Category Archives: People

The Lollipop Kids

Imagine…..Discovering that a smile is a universal language

A purchase of 340 lollipops at the local Smart & Final costs us $9.99.  It is always the happiest purchase I make because, for a mere $10.00, I get 340 smiles.  Young, old and even the sternest looking soldiers love my lollipops.

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Coco’s Corner…….It sure ain’t chocolate!

 Imagine……..Desert sunsets dressed in purple, red and gold….as coyotes sing their evening song!

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The second full moon of this trip hung low in the night sky, darkening previous nights star-filled skies. Coyotes forlorned cries, answered by the softened cry of a distant female, filled the unexpected crisp air of a sudden fall season. It had thankfully replaced the humidity-sodden closeness of the past summer nights.

Tractor trailers, rumbling downhill across the twenty-two mile stretch of unpaved, rock strewn, desert road, sporadically broke the night’s silence, as they hit their spark arrestors, slowing their descent from the mountainous road, to avoid flattening Coco’s Corner.

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As sleep eluded me……and Tony dozed quietly beside me…..Coco…as he had done for the last twenty-five years…..snored softly in the plywood bed he had built discreetly in a corner behind his desert bar.

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After starting his journey in Ensenada and passing through Chipala, the man walked onto this property on December 27, 1990, arriving at 4:30 in the afternoon. If asked, he will look up at his clock, think a minute and tell you the exact number of years, months, hours and minutes he has lived in his chosen world.

According to his own words, “He had ten pesos in his pocket and the shoes on his feet when he declared this land his own.” He paid nothing for his small piece of barren desert that only had a donkey trail leading to it from some far away place. Despite seven robberies and the Government trying to throw him out after his first five years, he has remained the proprietor of Coco’s Corner to this very day.

Over the years he designed his decor to suit his lifestyle and his own personal tastes. His four-walled, muti-material residence and business are the center point of his property. Fences, comprised of empty beer cans, tree stumps and branches, greet you as you come over the hill. A tree trunk adorning an old electric typewriter and a fax machine grace entrance to the dirt floor, three-walled patio. From the patio ceiling hang hundreds of pairs of guests underwear, all signed and dated. License plates, doll heads, religious necklaces and a thousand other trinkets fill every tiny crevice of the walls and ceiling. Old campers and two outhouses, gaily painted, crisscross the surrounding property. A circle of artfully placed toilets showcasing the cab of a tractor complete the picture.

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He has done it alone. He has done it to spite the loss of both legs, one to an accident and one to diabetes. He has never had any neighbors but, he has countless friends and visitors from around the world, people who never forget him and never see him need for anything.

Coco runs a simple business. He sells beer. You are expected to help yourself from his non-freezing freezer, behind his counter. Should it be your first visit and you are not aware of this practice, he hands you your first one and informs you of the proper procurement of the second one. No tab is run. None are needed. When you leave he asks you what you had and tallies what you owe, without paper or pencil.

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As we wiled away the afternoon with a cold beer at Coco’s one community table, two young construction workers from the road project pulled onto the property. Quiet words were passed between the men and Coco. The men helped themselves to a beer and joined us at the table. Coco appeared carrying a very large knife, idled by us, playfully jabbing Tony’s ankle with the tip of the knife…..laughing at the concerned look on Tony’s face…..and assured us all that he would return shortly. He fired up his uniquely-modified ATV and disappeared into the desert, only to return twenty minutes later with a large hunk of cactus.

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Without any words, we all sat at the table, our toes dug into the sand with anticipation, sipping our beers and watched as he artfully carved the heart out of the cactus piece. A brief inspection, a look of satisfaction and an authoritative command to the young man to go and fill the milk jug with water, broke the silence at the table.

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He turned his rugged, weather-beaten face to me and said, “Garambullo, five-point cactus, not six point, five point, you understand, Lady? Boy hurts when he pees. You put heart in water, wait twenty-four hours, drink whole gallon, no more hurt when you pee. You understand? You have sick stomach, I cut you piece of my Mesquite tree, boil it in water, make you better. Make cancer better, too.”

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Five point       Six point

I assured him I did. What I understood best was that I had just met the Mexican curandero, or village healer, that I had written about in my book many years before. My character is no longer fictitious to me. He is a real person in an outrageous place called Coco’s corner.

The two young men paid for their beers and left Coco’s happily smiling, clutching their gallon jug.

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Coco tells you that for the price of one beer, you can camp for free. He proudly announces that he has never charged anyone to stay the night. Before he goes to bed, he arrives unexpectedly on his ATV and visits you to say good-night. He offers you one of his little campers ‘because they are more comfortable than what you have’ and he asks if you need power.

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He lets you know that he is going to run his generator for one hour because he watches ‘a half movie a night’and then he motors the fifty feet home and parks his ATV where his customers will sit in the morning. Exactly one hour later, the generator is silent and all lights are out. All is well and tomorrow is another day.

In the morning he offers you coffee and then, pointing to the corner in his makeshift kitchen, he commands, “Come back here!” As you obediently follow him, he whips his wheelchair around and shows you to his stove, upon which a teakettle is boiling water. He then moves toward a grocery-filled table and routes out the instant coffee, pushes himself away and tells you to make it yourself. It is obvious that he has done all of this before.

Once you settle at the table with your cup, he hands you a giant book. He has drawn a small picture of your vehicle on the next available line “and he hands you a pen. He insists that you write your information in the entire space he has allotted to you. Nothing less than full is acceptable. He has a completed book for each year he has been in business.

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Our little VW picture is really cute and our name, address and business card almost filled the whole space. He would not take his pen back until I filled the two remaining empty lines, declaring that I was nothing but trouble. He demanded to speak to Tony, waving his hand in disgust towards me.

As the sun rose in the early morning sky, Coco’s guests for the day started to arrive. Before 8:00 a.m., probably fifteen people had stopped by……international bicyclists, motorcyclists…who just dropped down from San Felipe to say hello….truck drivers, travelers trying the infamous road for the first time and a variety of other ‘just folks’.

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Tony missed most of the gaiety because Coco needed a new little light installed next to his bed and he thought Tony ‘was just the man to do it!’ Coco made this clear by demanding “YOU! Ca Mere, I need you,”while pointing at Tony to follow him.

His real name is Jorge Enrique Coral Sandes. He is 78 years old. He is a man of his own means. He is a man who threw another man off of his property who claimed to be the rightful owner. He is man who invited the authorities to be called because he had been on the land five years, paid his taxes to the Governor…of whom he had a picture of with his arm around him….and then introduced him to his middle finger. He is a man whose wife and two children walked away from him at age twenty-one and he never saw them again. He is a man who said good-bye to both of his legs. He is a man who sells a cold beer, for a fair price, to weary travelers who travel the desolate desert highway and then throws in a free campsite. He is a man amongst coyotes and a bunch of other things, but most of all, amongst his countless array of world-wide friends.

The Lemonade Caper

Imagine…..Retirement- Nothing to do and all the time in the world to do it

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 There are many obvious reasons to retire. Most people who decide to retire do not expect to dine at the Ritz Carlton anymore. They know their lifestyles will change and they are willing to make the necessary sacrifices.

Armed with this knowledge, Tony and I set off with dreams of a lifetime of bliss and a careful plan to live on our now-limited income.

We enjoy lemonade. We pay upwards of a dollar a glass in a lot of different restaurants in Mexico, where we now currently reside. It occurred to me, one fine sunny afternoon, that this was a ridiculous price to pay for something that could be made so cheaply at home.

Never having made lemonade in my life, I needed to figure out the process. The first thing I will need, I decided, is a fruit- juicer and remembering my mother’s, a small glass thing that she twisted the lemons and oranges over, I began to search for one. I found electric ones to the tune of thirty dollars, but being the ‘green person’ that I am, I decided to forego the idea of using unnecessary electricity and find the simple hand-operated one that my mother used. Absolutely no one in town sold one.

Our friend Dwayne suggested that we walk out to Las Gobos, a famous flea market in Ensenada. He assured me it was only a little way out of town and the walk would be good for us. He said it couldn’t be more than a mile. I agreed to go. I am positive we walked one-hundred and fifty miles to get there, an opinion that is hotly disputed by many people that we know.

To add insult to injury, with my ankles and feet killing me, we walked at least another seventy-five miles around the flea market before we finally found my juicer. It even had a little plastic container screwed to the bottom of it to catch the juice. To my sheer joy, the kind lady only wanted one dollar for it. What a deal! This number fit into our retirement budget. I insisted on taking a bus home.

The next day, the doctor Tony took me to only charged us forty dollars to examine my swollen feet and ankles, but he did give me two ace bandages for free and instruct me to stay off my feet until the swelling went down.

Some time later, other friends of ours treated us to a day in the wine country. At one of the local vineyards, lemon trees, ripe with fruit, grew all over the property. The proprietor handed me an empty bag and told me to take home as many lemons as I wanted, for free. Just another plus to our retirement budget, I declared. Yippee! I picked fifteen lemons, sure that I would have to freeze most of the juice because I had enough lemons to make gallons of the stuff.
I set up my lemonade making station in my galley, very proud of myself for saving money and making the necessary sacrifices I had previously agreed to.

The first lemon…after much twisting and turning…produced about a teaspoon full of juice. Not one to give up, I kept twisting and turning, pouring more force and pressure into every lemon. Fifteen lemons later, my wrists swollen from the unbelievable pressure needed to squeeze a lemon, I had a whole cup of lemon juice.

My Betty Crocker cookbook stated that I needed one-third cup of lemon juice and one cup of water to make one serving. I did the math on this equation and found that there are three one-thirds in a cup of juice and I now had enough juice to make three servings.

The doctor that Tony took me to the next day only charged us forty dollars to examine my swollen wrists, but he did give me two free ace bandages and instruct me not to use my hands until the swelling went down.

Tony did his own math and found that our three glasses of juice only cost us eighty-one dollars, plus the bus fare.
I do not have a choice but to agree with Tony that he will be happy to buy me a glass of lemonade whenever I want one. As soon as my wrists are not swollen anymore, I will be able to lift that glass to my mouth.

The Tamale Delivery Service

Imagine….Mountaintops bathed in sunlight

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At Your Service

I have found that when you are retired and you look like you have nothing to do, a fellow retiree will always suggest a good deed you should be doing.

This was the case, one fine sunny day in our marina, as I sat on the deck of our sailboat sipping a cup of coffee, wondering what I should do with today’s allotted sixteen hours of free time.

My friend and neighbor spotted me wasting my time and stopped over to tell me the story of her friend, Suzie.
It turned out that Susie is a sweet, Mexican lady whose luck had gone awry. Her husband lost his job and is somewhere in the southern Baja taking care of their boat, unable to pay their bills. She had to return to her mother’s home, in our town of Ensenada, because of a family illness and try to make some money to send to her husband.

Seeing that I was filled with compassion, my friend continued. Suzie, the poor thing, used to sell tamales to the boaters and was trying to restart her business, and, my friend added, it would be wonderful of me to help her.

Of course, my friend would be happy to do it herself, she said, but she just didn’t have time and all I needed to do was take orders once a week and call Suzie with them.

Sounded easy enough, I thought, and feeling very sorry for Suzie and considering it might be time for me to give back something to other people, I agreed to lend this poor woman a hand.

I felt good about myself and immediately dubbed my part of the business, ‘Margo’s Tamale Delivery Service.’ I should also mention that I had no idea what tamales were.

My friend brought Suzie and her mother to my boat the next day to seal the deal and explain what I would be selling. We decided that I would call Suzie on Saturday with my orders and she would deliver them on Monday. She also agreed to give me two free tamales for my efforts. Since, as an American Citizen, I am not allowed to make any money in Mexico, I thought this payment hedged around the law quite nicely.

Tamales, by the way, are corn husks filled with meat, either chicken or beef, and an olive and sell for twelve pesos, or one dollar and twenty cents each.

My first week didn’t go too well. I began by soliciting my friends and neighbors on our morning net and requesting orders. I started this on Tuesday, and by Saturday, I had orders for thirty of the little devils. Most of the people that called me I didn’t know, so I had to make an Excel spreadsheet with their names, boat slip numbers and how many chicken or beef tamales they wanted.

I spent all day Saturday and most of Sunday trying to call Suzie. She finally answered her phone Sunday evening. Of course, due to her limited English and my limited Spanish, the call took awhile. Tony spent the two days waiting for me, while I called and called and called.

On Monday, Suzie and her mother showed up right on time with a big bag of hot tamales. She insisted that I pay her before we sorted the tamales and figured out what I owed her on her trusty little calculator.

It hadn’t occurred to me to collect the money from my customers when they ordered, so I had to front the money, of which, I had to borrow from Tony.

Cash transactions completed, the next step involved counting out the orders into little plastic bags and, using the labels I provided, labeling each bag with the name of its recipient.

She said she was sorry, but had forgotten my two tamales and requested one of my cigarettes. Her mother chastised me for smoking.

The real fun began after they left. I walked up and down five docks, carrying the little bags, and trying to find the boats that had ordered. Six of my customers weren’t home, so I had to store the tamales in our little refrigerator until they came for them. Tony made room in the refrigerator.

By Tuesday afternoon, I repaid Tony and put our stuff back in the refrigerator, throwing out a couple of things that had not made it through the night.

Okay, so this venture turned out to be a little more than I expected, and certainly, a lot more than Tony expected. All my little business needed was a dose of my expertise at managing.

The following week, I collected my money up-front. That solved one problem. I explained to all my customers that I would leave their order on their deck by three-thirty every Monday, home or not.

I also decided I needed an employee, with a dinghy, to help with the actual delivery process and that would take care of the problem of my swollen ankles from all that walking.
I offered Tony one-half of one tamale to work for me. If you do the math, that is twenty-five percent of my profit on the two tamales I received as pay and, I reasoned, more than fair.
He agreed to work for me and my business officially had an employee. Now all I had to do was make sure Suzie remembered my two tamales.

I patted myself on the back for my wonderful management skills.

I still couldn’t reach her on the phone, and used up a lot of my ‘pay as you go minutes’ on my Mexican phone, so I’d have to think more on that problem.

By the third week, Suzie was hanging out, smoking a half pack of my cigarettes and forgetting the little plastic bags, so I had to supply them.

Tony appeared frustrated and told me he didn’t really like tamales. He also felt he should be compensated for the gas he was using in his dinghy. He said he was considering unionizing my business, so I upped his salary to a full tamale during the negotiation process.

One morning, as I sat crunching the numbers on my Excel spreadsheet, it dawned on me that I didn’t like tamales either. I walked to the bow of my boat, took down my shingle, called Suzie, and informed her I was going out of business. Of course, I did have to leave a message. Tony took me to lunch to celebrate.

By early that evening, Tony had negotiated with the boater in the slip next to us to watch his boat for the six months he would be in Australia. The boater offered him forty dollars a month for his services and he, because he was now unemployed for a total of five hours, accepted the position immediately. What a show-off.

I, too, have plans for the future. I’m going to study salsa dancing and practice on the deck of my boat so I will always look busy.

A Bottle of Wine……And We Started Packing

Imagine……A sandbar, skinny dipping and a bottle of wine.

A bottle of wine

We woke up one morning and we started packing……..Great words from a great song……and what would become our mantra for life!

We married at a young age, had a wonderful family, home, careers and used every spare minute we could find to go someplace…. anyplace. Our children learned to travel on a moment’s notice, at a very early age. We took them from the dinner table in New Jersey to the car and ended up skiing in Vermont the next morning or in Florida doing their pre-arranged homework at Disney World. We don’t think they ever held it against us.

We transferred to Florida, the children grew up, the homes got sold and we found ourselves looking at new things to do. We bought a sailboat and learned how to sail. Hurricane Andrew prompted a move to California, but ultimately, we quit our jobs and moved to Hawaii for a year, and then came back to California to love our first grandson…. and live on our sailboat. We waited patiently for the rest of our grandchildren to be born. The year 2009 brought the sixth and final one….. Next stop retirement!

Life got really interesting at this point. We would have to live on Social Security. We would have to learn to live without fancy cars and good restaurants. We would not be able to live our lifelong dream of going to Europe. No more expensive vacations.

On the bright side, we had no financial obligations. No bills, no mortgages, no family to support and a little nest-egg if we got old and needed some medical attention. OK, we thought. So…… we decided, over a glass of wine, that it was worth a try. We packed up the boat and started a brand new life, leaving it all behind. We have never looked back.

We now live on our beautiful boat, The Nelly Gray, in Ensenada, Mexico and enjoy a wonderful, full life.

The Nelly Gray
By the way, we still go to nice restaurants and managed to save enough money to spend eight weeks in Europe.

200The fancy cars? We drive a little Mexican Chevy that is cute as a button and costs us one hundred and fifty dollars a year to insure.

ChevyWe recently purchased a 1982 VW Vanagon, restored it and have happily camped all over the Baja.

The Baja Buggy2We’re saving again and next year, we will take the van to Europe and camp everywhere possible.

We have never held it against ourselves for retiring!

Hello!

“Imagine……….A Pocketful of Dreams”

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     As a child, my mother chastised me often, telling me that I was just like my father, wings on my feet, stars in my eyes and dreams in my heart. “Star-gazers go nowhere,” she’d tell me. “Dreams are for sleeping. Hard work is the answer to everything.”

During other moments, when her softer side snuck out, she mesmerized me with stories of my Scottish great grand-father, a safe cracker by trade, roaming the country by stagecoach in the late 1800’s. He was born with “a special ear”, she said. He could open any safe by just listing to the lock click. Errant bankers called for his help from all over the country to open their accidentally locked safes. Ultimately, she would get to her favorite part of his story about him bringing home to New Jersey a Navajo Indian squaw, right off the reservation in Arizona, to take as his wife.

My mother’s stories took us to the Netherwoods, a tiny little forest in the” Queen City of Plainfield” New Jersey to my Irish great-grandmothers house, which sat right in the middle of the woods.. It was here that my mother heard the disgruntled old woman tell tales every morning of the mischievous, little green leprechauns that she had to chase back behind the ice-box with her broom before she could make breakfast. My mother laughed as she recalled her grand-mother doing an Irish jig around the kitchen as she cooked the food, happy with herself that she had conquered the “devilish little creatures” one more time.
She led us through the kitchens of “old country” Italy, where another round of relatives hailed from, describing how they taught her to “make the spaghetti you are going to eat tonight!

When she was too busy “working hard” to tell us stories of our ancestors and their customs, our father would step in to fill the gap. He took us to places like the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific and Hawaii, which he hailed as the most beautiful place in the world. He took us to Helena, Montana, where horses roamed free and men wore cowboy hats. He told me of giant ships taking him and his Army buddies to foreign ports and the beautiful women he met. He taught me to play craps with dice against the kitchen sink when my mother wasn’t looking. The wings on my feet sprouted at a very young age.

My childhood and teenage years were peppered with people from all parts of the world, but the one with the most influence was a girl named Andre, from French Morocco. She was beautiful, she spoke four languages, French being number one and English her second and she introduced me to her family. I, at ten years old, spent every minute I could at her house, annoying I am sure, asking her parent’s questions about their life, their languages, why their cat spoke French and a million other curiosities I discovered about them. They only stayed in America a year, but my wings grew six inches.

As far as I can tell, there have been three phases to my life, my childhood, my adulthood, and finally, the third phase, my second childhood. This blog is about how I, and my wonderful husband, have figured out how to get the dreams back out of the hollows of our minds and make them come alive again.