Thursday, October 11, 2007

Tecate: The Happiest Place on Earth

DSC02583“ARE JEW A FAIRY?” Miguel shouts at me in the bathroom of the Acapulco Club in Tecate, Mexico.

“Si quieres preguntar si yo sea maricon, la respuesta es que no.”

“ARE JEW A FAIRY? SOMOS AMIGOS, VERDAD? ARE JEW OK?” he shouts as he dips his hands in a barrel of water to wash them. He always shouts when he tries to speak English.

“Somos amigos, claro. Estoy bien. No te preocupes.”

It wasn’t until the next morning that Matt pointed out that he had to have been yelling, “ARE JEW AFRAID” and I only misunderstood because I was a bit jumpy. My tight pants attracted more catcalls than a miniskirt and everyone in Tecate thought I was gay.

Until I put on a white blazer, white dress shirt, white shoes, a bolo tie and a silver bracelet.

Then they were just confused. Which was significantly less hazardous to my health in the land of machismo.

But let me back up a bit.

Mark, Matt and I chose to go to Tecate, a town 38 kilometers east of Tijuana, because there was little to no information available about it on the Internet. We had no idea what we’d find there other than an abundance of Tecate beer and hopefully trouble.

Immediately after crossing the border, it was clear we’d find both.

A smokestack in the middle of town pumps white, sulfur gas into the air. It’s a byproduct of the enormous brewery.

While driving along the road next to the border—a mere few feet into Mexico—the pavement suddenly ended. Matt’s fancy new Volvo was suddenly off roading. We were surrounded by hand-written signs and stray dogs.

We followed a sign shaped like a cross lined in gold bulbs hoping it would be a hotel. It turned out to be a pharmacy, but next to it was Motel Paraíso. Three hundred pesos, or thirty bucks, a night.

The furniture there is made of plywood and a one-foot-by-one-foot window in each room faces the outside world. Our view: a pile of rubble from a wing of the motel that recently burned down.

Our windowsill was scorched.

In the one block walk from the pharmacy to the motel, my tight pants drew at least three whistles or shouts. After checking in, we walked to what we thought was a disco. It turned out to be a quincenera. The fifteen year olds outside thought I was “guey” too.

Now “guey” ain’t a bad thing to be, and I’ve been known to make out (or more) with a dude (or five). But in a stray-dog Mexican town with dirt roads and not a single other band of tourists in sight, it was decided that, since I only brought one pair of pants, I would have to don the rest the full white outfit and assume the name Mr. Hollywood for the rest of the trip.

It did the trick. Everyone thought I was insane or from Eastern Europe. Which was good because that way they didn’t want to kick my ass.

After a couple of beers and some live mariachi, Matt, Mark, and Mr. Hollywood found themselves in a pool hall where they serve 40s of Tecate. We were the only gringos there and they switched from Mariachi to Nirvana a few minutes after we walked in.

A pudgy fellow in work boots and a white t-shirt came up and introduced himself to us. Only Matt—who grew up in Puerto Rico—could understand his rapid Spanish. His name was Edgar and he said to let him know if we needed anything. We bought him a 40 and he asked us to play pool with him and his friends.

Edgar realized I wasn’t as quick as Matt with the Spanish so he slowed it down for me. He was 20 years old, had lived in Tecate for 10 years, and loved it. His friend, Miguel, used to deal drugs in Seattle.

“I JEWST TO LEEVE IN SEATTLE” he shouted when he found out I live in Portland.

“¿Que hiciste allí?”


“Sail boat?”


“Ship yard?”


“Oh, sell drugs!”

Around this time, Edgar began making curvy woman gestures with his hands and asking if we wanted to go somewhere else. So the three gringos and four locals got into Edgar’s Bronco.

As he floored it in reverse the back seat lurched forward. It was clear that it wasn’t bolted down.

Edgar proceeded to jump curbs, speed, and off-road his way across town. Mark hit his head on the ceiling. My arm was sore the next day from clutching so tightly to the “oh shit” handle.

“¿Dónde vamos?” I asked.


Knowing that Acapulco was hundreds of miles away, I really hoped there was a bar here by the same name. When we arrived there after a 20 minute rollercoaster, my fellow gringos and I discussed in English how glad we were to be alive.

And how glad we were to be in Tecate.

Acapulco is a strip club, and in Mexican strip clubs, you have to court the stripper before you get a lap dance. Edgar decided that Mr. Hollywood needed to woo a stripper.

So he found one named Paloma, gave her some money, and told me I had to dance salsa with her onstage.

Thank goodness I had gotten extensive dancing lessons from the most beautiful—and forgiving—partner in the Pacific Northwest some weeks before.

I couldn’t wait to get home and write my gracious instructor since I think I pulled off the dance. Matt was less convinced. “You certainly moved a lot,” he said.

Then Matt gave Edgar seventy pesos to give to Paloma who came over to my chair, straddled me, and shoved my face between her enormous breasts. Even Miguel, who seemed to be the sensible one in the group, continually encouraged me to grope her within her panties.

My American strip club reflexes screamed, “Don’t touch the stripper!!!” so I didn’t do it.

Following my lap dance, Edgar had become so drunk I could no longer understand his Spanish. I had also forgotten most of the language myself by that point and had resorted to shouting “Joder!” in different tones of voice depending on the situation.
Edgar knocked over a table, smashed a bottle, tried to fight Miguel, fell down, stood up, yelled, groped a stripper, and offered to take us to another bar.

We were out of money. We asked to go home. Miguel asked if I was afraid, but I thought he was asking if I was a fairy. He wanted to go home too, but was going to stay around to protect us from Edgar.

We bounced, skidded and sped back to Motel Paraíso. Edgar asked for Matt’s phone number. One of the locals, a short fellow who mostly paid attention to his girlfriend rather than us, whispered to Matt, “Darle un numero falso.” So he did.

The sun was rising as we went to bed and it was quiet.

But we were awaked a few hours later by what sounded like construction in our room. It was just the pile of burned rubble right outside the window.

The rest of the trip was filled with first-rate fish tacos, shopping for Western clothes.

Then we went looking for an archaeological site. Which we never found.

We found a pile of cars instead.

Mark and I accidentally passed the town of La Rumorosa where the turn off to the archaeology was and ended up on a windy mountain road it’s impossible to turn around on.

We stopped to take in a fantastic view and noticed some wrecked cars in the distance.

Climbing over the rocks for a couple of hundred yards revealed one of the strangest sites I have ever laid eyes on. There were at least 30 cars, all piled on each other from the same dangerous turn. The ones at the bottom were more rusty than the ones on top and you could see where the cars had impacted each other and where there had been fires.

It was like something right out of the Simpsons, just one car flying off the same curve after another.

We stayed and contemplated all the death that had taken place here and hoped that no more cars flew over the cliff while we were in the crash zone.

Then we took some photos, which now populate our space.

I was really sad the first time I had to speak English at a gas station once we crossed the border. A weekend is not enough to do Tecate and its environs right.

Photos: by Mark.

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