Expectations

Gringos come to the Mexican Border Town of San Luis Rio Colorado with the hope of finding a Meso-American treasure, but also with the certainty that they will probably get ripped off.  They’ve all heard the horror stories about the fake Rolexes, the painted birds, the silver that is really nickel. But for every thirty of those stories there is the story of the beautiful pewter vase your buddy got his Grandmother, and the opal ring your girlfriend bought her Mom, and the black embroidered silk rebozo that cost Oaxacan women their eyesight, but looks beautiful on the wife—and so, you go.

The well-placed TV ads help too.  Right when a young Navy pilot or Army Sergeant or other generic jarhead stationed at the Yuma Marine Corps Air Station or Army Proving Grounds is getting off duty in the middle of the night and is opening his first Bud Light in front of the TV—that opportune television commercial,  “Amigo, for authentic Mexican silver from Taxco, for genuine wood carvings found around the latest excavation site outside of Mexico City, for paintings by your most famous international artists in San Miguel Allende… come to El Maya de Mexico located at the corner of Calle Primera and Avenida Obregon”  THAT commercial they’ve seen a million times stays with them, until one day half a dozen jarheads drive the twenty-four  miles south of Yuma to San Luis, Rio Colorado, Sonora, Mexico.

Occasionally, a panic-stricken young man from the Midwest makes a U-turn right there in the car line waiting to exit the U.S.  “Whew,” he thinks, “that was close. I almost got (ripped off/assaulted/drunk/you fill in the blank).

But the cars that keep on going crawl into Mexico and are greeted by a fiesta for the senses.  Ta-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra.  A Mariachi is playing in front of El Tenampa
Bar.  A garlic-studded pig is roasting on a spit.  Papel picado, lacey sheets of paper, in turquoise, golden squash and Rosa Mexicano dances around the perimeter of every shop.
Five-gallon jars of Aguas are lined up in front of Efren’s Dulzeria.  The white water is horchata—rice water with freshly ground cinammon, Mexican vainilla and a touch of
Carnation milk for richness.   Jamaica is the crimson water—dried hibiscus flowers steeped in boiling water and sweetened with raw sugar from Cuba.  The bright yellow water is agua de piña made with ripe pineapple just come in from Nayarit.  And the brown one, agua de tamarindo is full of a sweet and tart fruit that comes in a pod like snow peas only bigger and brown and you have to spit out the hard copper-colored seed inside.  Up ahead, children and women sing-song in the upper registers about exciting things you wish you understood.   And so you park.

On both sides of the street, curios shops appear to have no doors.   There on the sidewalk are the piñatas:  cute little silvery burros; huge orange stars with red and green
streamers; life-sized Spiderman, Ariel and Pooh in cobalt blue, aqua and gold.  Peasantstyled dresses and blouses are folded just so and stacked onto small tables displaying
their intricate silk embroidery.  White Guayaveras from Cuba and Panama hang over the entrance and, depending on which country you prefer, they may have a side vent or not.  Chess sets in black and white onyx, replicas of Aztec temples to the moon and the sun in Malachite, giant tissue paper sunflowers, silk hammocks, Christmas ornaments in tin and straw… all these are in baskets or on the tables on the sidewalk before you even go inside.

Bumper-to-bumper traffic moves slowly and, with a sort-of accident curiosity, tourists rubberneck in disbelief.   La Primera is the first Mexican street that you drive into… it is Main Street and it introduces you to the Mexican Border town, the drivethrough Mexico that you expect to see.  And so there she is… jam-packed with curios shops,  cantinas, taquerias, dulzerias, boticas and loud obnoxious gringo tourists and sinverguenzas Mexicanos who will take advantage of you, if you’re willing.

The locals avoid La Primera altogether.  They know that if they get stuck behind one of these Arizona or California license plates—forget it—they’ll be late to work, for sure. Almost every boss or supervisor knows that when he or she is around, the job is done right with all procedures observed and has been transforming the boss into a watch dog