Like everything else in Mexico, like wealth and income and opportunity, the present is not equally distributed.
In Mexico, the aspirational present might be described as Gringolandia. American chains have penetrated nearly every aspect of Mexican life. Applebee’s. Domino’s. Wendy’s. Walmart. Home Depot. There are Mexican big box stores that follow the model of their northern neighbors, though perhaps with a slightly European flair. Globalization, eventually, will make us all equal, the cultural conformity of khakis and penny loafers, and identical haircuts stirred into a giant dystopian soup where everything is a bland, non-threatening, shade of beige.
There are pool halls in Mexico that follow the American model, essentially sports bars with pool tables and drink specials and chicken wings.
And then there are the other kind, with cement floors, old men slapping dominoes on card tables, two kinds of beer, and a limited selection of spirits.
Those are the ones I like.
Billares Casino El Cid is one of those. El Cid is on Melchor Ocampo a couple blocks south of Dieciseis in Barrio Alto, a disreputable neighborhood that El Diaro de Juarez one time identified as the most dangerous in Juarez. Maybe twenty pool tables fill the floorspace of El Cid. They’re covered in blue felt, and, most days, surrounded by men knocking the balls around with one-piece sticks.
The clientele is exclusively male. Some days a woman tends bar, serving Sol by the media, but mostly Carta Blanca by the caguama. (A media is the metric approximate of a twelve-ounce bottle, and a caguama a quart.) The man in charge of the register is in his eighties with glasses, a full head of white hair, and a frequent smile.
Most of the tables are reserved for pool of the Mexican variety, a rotation game that starts with the balls on the rails at the spots. After each turn, the shooter empties the pockets and puts the balls he made on his shelf. Each ball is worth it’s number (except the three which is worth six) and the first player to 25 wins.
Three tables are reserved for carambola.
Carambola tables are five feet by ten feet and they don’t have pockets. The game uses three balls. The shooter gets a point by hitting both object balls and (at least) three rails. You can hit one object ball, carom your cue ball off of three rails, and hit the other object ball. Or you can hit three rails and then both object balls.
It’s hard as hell. Every point is a miracle. I’ve seen guys play for twenty minutes without scoring a point. I’ve also seen guys score four points in a row.
In English, the game is called three cushion billiards.
Here are a couple of guys playing for a world championship.
They make it look easy. Sorta.
El Cid functions like adult day care. I’m sixty. That’s probably the median age at the bar when I belly up. The owner, Don Manuel, claims that he’s in his eighties. He pals around with a couple of guys that say that they’re older than I am. Maybe they are.
Whatever. When I’m old enough that all I want to do is sit at a bar and nurse a quart and watch some other guys knock around some pool balls, I hope that there’s still a place like El Cid to do it at.
This is cool and it is old world.