The Deli Hag & The Pastry Surgeons
Puerto Penasco (Rocky Point), Mexico
My wife and I were taking a week to relax in Puerto Penasco (Rocky Point), Mexico and had done all the standard things. We tanned ourselves on the beach. We watched locals consume endless amounts of Tecate beer. We watched countless tourists get their hair braided into corn rows by local vendors, creating a sea of Bo Dereks and Kid Rocks of various shapes and sizes. We had cheap and delicious tacos and margaritas at J.J.’s Cantina.
We decided that we were going to check out the local supermarket and pick up some food that didn’t come from a restaurant or stall. Once we found a supermarket, we proceeded to the deli counter, which was, to our amazement, wide open. The glass panel “sneeze shields” were opened up and patrons grabbed their own containers and scooped up their own food. This is unheard of in the US and would cause most folks to panic and start searching for the nearest health inspector.
However, it was brilliant. This way, you get the piece of chicken you want without playing “stage left, stage right” while trying to get the deli guy to make his hand finally alight upon the one you keep pointing to. You can scoop exactly as much as you want of any food without the game of “a little less…no a bit more than that. No, not THAT much!”
So, we scooped up some salsa and a few other things and there was another American tourist there. This fifty-something woman with garish gold earrings and bracelets, too much makeup, and tight-fitting black clothing. Her hair was poofed up with vast amounts of whatever designer version of Aqua Net was currently popular.
She was sighing loudly and stamping her feet, being impatient and rude and doing a wonderful job of making sure everyone knew how little time she had, and simultaneously ensuring that, being in line right after her, we would have had unpleasant surprises in our food had we not been able to scoop it ourselves. She typified the rude, selfish, entitled American, making me wish I was currently sporting a Canadian flag.
The folks behind the counter were busy helping the line of customers before us and this rude lady kept putting her stuff up on the counter, trying to pressure them to just serve her and let her get on her way. Their movements grew noticeably slower and a bit of a smirk found itself on my face. I saw a glint in every other eye, though the faces were expressionless. That glint said, “That’s right, you rude hag. You’re going to wait your turn like everybody else, and I’m willing to wait longer just to see you suffer.”
She turned to me and asked with exasperation, “What are they doing back there?”
I made an obvious show of intently studying their moves and declared, as if I were narrating a National Geographic special, “Hmmm…it seems as though they’re working! Yes, that’s it!”
She let out a huff and became even more impatient. The locals sensed the tone of my voice and were quietly chuckling. Our dear lady had finally had enough. “I can’t believe this!” She stamped her impatient feet right out of the store.
We bought our food as kindly and patiently as we could and my eyes told them that I thought she was just as rude as they thought she was, and a pleasant transaction followed.
We then made our way to the bakery section and there was a vast array of delicious looking pastries. There was a stack of metal pizza trays nearby and, observing another shopper, I saw that the drill was use your bare hands to put what you wanted on the tray and take it over to the bakery counter. Apparently, it was permissible to touch any of the pastries and arrange and dig through them until you found the right ones.
We made our choices and were amused to see that the bakery staff had on latex gloves and surgical masks. They were spotless. It was good to know that these pastries, which surely have been handled by several people and perhaps even sneezed upon, were from this point forward entering a place of sterility and care. They can restore the pastry…they have the technology.
They carefully, despite the latex gloves, used tongs to pick up, weigh, and bag the pastries, and presented them to us as if they were extremely rare truffles, or perhaps a volatile chemical mixture.
Later we discovered that the taste was worth every strange moment.