Gulag El Dorado
The guard looked like he had been
inflated from a cylinder of compressed air labeled ‘IMPORTANT’. He squinted at my windshield then reached
into the guardhouse for a clipboard. I
lowered my window.
“Where you go?” he asked. He made his voice sound like high grade ore
being escorted out of a Carlos Slim gold mine.
I told him the name of the friend I
intended to visit.
“Block number,” he said. “
I had no idea.
I told him my friend’s phone
number. It was one the new 688 numbers
and most of the time conformed to a vow of silence it had been forced to take in a Chinese
manufacturing plant. He unsnapped a
walkie-talkie from his hip and rapidly exchanged barks and bleats with his superior, no doubt another inflated trooper at Security Headquarters
Central. There was a long pause as I
watched the gas gauge needle of my Suzuki slowly lose an arm wrestle with a paralysed odometer. Then the radio crackled and a
voice said something definitive through a blizzard of static.
“She is no home,” the guard informed me.
I explained about Telnor’s gift of the 688 numbers. The guard pondered a while then hit upon an infallible
solution. He instructed the disembodied
voice to try again. After another
interminable wait he confirmed she was not home.
I explained my friend was indeed home
and was expecting me. I told him the
problem were the telephones. They could
not be relied upon, except to generate regular monthly bills.
The guard walked on rooster legs to
the front of my car and marked down the license plate number.
“What you do?” he asked me.
I told him my business.
“You live here?”
I told him where I lived, which was
decidedly not here.
“You phone number?”
He wrote all these things on his
clipboard. He really liked holding that
I sat back and counted the minutes
while the guard accessed his vast problem-solving reserves and choose from all
possible gambits the least obvious one, which was calling my friend again.
“All right,” I said. “Why don’t you radio for a security vehicle
and they can follow me to my friend’s place? “
More Spanish static. Then I was informed the security trucks were
in the middle of a shift change and no one was available.
It was time for my own shift change. I told him I had the perfect
solution, then backed up and drove around the guardhouse.
When a real estate developer (one of the many listless phrases that hang like epaulettes on the tunics of middlemen)
decides to assemble a collection of homes and commercial properties and place
them on a sand dune south of the US border, the targeted demographic (strangely, they are all addressed by the same name, -Mark) demands an added patina to the stock sale's
pitch. Selling a lot or a house to a husband
and wife who are both in their seventies needs an approach quite different from
the one used to convince a pair of twenty-something newlyweds. The pen poised above the deed or lease usually
belongs to someone who wants a nice sunny place to keep warm during the
northern winter months, but is mildly queasy about the risks involved. After all, there are plenty of rumors about land
fraud, poor medical resources, drug trafficking, violence, alcohol abuse, xenophobia,
police graft and a thousand other vipers in paradise. But the salespeople know their job and ramp
up the special promises and claims until the sheer weight of their purpose
pushes the pen down against the dotted line.
Promises belong to that added
patina and are aimed precisely at the angst shared by everyone whose age is a
multiple of the number of teeth they still possess. A verbal parade of pledges and assurances (often closed captioned with
colored tri-fold brochures) gentle the nervous buyers as they mentally picture a
giant pageant float shaped like the Baja Peninsula, covered with hospitals, doctors, six foot wrought iron fences,
Colonial guard shacks, singing dentists, locked gates, Title Insurance, lawyers with rubber
stamps the size of waffle irons, gun towers, Dobermans, tanks, troop carriers,
Stealth planes and whatever else needs to be sanctioned to force the pen
against the page.
Safety is the theme of ‘high end’
developers, the balm for the fear that gnaws perpetually at the worry nerve
just behind a retired person’s left eyebrow. Within today’s elderly demographic, safety displaces all other mandates,
with the possible exception of a good ten dollar bottle of gin. When a seventy five year old buys a seasonal
home in a foreign country, he or she wants to be assured there will be no 2
a.m. bludgeonings by drug-addled interlopers who
chisel the hinges off unlocked doors. They want to come home from an evening of Karaoke and not see a Sony-shaped
collection of air molecules where the television used to be. They want the Doggie-Door to swing open at comfortable
intervals and not worry that one day they will find a small box left on their patio
chair with a swatch of Fifi’s ear in it, along with
an indecipherable ransom note filled with words like pinche and chinga.
Once a real estate developer has
ironed out the appropriate hucksterspeak and investorese, has drawn up
plans for gross and rentable areas, power and water infrastructure, has started the
gears of government licensing, has pre-approved the buyer (held a mirror against his
nose until it fogged), has collected all the down payments and pillowed the corporate
account with promissory notes and lender loans, has established a stable of
indentured contractors, and finally has cattled the whole collection behind a six
foot security fence, the inevitable third-world values begin to encroach on
first-class neighborhoods. Kicked-in
doors and ransacked homes, stolen trucks and cars, purloined building materials
and uprooted copper pipes and wires, even the occasional violent crime.
This kind of behavior signals the appearance of guard
shacks and Checkpoint Charlie upswing gates at every entrance road. Vehicles are issued identifications stickers and guards are instructed
to fatigue everyone else with tedious questions. Guests, trades people and delivery truck drivers
drum their thumbs against steering wheels while uniforms wrapped around
embarrassingly underpaid doorkeepers circle the suspect vehicles while reading
them their Miranda Rights.
It’s a system designed to make residents
feel as secure as a Velcro tapeworm in a woolen bowel. But like the inevitable product of a subpar
contractor, the execution often falls short of the pretty picture painted by
the sales team, especially when Apex Predators are installed to guard the
Puppies. On more than one occasion,
police and/or security guards have been found to be the Moriarty behind a crime
spree. According to a risk management
website, “…It’s a rare "internal
theft ring" case that doesn’t involve complicity of the Security Guard
staff, at least to some degree.”
Of course the more frequent the
incidence of crime, the longer grows the list of questions at the guard gates
and the more OCD becomes the scrutiny. Eventually something new has to be adopted so that someone can enter the community, even if it’s just the home owners
One solution to a particularly
acute annoyance is the tradesperson ID tag. I decided to brave the gambit of bureaucratic sticks, carrots and hoops
to acquire one of these magical amulets, which I imagined would act like a
coating of KY jelly on my car, allowing easy passage through any blockage.
In Baja, interactions with anyone who officiates a computer or a rubber stamp takes a brain surgeon’s
allotment of foresight and planning. You
pretty much need a U-Haul trailer filled with documentation, which include an original
birth certificate (signed by both your left feet), the first power bill you
ever paid (even if it is from Bangor, Maine), a receipt for a 2 liter bottle of
Coke Classic, a recent MRI, an empty Jumex carton
with your DNA on the lip, proof of inoculations for your pet (even if you don't have one), and finally a
stack of legal tender just in case you come into contact with a civil servant
who has an open hand (they all do).
There are forms to fill, usually
more than the Hoover Dam had, just before they poured the concrete. And there’s a visit to the State Government Police. You need something called a ‘Carta de No Antecede’, which requires you to pay 160.83
pesos to another government body located on the other side of town. This entitles you to a receipt for the said
amount, proving that actual money has exchanged hands. Then, sitting across
from a State Police representative, you are asked in Spanish, “Have you ever
committed a crime?” “No,” you answer bilingually. Then you are stood against a door like a bowling pin for a photograph, your
thumbs are painted with ink and smeared across a page, a laser printer hums, a
sheet of paper is gaveled with rubber stamps along with an enormous flourish of
signature by the official, and you are well on your way to an eleven day wait
as the real estate development’s security office squeezes your ID through its laminator.
When you get home, carefully file
away the paperwork, which in
is more valuable than heirloom furniture or internal organs. If you read Spanish, have a look at the Antecedente letter, which essentially declares,
The bearer of this page, after
a meticulous and exhaustive search through really important State files and databanks,
has been found to be free of public trespass and has no official registered indictments,
criminal or misdemeanor, heinous or harmless. He has a rather large nose, but we won’t hold it against him, and
neither should you.
The next eleven pages of the document
is the unabridged, judicial title of the office lawfully sanctioned to manufacture
the page for you. It is filled with
words beginning with capital letters, vast queues of Roman numerals, and a
handful of arcane acronyms, completely indecipherable, even with two
Enigma machines and a sober Navajo Code Talker.
Here is what will happen when you
approach a guard house with this magical tag in plain view, preferrably hanging from the heel
of your rear view mirror…
A guard, looking like he’s been
inflated from a cylinder of compressed air labeled ‘IMPORTANT’, will squint at
your windshield then reach into the guardhouse for a clipboard.
After lowering your window he will
ask, “Where you go?” in a voice sounding like high grade ore being
escorted out of a Carlos Slim gold mine.
Tell him the name of the friend you
intend to visit.
“Block number,” he’ll ask. “
Of course you’ll have no idea.
Tell him your friend’s phone number,
if you can remember it. Chances are it
will be one of those new 688 numbers.
etc, etc, etc….