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.

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.

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