We’re All Human and Humans Have Needs

I once drove from Lamar, Colorado to Dodge City, Kansas on nothing but dirt roads without a map just to prove it could be done. Look, I come from a crazy family and I come by it honestly. Keeping in mind that where I come from a country mile is a legit honest-to-God mile, it really was a very small feat. If the road I was on ended in a pasture, I’d just turn in the correct direction and catch the next one. Easy peasy.

Baja isn’t like that. My navigational senses are laid out in a carefully surveyed grid pattern and no such concept exists in Mexico. The Pacific Ocean is to blame for a lot of it. The hills and mountains aren’t exactly innocent. And then there’s the poverty, which doesn’t exactly lend itself to proper road engineering and all of the accoutrements one might expect in the first world.

I promise I have a point and it is this: One must always know the back way to get anywhere. You never know when you’ll need to be inconspicuous on the way home from a bar or to avoid being arrested for exercising during a global pandemic.

The beaches in Baja California Sur have been closed for what seems like a decade and I’m just about over it. I have been social distancing since March (of 1978) and really have been trying to follow the orders laid out by the Mexican government to flatten the curve. I’ve been doing this while my neighbors continue partying and carrying on like it’s January of 2020..the halcyon days.

My main act of civil disobedience is regular exercise. This is not on the list of essential activities permitting one to leave one’s domicile and it seems like a gross oversight until you actually stop to think about it. People who are going hungry aren’t exactly thinking about going for a hike or mountain bike ride, ya know? I totally get why they left it off the list. I also know I’m not endangering anyone by walking around the hills of my neighborhood so alone I can’t see, let alone hear another single, solitary soul. I meet lots of dogs but that’s another story for another day.

I can see the ocean just fine from my house so staying away from the beach has been easy enough, I suppose. It just really got to me on Saturday, though. I walked the back way through the hills and crossed the main road at a spot that is quick and a bit remote. Like, I didn’t want to attract attention but I was wearing a hot pink outfit. In hindsight, this seems like poor planning. I walked to (not on) the beach and took a few photos to remind myself it’s still there. I did see a family on the beach with an umbrella and a pickup parked near them but otherwise it was deserted.

I’m still learning all of the hills and where roads connect so I miscalculated a bit on my way home and had to get on the main road for about a quarter-mile. I was walking along in my hot pink outfit and wouldn’t you know, here come TWO humvees full of desert BDUs and rifles making full eye contact. It was apparently not a priority for them to hassle a gringa walking alone in the sunshine so they went on their merry way…probably to remove that family from the beach. Nevertheless, I was relieved to disappear into the mismash of washed out roads and short-cut walking trails through washes and impromptu garbage dumps.

While by no means a career criminal, I have done some sneaking around doing things in my time. Unauthorized riding of horses. Unauthorized driving of cars. Unauthorized entry of structures. And now…unauthorized…exercise. This is a very strange time to be alive.

Welcome to the New Normal

Because she lived exactly one block away, I spent a great deal of time with my grandmother as a child. Irene was born in 1921 so she experienced the Great Depression as a child. Having been born in Dodge City, Kansas, she also had the misfortune of experiencing the Dust Bowl as a child. Those two cataclysmic events changed her forever.

Irene’s parents started the Beeson Museum in their Dodge City home in 1932. After the museum closed in 1964, Irene sold the bulk of the collection to the Boot Hill Museum but she retained many items in her own home. I was fascinated by each and every one of them and couldn’t understand why she seemed so uninterested. She explained that she grew up around all of that stuff in her house and it was her job to clean the display cases and exhibits. She saw it all as a burden.

The good news was she was so unimpressed by it all that she allowed me to play with all of the pieces. I learned how to iron linen handkerchiefs using a real, live antique iron heated over the fireplace and obviously burned the hell out of my hand in the process. She allowed me to use the coffee grinder with the wooden drawer. I learned how to darn socks. In the midst of all of this, she relayed to me how life on the farm evolved through her childhood.

My great-grandfather, Merritt Beeson was an extremely capable man. He adapted to the changing times and provided well for his family throughout the Depression. Irene told me there was only one time she could recall them not having enough food to eat. I’ve always found that to be remarkable given the images we’ve all seen of the terrible suffering experienced by millions of Americans. Those were still quite lean times, however, and my grandmother’s mantra for the rest of her life was always “Waste not, want not.”

The kettle under the dripping faucet collected water for my Golden Retriever, Abigail. I couldn’t walk out of a room without immediately being reminded to turn off the light. She saved EVERYTHING. You just never know! We cleaned windows with newspapers and vinegar. I bet you she brushed her teeth with baking soda and salt until the day she died.

Those years with Irene had a profound effect on my own habits. My mom is famous for saying to me, “Okay, Irene.” That’s the family equivalent of “Okay, Boomer.” Now I’m the one going around turning off lights and keeping the house cold during the winter. Put on some damn clothes if you’re cold! I prefer grinding coffee manually because it’s too easy to burn the beans with an electric grinder. And I still like to clean with straight vinegar.

I wonder what habits we have picked up during this pandemic that will stay with us for the rest of our lives. Will we require ample personal space? Eschew handshakes? Avoid eating in restaurants? Will air travel once again be reserved for the elites? Will the inevitable global economic crash put an end to fast fashion and excessive consumerism? I strongly suspect there is no going back to the way things were in 2019. Welcome to the new normal.

A Quarantined State of Mind

I guess it must be different for people who like people. Frankly, I worry about them. We’ve all seen the memes about introverts needing to check on the extroverts in our lives because they’re not okay. I’m an only child so isolation is just kind of normal for me.

My neighbors still aren’t taking the pandemic seriously. They’re acting like it’s Sunday after church every day. On Tuesday, there was a party a couple houses down that went on for more than 12 hours with people up on the roof deck drinking and listening to the Dangerous Minds soundtrack. The music was a welcome trip back to 1995 but the Airbnbs in town are supposed to be closed, people (extremely John Candy voice). Apparently, all levels of law enforcement went around town yesterday and closed businesses that hadn’t complied with the governor’s order. But then there was a group of random people wanting to meet in the town square to discuss setting up roadblocks to keep the virus out. You just can’t make this shit up.

There are still people in the local Facebook group blaming Americans for bringing the virus to Baja. It’s interesting to experience a group of locals wanting to deport gringos who have overstayed their visas. I find it amusing when I read my American friends’ posts about deporting immigrants. I guess it really is the same all over. Like, I wonder if they realize Mexicans want the Americans out. It’s extremely funny to me for some reason. Textbook definition of irony or the Alanis Morissette bastardization? It doesn’t matter.

I left the house one day last week to take my dog to the vet; I think it was Friday. That was plenty. There’s a lot going on at home: Trees to trim, dogs to bathe, coffee to grind, flowers to water, geckos to rescue, laundry, dishes, a sock drawer to organize….

Back to the psychology of isolation, though. I hadn’t been to the beach in a few weeks but admit feeling a sudden urge to go as soon as I heard they were closing. The feeling passed but I wonder if that’s only because I can still see the ocean every time I look outside. I can only imagine how it must feel to be stuck inside a studio apartment. Our house is on a fully fenced and gated half-acre so the dogs can run around like maniacs all day if they choose. I don’t have to worry about how to make sure their needs are met without getting arrested. I can also climb the stairs to the roof deck for cardio. You may think I’m crazy for living on a washed-out dirt road in Mexico but it’s an A+ location in a pandemic.

None of us will get out of this unscathed, though. What’s happening in New York right now will happen elsewhere soon…possibly where I am. If we survive it, we will all know someone who didn’t. We thought 9/11 was the defining moment of our lives but we were wrong. This is it and there is more to come.

Sorry Folks…Baja is Closed

I mean, it’s kind of closed anyway. There’s a lot to unpack and my Spanish is still pretty terrible so I’m relying heavily on Google Translate when I read the news. There’s definitely no shortage of rumors and uninformed opinions. The main local Facebook group is a five-alarm dumpster fire.

The debate about whether or not the beaches were closed raged on for several days. Let’s not worry about whether or not we’ll have food and running water over the next month or so. Noooo…by all means argue about the fucking beaches, which are closed.

The Mexican government has a tiered plan based on certain infection thresholds and they’ve been increasing restrictions accordingly. The US media has a lot to say about how AMLO has handled the pandemic and I really don’t have an opinion either way. Just like in the US, it’s much more important how the governors handle their business.

Speaking of which, the governor of BCS tweeted a plea the other day for tourists to stop coming to Cabo. That seems weird, right? Like, can’t the governor close the airport? He ordered all nonessential businesses to close (including hotels) effective Monday, April 6 but can’t he close the airport to incoming passenger flights? As of right now, I’m still finding several daily flights from LA to Cabo after April 6.

So yeah, April 6 is the date everything shuts down for real here. Rumor has it alcohol sales will be cut off that day as well. I understand the rationale but I also know alcohol withdrawals can be deadly so that seems somewhat counterproductive. The emergency order is supposed to last until April 30 and I can’t imagine everyone stocked up to make it until May. I’m hearing that people are supposed to exercise at home for the duration, which ought to go splendidly as well.

Citizens set up a roadblock outside San Javier yesterday and people were cheering their efforts online. I completely understand the sentiment but am also keenly aware how quickly vigilante justice can go off the rails. Some people are saying they can get from here to La Paz and others say it can’t be done. My concern would be that I could get out of town but then couldn’t get back home so it isn’t worth the risk. Cabo apparently gets very dangerous during hurricane emergencies so I imagine this next month will be no exception.

I’ve been awake since 6:45 am waiting for the garbage truck. There was an issue earlier this week in La Paz with the sanitation workers’ union that finally got resolved but it isn’t clear when we should expect to see them. I’ve been stalking my neighbors to see if/when they put out their trash and listening intently for the sound of the truck. I have the gate key in my pocket and I’m ready to run out there any time. It’s an imperfect system but it’s the only one I’ve got.

I worry about the people who are still not taking COVID-19 seriously. It doesn’t matter how you view politics or the economy. We can sort out violations of civil liberties but to do so requires us to be alive. That should be each individual’s priority. Stay healthy and look after those who cannot look after themselves.

Riding out the Storm in Mexico

It’s very strange to feel so disconnected from my home country. After less than six months, I feel like I’ve been in Mexico forever. Many American and Canadian expats have returned home but we decided to stay here indefinitely. I feel extremely fortunate to be riding this out here rather than in the US and it’s a weird thing to try to explain so I’ll skip it for now.

Baja has been somewhat late in joining the pandemic but the beaches are now closed and people are being strongly encouraged to stay home. So far, we’re seeing a major reduction in traffic and people on the streets but people don’t seem to be panicking at all. The grocery stores are fully stocked. In addition to the roosters and ranchero music, I can still hear power tools being used on job sites. People who need to feed their families will continue working as long as they are physically able and no amount of social media infographics will deter them. The Mexican government is promising stimulus pesos but that doesn’t help people whose employers have already closed and need food now.

There seems to be a belief here that COVID-19 only affects the upper class. I assume that’s because the virus was initially spread from China by travelers. Mexican elites brought it to the mainland after visiting Vail and interacting with Italians who were there for a ski competition. The first two cases in Cabo were brought by tourists. I’ve seen some anti-American comments on the local Facebook groups by those who believe we brought the virus to the community but so far, no torches and pitchforks.

Some people on social media are calling for roadblocks to keep people from Cabo and La Paz (where there are confirmed cases) out of town but the genie is already out of the bottle. Military checkpoints will definitely be set up on the highway in the event of social unrest but there is no stopping the virus; it just lives on surfaces too long to be contained.

Right now, everything feels fine here. Flowers need to be watered and the dogs want to play. It’s beautiful outside and I may do my yoga on the porch so I can look at the ocean. It may be the calm before the storm but right now nothing is preventing me from enjoying my day.

Waiting for Ramón

I have a very special relationship with a man named Ramón and I don’t even know his last name. We’ve been corresponding on a monthly basis since last November. Our conversations are 99% one-sided but the outcome is what matters.

It turns out only about 6% of homes in México have natural gas and most of them are in the southeast region of the country. As of 2017, Baja California Sur had no demand. The electrical grid is the polar opposite of reliable so that means if you don’t have solar or a generator, you’re using propane to cook and heat water.

It is my understanding that some homes do have those huge permanent propane tanks like you see in rural areas of the US that are filled by the big tanker trucks. This is not the case at our house. We have this setup, which I am told by the bf is on par with the situation in Iraq:

I have learned a 30-kg tank lasts almost exactly 30 days without being extra careful about usage and that costs 605 pesos, which is about $25 US using today’s exchange rate. That’s outrageously expensive compared to my monthly natural gas bill in Arizona…and this is ONLY for the kitchen stove and water heater.

I am not trying to pay $25 a month for cooking and showering so you know my cheap ass bought a $15 hot plate. Electricity is crazy cheap here so we try to cook with the hot plate as much as possible and use it to heat the house when it’s chilly outside.

So anyway, I learned about Ramón from a local Facebook group and people just contact him on WhatsApp to get their tank deliveries. He has only replied to my request via the app once. Normally, he just shows up and honks at the gate. This means once I make the request, I have to stay home and wait…sometimes for 30 minutes…sometimes for days.

Imagine washing your hair out of a plastic bucket that has been sitting on the patio warming in the sun. It didn’t take long to realize we needed a second tank to use as a backup while we wait for Ramón.

Don’t think for a minute I’m bashing him because he’s super professional and obviously very busy. In fact, Ramón brought me a propane tank in his personal truck on New Year’s Day with his wife looking displeased in the passenger seat. I was absolutely gobsmacked and extremely grateful.

The last time I saw him, he seemed to be in a good mood so I tried to practice my Spanish a bit. Too much…got it. We’re not on that level. I’m not sure I’ve ever cared so much about what a stranger thinks of me. I don’t want to piss him off because I need that gas!

Businesses are still operating in BCS but people are definitely trying to limit contact with one another. I imagine the propane delivery guys are overwhelmed by the demand as everyone prepares to be home for the near future. I sent my first request early on Tuesday and then a follow-up first thing this morning. Sherman needs to go to the vet for a Rabies booster before the vet has to close. He should be here any moment. Until then, I’ll be waiting for Ramón.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

I’m not even going to joke about COVID-19. Everyone knows someone whose immune system is compromised for whatever reason and any virus can be lethal to them.

So far, Baja California Sur hasn’t really seen much activity. There was at least one cruise ship with infected passengers that stopped in Cabo but the last time I checked, there haven’t been any confirmed cases. I’ve seen some rumors online about a positive test in La Paz but nothing confirmed.

My immune system is ridiculously strong so I don’t worry about how sick I will become if I am exposed. However, I am incredibly sensitive to those who aren’t so fortunate. Staying home is my standard operating mode so the concept of social isolation doesn’t phase me. I worry about those who actually enjoy the company of other people. Two weeks in isolation is enough to drive a normal person mad.

I guess if you’re one of those people and have never worked from home, here are a few things that may help:

Stick to a routine. Unless you’re too ill, maintain your normal sleep schedule. Plan your days the same as you would at work. You still need to do laundry and dishes. Pets still need to be fed. Even completing tiny tasks like painting your toenails will make you feel like you accomplished something. Try not to binge watch television all day. Get some exercise…and it doesn’t have to be anything major. Even if you’re stuck in an apartment and can’t go outside, you can do a couple easy yoga poses or light stretching. If watching or reading the news is making you anxious, leave it alone for a few hours. If the sun is shining, open the damned curtains already.

Tomorrow I’ll be cleaning floors, changing bedding, and bathing dogs. That’s enough to occupy my time on a dirt road in Mexico. I’ll worry about the global economy shit show another day.

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