creating Little Mexicos all over the place.

Finding enchiladas has never been so simple.

It finally reached a boiling point for U.S. citizens, and that’s what put Trump into the Oval Office.

Americans are divided almost equally into two camps. On the left are the people who croon Kumbaya, reject national borders entirely and sincerely believe that all peoples, with a tiny bit of effort, can live in eternal peace.

In spite of there being absolutely no historical evidence to support this conviction. Quite the contrary.

It is the addled Flower Power mindset of the 1960s that has filtered down through the generations, and still thrives among a healthy percentage of the population.

These Kumbaya crooners, ironically, are the ones rioting in the streets and punching Republicans in the name of love.

On the Great Divide’s other side are people who believe in borders, who know that a nation is a tribe with a common culture, language, religion, race, something that merits and requires protection.

Reams of historical evidence support this fact.

* * *  *

TWO TO TANGO

Here in Mexico, we have a couple of notorious Gringo enclaves, particularly San Miguel de Allende and Ajijic, Jalisco.

new-imageMexico’s government puts the number of Americans living in Mexico at around 700,000.*

It’s very probable the overwhelming majority are here with visas or — like me — have become citizens, although that’s not very common.

Most are spread out quietly all over the nation, and most mind their own business. Mexican law forbids them from political activity, and marching in the streets waving U.S. flags and demanding “rights” would be outrageous.

You know, like illegals do in the United States.

It would lead to deportation.

Mexicans mostly ignore San Miguel and think it’s a cute place to visit. However, if there were hundreds of San Miguels instead of one, it would be very different.

And it would require hundreds of San Miguels and Ajijics across Mexico to be comparable to what now exists in the United States, to create an equivalency.

If there were hundreds of San Miguels full of Gringos here illegally, refusing to learn Spanish, opening little businesses selling grits, ham and red-eye gravy, there would be a national outcry. We would be apoplectic!

We would go postal!

Then the shoe would be on the other foot, and Mexicans might understand President Trump’s historic trip to the White House with a tad more clarity.

No nation really wants to be multicultural. Just up to a point, it’s interesting. After that, it gets nasty.

(No nation on earth apart from the white populations of North America and Western Europe embraces multiculturalism. Just those lands where hippies reigned in the 1960s. The Soviets shielded Eastern Europe from Flower Power.)

Mexico, in cahoots with the Democrat and Republican political establishments, brought us Trump.

It takes two to tango.

* * * *

* You’ll often read that one million Americans live in Mexico. This is a myth that has existed since before I moved south 17 years ago. I find the official 700,000 number a little difficult to believe, but perhaps it includes part-timers. And perhaps I misread, and it includes all foreigners, not just Gringos.

(Note: I saw on Twitter this morning that our President Peña Nieto has announced a new program to support and facilitate continuing education for young Mexicans who return from the United States. More positive effects from Trump.

(Furthermore, about 60 percent of Mexico’s exports currently go to the United States. Mexico recently announced it will begin widening its trade with other nations. This diversification is a positive thing, bought to us by Trump. )

Down the mountain

cafe
Are we in Paris?

WE DRIVE down the mountain every week to the state capital, mostly for shopping at Costco and Superama.

And to grab a lunch.

We rarely go directly into the center of town because traffic is snarly, and free parking is hard to find.

Yesterday, while my child bride was doing chores, I drove downtown for a look-see. That array of sidewalk tables sits across from a music conservatory called Las Rosas.

The Roses.

When I lived in the capital for seven months in 2000, I occasionally ate here. At the time there was only one establishment on this end, and another on the far end.

Those in the middle were not there.

cops
Cops, cops, cops.

Mexicans are fond of protesting in the streets and highways. More often than not, it’s teachers who want guaranteed jobs and the right to bequeath those jobs to unqualified relatives at retirement. Teachers also loath competence tests.

To counter these malcontents, police often take to the streets en masse. That’s what you see in the second photo. They were just standing there in body armor and shields.

I saw no impending strife nearby, so …

Being a cop must be very boring at times.

church
Scads of churches.

Sidewalk restaurants, cops and churches. The state capital is full of churches. That’s one just above. I snapped the photo while sitting on a bench in a plaza of yet another church directly behind me. Churches galore.

We sit at sidewalk eateries. We want guaranteed jobs. And we kneel and pray everywhere. All of those things happen in quantity down the mountain in the state capital.

It’s only 40 minutes away.

Thirty minutes if you really haul butt.

Night salads

SOMETIMES it’s good to show one’s human side.

Our evening meal is always a salad. I fix it myself. It’s served about 8 p.m., and we dine upstairs sitting in recliners watching Netflix, recovering from our ever-arduous days.

kit2While making the salads last night, my child bride snapped these two photos with her phone camera. The photos are not very sharp.

But neither am I.

It’s been quite nippy here in the evenings lately, and that’s why I am heavily clothed. We have no central heat. Or central air-conditioning either for that matter. No need.

kitThe flannel pants I am sporting were purchased in Costco, and are adorned with skulls and crossbones. The heavy hoodie was also a Costco buy.

That thing atop my head is an ancient and dreadfully misshapen watch cap. My child bride detests it.

But I never wear it out of the house, and I have a much newer version of the exact same model for social wear. The newer one looks quite smart, I think.

My normal preference for black-and-white photos has been cast aside for obvious reasons. We live in blazing color.

Another cord cut

IT SAT IN my email folder at dawn on Monday. Your account has been canceled. Your credit card, that is.

My last Gringo card. Zapped for inactivity.

I moved south 16 years ago with four credit cards, all issued by U.S. institutions and all paid in full every month via the checking account I opened in 1999 at Banamex USA,* the U.S. branch of the Mexican behemoth Banamex.

I’d been a longtime Wells Fargo Bank customer, but I was planning my move to Mexico.

sailor-knot-9-ana-maria-edulescuThe four cards were a Wells Fargo Mastercard, an AT&T Universal Visa and two other Visas from another bank, somewhere in the Dakotas, the name of which I have long forgotten.

The two Visas from the Dakota bank were the first to go. I had to cancel them both 12 years ago after one was skyjacked by Sky cable television down here. Never give Sky your credit card number for recurring charges.

That is very good advice for most Mexican firms.

That left me with two credit cards, which didn’t concern me.

A few years later, Wells Fargo sent a renewal card to my post office box here. But due to living in Mexico — a shady land, you know — they insisted I go to a bank here and jump through all manner of hoops to prove I am who I am.

Screw that, I muttered to myself as I cut up the card.

That left me with just one card, the AT&T Universal Visa. I was starting to get a little nervous. To have a backup, I went to Banamex here where I had a checking account and requested a credit card. They gave me one with a $10 limit, only a slight exaggeration, and there was a fat annual fee too.

About a year later, I got a hair up my keister about something, and I canceled the card. I hadn’t used it much.

So, back to just one credit card.

THE LETTER

Then the letter came in 2014 from Banamex USA. Your checking account will be canceled shortly. That happened due to a new U.S. law known by its initials, FATCA.

It’s all Barry Obama’s fault, of course.

Banamex USA was my only way to pay off the U.S. credit card. No other option existed.  I do not now qualify for another U.S. bank account. No U.S. address or driver’s license.

That effectively nulled my last credit card. But I never canceled it because, I thought, maybe one day I might need it, though I could not imagine how, where or why. I held onto the account, my final Gringo credit card, a lifeline.

There was no annual fee.

For many months, I was left only with a Banamex debit card, which is not as secure as a credit card, especially online.

I asked for my Banamex credit card again. They wouldn’t reissue it. It was due to FATCA, but they danced around that fact. Irked, I canceled my Banamex account that I’d had for 14 years. They didn’t seem to give a hoot.

Heartless, greedy capitalists!

HUNTING ALTERNATIVES

I opened a checking account just up the street at HSBC-Mexico. I asked for a credit card. Not just yet, they told me. Later maybe. Later came and went. No credit card.

So I went even farther up the street and opened a checking account at Bancomer, still keeping the one at HSBC. Again, I requested a credit card. Wait three months, they said. I waited, and they gave me a credit card. Yipee!

And another for my child bride. For this and other reasons, I’ve become a yuuuge** Bancomer booster.

I requested a credit card from HSBC many times, and they always said no with little explanation. I gave up. Months later, out of the blue, they asked if I wanted one.

I said sure. Go figger.

So now I have credit cards at both Bancomer and HSBC. I also had my AT&T Visa, the Gringo card, till this week, useless as it was, an emotional tie to the old country.

Gone now, like so many other cards and cords.

FORGET AMERICA

My goal these days is to have as little to do with that troubled land above the border as possible. The norm, it seems, for Americans living in Mexico is the opposite, to keep connected to the greatest degree possible.

They keep bank accounts, addresses, homes, relatives. You name it, they keep it. Their Mexican ties seem tenuous.

They’re always visiting up north. They’re always having friends bring down “stuff” they can’t find here, stuff they think they can’t live without. Someone recently posted on a Yahoo forum catering to local Gringos a list of “essential” stuff one needs from above the Rio Bravo. I guffawed.

  1. Workshop tools, as if you cannot find tools in Mexico.
  2. Down comforters, as if Costco doesn’t offer them, and so does Bed, Bath & Beyond.
  3. Mosquito nets, as if they’re not easy to find here.
  4. Smartphones. We Mexicans still use tin cans and string.
  5. Up-to-date laptops. Best Buy, Walmart, Sears, etc., in Mexico just sell crusty Commodores and dusty Ataris.
  6. Linens “to fit your bed.” Somehow, my Mexican linens always fit my beds, both king and queen.
  7. Walking sticks. Certainly, no walking sticks can be found here. I wonder where I found mine?
  8. Good binoculars. Only defective binoculars are sold in Mexico, of course, leftovers from pirate times.

That’s just some of the stuff I saw on the list, all of which is available in Mexico. Do they cost a bit more at times? Sure, but factor in your minuscule electric bill and fresh, cheap veggies and low restaurant tabs, you’re way ahead.

And the beautiful women.

I don’t go north anymore, nor do I have things smuggled down. It ain’t necessary. You can live quite well here with what’s available, and that’s what I try to do.

And now I have no Gringo credit cards at all.

If you read all this, you’re a better man than I am.

* * * * *

* Banamex USA is closing entirely this year. There has long been talk of its involvement in money laundering. HSBC’s reputation along those lines isn’t much better.

** Trump allusion.

(Note: There is a Mexican credit bureau. It has no connection with credit bureaus in the United States, so you start from scratch below the border no matter how good or bad a credit rating you had in the United States.)

A better Mexico

MY CHILD BRIDE spent six months in Spain in the late 1990s doing postgraduate studies.

She often got her panties in a twist due to European attitudes toward Mexico, that it was a backward nation where most roads were still made of dirt.

When I arrived below the border about four years later, most of the roads were not dirt, but the highway system certainly needed some improvement.

That has happened in spades. Many of our highways now are better than what one finds above the Rio Bravo.

* * * *

Nice chains

We have lots of great stores from above the border. Sears, Costco, Walmart, Sam’s Club. And chain restaurants. Chili’s, McDonald’s, Dairy Queen, IHOP, Sirloin Steak House.

Plus many more.

Recently, Bed, Bath & Beyond opened in the nearby state capital. It’s indistinguishable from its stores in Houston or Atlanta. I love that place.

* * * *

Checks and water

Years ago I wrote hereabouts that there were no public water fountains in Mexico. At least, I had never seen one.

I was quickly corrected by a reader who said he had spotted one way over in The Yucatan.

Just this week, I saw water fountains in two stores. One was Costco and the other was a supermarket here on the mountaintop. I was surprised.

But I would not use one. I have formed habits.

Another surprise occurred last week. Our local Bancomer branch was totally renovated, and new ATMS were included. They accept both cash and check deposits!

While I recall such things in the United States, I’d never seen an ATM here that did anything more than dispense cash.

(By the way, if you’re going to open an account in a Mexican bank, I highly recommend Bancomer.)

I recently read a report that about 80 percent of Americans feel that Mexico is a dangerous place to visit. Most Gringos have never set foot here and base their opinions on hysterical reports from the media and State Department.

Fact is you can visit here quite safely. You can go to Walmart, Costco  or Dairy Queen with confidence, and you won’t be mugged or murdered in the parking lot either.

* * * *

Bonus material

While on the Hacienda roof a couple of days ago to photograph the water tank for the post Agua! Agua! Agua! I snapped a few other shots just for fun.

stairs

Looking down the circular stairs on the upstairs terraza.

back

Street out back to the right.

street

The same street to the left.

And thanks for joining me here today.

Living dangerously

street

livingRECENTLY, I’VE received word from people above the Rio Bravo that living in Mexico is a war zone or a hellhole. I became worried and decided to investigate.

After all, we do reside in one of the “most dangerous” Mexican states, according to the U.S. State Department, an agency rarely given to error, as everyone knows.

Normally, every weekday morning, the two of us take our exercise walk around the nearby plaza, but since we’d never witnessed violence on the plaza, we decided the mayhem must be taking place elsewhere in the hardscrabble ‘hood.

We left the plaza and headed down some ominous-looking streets. Surely, we would find the war zone quickly.

There was a Hellish cast to the blue skies.

* * * *

But before I tell you what happened next, and how we managed to arrive home unscathed, know that yesterday we drove the 40 minutes down the mountainside to the state capital, a spot where no sensible soul sets foot unnecessarily.

First, we went to the snow-white Star Medica hospital and got our yearly flu shots. Then, with ballooning trepidation, we drove down a flower-rimmed boulevard to an office of the ETN bus line where we safely made a ticket exchange.

The red splashes on the street were bougainvillea instead of blood.

Then, breathing sighs of relief due to our stretch — so far — of good fortune, we headed to the Superama supermarket — part of the Walmart chain — for purchases. Following that scary venture, we had lunch at a vegetarian buffet.

The restaurant’s clientele consists primarily of medical students from a nearby university. Surely, most are studying to patch bullet wounds, grenade gashes, and to reattach severed heads that roll across all cantina floors.

Next on the agenda was a stop at Costco. Then we went to an ice cream stand before dashing back to the Honda, heads down, expecting gunfire at any moment.

Again, luck was with us. Not even a flesh wound.

* * * *

We made it home, and the next day dawned, this day, and now we’re walking through the neighborhood in search of our war zone.

Something blood red approaches down the street, and there is noise. We freeze in place. Is this it? Am I about to meet my Maker?

It comes closer, a marching band and rows of students in scarlet uniforms. They’re from the nearby school, rehearsing routines for Revolution Day next month.

We stand on the sidewalk as they pass. Many of the kids giggle on spotting the tall, strange Gringo in their neighborhood.

They decide not to murder us.

As music fades behind, we trod on, apprehensively. But nothing happens, and we return to the Hacienda intact, still wondering where the war zone might be.

I toted my camera, expecting to shoot exciting footage that I would sell to international media outlets. There would be corpses, blood and body parts. A Mexican Robert Capa.

I was disappointed. But I did take these photos.

The war zone remains elusive, hidden. Maybe mañana, amigos.

Maybe mañana.

house

Life changes

oldhammockSINCE DAY ONE, over 12 years ago, this hammock has hung right there on the upstairs terraza. I brought it from the porch of the two-story rental where we lived before building the Hacienda.

This hammock is actually second generation. Its papa rotted in time and was replaced by another, identical, that we purchased during a visit down to the coast. Good hammocks are not sold here on the mountaintop.

This one too is beginning to rot. It was always outside. We never brought it in, even in frigid winter. A couple of weeks ago, two young nephews were here visiting, and they played on the hammock in the typical fashion of 11-year-olds, which is to say maniacally. One string broke.

For many years, I was out there daily, swinging in the cool air under the red-tile roof, usually with a book, often with nothing but a peaceful heart. Those were good times. But I gradually tapered off. Dunno why. My child bride has never used the hammock much. She’s not much for kicking back.

I, on the other hand, am a first-class kicker-backer.

The perspective does not make one thing obvious. You step through that screen door, and you are almost against the hammock. It’s an obstacle, but when the hammock was used a lot, it was an obstacle I was willing to accept. Yesterday, I said to myself:  You will never use this hammock again, so get rid of it.

And I did. We folded it up and upended it into a corner out in the garden patio where the yard gear lives under another red-tile roof. My child bride does not want me to throw it away, even though it is well rotted, because she never wants to throw anything away. It’s a Mexican thing.

So I will wait some months, then toss it. Don’t tell her.

I went out this morning, and swept the upstairs terraza. It felt more open, more accessible, more friendly. I think even the magueys in the big pots are glad it’s gone. That terraza has always been a bit of a problem. Tough magueys are about the only plants that don’t die up there due to winter freezes.

In summer, it’s usually covered by a third with puddled rainwater. In springtime, the sun is brutal if you’re not under the relatively small percentage covered by the red-tile roof.

But we’ll be replacing the hammock with a couple of nice, soft chairs that are designed for outdoor life. We’ll get them from Costco in the capital city. It’s just a question of when we see something we like.

For years we also used the yard patio a lot, the one downstairs with the glass-topped table, web chairs and big, brown umbrella. However, that space too has dwindled almost to zero usage. Nowadays we use the downstairs terraza with its wicker rockers almost exclusively for kicking back.

Life changes. Dunno why.