Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Grandma's Cafe, Silver City, NM

Every restaurant in town is closed on Memorial Day except the big chains. Grandma’s Café has an open sign, so I whip a fast left and narrowly miss the one car coming from the opposite direction. It’s everything you’d expect from a café named Grandma’s:  A friendly (in a surly way) waitress. Tables decorated with floral plastic table cloths with matts on top. Thick white dishes. Jam in a  jar, with a big spoon sticking out.  A bottle of hot sauce next to a vase with a little bouquet of flowers.  Walls covered in floral wallpaper. Windows dressed in lace. Wood floors. A counter with a display of cereal boxes and a glass case full of pies.

A simple looking overweight man comes in and sits at one of the center tables. The waitress greets him by name: Bruce.

A teenaged boy named Jimmy swoops out of the kitchen and tells the waitress not to give Bruce a hard time. “You mess with Bruce, You’re messin with me!” Then to Bruce he says, “I got yer back man!” Bruce is beaming.

The waitress is chubby but has an amazing amount of energy for a sixty something woman. She asks Bruce if he wants coffee. He says no. “What? Our coffees’ not as good as McDonald’s”. Bruce says he wouldn’t go to McDonalds if you gave him a hundred dollars. It takes him a while to say it. She delivers coffee to the other customers, comes back to Bruce and says “So, we’re not your second choice after all?” He drawls out that he’s surprised to find Grandma’s open, all the other restaurants in town are closed. The waitress replies, “We’d be closed too if Jimmy had just hog-tied Gramdma this morning like he was supposed to.”

Two other locals come in, see Bruce and join him. There are a dozen tables seating 2-8 people. More than half are full, and there’s only the one waitress. She fills my cup – “You may have wanted the day off, but it sure looks like you all have a good time here.” I tell her.

She smiles and whips over to the next table to fill them up. 

Monday, May 30, 2011

Silver City Blues Festival

Crowds are large but not as thick as last year, high winds most likely keeping them away. A boy walks by holding a Styrofoam plate of fresh hot salty potato chips. The wind flips it out of his hands and it sails, chips flying in all directions onto a group of gray haired ladies dressed in the tie-dye shirts and hippie dresses they just bought at the corner booth. The poor boy is horrified, and still hungry.

The sun by late afternoon is relentless but made easier to bare by the wind which keeps the air cool. People have stayed out without sunscreen longer than they should. Every now and then a hat sails up over the crowd.

The bands are amplified to uncomfortable levels unless one wears ear plugs or wadded up napkin balls soaked in spit. Some enterprising vendor has sold bubbles to children. Often, without seeing them coming, a cold bubble lands on the skin in a chilly pop. A man in cowboy hat and thick luscious beard wanders around with Mardi Gras beads, doling them out to little girls and a few boys, some women too. He looks a kind soul, maybe a wifeless man who would have adored to be a father but is now perhaps too old.

Those who staked out a spot under the shade trees are the smart ones by late afternoon. The bands will quit at 6:30 today. The Pleasure Pilots just finished with a blues tune after playing several Van Morrison’s.

The couple sitting next to me look like people I’ve heard about from Arkansas. Both of them are missing some front teeth and have grubby looking hair in dire need of conditioner. But they talk like they’re from California. Turns out they are really down on their luck, homeless and living in a tent in the woods near by. They’ve been here in Silver City for 2 years. Friends let them shower and do laundry. They eat free lunches at the Baptist church during the week, and get some food from the food bank. But they have no way to cook. You can’t build a fire in these tinder dry woods – so I gave them my gas stove and a gallon of white gas.

The last act of the day was a sitar-blues-guitar fusion act. Harry Manx (only one person) had a drum at his feet, a harmonica at his lips, a mic for voice and a specially made instrument that resembled a guitar with more strings than I could see in that late afternoon sun. It sometimes sounded like a guitar with sitar undertones, sometimes like a sitar alone. He tuned it for a long time and joked that when musicians tune a sitar you can’t tell where the tuning stops and the song begins. So it was as he moved into the tune.

Wonderful last act. Not dance tunes but then, we were all pretty well danced-out. I had spotted a woman in a yellow “Stand on the Side of Love” t-shirt. I knew immediately that she was Unitarian. Sure enough Maura and her friend Peggy had come down from Albuquerque. It was their third year. We met up after the last act and went to dinner at Isaac’s, a nice bar/restaurant downtown. They were delightful women, we drank and ate, chatted, and then they offered me their camping spot at Rose Valley. Maura has a Eurovan camper and there was plenty of room for both vehicles to fit into the long ‘slot’. So I had electricity all night, no need to park in front of the restrooms to recharge my batteries and run my computer!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Tent on Wheels

Silver City, NM

RV's lined up at the 'trough'.
I’m staying at the Rose Valley RV Ranch. They raise RV’s here. You should see them, all lined up at the troughs of electricity and water. The ranch is thickly decorated in a western theme. There are wooden fences with rusting machinery, dried up ropes, a horseshoe pit, ancient saddles artfully nailed over logs, even the stop sign says "Whoa".  In the center of the park there’s a building with 4 individual bathrooms and a laundro-mat. I’m currently parked in front of that building because it’s the only place I can get electricity. You see, I’m anathema to the place. I’m in a tent on wheels, also known as a dry camper.  I don’t have a bathroom or kitchen in my van, it is literally like a tent, no services whatsoever, except that I brought an extension cord. Most campgrounds have a place for tent campers, maybe some shade trees and a picnic table. But since this is an RV Ranch, they don’t take to kindly to tenters. It brings down the property values.

Western decor at the Ranch.
However, I have no tent, and look like a vehicle that just might be an RV so I passed muster last night when I showed up. They let me have the parking lot next to the barn (actually it’s a craft room that is built to look like a barn). There was no electricity on the outside of the barn, so I’m recharging my 12V battery using my own extension cord and the outlet on the laundry building. People pass by, walking their tiny RV pooches, and look at me funny. Now I know why Chihuahuas and toy Schnauzers were invented.

Old Mesilla Bookstore.

I spent Friday night in Las Cruces with a friend. We took pictures of the sunset casting pink light on the Organ Mountains, had a late dinner at a really good little Mexican restaurant that served about three times what one should eat for dinner and stayed up much of the night talking. Saturday I took all day to drive the 2 hours to Silver City. First I went to a grocery across from the University that was sort of a cross between Smiths and Whole Foods. They seemed to have a lot of ‘new age’ foods and organics, plus regular products at a 15% markup. On down University Blvd is the town of Mesilla. There I got wrapped up in a wonderful bookstore on the plaza that has been there for 50 years, still run by the woman who was a little girl when her mother owned it. It’s charming, old, dusty, and full of beautiful antique Navajo Rugs, old time western lamps, Zuni dolls and figurines, and books tumbling around on the shelves as if they were all read on a regular basis.

City of Rocks State Park, south of Silver City, NM.
It was a long dry, dusty drive to Deming once I figured out how to get onto I-10. Off in the distance, dust devils towered half a mile high, once in a while a gust would blow me to one side like a giant invisible bear paw.  I was tired from a lack of sleep, the sun was putting my eyes into sand-mode, and I was thirsty. I stopped at the tourist information center and they directed me to a park where I could take a nap in the shade, and eat my leftovers from dinner that I’d stuck in the cooler. Deming is an interesting small town. The streets are wide! Wide enough to park rows of cars head in and still have more than enough room for two broad lanes of traffic. Of course there is NO traffic, but whoever planned the place certainly thought ahead to a time when people might want to crowd up in a desert with no water, food growing ability, or industry. Nice road north up to Silver City too. I stopped at the City of Rocks state park and drove up to the overlook, took some 360 degree photos of the landscape, and then drove on to the Blue’s Festival. I thought it would be a good idea to find a place to park/camp for the night, so I tackled that project first. Good thing too, as all the campgrounds were full including the one where I’m staying.

The bands were set up in a gazebo in the middle of the park. This is my 3rd year coming down for this, so I thought I might run into some people I recognize, perhaps Unitarians from my previous trips where I did home-stays as part of their fund-raising efforts. I saw the vendor who sells the best locally produced nuts, so I bought a bag of red-chile-honey pecans and ate those as a prelude to dinner. The BBQ guy whose brisket I so enjoyed last year was there too, so I bought dinner from him. It was pretty late, the dinner crowd was gone but the food was still good.  A lovely day of tripping around on my own.

In the back yard of the bookstore.

The church in Mesilla, beautiful, inside and out.

Such difference a little water makes. Above: a
cabbage field near Mesilla. Below: a single
flower blooms above the City of Rocks. 
Symmetry: a Pecan orchard in the Rio Grande Valley.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Count the Money

This is a long overdue post-note for the blog. It's now been more than a month since I got home from the trip to San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas.

John arrived two weeks before I left, and that first night left his debit card in the bank machine when he got money. Note to self:  Don't get money out of a machine when you're tired, especially if you're brain dead from being up almost 24 hours traveling.

Poor John.  Four or five days later, he ran out of cash and went to a cash machine to discover that the card was missing from his wallet. We hiked over to the bank where he'd gotten cash the night he arrived, and of course they knew nothing of a bank card. He immediately called Wells Fargo in the States to cancel the card. They of course wanted a password, which he didn't know, and they would not cancel the card without the password. He told them he had another debit/credit card with their bank. He gave that number and guessed (it was a three times and you're out kind of deal) correctly the third time what his 'password' was and they said, "OK, we'll cancel the card." But as Murphy will have it, they cancelled the good debit/credit card, and NOT the card that had disappeared. This was promptly discovered on our first trip to Sam's club when John attempted to get cash out of a machine in Customer Service using what he thought was his good card. I've known John a while, and he rarely gets rattled, but he was bordering on panic mode.

A long series of conversations with various Wells Fargo people ensued, and eventually he was assured two replacement cards were on their way. He even got an email verifying they'd been mailed. Ten days later, there was no delivery and a call to Wells Fargo revealed that there was no record of cards having been sent. So, another promise was made and the cards were put into the 'mail': FedX.  This time John received a tracking number and daily interactions with the FedX website showed the package arriving in Tuxtla on May 3. A week later there was still no package. By now, I had lent him money that I got from various bank machines using my own cards. But, I had also left Mexico on April 29th. Poor John was quickly running out of cash.

He could call Wells Fargo, they had a regular US phone number, but for whatever reason, his Verizon cell phone would not allow him to call a 1-800 number so he wasn't able to call FedX directly. I became the intermediary. Wells Fargo would not let him electronically transfer funds to my account because my bank is NOT Wells Fargo. So I had to establish a PayPal account so he could pay me, and I could then use Western Union to send him cash. That worked reasonably well for a couple of weeks. I quickly discovered my own card limitations. I couldn't use my debit card for more than $500 at the Western Union transfer, and they wouldn't take a check. So after the first successful transfer, I had to go to the bank for large quantities of cash, go back to the Western Union, and then arrange the transfer. Gees.

Meanwhile, I was on the phone daily with FedX in the US and he was on the phone with the FedX of Mexico. The package with his cards was somewhere in San Cristobal, in a warehouse, but no one would give him an address to go pick it up. Apparently their personnel were out delivering packages and had no 'office hours'.  Unfortunately, their personnel made no attempt to deliver the package at all. Everyday, there were notes on the website: the package had been refused (by whom?), or they couldn't find the address. I talked to the International service center several times, gave them phone numbers for John, the landlady, even the laundromat next to the landlady's hotel. I gave them the address, the cross street, even described the hotel's glass doorway and the big sign on the laundromat!!  No one from FedX ever showed up. After two weeks the package was shipped back to Mexico City. John was on the phone every day with people there, who assured him they would send it back. Two more weeks have passed. He is, today, on his way to Ajijic and then San Diego, with plenty of cash, but no bank cards. Fortunately the cards were never used by anyone, but as a precaution, John took all the money out of those accounts, and I'd be willing to bet he switches banks as soon as he hits US soil.