When we first moved to Puerto Vallarta, I was afraid to go to the nearby supermarket, Leys, because, well, it appeared so Mexican. I much preferred to go to the corner stalls. While they were still Mexican, there was usually just one person in them so I would not be too embarrassed asking for something with my scant knowledge of Spanish. Or I could shop at Walmart, Costco and Home Depot, but that did not seem entirely fair, because they were not local and were a taxi ride away.
Leys is so big and brash it terrified me. I stood outside several times and watched as other ex-pats walked into the cool interior while I quaked, listening to rapid Spanish that bore little resemblance to the slowly spoken lessons I had been glued to between massive bouts of drinking.
That is another thing I should make clear essentially all gringos are drunks. It is just a matter of degree. People will complain that I cast us in a bad light, but the truth is there are the beach drunks from Canada, restaurant drunks from the U.S. and the exclusive enclave Conchas Chinas drunks with serious money and enormous martinis who are supremely drunk. But we are all inebriated most days by lunch and certainly by nightfall by nightfall if not lunch. In our set, we always call the last drink of the day the bed-wetter.
On the plus side so many of us have become better at holding our booze that most newcomers are not aware that we are leaning against a wall not for shade, as we say, but to steady ourselves. Many of us have gone to AA and never got past the first rule: Admit that you are a drunk. Fine, but it reminds us we are on the endless vacation (retirement), so we leave to find a drink.
Anyway back to my early problem with the supermarket down the street. After a few days of looking at the entrance, I went in. This was my first summer and the AC hit me like a snowball between the legs. I was just glad that at my age I would not be called upon to father children ever again.
What also hit me was the noise. It had only been a dull roar from the exterior but now that I was in the belly of the beast, it was injurious. The music was some sort of disco tune and two female employees of Leys were dancing around the cheese display sticking their product into passing faces. “Conga quesa, conga quesa” they shouted, or something like that.
Whatever they said it meant: Cheese bargains. A small sign would normally have sufficed in Canada but not here. However the music began to make me dance along with the employees, who smiled at me as if I had escaped from Bedlam. Still dancing, I screamed over the din, “Donde esta the carrots!” They appeared confused. I was almost sure that I had at least got the first part right. Perhaps the stumbling block was the word “carrots.”
I don’t know if you have tried to act like a carrot but it is not easy. I first went through my catalogue of Bugs Bunny impressions, which in fairness to me they seemed to enjoy but not understand. I noticed a small crowd had joined us in the cheese section with many now bellowing above the so-called music with suggestions about what I was attempting to get across to the employees, who appeared to be entering some sort of nirvana state from all the noise and activity.
Let me point out that carrot in Spanish is zanahoria. What chance did I have in those early days? It did not sound even close to carrot. But through the kindness of strangers I managed to buy my carrots and survive the experience.
Today I look forward to shopping at Leys once a week. I now know where everything is and some of the names of the items I want. As an aside I have fallen partially in love with the woman who carves up the cactus, which really tastes good when you sprinkle “tajin classic,” a sort of dry chilli, on it. There is something about a large, good-looking woman with a big knife that makes my blood bubble, at least as well as it can in an old bald man.
There are also a two elderly check-out “girls” who wait for me and pack my bags. In the beginning I did not realize you are expected to tip them as they are not actually employed by the store. The arrangement is seen as a convenience for you and a source of income for them. So I just smiled, said “Gracias” and went on my way, over and over again with them saying nothing. When it dawned on me that I had blundered badly with two women I liked enormously, I shot into Leys, bought nothing but a yogurt and gave them enough to buy a small house to make up for being so stupid. Now when I appear they cling to me like wallpaper and all is well.
I love Leys. Shop locally, please.
Copyright Christopher Dalton 2015.