December means medical checkup

lab
This is my wonderful lab.

WHEN I WINGED south over the Rio Bravo way back in the Dark Ages, I had the hysterical healthcare mentality of a typical Gringo.

Live without health insurance? Why, that would be sheer madness, so I purchased coverage with a system called IMSS. If memory serves, it was the peso equivalent of about 300 U.S. bucks for a year of full coverage. But after that first year, I knew better and did not renew.

One must go to an IMSS clinic, and I didn’t want to. They’re dicey.

Health insurance? Who needs health insurance? Pick your own excellent doctor and pay cash or yank out your debit or credit card.

After marrying in 2002, my child bride talked me into getting a complete checkup in 2004 at the Star Medica Hospital in the state capital. I repeated the process in 2007. In 2013, I decided on a simpler approach.

Every December I pick a day and head to the outpost of a lab downtown at 8 a.m., and I get my cholesterol, blood sugar, triglycerides and poop tested. The last I hand over with some cute comment. On some years — not all — I get an EKG and chest X-rays. I do those elsewhere. The first in a doctor’s office ($25 U.S.), and the second ($16 U.S.) in a different lab.

I skipped those this year because I did them last year.

After the pretty nurse takes my blood and poop sample, I head home where I arrive by 8:30 — there’s rarely any wait at the lab because I get there when it opens — and I dine on a nice, warm croissant accompanied by hot café Americano negro and a beautiful woman.

In the afternoon of the same day, I return to the lab to pick up the results. Yes, same-day service and, of course, there was no physician’s referral required. Charge: $27. Now that’s healthcare for you.

That all took place yesterday.

How you folks lovin’ that ObamaCare?

This year’s results: I’m in tiptop condition.

Gonna be a hard winter

clock

IT FROZE at the Hacienda Monday night. A little birdie told me, or rather a little birdie bath. That’s the most obvious sign of an overnight freeze, the talavera birdbath on the Jesus Patio freezes over.

Another clue is frost on the grass.

This does not make me happy. Just because I loathe heat, and that being one of the main reasons I chose to end my life here on the mountaintop, does not mean that shivering pastes a smile on my face. It does not.

The cold does serve one fine purpose. It keeps the Gringos from moving here, or rather it used to, or seemed to. It doesn’t appear to be working so well these last few years because more and more have followed me here to altitude.

The Gringos are a hoot. Yeah, I know I used to be one, but I’m less so now than before even though I make a really lousy Mexican. Caught somewhere in the middle, a sort of weirdo limbo.

Late yesterday afternoon I was sitting at a sidewalk table on the big plaza, as I often do, with a nice café Americano negro when a couple of Gringo tourists walked by. Maybe they were Canucks. They all look alike.

I was bundled up with a jacket and scarf, wishing I had gloves, and this goofy pair walks by in shorts, tank tops and flip-flops. I doubt they did that intentionally. I suspect it’s the only sort of clothing they brought.

It’s Mexico, you know. It’s hot. Everywhere.

After finishing my café, I walked around the plaza, investigating the extensive street renovation that’s under way that will take months. I took the photo during that unscheduled scroll. As you can see, it was just after 6 p.m.

It’s gonna be a hard winter.

The arrival

vista
The view that changed my life.

I’M FOND OF noting milestones.

I just missed an anniversary, but only by three days. My arrival here on the mountaintop on September 10, 2000. I was not entirely new to Mexico, but I was quite green.

I’d lived seven months at a lower altitude, 40 minutes away in the state capital. Four of those seven months had been dedicated to attending a language school because when I got off the plane in Guadalajara I didn’t speak Spanish.

I was a language ignoramus.

My decision to move from the state capital up here was made while sitting at a coffee shop and looking in the direction shown in the photo. I looked at that view and told myself, I’m gonna move here. And I did. Lickety-split.

My first challenge was to find a furnished place to rent. While my town now is chockablock with real-estate agencies and lots of furnished rentals, there was not even one real-estate agency in 2000. I knew no one here, and I had no idea where to start. I was alone, and my Spanish was dicey.

Someone online pointed me to an old Gringo named Gray who’d moved here after the Second World War.  He had married an indigenous woman, and they had multiplied.

Gray had some furnished rentals that catered mostly to the sparse Gringo crowd. I moved into a two-story house on a main drag with furniture that aspired to the junk heap.

The first thing I did was buy a new mattress and sheets. The second thing was to buy an equipal love seat and matching chair. The store here neglected to inform me that the set would be made in and shipped from Guadalajara.

I got it about four months later.

I lived in that rental for two-and-a-half years. My child bride was there the final year while we constructed the Hacienda.

It wasn’t a bad place if one didn’t cringe at the hordes of mice during the rainy season or the two times I found dead rats in the toilet. They had come up from below, and I flushed them back to where they came from.

And there was the matter of the house abutting a open sewer/creek that provided a notable fragrance during the dry months. And the lights went out a lot.

It was an interesting home along the lines of the Chinese curse, May you live in interesting times.

We were elated when we moved into the Hacienda in May of 2003. It’s been a great 17 years here at altitude. The changes are considerable. Plenty of rentals available now. With rats or without. Ten times the number of Gringos. Some people regard that positively. I’m not one of those people.

But I’m glad I sat at that coffee house that long-ago afternoon, gazing up the street. It was a decisive moment.

The photo’s from yesterday. It hasn’t changed much.

Music and whiskey

TWO HOURS after shooting the video above from the upstairs terraza, I was sitting on the Jesus Patio eating seedless green grapes and listening to the hog next door expressing displeasure with her situation, which she does often.

This is being written yesterday, Saturday. The previous night had seen a heavy downpour that lasted I don’t know how long because I went back to sleep after waking briefly to notice it.

Some things don’t change much in these parts, and the sounds of sunrise are one of those things. Roosters, tractor-trailer trucks on the highway up the mountain behind us, crickets, the loudspeakers of the house-delivery propane trucks.

However, some things do change, and they’re generally for the better. We got some great news recently. An international chain of movie theaters, Cinépolis, is opening here in our mountaintop town. Hooray! Now we won’t have to drive to the state capital for first-run flicks.

The changes that have occurred over the past 17 years that I’ve been here are considerable. There were no major supermarkets. Now there are two. There were no stoplights. Now there are many. There were few Gringos. Now there are way too many!

I wonder how they’ll react to the Cinépolis chain. Over a decade ago, the Mexican convenience store chain Oxxo opened its first store here, and the Gringos, many of whom are aging hippies, went bananas. Egad! Modernization!

We have numerous Oxxos now, including one directly on the major plaza. Another sits on the nearby smaller plaza. Their signs are subdued, not intrusive.

I’m praying for a full-blown Walmart and Costco.

Convenient shopping is a good thing, and it does not detract from the morning views I get from the upstairs terraza, something I love and that never changes.

* * * *

An old friend emailed me this week. I rarely hear from people above the border, so it was a welcomed event.

He and I worked together on newspapers for decades both in New Orleans and Houston. Like me, he is divorced more than once. Unlike me, he is not currently married. He’s three years older than I am, and he lives alone in a home he bought in Colorado after he retired from the Houston Chronicle.

I had sent him a note after seeing him briefly on a Netflix documentary of Janis Joplin who was a close friend of his in high school in Port Arthur, Texas, and later in her early years of fame and drug-addled degeneracy.

My friend is a much-published poet, but not in recent years. He said his life now is mostly whiskey and music. And that all his major life decisions were wrong ones. That last resonated with me because all my major decisions were wrong ones too. Till 1996 when my major life decisions did a 180.

What happened in 1996? I stopped drinking. My friend is 76 years old, and I doubt he will do that.

I didn’t even mention it.

Here’s to music and whiskey! And staying the course.