Viva Mexico, Living in Mexcio City
Mexico City, Mexico
I am a bartender in NYC. We have a small company of bars that grows faster than I can write. Last year, my company sent me to Mexico City to help open a bar/hotel in the wealthy area of Mexico City called Polanco. I speak Spanish, and had begged for the chance to go down there to help open this new bar of ours. I was turned down time and time again. I was told that it was too dangerous, and that they were not sure that I would be able to handle it. Being the adventure seeker that I am, I now begged even more! I have been to many places in the world, but somehow I had this vision of Mexico as the Cancun spring break capital, and never had a desire to go until I had the chance to live and work there for awhile.
Needless to say, the people in my corporate office were down there for about 24 hours before I got the phone call to get on the next plane available. HA! I WAS OFF!
I first saw all of the mountains from the plane! Amazement! I was actually on a plane heading to who knows where, for who knows how long, to do who knows what! Civilization came into view, woa…. being from New York, I expected a big city, but not THIS big. The city was massive.
I got off the plane. My company arranged for me to have a car service at the airport. I waited, I searched.This was when I learned the phrase, “Mexcian Time”. I called the car service, my company etc. My only answer from anybody was, “yes, we have your reservation” UMM, yes, but is anyone coming for me? So, I jumped into the official taxi, because I had heard so much about these infamous green taxi’s. “DONT GET INTO A GREEN TAXI” they will rob, rape, steal…blah blah blah.
The “official” taxi drove me about 45 minutes to Polanco. For me it felt like about 5 minutes because I was peering out the window amazed at every little thing I saw.
I arrive at this massive hotel in progress. It’s new, modern, gorgeous! It was not open yet, so I would be staying in a suite and living there for free for as long as it took. Mexican time? It took A LONG time! Aww…poor me!
The first thing my boss says is, “You better speak Spanish, Lisa”. Yeah, sure I taught myself Spanish at 13, I have family in Costa Rica, I speak to my busboys for hours at a time, I’m from New York,”I can!” They put me in a conference room with about 50 new hires. All they say to me is “teach them to bartend”. YIKES – I can’t even speak English in front of a crowd, let alone Spanish! All these beautiful faces staring at me, and I freeze! Oooo kkkkkk??? Slowly, I began making jokes in Spanish, that my corporate THINKS I can speak Spanish but I am not as good as I thought. AHHH laughter. I started doing “one on one” sessions and I was fine.
A guy from corporate asks me to go with him to Wal-mart. They have Wal-mart??? COOL, I gotta see this! We go to this mall, bigger and more modern than I have ever seen in the states. They don’t have escalators, they have people movers that go two stories so you can allow for your cart! This was not just any Wal-mart, it was a SUPER Wal-mart! They had Sam’s Club, Office Depot etc. I was in shock, and kind of disappointed.
We decide that we should buy some peanut butter and jelly to keep in the office for a snack. So, he asks me to ask someone where it is. Well, two words I have never used in spanish in my life were peanut butter or jelly. So, I think hard. I have the bread, I have a yellow pack of M&M’S in my hand, I try to explain I want the butter that the nuts are made out of to go along with my bread? Makes sense to me! The girl calls over a friend, surely to make fun of me.I proceed to think about the word for jelly. In England they call it preserves right? I come up with the word “preservativo”. Not only did I want jelly, I wanted GRAPE jelly. So getting frustrated, I asked for “preservativo de uva” (grape jelly?). They laugh and send me to the farmacia. Confused I go back to the hotel to talk to all my new Mexcian girlfriends/employees to ask how in the world do you say jelly? They tell me “meralada”…oh marmalade?? Hhmm… what was I saying? They tell me that I was asking for Grape CONDOMS with my peanut butter!!!! It was my first time noticing the difference between Puerto Rican, New York, and Mexican spanish…I was in for quite a trip.
The next day I ventured out to find some coffee, the neighborhood was gorgeous, mansions everywhere, palm trees, certainly not what I expected at all. I bring back coffee, and corporate flips out on me. “You went outside?” I wondered what in the world is everyone being so crazy about? Just then, a lady also sent from New York to open the spa, comes in crying and shaking. She had been held up BY THE POLICE outside of our hotel, they stole all her money and her precious Cartier watch. She told us they put a gun to her head from behind. Later I learned, you need to get in good with the valet parker, because HE KNOWS all of the people who rob in the neighborhood. So, Juan, quickly became my new best friend! In the months that I was there, I did not hear of any other incident.
I also learned about corruption in all of its glory. Our hotel was built BY HAND. No machines were used to build a 30-story hotel. No cranes, no bull dozers…NOTHING! The reason for this is, the government believes it is better to put its people to work. In theory its great, but the guys painting our hotel made about $4 a day! They came sometimes 3 hours on the train just to work. Meanwhile I was seeing the pretty, light skinned, girls coming to work with Gucci and Prada! It hit me that the middle class just did not exist.
The hotel was taking longer than expected to open. Again, all I can say is “Mexican time”. We have to find a way to keep the employees we have just spent weeks training. We decide on a field trip. A democratic vote of things to do, and the locals decide on a place called “xochimilco”. The Mexican Venice, as they call it.
We load into cars Mexican style, eight or more people to a car. Being my first actual adventure away from Polanco, I insist on the front seat so I can see all that I have been missing. People are selling things at red lights, drivers are all over the road. I love this place!
Xochimilco had a carnival feel to it. Vendors sold delicious food that I would have never eaten from a street vendor at home. (Never once did I get Montezuma’s Revenge…until I got home) Loaded up with beer, we all pile onto this brightly colored boat with a picnic table. The guide sailed us around all day. Dinner could be purchased by other vendors pulling their boat up to ours and bartering. We sang songs, and basically got completely drunk! I bonded with our employees, and again was reminded why I love this corrupt but loving country.
Before it was our time to leave, the entire staff woke up early and surprised us with a trip to Zocalo, (downtown). We went to markets, churches, museums, and the Presidential Palace. They treated ME to lunch at an amazing restaurant.
The joy and love I felt from this entire culture would never be outdone. I think of them often, and anxiously await the day I can see them again.
As for the bar, it has generated the most profit in all the bars we own. No doubt from sons and daughters of the rich, famous, posh, political side of Mexican society.
I still think about the money our staff is making, and I smile. I can’t change the world, but at least I know some of them are making more money than they ever thought possible. As for me? Being sent there was much more than my wildest dreams. It was more than a college education, more than going to Cancun on spring break. I got to “live” in Mexico.