Today John and I took a day trip to Algodones, Mexico. I got a new pair of glasses (progressives, plus fetching Celine frames for $120), John got a couple cartons of cigs, and we both got lunch, two Coronas, and a couple of Margaritas.
Algodones is the nicest of the border towns I have been in -- but admittedly I have only been in Paloma, Progresso, and Juarez. Here there are the same street vendors, a gazillion dentists, and the obligatory "pharmacias" where anti-depressants, penicillin, and Viagra morph into over-the-counter medications and a consultation with a medical professional is only a slight suggestion, if it is anything at all. But the area within walking distance of the border is refreshingly free of carbine-toting militia, the gauntlet of street vendors hawking jewelry, DVDs, and dime store bracelets is small and contained, and the children begging for spare change are, for the most part, confined to working the enormous queue of people returning to the U.S.
While we waited for my glasses to be finished we had lunch at Paraiso, a restaurant that started sedately indoors but immediately spread to an outdoor plaza, with umbrella'd tables, a one-man salsa band, a shapely lady selling Cuban cigars, and a t-shirt vendor, most of his wares too off-color to post. Because it was sprinkling -- an amazing thing here in the Sonoran desert -- we chose to sit in the smallish indoor room where previous patrons had stapled dollar bills on the ceiling, just next to the fake stuffed parrot on a swing. Even the restrooms were outside -- while there were individual stalls behind wooden doors, the unisex sinks were in the open, and staffed by a woman who pointed out the soap for you, turned on the water, and then handed you a paper towel to dry your hands -- and, of course, the tip jar was prominently displayed.
After lunch we still had time to kill before my glasses were ready, so we wandered through the tourist-trap shops of Algodones. Want a ceramic frog, turtle or duck for your garden? A fabric poncho, conveniently both rain proof and bullet proof (yes, that really was the claim, but we chalked it up to a language problem)? A lovely human skull in the football helmet of your favorite NFL team? They're all here! And what's this? A shop called "Curios Elvis" that has -- count 'em -- a total of ONE picture of Elvis and nothing else Elvian -- and it wasn't even on black velvet!
But the most curious things of all were the purchases made by these folks we saw in the line to return to the US (a line that took an hour and twenty minutes to get through!). They had bought what looked like three huge palm-tree-chimney-things with enormous feathers sticking up at the top. What were they going to do with them? And why did they need three? Why not two or four?
They were several minutes ahead of us in line, and as we snaked forward, we saw that they were now carrying their odd cargo upright as they moved in the line (see upper part of photo on right, where the line goes under the canopy frame). Eventually, they reached the doors to Customs where only one person is allowed through at a time. That person had to lower his "feather missile," as we called them, and carry it awkwardly and horizontally through the door, and then declare their purchase to the Custom's Agent. What the Agent thought as they saw that first feather come through the door will have to remain a mystery. If only we had been directly behind them in line to see it all up close and personal!
While in line, we were exposed to the elements for several minutes, but the Rain Gods were kind to us and only drizzled when we were under a canopy. The Customs Gods were also kind, and moved us through expediently.
Here is a picture of me in my new glasses: