Friday, March 15, 2019

Joy Cometh in the Morning: Kismet When you least expect it

(Sometimes, Laredo surprises me. There are 250,000 stories in this naked city, and this here is just one of them.) 

The encounter I had with an unknown woman at a local Laredo gas station started off just like all the countless others. Little did I know, that chance encounter would convert me in a believer of kismet.

For months, I had been selling music-filled USB’s to various customers off local Facebook groups. Alongside inexpensive party speakers, I would also sell these thumb drives filled with music du jour, which in south Laredo mostly translates to corridos, cumbias and banda. I would run a quick post on social media advertising my pirated usb hub and invariably I’d get a few responses and a few buys. Usually, I would make quick arrangements to do an exchange in a public place, like parking lot or gas station, no doubt a product of watching too many episodes of 21 Jumpstreet.

Close to Christmas of last year, I got a message from a woman named Silvia. She was interested in purchasing a USB, so I agreed to meet her at a gas station close to Saunders. I grabbed a handful of USB’s and expected her to ask for the same mix of music as everyone else: cumbias, corridos and banda. However, I was taken back by her request.

“You would’t happen to have any 80s music would you?” she asked sheepishly. A small smile quietly grew on my face. “ I do,” I responded still quite glad someone had requested anything besides Fito Olivares.

“I’m looking for this one song,” she continued. “For the life of me I can’t recall how it goes. It’s the last song I heard on the last night I ever say the one person I truly ever loved.”
I could see her eyes begin to moist and hear her voice quavering a bit. “ I wish I could help,” I responded, smiling with intent of wanting to know more of this tragic story.

 “The last time I saw Benny was before he joined the service…it was 1985 and we had being seeing each other for three years. But, my crazy home life, and he was away, we grew apart. I heard he got married years after, but he was always there, back of my mind”. She continued telling me all this as if we were life-long friends meeting for weekly Sunday brunch.

Even though the toxic smell of gasoline around us was beginning to make me queasy, I was quite captivated by the sincerity of this middle-aged woman just pouring out her heart to some random stranger off Facebook.

“We spent our last night together in the back of his pick-up. He had a camper on it. The stars shone so much brighter in Laredo back then. All night we heard the same tape, and that song that I can’t seem to remember has been like a ghost in my head for thirty-four years”.  The last words trailed off as she seemed to lose herself in a vague memory.

I broke the silence. “Well, I wish I could help; I’ve got about 50,000 songs on my hard drive. Can you at least hum it?” I joked wanting to move the story along.

She smiled warmly and made direct eye contact, “I’ve been alone for three years now and I promised myself if I ever recall that song I’d go out and look  for him. It’s been two decades and for the life of me, I can’t recall it at all. That song holds me in his arms of that stupid camper back in ‘85, but I can’t seem to recall it. And it keeps me way, silent”.

Her words seemed to echo my own life, in more ways than I care to mention. I could truly say I understood her every sentiment. Looking back at my own life, I could easily place myself in the same shoes of this mad, middle aged-woman attempting to decipher life outside an Exxon.

Once again she smiled and stretched out her hand filled with cash. “Here’s the money for the USB” she blurted out, as if caught between nostalgia and tragedy. She finally began to walk toward her car saying “I’m sure there lot of songs on here I’ll like”.

As she walked away I thought of a few people of which I have felt that strong about. People that decades later, we still have that similar experience of fading memories, remorseful regrets and bitter tears of life. I drove down Corpus Christi Avenue thinking of that lady and her story, thinking of campers and Benny and the stars of dark Laredo nights in the mid 1980s. I fully expected to never hear from Sylvia again after that chance encounter but to my surprise I had three messages from her in my inbox when I got home that evening.

“Gabito!” she screamed in a voice message using my online handle. “You have it! It was the very first song on the USB! Dennis de Young sings it and the song is called “Desert Moon”. I can’t believe I finally found it. Thank you so much, I’m making plans to go out there and meet him. I’’ll write soon,” she said, as of in a hurry trying to do a million things at once.

I was stunned. I had not even ever heard that one particular song, up to three days before that casual encounter with Sylvia. I loved Dennis De Young with Styx but was unfamiliar with most of his solo discography. However, three days prior, I was binge listening to Styx when I must have gone down a rabbit hole and discovered the song, “Desert Moon”. Upon first listen, I was immediately drawn to it, so much so that I downloaded the album to my computer and heard the song endlessly for 3 days. When Sylvia got in contact with me days later, I simply copied files unto a clean USB and by sheer luck, the first song on there was the song that had held Sylvia captive, like a roaming ghost.

It all seemed like the strangest of coincidences, the craziest of pure luck moments, a smack in the face by fate, in other words, kismet. Apparently, Sylvia was right. Laredo’s stars did shine brighter back in 1985.

Several weeks later I received two unexpected messages from Sylvia. She had reunited with Benny and was spending night and day by his side, rejoicing all the beautiful times from their blessed youth. She mentioned they had laughed and cried as they shared their life once again, as if that night spent in a cold Laredo camper had never ended. Sadly, Benny was undergoing State 4 cancer treatments and due to life’s circumstances the only person by his side during this awful time of trial was Sylvia.
I thought about Sylvia and Benny and their improbable reunion, and the small part I was fortunate enough to play.

So a sincere salute to Sylvia and Benny, two people, just like the rest of us, trying to navigate their way through life’s dark days. Joy cometh in the morning.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Just another Saturday at el Centro de Laredo

    I'm often asked by people why I never seem to have any posts on anything north of Saunders. All my posts center around happenings in and around west, south and central Laredo. It seems to be that places around Mcpherson area are all the same cookie-cutter monotony, indistinguishable from any other city and lacking character and charm. I'm sure I will catch flack for this opinion, but you are free to disagree.

Nonetheless, to me, Laredo starts south of Saunders. In my opinion, this is the true Laredo. While you might not agree, that is the case to me.

Having said that, I was stumbling around el centro de Laredo a Saturday in late October and I noticed a few things I had not seen before. It seems a new pizzeria, a panaderia, a place offering FREE WIFI all popped up while I was absent. Rest assured that DeLaredo will be spending plenty of his money at these local establishments. See pictures below:

A pizzaria downtown? Genius

Shaved ice that offers free wifi? Check!

Finally, a panaderia downtown! Panos is everywhere!

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

El Bodegon Laredo, TX Thrift Store

    There are hundreds of stores from where to buy in our city and plenty of thrift stores that allow me to purchase some lovely collectibles. Lately, I have become enamored with items manufactured from 1977 to 1993. In Laredo, there are only so many second hand stores from where to buy. One such store is a hidden gem called El Bodegon. They sell housewared, toys, media, electronics and other cool items. I have found. While they are not the only thrift store in town, they are best. In a city inundated with ropa usada, El Bodegon offers a nice variety. It's local stores like this that keep me away from the mall and ugly corporate chains like Goodwill. 

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Laredo, TX Video Stores (VHS Rentals)

Not too long ago, before Netflixing and chill became common place, you had to run down to the ol' video store to get your movie night fix. For a few bucks a night, you could take several movies for the night and binge to your hearts content.

Locally, we had several mom and pop places that thrived with the weekend rentals. Now, in 2018, none of those remain. Video stores have mostly become extinct! Only Redbox remains as a place to rent physical media, at least in Laredo. However, not too long ago, video stores where abundant and you could select from a variety of genres and even languages, from Steven Segal and Chuck Norris to Mario Almada and Sergio Goyri vistas.

I even remember the first place I peered behind the red curtain at one of these establishments that offered adult videos for viewing pleasure. It was a magical time for videophiles. Now, VHS and DVD are slowly being phased out. Still on Saturday nights such as this, I feel the nostalgic hark to the good days, of walking the aisles of the video store, with friends and family, as we argued over which movie to take home. Those days seem like a lifetime ago, a lifetime of memories on film.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Las Pulgas en Laredo, TX

If I have one hobby that I never pass up on the weekend, its going a pulgear (flea marketing). We do have several in Laredo: Guadalupe Heights Pulga, Pulga 359, Pulga en Park Street and Pulga La Blanca. However, at a recent trip to Pulga 359 I was surprised to see so many vacant spots. It was on a fair weathered Saturday morning and so many stalls were closed.

I had heard talk that the old pulga on 359 was being shut down, some might say relocated and it seems like that is truly happening. UISD is opening up a middle school just blocks away from this eye sore. Many vendors have already fled to the new pulga down the road, with its broad open spaces and clean facilities, it is light years ahead of the old one but without the vintage old merchandise found at the old 359 pulga.

Which makes me think, why are our local Laredo pulgas in odd locations.? One is near the city landfill and other adjacent to a headquarters for teen hoodlums. I guess this makes shopping fun and keeps us on our toes.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

2018 in full effect!

If you noticed, I upgrade from 2.0 to 3.0. Why you might ask? Is there better writing? Did the posts become more intriguing and the journalism stepped up a notch? Are the updates finally arriving on a semi-regular basis? I do hope its a small portion of all three and it should reflect in the upcoming weeks.

It is a new year and 2017 was brutal for me with the loss of Mami Chulas and Halloway Bakery hitting especially hard. However, new places are here to replace these cherished institutions.

One place I have quickly learned to love is the Laredo Outlets. I'm not a fan of Mall del Norte, but the outdoor atmosphere and easy parking make the outlets a fun shopping experience for me (not a paid endorsement). I have found myself going back there for several purchases recently and the decent prices make it my worthwhile.

Unfortunately, many of the stores surrounding the outlets are vacant, probably due to risings rent costs. I love going downtown and to stores besides the outlets and slowly I see many locals also giving downtown another look that has long been forgotten.

Monday, October 23, 2017

We hate it when our friends become successful

To steal a line from Morrissey, I could just go lay down on the woods and die every time I see an old classmate / relative or acquaintance blowing up and getting more recognition that they deserve. It sounds selfish and trivial, but everywhere I turn these days, I see old foes surpassing me and leaving me alone and abandoned, like a tattered hat on the dance floor of El Gastronomico.

I sure do hate that my friends are becoming so damn successful. Even though my seething anger will eventually turn to  actual happiness for their achievements, I feel a great displeasure at almost reaching 40 and stuck in a huge rut of nothingness. I see neighbors and ex-friends, girlfriends and ex-wives thriving in their business or careers. And here I am, quoting bad Moz songs and feeling like Hebbronville, TX: distant, forgotten and inconsequential. 

That same feeling reflects my attitude toward Laredo. Lately, so many wonderful things have been occurring, growth spurting out at all sides. Yet, I feel very jealous at some of Laredo's "success", so much so that it might be time to put to bed that tired line-'There is nothing to do in Laredo- to an eternal sleep.

Family entertainment, night venues, culture and literary centers are being opened at faster rates that I ever remember. Not that I'm a reader or literary in a sense, but, still, it's cool to have that option.

Thought I must say, that sense of jealousy does creep up. "The Laredo that I used to know," sleepy and content with just being itself is being lost to a brand new Laredo. I'm not so certain what this new Laredo encompasses, not at all. But at least its suffice to know its becoming successful. I can deal with my self-pity at a later date. 

Joy Cometh in the Morning: Kismet When you least expect it

(Sometimes, Laredo surprises me. There are 250,000 stories in this naked city, and this here is just one of them.)  The encounter I had ...