I’m sitting in a bar in Ciudad Chihuahua, The Monaco, on the edge of downtown. It’s clean and well lighted by naked fluorescent tubes hanging near the high ceiling. The walls are white and the exposed duct work black. The banda music is a little too loud for anything but spirited conversation. I’m drinking Mexican Bacardi terciados at 20 pesos a pop, and everyone else is drinking Cartas. It’s three o’clock in the afternoon and there are thirteen men and two women in a space that’s probably licensed to hold forty.
The juke box stops, and a couple of musicians stand up and strum, trolling for some interest, but none comes, and they drift out the door as some bleeding musica romantica blares too loud from the juke box. Happy hour minstrel is a tough way to make a living.
This morning I bought a hat at the store next door. A palma fina with a cowboy crease. I’m leaving it on. Most of the other patrons are wearing ball caps, but most of the other patrons are younger than me.
My wife is in the motel across the street, two thirds pregnant.
Chihuahua’s a funny town. State capital. Lots of historic buildings from the Porfiriata. Cowboys. Laborers. Wage slaves. The city lacks the obvious stench of the new money narco rich, at least the humble neighborhoods I hang out in. Everyone’s polite and reserved, avoiding eye contact on the street, almost meek, submissive, with a patina of working class poverty that comes from the stratification that colors everything in Mexico. Not envy. Acceptance. Because the differences in wealth and status and class still leave lots of room for life.
A drunk shuffles in to pee. The lady behind the bar tries to shoo him out, but he’s obdurate. Impermeable. His eyes are as responsive as concrete blocks.
The musicians drift back. First one guitar, then the other. Then a guy walks in with a cheap Chinese harmonica like a whistle. The guitars settle back into their original chairs, and the harmonica guy walks table to table, whistling along with the juke box, table to table, hopefully, with no results.
Four o’clock and the place is filling up. I’m three drinks in and empty. The girl working the floor is busy, but not behind, except for my empty glass, and I’m three drinks in. Slow service is doing me a favor. But she swoops in and takes my glass without words being exchanged. One of the guitars splits and drops a fifty peso note on the other as he walks out. Slim pickings, and it shows on the face of the remaining guitar player as he thumbs a couple of bills. He leaves his guitar on the table as he goes to pee, and picks it up as he walks out the door.
Then the girl comes back with my drink.