I used to think that there would be something to look forward to after the midlife crisis. Maybe I would figure things out, settle down and coast the rest of the way to a slow, happily sedated demise, or maybe I’d burn out in a glorious blaze of fire compensating for the lack of heat in my pre-midlife crisis years, or maybe I’d finally see the value of my life and gain some type of old-age wisdom.
I pretty much did all I thought I was supposed to do in this crisis: I got divorced, moved out of town, revamped my financial and social life, started a new family, bought a new truck and then sunk farther down, or at least as far down, as I’ve ever been. What do you do after you’ve changed, passed the half-way mark and still don’t see the rainbow’s end? Or even a cessation of the storm? At that point I would have been happy for an eye of a hurricane, however brief a respite it would be. Nada.
I’ve been learning some new terms. Nada, Ya basta, Pinché, Una mas por favor. And these terms are the key to the Midlife Crisis II I’m on this time.
I’m now an ex-pat, a man without a country, an alien. Outside of going postal or heading off to prison for retirement (my original plan B), moving to another country is about as radical as a person of my age can get in America. But first the background:
I (we, my ex-wife, Dayla, and I) moved to Anderson Valley in 1989 and bought a small house in Rancho Navarro, which I promptly lost because my smuggling business failed when my three customers (revolutionaries in Nicaragua, San Salvador and the Philippines) lost their revolutions (another story) within months of each other.
I then moved ten miles up a dirt road above Philo for about six years until I flipped out when the landlord left me to burn in a mountain-top forest fire. No biggie. I’ve been screwed worse by better friends. Still, it was depressing.
I then bounced around the Valley for a year or two and got divorced and moved to Laytonville and hooked up with a local woman there with whom I set up a home and a business and began mingling with the elite from the Hog Farm and Bell Springs, the “old” elite Mendocino grower families. I had an in with them because my new wife used to clean the toilets at the Hog Farm and because I ran an exotic plant nursery with an array of drug plants that most of these mountain pot heads had barely even heard of.
It didn’t take long for them to recognize my game and I not so gracefully slipped from interest, which was just as well since I could concentrate on the international aspects of the business, which greatly increased my income and retirement possibilities. But, jeez, living with the hippies is a chore. Many of them are as bad as the redneck idiot next door who turned me into the District Attorney (as a terrorist) and wanted to shoot me for threatening to “take down” the 10 speed bumps on our road in front of his house if they tore the muffler off of my Honda.
While trying not to offend too many people but doing it with whatever rancor I’m still able to muster, anyhow, I can’t quite help but remember that the PC new agers down the road banned me (forever) from the 10 Mile Creek walk bridge because a 50 year-old friend of mine who had just finished breast cancer treatment jumped up and down on the bridge and yelled something like “Damn!” or “Fuck!” and broke the Laytonville code of tranquil coexistence.
I was ready to bail. I was restless. On a fluke, during the SARS scare, I bought cheap tickets to Bangkok and fell in love with the place. Then I bought cheap tickets to Mexico because there was a hurricane that season and I fell in love with Mexico. Then I bought cheap tickets to New York because 9/11 stopped all Big Apple tourism and I fell in love with NYC. And each time I would return to Laytonville and sigh and sit there depressed, trying to not worry about business or neighbors or the quiet solitude (aka loneliness) of the hippy mountain dweller. And I started to invent reasons to fly to Mexico, which I did often.
I rented an apartment in Puerto Vallarta. How I convinced Sarah, my wife, to do this, I have no recall. We had kids, a business and a nice home in Laytonville. And I started spending half of my time in Mexico. After a year of renting, I bought a house there. I had no money for this house and borrowed it from one of Sarah’s kids. How I convinced her (and him) to do this I don’t know.
There was only one option then on the table: I had to sell the house and the business to pay back the house loan. Things got serious. All I can say is that we sold everything, paid off the new house and had enough left over to live for a few years in Mexico. After selling anything not vital, burning several large bonfires of collectables and packing the rest on a Toyota pickup, Sarah, I and two dogs hit the road and drove south.
I’m skipping a lot here. I left out that a major part of the reason that I left the US was that I thought it was a fascist country. I still do, but most countries are fascist and that alone wouldn’t have driven me away. But traveling across the US the year we went to NYC showed me that it wasn’t the “country” or the government that was fascist, it was the people. I get a lot of flak for this sentiment, but I stand by it still. It’s nice being in a country now where most people agree with me, politically. Anyone reading this is a fascist: Fess up or fight it (voting doesn’t count as “fighting”). I never was big on conspiracy theories and I’m less so now. I don’t need anything like that to see how bad the US is now that I see it from the outside. I had kind of hoped that distance would give me a bit of compassion for the citizens of my homeland, but it hasn’t.
Enough of politics.
Life in Mexico isn’t really all that different than life in the US. Maybe a little. The food is better, fresher and cheaper, the climate is, at least in reference to Boonville or Laytonville, ten times better, the people are more open and friendlier, there is public transportation, socialized medicine and utilities. I have high-speed internet here (something I couldn’t get in Laytonville). The water is cleaner. The air is cleaner. I can walk almost everywhere I want to go. Or I can take a bus that practically stops at my front door. My cost of living here, excluding food, is about $200 a month for taxes (house and visa), electricity, water, sewer, internet, TV, phones (internet VOIP and cell), and business license (I’ve started a business here), I could cut this down to $60 a month if I just wanted the essentials. It’s the luxuries like TV and internet and phones that make up most of this cost. For instance, my property tax is $50 a year, electricity is $10 a month, and water is $10 a month.
The house I bought was a two story fixer-upper of about 2000 square feet. It was $50k. I put another $20k into adding a third floor and things and now have a 4 bedroom, 3 bath house that is actually three separate apartments. For this $20k I did a lot of the work myself. Time is another bonus in Mexico.
I do have problems here.
At first the language gap was embarrassing and then I started laughing with people when they laughed at my interpretations of their language. I don’t speak Spanish well. The California school system saw fit to teach me French and Latin when I was young because Spanish was only for Mexicans and I was college preparatory. So I wing-it. You pick it up after a while. At least you pick up what you need to get by. I still don’t have political or philosophical discussions with the neighbors (unless we’re drunk and then it’s the universal “Pinché” this and “Pinché” that) but I am starting to joke with them. I understood Mexican humor before I moved here.
Everything is new here and done much differently than in the US. Buying a house, navigating immigration, starting a business, even getting a driver’s license, which I “bought” so that I didn’t have to take the test, it’s all new. I’ve been driving for 40 years so I figure I’m not really cheating by paying someone to get me a license. Driving here is almost the same as driving in the States. Mexicans drive on the same side of the road, at least.
There’s a system here called mordidas that is used to make life easier by enabling cheap bribery. There’s a similar system in place in the States but it’s much more costly. For instance, when I lived in Berkeley, the building inspector wanted a $5,000 bribe to ok a building so that it wouldn’t have to be demolished. Here it costs about $200 to get a building permit signed off (and that’s the gringo price). Democracy is real (affordable) here compared to the States where it’s almost prohibitively expensive.
There are drawbacks to living here in Puerto Vallarta. I’ve made enemies because I run an internet forum for expats here and not a small number of gringos who have vacation homes here don’t like the version of Mexican reality that I write about on this forum. So if getting away from new agers and rednecks was a main reason for leaving the US, I’ve failed.
My house is in a small Colonia (neighborhood) outside of the main tourist area of Puerto Vallarta. I’m about a 30 minute walk from the beach and a river runs in front of the house, on the other side of the cobblestone street. Behind the house is a mountain/jungle. There are probably a couple hundred houses in this Colonia with a few wealthy gringo houses farther up the hill. Most of the neighbors have the traditional Mexican brick/cement house with rebar sticking up out of the roof (for the future). The neighbor on one side owns a small paper/gift store plus a taco stand down the street. Next to her is another single mother with two daughters. She’s from Chiapas and was amazed that we also grew chocolate trees. She didn’t think anyone this far north even knew what they were. They don’t. People here don’t use chocolate.
On the other side of our house is a family headed by Chebelo, the patriarch, who is a retired Army Sergeant. He has several sons with their wives living at home. One son’s wife runs a taco stand across the street, one son drives a bus and one is a musician and runs the University radio station. Everyone in the family except Rafael, the bus driver, takes turns working the taco stand. You can hear them start chopping stuff at 6 in the morning and the stand is open until midnight. It’s amazing how well such a large family works and lives together. We can hear everything in their house, as can they in ours. Houses here are very open. No one fights. I’m not used to this type of family arrangement.
One of the grandkids, Danny, is crippled with some type of spastic disease and he’s cared for, yet accepted totally by everyone, even strangers on the street. This is so totally opposed to “different” kids I’ve seen in the States who are, at best, treated like teddy bears or pets or, more normally, ridiculed and treated routinely as scum. My neighbors are the Mexican equivalent of rednecks. But there is a major difference between rednecks here and in the US. I don’t see clearly enough yet to describe it but it’s an immense difference.
I knew that Mexico would be different for me, but I had no idea it would be like it is.