septiembre 30, 2015

How To Fly Without A Landing Gear

We were coming from Tacna, Peru. March 1969. We had made a car trip from Trujillo almost 1500 miles away. The whole family, my father, my stepmother, my brothers Eduardo, Carlos and my sister Patty. Even the maid. We took a flight in one of those turbo propeller planes, all of which ended falling. The flight was bound for Lima, with layover in Arequipa. Once we approached to Arequipa and the announcement that we were landing came out, I felt the sound of the landing gear, but I didn’t see the wheels go down. I asked my father if on his side the wheels were down, and he said yes.

All my mental alarms were activated immediately and the adrenaline took over at that time. After making a few downs and spikes with the aircraft, the pilot calmly announced that they had decided to continue the flight to Lima due to a slight mechanical failure. At the time I thought you had to be pretty dumb to believe that it was a slight mechanical failure, but even dumber to think that people were going to swallow that story.

Finally, we continued the trip to Lima. The plane looked like a huge toad, jumping every 5 minutes to see if the wheels went down, but nothing. After almost an hour, all I could think was that I was too young to die, and it wasn’t fair. At that age, I still believed that life was fair (speaking of dumb...)

When we arrived to Lima, the pilot announced that in order to get rid of excess fuel, we would make a few laps over Lima. He never said why he had to remove the excess fuel, but I figured we all understood it was to avoid dying like sausages on a grill.

I just remember seeing from above the harbor of Lima, Callao, then the Regatas Club, San Cosme Mount  and again Callao, Regatas, etc. for over an hour.

At that time, my head was going over a thousand miles per hour. Above all, my guiding thought was “too young to die” illuminating the winding path...

Below were all the things I had wanted to do: become a millionaire, be a doctor, travel around the world, own Onassis's yacht, smoke Colombian weed, meet Natalie Wood, all together. At my side, a telephone with a direct line to God, somewhat worried because I hadn’t called him for a while.

I felt like I was in a lonely and wild beach with rough seas and a threatening tsunami that swept everything. This now completely irrational mental sea was basically a feeling of impatience telling me “to hell with it, if we're going to die, so be it, but Now!”

At the next level, playing an absolutely crucial role, there was what I call my terrifying imagination. It’s the one responsible for developing the "if’s" in my life and its job is to keep me scared all the time. It’s big, very big. It’s my brilliant imagination companion, which is very small and is in charge to save the day every once in a while with a great idea or an out of the box thought. Lastly, my positive imagination, minuscule, almost embryonic trying vainly to keep me positive. I feed her a lot, but seems to have a growth issue.

The brilliant imagination was thinking, what if we hit the sea? Even without a parachute, if the pilot flies slow and low, there is a good chance of survival. At least it...

Then it began to wander, thinking about different ways to build airplanes and safety devices to prevent things like this one. It ended up half crazy out there, with no one listening.

The positive imagination received a huge reinforcement from the captain, who left the cabin, greeted everyone, and before going back, like remembering something not too important, turned back and said very calmly and showing a tremendous confidence:
-        Oh, by the way, this is not a routine incident, but is not perilous at all, so don’t worry!

Clear! There it is! Here was the man in control; he knew what he was doing, so I sent the terrifying imagination to bed: go to sleep, you fool!

The terrifying imagination hadn’t been sleeping, (admittedly, it always ignored me), and had realized that we are thirteen passengers, and our family was in row thirteen of the aircraft. However, due to the remarks from the captain, it is half knocked out, until it convinced me to turn my head to look at the other passengers.

I saw a “gringo”, which at that point was already dead drunk, and couldn’t care less about anything. Then an old woman of about 70, who appeared to be in her first (and last) flight. She didn’t realize what was going on. Looked at me with that smile of older people, which only transmits some "I'm harmless" message.

In the last row, I found what my terrifying imagination was looking for; the two attendants sitting, one with tears in her eyes and the other praying with a rosary in her hands. I knew it! – The captain was an idiot and he already tried to fool me once with the slight mechanical failure! And now this! You, positive, return to dock, don’t be stupid!

Finally, we prepared to land. The flight attendants, courageously and with watery eyes, were giving instructions to all of us. We had to put our head between the knees, take off our glasses and the women their high-heeled shoes. We were shown the emergency exits, so we placed ourselves in the position that I envisioned in which my charred body was going to be found.

We began a descend that seemed endless. I couldn’t wait any longer. If I was going to die there, I wanted to know what was happening. I put on my glasses and rose up to look out the window. We were like five feet above the ground. I went back to place my head between my knees. Again, I couldn’t stand it. I looked out the window and saw the ground almost at my level. I bent down again and at that point, the plane touched land and began to vibrate deafeningly so I rose up again. Through the window, I could only see white smoke while the vibration wouldn’t stop. I noticed we were going a little slower, not much, but ultimately the speed dropped dramatically.

Suddenly, the plane made a violent ninety degrees turn and stopped.  We landed between applauses from ambulance nurses, firefighters and patrol officers.

I left the plane carrying my two year old brother Carlos and my brother Eduardo carrying our six year old sister Patty. Emergency doors were just doors. No ladder or slide. We had to jump at least five feet to the ground.

Once outside, my guiding obsession had disappeared, and I could afford to help my stepmother and a flight attendant walk without shoes on a ground with many sharp stones to reach a van.

I later learned that the old lady had a slight concussion because the maid pushed her through the door trying to hurry her up.

I couldn’t help thinking that the brand new ambulances on the side didn’t move at all. The two women were in a real crisis of nerves. In the van they were given a sedative, which an hour later still had them stupefied.

Around three o’clock, our old man decided to make the trip from Lima to Trujillo in the car. With the maid and the driver we were 6 adults (or almost) and two kids. A little uncomfortable.

I asked myself why he didn’t send the maid and the driver on the plane. After all, tickets were already paid.

It took me many years to overcome the fear of planes. The interesting thing is that one day, years ago, talking to my brother, he told me that because of that accident, he knew he would never get killed on a plane, because the probability was infinitesimal. Me, on the contrary, fatalistic, thought it was my karma. Today, the truth and all, I don’t care at all.

A month later, my father invited Captain Forno, the aircraft commander, to a barbecue at the house. They had a great time.

Three months later, he died in the crash of the very same plane in the Peruvian jungle, which had a single survivor, Giuliana Koepcke.

septiembre 22, 2015

A Day in Texas

I had returned from Lima a few days ago, where I went to lift my flagging spirits by my many and annoying aches and to process my retirement. Extraordinary family and friends I have are an infallible balm. Never before I had thought of retirement and suddenly, I was facing a key milestone in my life. I am still undecided as to my future and the feeling of uncertainty is not pleasant.

Nevertheless, the following Saturday, already in my daily routine, I found a special day.
Rare. Nice, but weird. Nothing presaged it would be that way. Wet and cloudy spring day in San Antonio. It didn’t even seem pretty.

The mist awakened in me the longing of Lima, with its permanent haze and the sky color called by people in Lima "donkey's belly", indefinable, nor white, nor gray, nor anything. Like an immense and dense veil you get used to, but imperceptibly influencing the mood of people. In a way, people born in Lima are like that, not white, not gray, undefined in the sense of always living within the ease and comfort that uncertainty gives, not to take clear party by anything or anybody, free from passions and resentments, nor change the life or the attitude of anyone.

Already said it by Don Hipólito Unanue, Lima’s illustrious doctor in the nineteenth century in his treatise on the climate of Lima and its influence on the people: "Limeños (people born in Lima) have a soft heart and a very speedy and penetrating soul, but lack shaft in thinking and acting ".
Bolivar, “El Libertador” dared to say that the Lima’s atmosphere was able to "feminize any man."

Lima is a spoiling city where it’s easy to find a comfort zone and commonplaces without interfering with other people and really get involved.
The words are smooth, often euphemistic and apparently innocuous. The limeños in general, to paraphrase Bryce Echenique, make a great effort "not to disturb".

I was happy living that way. I managed with great ease my words and my views, taking much care of "don’t disturb" anyone, unless doing it on purpose. Even for that, I was delicate and subtle. Phrases like "I tell you this because you're my friend. People don’t like you", said almost sweetly, could have a devastating effect of a grenade without giving the questioned any possibility to react. For example "My good friend, don’t tell jokes, please. You do it very poorly and with all my affection I am telling you people laugh just by education."
And of course, the elegant "Not to talk bad, but ...," one of my favorites.

A good friend once told me that the problem with me was that after saying so, people still had to thank me, and that was the worst part. He said this in public and I, unaware of the power of that verbal hemlock, was very surprised when almost all nodded in approval. Between comforting and very discreet smiles and laughs, of course.
That deadly stabbing feature of my personality persists and I try as much as possible to refrain from using it. That doesn’t mean I am politically correct, simply ethical. It’s not easy, but I keep trying every day. It’s all I can do.

When we moved to Texas 16 years ago, and although I speak decent English, I had the usual second language limitations, so I tried to make my vocabulary simple and concise. The hardest thing was to find the right level of translation from Spanish, much more emotional language and impractical in relation to English.

But it’s complicated. Speaking another language is not, as people believe, to know the right word to translate, but which word to use in a culture that is very different. It’s a matter of inculturation, that is, integrate into another culture. In my case, the process has taken years and I think I have not yet integrated myself in the way things are seen here. I am not saying it’s wrong; it’s just not how I was raised. I ignore all kind of stuff, since ancient traditions to major issues of values, principles and policies. Long ago, I realized there are things in this country that everyone knows and I will never know. For me that relies tremendously in the use of language the experience has been difficult, tortuous and extremely frustrating.

That old joke in Spanish that did translate "entre y tome asiento" to "between and drink a chair " in some cases in real life that happened to me becomes pathetically true.

I see my granddaughter singing "Itsy Bitsy Spider" and "Five Little Monkeys" while I think of "Matatiru-tiru-la" and "Arroz con Leche". When she grows up, those beautiful memories will awaken and the latter will not tell her anything. By the way, children's songs in my time did much emphasis on marriage and work of women in the house, while now they aimed to work hard and play hard. Matter for another story.

The most curious and explosive thing in Texas is the racial mix. The major ethnic groups that built and developed Texas, arid territory, with sudden climatic changes, terrible droughts and appalling floods, not to mention tornadoes, thunderstorms and torrential rains were essentially three, Germans, Poles and Mexicans.
I'm sure it's one of the many jokes that God usually plays. You can hardly imagine anything so absurd. It’s a forced, violent, stubborn and dangerous combination. I say mix and not blend, because it’s irreversible. The generations who were born here are German values, Mexican wittiness and Polish sense of humor, and all possible interpolations of the characteristics of these three cultures and ethnicities, as they like to call it now.
Germany, with two world wars to its credit and numerous internal wars and with other countries, obviously had to develop tremendous discipline and strength to survive while Poland, which was partitioned three times and invaded several more, has the impossibility of owning the minimum sense of humor. Mexico on the other side has been an empire, colony, republic and bloody revolutionary dwelling always having to improvise at risk of disappearing. And so was Texas born and formed.

For Peruvians who read me, Texas becomes for the US something like Arequipa to Peru. Always thinking of the "independent republic". After all, Texas was a country for a while.
I have met great people, but also the other kind. Some very educated and other ignorant to the core. Very interesting ways of seeing life or completely absurd and incomprehensible to me.

I worked with a Texan who refused to wear a seat belt because once his clavicle broke in a serious car accident. I asked him if he considered that a broken collarbone was a very cheap price compared to the possibility of leaving out the windshield to crash on the pavement. He thought for a minute, a sign that never crossed his mind, but he answered with great confidence: "That will never happen." Irrefutable logic.
I met one whom, despite having an automatic door in his garage working perfectly, never used the remote control or the switch to open it. Moreover, didn’t leave the car outside. No. He parked both inside religiously every day. Opening the door manually. Stupidly and getting myself in somebody else business, I asked if it was broke or something. He said it worked perfectly. But that someday it was going to break and if he was using regularly the remote or the automatic opener he would get so pissed off he preferred not using it. He stressed that he knew himself and wanted to avoid that incident. I didn’t ask more, but I preferred to avoid any approach. Such people are usually dangerous.

As a child, I saw all Wild West shows on television The Rifleman, Lawman, The Sheriff of Cochise, Texas Rangers, Annie Oakley, The Lone Ranger and many more. I was fond of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. John Wayne was one of my biggest idols. Each movie the Duke starred made me quiver from start to finish. I was in short, a cowboy at heart. At least I thought.

It was only natural that when I came here I expected to meet some real cowboys, maybe not as impressive as John Wayne, but at least such as the ones in the Marlboro commercials. It was some months before my dream come true. One of my neighbors, whom I had told him my dream, let me know that a "real" cowboy would visit him. The guy wanted to buy a car that he had for sale. You can imagine my excitement and the anticipated joy that came over me. It was a moment awaited for many years, so the next day very early in the morning I showed up at his house to wait for the cowboy, who gave his name as Jessie.
Around noon, when my expectation was at the top, Jessie arrived. Excited, I rushed to open the door and before me was one skinny person, shorter than me, and very dark, betraying his Mexican origin. He introduced himself with a thick accent saying:  "Jesse Lujan, nais tu mit yu". Of course, he had a very large hat, boots, worn jeans and very short bowed legs.

Later I learned that his name was Jesús, born south of the border and didn’t speak English well. However, he had been a cowboy all his life, and had many broken bones as any typical cowboy. I discovered that in South Texas people talk as much or maybe more Spanish than English and many are actually really good cowboys. Nevertheless, my disappointment was tremendous and so far, I have not recovered from the blow. Not even rodeos, including riding wild bulls, have been able to restore that bright and immense picture of John Wayne.
I also discovered that life in Texas could be cruel and unforgiving. Droughts, floods and rain are common and sudden. It can rain a fortnight without stopping and then two months without a drop of water. My brother, who lives in Texas since he was 17, said that on average, San Antonio received about thirty inches of rain a year. I remember my first week here we had a torrential rain without interruption for eight days. I complained to him that the figure he had given me was ridiculously low. Sarcastically, he replied - I didn’t tell you it rains all together ...- no further comment.

The temperature can vary from 30 to 105 degrees and no one alters for this but me, of course. A common phrase here is - "You don’t like the weather in Texas? Don’t worry, it will change..." -
There were some days in the summer where I felt as a descendant of Dracula, since it was only possible to get out at night.

The land? Cracked, full of rocks and clay. Due to inclement weather, natural trees that are counted by the millions, don’t reach over six feet tall, twisted and deformed in their struggle to survive and ready to inundate the city with pollen causing epidemics of allergy. I am not immune to it, damn it!

As any regular Peruvian, I am useless as long as the care of a house is concerned. Here I learned to cut the grass, activity I still hate with all my heart, fix plumbing, to repair walls, planting and pruning trees and other plants, making installations and electrical repairs and I better stop because it will take me back to depression. Besides, I am clumsy and have had awkward and countless injuries in the hands and legs as a result of accidents trying to become a Texan. Oh, I forgot: you also have to install fences, extraordinary, tedious and horrible activity.
When we bought our house, my wife fell in love with it. I looked out the back door and I fell in love with a beautiful garden of about 5,000 square feet, all mine!
In addition, behind the garden, there was a small ravine full of trees and deer appeared very early to eat the herbs soaked with dew. I don’t mean a few. There are days when you can see fifteen or twenty. A wonderful view.

Soon the reality hit me. Hard and implacable, without mercy. We had not finished settling and grass grew from day to day like wheat. I could not believe it, but it had rained incessantly for three days. Cut the grass lasts about three hours, and in addition to cutting, you have to use the "weed eater" damn machine that spins at tremendous speed a nylon rope and has left scars on my two legs, and its whole purpose is to remove weeds adjacent to the fence and walls, and the "edger" used to demarcate the borders. It's the only thing I can handle easily. You just have to pass by the edge of the grass and leaves a very clean and professional edge. Indeed, more than once I nearly lost all the toes moving the instrument a few millimeters of my instep since it has a small steel gear rotating at high speed.

Finally had to match the bushes, cut branches from the trees, in addition to winterize (land preparation for winter and same for the summer), combat the worms, bees, wasps, spiders, termites, scorpions, bacteria, fungi and other pests, undesirable inhabitants of my little paradise.

As an antidote to fatigue, climate and a damn bad mood, I thought to myself how many of my friends and acquaintances in Lima would be spending the whole Saturday morning in this task. Mentally reviewed multiple and diverse images of them always with the same result: None. The good thing was that when I felt the anger of being the only one I would push the lawnmower with renewed vigor. Finally, when I was ready to explode, it was over and I was so tired I could not even afford a few more minutes of crankiness. One summer day, by trying to load recklessly a few rocks taken from the garden I had what they call here a "heat stroke". It’s frightening. But I got rid of all the rocks. When I say recklessly, it means I decided to do it at four in the afternoon at about 100 degrees in midsummer. By the way, the words “heat wave” in Latin mean caniculis that would translate literally as "dog day". It’s no shit. It’s true.

When I planted my first tree, I tripped over a rock about three hundred pounds of weight and about two feet in diameter (attached photo). It took me two weeks to remove it. When I finally did, I painted the Peruvian flag and still have it in my garden. Just to record the effort I made, I will say that I have planted ten trees in my garden, nine of which survived and the youngest is nine feet tall and the largest almost thirty six feet high. A Rottweiler puppy ate the tenth tree.

I spent a fortune on tools, machinery, pesticides and fertilizers. I felt well served when after five years hadn’t lost a finger or received a transfusion for severe cuts with saws (several), branch cutters, pullers and weed eaters.
Neither was I poisoned with all the pesticides I used, but my hatred for outdoor activities increased tremendously.
With the monster apparently controlled, it was time to enjoy the garden that with both work and dedication I had created. Only then I realized that mosquitoes, no, I stand corrected; giant mosquitoes flying in squadrons showed up, and the place was full of ants called "fire ants" from the Amazon rainforest that according to recent research came to this land walking. These science fiction insects are able to devour everything. Even local ants are in danger of extinction. There was also the risk of tripping over one or another snake, but fortunately just a few were deadly. I met with them twice but only half in each case. My retarded dogs were somewhat effective.

With all the goodwill and good cheer of the world, I decided not to be intimidated and nothing would stop me from enjoying the garden for a while. I even put a small vegetable garden that harvested tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and only one huge cauliflower. My wife made me throw it away because in their view that size had to be the work of the devil or some evil sent. On the floor, it came above the knee, definitely wider than my waist, and that's saying a lot.

However, gradually the everyday tasks wore me out. I left the area to its rightful owners, in addition to the small inhabitants that swarmed in the area. These bigger beings were not previously mentioned: possums, raccoons, moles, rats, rabbits, hares, squirrels, ferrets, skunks, armadillos, a horrible animal whose name escapes me, like a giant rat and thousands (yes, thousands) of birds, mostly black and ugly. Almost nothing, for God’s sake.
After the fence, the territory of beautiful and devastating deer eventually coyotes, bobcats and the occasional wild boar appeared. Of these, the descendants of Bambi are the worst. They eat everything from the roots to the trunk and branches of trees, fences and orchards showing no respect for anything or anyone.
It was a long time before it disappeared from my mind the obsession of living lost in Yellowstone and I will only say that every time there is a reprisal of Bambi, that beautiful Walt Disney movie, that I am forced to see by my tyrannical granddaughter, I do superhuman efforts to not encourage the hunters. The huge eyes of porcelain, white tails and stylized ears don’t move me at all.

To round out the picture, if I remained in the comfort of my home, with my dear and demanding family, I should repair toilets, faucets, schedule alarms, change air filters, and finally, any task that the female sector of the population considered unworthy or impossible for them. Killing roaches, trash removal, scaring a wasp, load anything and drill ten times on each wall for the perfect place from which to hang something. I had to put curtains, blinds, more curtains, install automatic doors, network cabling the house, arrange furniture, sockets and multiple small fixes.

One day the garage door fell through and I thought I could fix it. I was very careful not to annoy myself like my Texan acquaintance early in the story, but that it sucks, it sucks.
In this country, any repair or service is dauntingly expensive, and of course, the whole family thinks that being male, you can fix everything. Nobody knows that Marita is capable of tuning a car (I give testimony of it), while I caused a disaster measuring the oil or filling up a tire. I went to Google to search for "Repairing ...."
The first thing I read in big letters was "If you haven’t done this before, do not start here." Below, a note that read: "This is only if you don’t want to risk your life Otherwise, go ahead."
A few hours and $500 later, the problem was solved.

I was between Scylla and Charybdis. Outside, facing a hostile flora and fauna at unbearable temperatures. Inside not even five minutes without receiving a request from one of my daughters or my beloved wife. I thought several times to come up with fictitious trips to go to a hotel for a few days, but concluded that it was too risky. As a brave man and full male, I faced the family mob, wielding my most sophisticated weapons; my idleness, the fibs carefully crafted and vile handling of my poor neighbor to help me. How I love him, my God! He saved me from many family troubles and deadly feminine attacks.

Perhaps it is worth explaining the main cause of my troubles and growing pains in this country. I say this because for several of our neighbors, the tremendous obstacles I had to face, perfectly understandable and justifiable from my point of view, made no sense. Somebody that couldn’t turn on and manage a grass mower or use the "edger" in the right direction or unable to build a desk that came in a box (certainly news to me) had more to do with physical and mental retardation.

I think at least for a long time, estimated at about two or three years even I became convinced that a mysterious virus or an unknown insect had infected me. Neighbors became convinced that, after seeing a poor “cholito” (Peruvian red neck), short, chubby, disheveled and sweating profusely, with inappropriate dress for a hundred degrees, wandering around the neighborhood unsteadily and completely desolate staring with empty eyes, trying to find a human being that could explain to him how to put the damn cord extra-extra-extra-giant size in the "weed eater". I was very cordially informed that its name was "trimmer line" and had multiple shapes and sizes, and not all were made for my damn device. I solved the problem always buying the blue. If it didn’t work, I bought another, and so on.

Had it not been for the great help of my brother, able to build a cabin on a long weekend and many of my neighbors I would not have survived this cultural challenge.
The lifestyle that we had in Lima could not be more different. Since the services are much cheaper, it was possible to have one or two employees at home, in charge of cleaning and cooking. Some of them became part of the family and we still see them when we go, and we are always in touch. In the early morning came the guy who washed the cars, Monday through Friday. Then came the baker, leaving freshly baked bread, and Saturdays and Sundays, the lady with some “tamales”. Don Rodrigo, our gardener nearly eighty years old, arrived religiously every other Saturday to take over the garden with its old and rickety bicycle. It did not fail even once. Don Rodrigo used a manual lawn mower, the kind you push by force.

Max was the name of our "expert in everything" and appeared once a month. Tiny and smiling, he told me - Don Fernando, what is there to do? - Electricity, plumbing, masonry, painting and any other eventuality, we knew that Max would do it very efficiently. Sometimes, I had to conceive a small project, for fear that not having more work he wouldn’t show up next month.

Carmencita went every week to handle the washing and ironing and if we had a party, we called Secundino, who would prepare the buffet or food, would be responsible for cocktails and drinks, impeccably dressed in his white jacket and black trousers.

In my life I hadn’t changed even the light bulbs in my house. Those who know me are aware that I am clumsy and loose with the solemnity of a sacristy. Moreover, I never knew, even now to turn the screwdriver clockwise or counterclockwise to tighten or loosen. Also, unknown to me was the knob for hot or cold water. As a kid, I thought the letters "C" and "H" in the knobs meant “Caliente” (Spanish for Hot) and “Hirviendo” (Spanish for Boiling).

Back to the story, that day we went to meet a couple of very nice friends, he was Mexican-American and she was of German descent. He was short, dark and robust and she was tall, blonde and thin. They are both Texans and inexplicably get along quite well. We were going out of town.

This trip opened my eyes to the true heart of Texas. The racial mix is ​​perfectly suited to the combination of the three cultures.

San Antonio keeps still the mentality of a small conservative town with a special charm despite having more than two million inhabitants. To complete the picture, many villages, even more traditional and conservative, surround it. Some are predominantly German, Polish and many others speak more Spanish than English.
That day, at about six o'clock in the morning, Marita showed me the garden faucet that was leaking and I had promised to fix it this weekend. Cursing her good memory, I had to go and buy a spare faucet in "Home Depot" immense chain of hardware stores that sell everything imaginable related to house repairs and improvements. This impressive and to my eyes dreadful place, is the favorite shop of many male “gringos” doing projects at home that are not needed.

Of course, these nightmare places are open from early morning, so before seven, I was looking for a non-rotating, red lever tap, according to the specific instructions of the inflexible householder.

`I looked up the aisle that said "Plumbing" and found it easily. I also knew I had to buy "Teflon" to seal the connection. If someone has been in one of these places and has faced these intimidating shelves twenty feet high, and dozens of divisions, knows it can be a bit tricky to find what is needed.

But very quickly I found what I wanted; a lever faucet, and red as Marita wanted and I was about to leave, when I heard in Spanish with a strong Mexican accent

-        Hey my friend you found what you wanted?

Beside me was a man in his 40s, dark and a little shorter than I was. I immediately assumed he was Mexican and honestly, his appearance did not inspire me any confidence. Plump, sloppy appearance, and mustache in the style of  Errol Flynn, his head crowned with a cap of the "Spurs" and a thick shaggy hair struggling to get out at both ends, in the most opposite directions. I got the impression that he had not brushed in months and showered in pretty much that time.

-        Yes, thank you - I answered sharp and heading to the cashier.
-        If it is for the “yarda”, I think it's very small.
-        Indeed, it is for the backyard - I replied, a bit intrigued by the observation. (“yarda” is the mexicanization of the term "yard”).
-        That's a quarter, and usually it’s a half. Is it male or female?

I turned to look at him to see if he had a badge indicating that he was an employee of Home Depot, but no. You could see he was in work clothes and by elementary deduction, engaged in the construction business. Quieter and less suspicious, I said

-        Honestly, I have no idea. I know what you mean but I didn’t think they had various types.
-        You are funny, there are over 20! Will you have to go “pa la'casa” again!
-        Well, thanks for the advice. I will find out what I need.
-        “Pere, pere” a little bit, is your wife at home? (“pere” is a Spanish abbreviation for “wait”)
-        Yes, in fact she is waiting for me to fix so we can go out.
-        Call her and tell her to take a picture of the pipe with the phone and send it over here. Here's my phone!
-        Thanks. Don’t worry. I’ll use mine.

Surprised but happy to find a rescuer who would save me 45 minutes, I called Marita. Art, my new friend began to give her directions to measure the diameter of the pipe with a measuring tape finally found by my wife. Very patiently, and smiling he answered questions as how many wide or thin lines in the tape and how to place it. She took the picture and sent it.

Grateful to the core with Art (Arnulfo) we began a nice conversation. He was born in The Valley, as the South Texas border with Mexico is called, and was fully bilingual. Like many Texans, mixing the two languages ​​without realizing it, and like many people of Mexican origin, had seven children, worked in construction and ran his own company. The two oldest worked with him. Despite being Saturday, he was thinking of working the weekend, "as always". Although jovial and friendly, his face full of freckles and sunspots and calloused hands and all sorts of scars, reflected a very hard and painful life. A Cuban friend made me realize that the only Hispanics working in construction on weekends are Mexicans. He added that therefore they deserved much respect, because the Cubans, "Nunca chico. ¡Ni loco…!” (“Never man, not even becoming crazy ...!"

In short, Art spent nearly an hour of his time helping a stranger who could not hide his rejection and dislike to his initial approach. This was the first incident of the day and made me feel guilty of judging someone by first impressions.

Thankfully, installing the faucet was very simple and the technical inspection was passed with honors. Is just that all manual works I do must be reviewed and I don’t say this as humiliating disrespect I have to suffer but as a healthy good practice my wife has to avoid further disasters. It’s just... not my thing,

Freed, we went to pick up our friends and we set off. We stopped for breakfast at a restaurant famous for having the best "brisket" in Texas, a type of tasty meatloaf, located in what was a stagecoach station in the time of the "Pony Express".

In true "country" style, the meat is served on a piece of wax paper, like meat, sausages, chopped pork and other Texan delicacies collected directly from the kitchen and then sitting at long communal tables with old table covering . The place does not pretend to impress at all. It's just a typical Texan place to eat. Fortunately, the old custom of hanging the carcass of the animal at the door to show that is fresh has fallen into disuse.

The first time I took my wife and my daughters there, they were so shocked of the wildness and hygiene of the place who refused to sit at a shared table, much less eat greasy chunks of meat on a piece of paper. Marita murdered me with her eyes and my two daughters quietly expressed their disappointment with a parental authority rundown. It took some time to change their mind. Food is delicious. They gradually assimilated to it, all with greater success than me.

Already accustomed to the environment, we ate with pleasure and enjoyment, and at the end, I went to throw away the disposable tin tray in which they had served the meat. Before I did, a woman in her 50s stood up in front of me with a bad attitude. She stopped me lashing loud on a very chewy Texan accent.

-        What are you doing? Give me the tray now!

I delivered it automatically while she yelled at me as if I was a little boy. According to my typical mindset of years of matriarchy, I knew I had to be polite, but the only ones authorized to treat me that bad were my wife, my daughters and my granddaughter.

I was visibly mortified and she was very annoyed, it was precisely the kind of situation I've always strived to avoid. I didn’t know how to react. The lady in question would measure barely four and a half feet, tousled hair, a rictus of bitterness on her lips and small and very piercing blue eyes. You could see that her life had been difficult. She wore plaid blouse and jeans almost her age. By the apron, I realized she worked there.

-        Don’t you know that these trays are worth more than three dollars? You can’t throw money away like that! Here, I've already cleaned it. And don’t forget it!
-        Err... yes ma'am, thank you very much!

With that feeling one seldom has of not knowing how to behave, I went to sit under the amused gaze of the parishioners and the surprise of Marita. In these cases, I keep silent and put my expressionless face. There were no further comments and I jumped in the car with my used tray.

We arrived at our final destination, a town called Bandera, very small and typical village. We went to the museum, crammed with tiny and historical pieces not only from the Far West but also throughout the world, a prodigious chaos. I went from reduced heads by the “Jivaros” to a manual press of 1800. And a Texas bank safe next to a Nazi helmet of World War II.

I ended up with multifarious saturated images in my head, and with a slightly surreal and confusing feeling. Well, you always learn something.

We continued our walk and went to a country music bar, where, as soon as we entered, some "cowboys" invited the “ladies” to dance (translation of a very common term in Texas to refer to women, "ladies"). I always thought it sounded outdated, but you get used to it soon.

Always uncomfortable and trying to observe the slightest incident, the dance ended very properly and respectfully and the two cowboys accompanied them to the table. Then I wondered what would have happened if they took some liberties with them. What could a short and chubby four eyes old fella have done against two individual almost six feet tall and certainly in better physical condition? I made a mental note to completely ignore what happened around me the next time...

After listening to some country music, we decided to return to San Antonio, but first we went to take a few photos in the village street.
I was about to take the first picture of Marita and our friends when I heard behind me a very loud "Hey" and turning, I saw about sixty feet away a strange and very unfriendly looking individual responsible for it.
According to my rules of etiquette learned from experience and oral tradition, a shout out to someone unknown has two meanings: the aforementioned is in imminent danger or has committed a negligence or wrongdoing. Thus, seeing nothing out of place concluded that I had committed a fault, but could not understand what.

With determined and resolute steps, he came to me quickly. As I said, I hate these situations and I have tried to avoid them all my life. My forebodings were the worst. This man, tall, with a big cowboy hat, boots, jeans and plaid shirt, like many in the town, showed a grim countenance, full of rage and his eyes were those of a hungry coyote. He either had no lips or had closed his mouth with such force that they were gone. I only saw a thick line rather than the lips. At a thousand miles a minute, I checked everything we did during our stay in the little town. No image gave me a warning and I could not understand what had unleashed the wrath of this character.

-        Give me the camera now!

In seconds, he was inches away as I tried to prepare for what would be my first fight in over 25 years, and then he abruptly snatched the camera from my hand and snapped a loud and aggressive

-        You, stand beside them! - While he was preparing to take a picture of us four!

Naturally, I obeyed without question. With a face of suffering and unbearable pain, he took pictures of the four in different scenarios and positions, couples, men, women, is summary a complete photo shoot. Every indication had a flavored military tune, which left no choice but to follow without hesitation or grumbling, as I was taught in ROTC.

When finished, he handed me the camera, didn’t say a word and left the way he had come. All of us thanked him effusively, but the guy didn’t even turn or made any sign of having heard this profuse thanks.

Once back, and thinking of this great day, I realized that what had made it so special and made me feel so good had nothing to do with the place, the food and the gorgeous scenery. Neither the great times we had spent together.

It was the day I understood the harsh reality of deep Texas. A land who stubbornly opposed their colonizers and those who did their best to tame this terrible and rebel land to any taxation or exchange.

The pathetic characters of that day, only a few of the many I have met here, showed me how  important is for Texans to help others, no matter what circumstances or mood they may be. And it’s more for survival than anything else. Who knows if it’s something atavistic in Texas, but it’s now clear that to conquer this land it was important that all people could survive.

Since then, my perspective of Texas and its people changed. And today I respect and admire them more.

Sure, there are idiots, and important ones, such as those previously mentioned, but that happens everywhere. What happens here is that since Texas is bigger, the idiots are also larger.