Monday, August 2, 2010

Gringos and Punk Rock in Guadalajara: A Cautionary Tale

When I was 19, I decided to impetuously travel to Mexico to visit a guy. I had only recently met him (through a friend), but he had already declared his intense love for me, via a series of romantic, letter-filled FedEx packages, and I was unspeakably flattered.

I had never been to Mexico before. I also had very strict parents. Luckily, they were away.

My best friend drove me to the airport (I was flush with cash from a summer office job), and when I got there, I called my mother, who was in Florida with my father, visiting her family. “Mom, I'm going to Mexico. I’m flying into Guadalajara,” I said when I called.

She laughed. “You are not,” she said.

I could hear my aunt Mary chirping in the background. “What’s she saying?” Mary asked. My mother repeated what I’d said, in a tone that decried how insane I was. I could picture them, dancing around the kitchen, drinking wine, chopping vegetables for a salad.

My aunt is a free spirit, an artist. “Ooh! Mexico!” she said. “I love Mexico! Tell her to have fun!”

I hung up the phone and boarded the plane; I would be back in ten days. Fate must have decreed that I would get there. I had consulted the I Ching, which counseled something like, “There is great benefit to traveling southwest.” Okay, then.

Bolts of lightning flashed around the plane as we landed very slowly, but I was not nervous at all. Landings are the most dangerous point of the flight, I later learned, but personally, I’ve always felt relieved and not scared to be landing.

My new love was at the airport. Thank God. That meant I didn't have to sleep in one of the terminal's hard plastic chairs and fly back home in shame.

We spent the next week hotel hopping through the mountains, eating grilled shrimp by the western beaches, swimming at midnight and drinking way too much.

Towards the end of this blissful, surreal trip, we returned to Guadalajara so that he could take some exam—the whole reason he was in Mexico: intensive Spanish immersion to fulfill his university’s foreign language requirement.

After the test, he consulted a newspaper for night life ideas. A punk band was playing in a club. “Mexican punk rock,” he said. “I have to see this.”

We walked to the club, which was nondescript, a low brown building next to a junkyard. A big shaggy collie was lying on the pavement of the junkyard, suckling ten or so pups. She looked up at us as we passed, as if she might have to kill us.

Inside, the club was utterly unlike any I had seen before, or have seen since. It was well lit, trying to be elegant (in the strange way that Indian restaurants try to look fancy with tiny pink lights and plastic flowers).

Guadalajara’s rich kids wore pressed trousers and sat sedately in fan-backed wicker chairs. They drank something syrupy and pale orange from round wineglasses.

New love and I were slumming it, so we ordered a bucket of little bottles of beer. In Mexico, as most people know, beer is served with lime, and this beer came with an artful mound of limes, some whole, some halved, some cut into tiny wedges.

The music started soon, and this punk band was comprised of wiry, tiny, dark-skinned boys, probably our own age. They screamed in Spanish and popped up and down on the stage like Whack-a-Moles.

I can’t say if this band was good or not. I really don’t speak Spanish. Also, no one in the crowd was responding in any way; they just sat still in their throne chairs, peering rather dully at the stage.

The band’s frontman bounced higher and higher. The music screeched and pounded. The singer screamed so loudly I thought his uvula might fly across the room.

“This band really sucks,” new boyfriend declared. I nodded. We drank more.

“You know what I want to do?” he asked. I knew what I wanted to do, but I just asked, “What?”

“I want to take this lime…” he fingered a whole one, “and whip it at them. They suck so bad.”

“Do it,” I said, never thinking he actually would, but fifty or so ounces of Dos Equis had made me uncharacteristically bold. “You should totally do it.”

He did. I hadn’t mentioned before that he was a baseball player. A pitcher. The hard green lime smacked against the front of the band’s drum kit. Tears came to my eyes.

“More,” I commanded, “Throw more!” I was sobbing with laughter while surreptitiously glancing around the room. No one seemed to have noticed the lime throwing, which made it even funnier. The band was still playing as loudly and poorly as ever.

Fruit flew from his hands, though my boyfriend remained seated. This was sneaky lime whipping. Limes skittered across the stage; one hit the bass player in the knee. No response. The cacophony of the band continued.

No one was looking at us. No one said anything. This just made us, in our drunkenness, laugh harder. Even I threw a few limes.

The final lime my boyfriend threw hit the frontman smack in the face. Strangely, he finished his “song.” Then the music stopped. Frontman spoke into the mic in rapid-fire Spanish, clearly furious.

“Ooooohhhh,” the crowd murmured. Then they were pointing at us! “Gringos, gringos,” they chanted. It sounded like a death knell.

The blood drained from my face. I pictured gang rape, or lynching, or getting hacked to death in the alley behind this club.

Boyfriend said, “Don’t worry, I’ll say something…but if it gets bad, you run that way,” he pointed to a side door. I was planning to run, if I had to, but I didn’t know where to go after I got out. Plus, I would feel like a horrible person just leaving him there to face the mob. But what could I do?

We are so stupid, I kept thinking. We must have had acid-laced beer, to think that we could pelt a band with limes for a solid half an hour or so, and not have anyone call us on it.

I actually felt pretty bad about the last lime—a juicy one, halved—that hit the singer in the face. That was a low blow. Humiliating. But what a great shot it had been! There was still pulp on the frontman’s forehead. He hadn’t even bothered to wipe it off.

Gringos!” The chant was building. Gunfire bursts of speech were coming from the stage. My boyfriend stood up.

I stopped breathing, but he was talking loudly and laughing. He kept shrugging his shoulders in an “Aw, shucks!” sort of way, smiling broadly and holding up his palms in supplication.

I had no idea what was being said, only that I wasn’t quite positive if the crowd was buying it. But then the band members started grunting and nodding.

My boyfriend sat down, still smiling, totally relaxed. He was ridiculously cute, like a young Jim Morrison.

“What did you say?” I demanded in a whisper. “And what did that guy say before, when I thought they were going to kill us?”

“He said, ‘Will the mofo who threw the limone stand up like a man and present himself so I can kick his ass?'’’

“Your Spanish is awesome!” I gushed. “You got all that? You totally aced that exam, I bet. So what did you say?”

“I just explained how in America when we think a band is amazing, we show our admiration by throwing fruit. I said they were the most excellent punk band I have ever heard in Mexico, and so we threw all the fruit we had, to show our sincere respect.”

The explanation was so absurd, it couldn’t be disbelieved. Our beer ended up being on the house, though we left an exceedingly generous tip.

We stumbled from the club, clutching each other, still laughing.

I felt a little nervous as we passed the dark alley and the junkyard, but no one messed with the gringos.

I had a couple of limes in my pocket, though. Just in case.


  1. More proof that you are the most interesting teacher EVER. So glad to have called you mine!

  2. You're sweet. This is not a typical teacher post, though I think any life stories are fodder for learning. I really do.



  3. Replies
    1. awesome story hahahaha you guys laughed at danger