Saturday, March 29, 2014

A Day at the Zoo

People are constantly warning me about living on the Mexican border. I expected that. Those who don't know about our situation with immigration think that I must have a death wish, or maybe I am clinically insane. Even before I tell a person which border city I live in, they immediately jump in, questioning why I would live somewhere so overridden with violence. And when I continue on to say that I live in Ciudad Juárez? Shit gets cray.

Everyone has an opinion on safety in Mexico. Everyone. Whether they received their medical degree there or they got a root canal there, they've got an opinion. Whether they were a foreign exchange student there in high school or they went to Cancun for Spring Break in college, they've got an opinion. Maybe they just ate a burrito once at On The Border or they heard a report on the 6 o'clock news last night. It doesn't matter. They've got an opinion.

None of those opinions matter to me, though. The only opinion of Mexico that has ever influenced my decisions are my own and I fear that I am far too stubborn for that to ever change. One of the opinions that I have always had, and will most likely continue to have, is that if something bad is supposed to happen to me, it will happen to me. I could be in the US, I could be in Mexico, I could be in Antarctica, and that shit will happen. When it's my time to go, I'm going. I could be caught in the crossfire or hit by a bus anywhere. I truly believe that I am not any safer on one side of the border or the other and when I was back in the states visiting my family a couple weeks ago, something happened that confirmed that opinion.

My family and I decided to take advantage of one of the annual free days at the Kansas City Zoo. We saw the polar bears and the chimpanzees and the kangaroos and much to my dismay, countless species of birds. We learned about water conservation and fed the goats and avoided the pricey camel rides and observed the elephants. After 4 hours we were all tired and hungry but decided to hang around to catch the 1:30 pm sea lion show. We left the park at about 2:00 pm.

Shortly after, my sister received an alert on her phone from a local news station that she gets updates from. Just after 3:00 pm, numerous fights had broken out amongst different groups of teens at the zoo and shots were fired leaving hundreds of people fleeing for safety. 19,000 people went to the zoo that day and surely never thought their day would end so violently. Luckily, no one was hurt.

As we marveled at the fact that we missed the violence by a mere hour, my phone began to sound off with incoming emails and Facebook direct messages from many of you. Most of the messages came from readers who live in Missouri and while I was very touched that so many people had been following my travels online and were concerned, I couldn't help but laugh. I know that sounds a bit fucked up because it was a very unfortunate event and I am saddened by the fact that such a thing can take away from the joy of a leisurely day at the zoo, but I just couldn't help my reaction.

There I was, in Kansas City of all places, getting emails about gunfire and people concerned for my family's safety. The only thing I could think was that it felt exactly like it does when I am in Mexico and people call, text and email every time they hear something violent about Juárez in the news. Everyone warned me about moving to Juárez. But why doesn't anyone warn us about all the bat shit crazy people North of the border?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Spanish music played a huge role in my life while I was learning the language and Intocable, X was the first Spanish language CD I ever bought. I listened to Es Alguien Mas as I finally decided between two boys. I pumped myself up with Es Mejor Decir Adios before I finally ended things with the other boy. I cried myself to sleep listening to Estas Que Te Pelas on repeat about 428 times the night before I finally decided to get off drugs. I would play Aire on the nights when I missed my family so much that I could barely breathe.

I bought that album on a recommendation from an old man selling queso Chihuahua door to door in Mesa, Arizona and it quickly became a huge part of my early 20's. And years later I still love Intocable. So when I heard that they added Juárez to their tour schedule for the first time since 2006, I jumped at the chance to see them live.

I bought the tickets online from the Don Boleton website. They were advertised at 160 pesos on the TV commercial that we saw, but while making the purchase, there was an additional 20 peso cargo por servicio, and then another 10 pesos for God-knows-what bringing the total to 380 pesos for 2 tickets. Just under $30 US. Not too shabby. After I ordered the tickets online we had to go pick them up from a record store called Sounds which has locations in all the major malls in Juárez. There was an option to print the tickets online but there was a 25 peso additional charge per ticket for that so I passed. To my surprise, when we arrived at Estadio Jaime Canales Lira the night of the concert, scalpers were outside selling tickets for only 150 pesos. It struck me as odd considering scalpers in the US always jack the prices way up the night of the event, but bienvenido a Mexico I suppose?

We paid 50 pesos to park in a gated lot right on Avenida de Americas and being that we were actually on time, there were plenty of spaces to park and we didn't have to do much walking. Outside the stadium there were crowds of vendors. They cried out to us from from every direction, selling pictures of the different bands that would be performing, elotes, candy bars, chips with Valentina, pop, water, etc. We got into line to get into the concert and right away I could see that I was totally underdressed. I always feel underdressed in Juárez though.

I was wearing jeans with a black top that has some lace in the back and black boots. It seemed appropriate back at the house but the girl teetering in her stilettos in front of me in line was wearing a mini-skirt, a hot pink sequined top and a black leather jacket. The woman behind me wore knee-high black stiletto boots with leather leggings and some sort of elaborate fur vest. I really wanted to see these ladies try to walk to the top of the stadium seating in those fancy shoes but alas, they were seated in the VIP section below.

When we entered the stadium we walked right into a huge crowd of police officers. I was ordered to open my purse for a female officer while Ray got frisked by a male officer. We were waved along and sent up to the General Admission area. With our tickets we had the choice of standing on the actual field, behind the VIP section, or sitting in the stadium seating above. Ray thought it would be better to sit up above, mentioning that he would feel more in control up there. I didn't know what he meant by that but followed his lead. We sat on the top row, right in the center, behind home base.

After the crowds started coming in I could see what Ray meant about not having control below.
This grassy area you see between me and the crowd turned into a big dancing and drinking area.
I guess now is a good time to mention that this is the first concert I had ever been to. I am passionate about music but just never felt compelled to spend big bucks to see my favorite bands on tour. I did go to Primavera Musical in 2006 at Tempe Beach Park but I would hardly call that a concert. The tickets were free with the proof of purchase of a 12 pack of Tecate and each band only performed a couple of songs. So I didn't really know what to expect.

The concert was to start at 8 pm and there were 4 opening acts. I assumed that each opening act would be somewhat unknown and would just sing a couple of songs. Boy was I wrong. For starters, although I didn't recognize any of the bands by name, they all had songs that get serious radio time here in Juárez. The young girls next to us were belting out the lyrics to practically every song at the top of their lungs. And the opening acts went on and on and on.

I probably wouldn't have noticed the time if it weren't for the fact that I was freezing my ass off. The temperature was in the low 50's when we arrived but as the night went on, the wind picked up and temps dropped into the 40's. It still wouldn't have been so bad but the wind was howling and in the top row of the stadium we could really feel it. It was nearing midnight when people started to get a bit desperate. Intocable still hadn't taken the stage and people were starting to stand up and just run in place to stay warm. I was taking trips to the bathroom, warming myself by walking up and down the steps of the stadium.

The bathrooms were pretty bad though so that got old quick. After you waited in a long line, you walked into this:

I actually snapped this shortly after we arrived and the Tecate hadn't quite hit the ladies yet. There was no toilet paper in the stalls, which is common in Mexico, but you could purchase a few squares for 5 pesos from a man posted outside the bathrooms. There wasn't any soap but there were sinks with running water. There were no pipes running from the drains though, only into the faucet itself, so the water would just pour out of the drain and onto the floor. I suppose that's what that drain in the middle of the room is for. People seated in the VIP section had access to porta potties. I still can't figure out who had it better.

After making my 4th trip to the bathroom, just to warm my bones, I begged Ray to go get the blanket from the car. I keep it there for my parking lot naps in El Paso. At first he didn't want to because he thought we would look stupid but eventually the wind got to him too.

I'll admit, I did feel a little silly with the blanket at first, but comfort trumps style and I wasn't wearing high heels anyway so I was already fucked, right?

Here's Mr. We'll-Look-Stupid-With-A-Blanket a mere 5 minutes after he brought it back from the car.
Once we had warmed up a bit we got more comfortable. The beer was really calling our names at this point and the Tecate vendors would pass by every couple of minutes with buckets of ice cold beer. We gave up alcohol for Lent though and stayed true to our promises by staying sober. If you know me, you know that was no easy feat, so I'm pretty proud. We drank Cokes instead and sampled some of the best tacos I've ever had.

Shortly before 1 am Intocable finally took the stage and I got my first experience of a real concert. Not that the opening acts weren't great, but we came to see Intocable. The crowd cheered and sang in unison and there was just this buzz of excitement in the air.

Our seats ended up being perfect. We had a nice view of everything and could see everyone on stage clearly from the big screens that were on either side of the stage.

So many of my friends love to go to concerts and music festivals and I never really understood why. I enjoy listening to music at home so much, I never really imagined something could top it. Saying that aloud actually sounds ridiculous to me now. After going to this concert I totally get it. I finally understand why people pay so much money to see their favorite bands live. You aren't just listening to the music. It's the entire experience. The people, the dancing, the fans singing off-tune, never missing a lyric. There is some sort of magic that happens when you bring so many people together for one simple reason; their love of music. And there was also something magical about all these people in Juárez, out until 4 am, just to listen to that music and feel that love. And I felt an overwhelming sense of unity because of it. I felt like I was a part of it all.

When many people think of Juárez, they think of fear. They think of crime. They think of a city that has been ravaged by cartel violence over the years. They think of all sorts of horrible things. And a lot of those thoughts are accurate. But none of those things seemed to matter last Saturday. 

The only thing that mattered that night was the music and feeling the love.