Commentary, Culture, Philip Alderton
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Watch-less Part 2

City Writers Room

I imagine I’m watch-less in Todas Santos.

After all I am watch-less now, sitting on my deck overlooking the darkening ocean. The moon has set early, one of those where it sits above the setting sun and disappears with it. It’s Valentine’s. Eva, my neighbor’s daughter, has paid a visit. She lives in Todas Santos. A free spirit is Eva. She drives around barricades on freeway entrances to happily drive along the closed freeway. Staggeringly she made it several miles before exiting where she wanted. The advantage of a Prius is everyone would have thought it a “government environmentally friendly” car. Blondes have more fun.

She is full of news of how Todas Santos is growing. She and her boyfriend have a real estate business there. Prices are soaring and big time execs are buying holiday homes. She said she nearly stepped on some scorpions and shows me their size. Is she flirting?

“They’re the size of lobsters.”

I imagine it’s a place like many other “nuevo” tourists spots. If you have the right piece of it you get rich, if you have the wrong place, or no place, you get screwed. It’s no one’s fault, it’s everyone fault.

Eva mentioned cobble stone streets. The photos I look up show less romantic pavements.

I’m watch-less outside a little store on a side street in Todas Santos. The vivid colors of the buildings are faded, and great flakes of the plaster have long since fallen. A couple of little wooden tables and slated chairs. The place has a menu on one hand and you can sit cramped against the exterior wall as there is no real footpath. Just a space most parked vehicles respect between themselves and the wall for a pedestrian to access. Actually I think it is so that the car doors will open. Their occupants being the pedestrians. They are older vehicles. Fading also, tires bare.

It’s dusk. My bottle is empty. I’m still watch-less. When is dark in Todas Santos? Is it late or early? The lights are having an effect. To my right is the beach and the ocean road along with shops and restaurants. I can see a chocolate shop. Fancy chocolate for the fancy people who mingle on that street. The rich and famous need fancy chocolate. Fancy everything. It’s not a street for locals. The shop’s neon sign seemingly there to deflect locals more than attract customers. The shop is closed by the time the neon bites the dusk. Does that mean it is late, or simply that the chocolate shop closes early? Maybe this is the low season and there are no tourists needing fancy chocolate. These are the months Eva said it was hard to breathe. Maybe the chocolate shop has not been open for weeks.

To the right the street is brightly lit and the chocolate shop has a restaurant, quiet now but with its own bright sign shining forth, beside it. It looks a fancy place that would close between lunch and dinner, or maybe there is no lunch. On the chocolate shop’s other side is a bar. There’s action there. Not a lot. It wouldn’t be locals. It is on that street locals aren’t welcome. They provide too much local color. A reminder of reality. Would it close for the low months? Do locals even work there or do they import busty blondes from north of the border on college breaks to serve, who? Or is it whom?

A couple of young adults – is it racist today to mention they’re white? – stumble from the place and finish their drinks on the street, discarding the trash onto the payment as they stagger off. Eva mentioned that type and how much the Mexicans loathe them. We visit poor places for exotic adventures, and because they are cheap. We can behave like our betters at home, by behaving badly and leaving some physical manifestation of our sudden superiority? Yet we loathe it in others. Maybe there needs to be international regulations concerning municipal trash cans. Maybe street lights as well.

It’s hard for the countries our drunken youth descend upon. Slap them around and boot the louts out and the country is vilified for not consenting to be stepped on all over by us. Tourism stops and all that is left are the drugs. Then we hate them because that is where the drugs come from. We hate the suppliers and the dealers but the users are cool, victims we’re told, well, given – oh I don’t want to be racist, so – given, certain circumstances. Otherwise they are evil. After all, “Affluenza” is a pretty good legal defense in Texas. I imagine it’d go well in the north east as well. With no drug or tourist trade, what’s left? Low cost manufacturing. Then they are worse than ever. Taking our jobs.

The street lights fade as you come down the side street to where I’m perched. I try to drain my bottle again, but somehow it hasn’t refilled so it’s a pointless effort but then again much effort is pointless. Especially my efforts. The dusk is fading. I’m definitely in the gloom.

To my left is the center of town. There are some lights, but not like to my right. Dim, yellowish lights. There is so much to see to the right, well, I suppose that’s the reason. There must be less to see to my left in the center of town hence the shortage of street lights. One relies on the light through the windows of the faded little establishments. Mostly though, that is blocked by the parked cars. It’s quite dark. But people get around.

It doesn’t seem a place there is a lot of movement at night. Is it because there is little light as shops and cantinas close. Maybe it’s dangerous. Such a small place to be dangerous. The buildings I can make out seem “authentic” – old, original. I can see a church dominating the far square. It is well tended, and brightly painted which makes it seem less like a church. Does the color matter?

Eva says the medical care is excellent, but maybe for the drunk tourists they could move a little slowly. Have a siesta first. Live up to the stereotype to make the trip more “authentic”. I should move on. There is nothing in my bottle. But where should I go? To the right, toward the light? To the left, into the dark?

There’s a little cantina on the corner of the side street giving way to the dark town square. The sign and paint is fading just like the establishment I’m in front of. From the ocean front street you couldn’t notice it. Invisible to the tourist, they wouldn’t want to see it anyway. Someone has come out eating food. Local food. I wonder what local food is. Should I try it? Should I follow the light to some expensive restaurant serving things I can’t pronounce. I’m sure it’d be exquisite and I could flirt with the waitress. She’d smile and pretend to enjoy my attentions. In the cantina if I flirt with the wrong gal her boyfriend, family, angry locals, restless drug cartel types and so many others may slice me up. I’ll have to be respectful. There are so many problems with going to the left.

All I know is the dusk is darkness now. Tourists are out, in their tourist best. I’m not sure how many tourists, I mean by that: Relatively. Is it a lot, or a few, I don’t really know? Is it high season, is it low season. I seem to breathe. Maybe it’s midseason.

I should be brave and go to my left to that little cantina and see what they are selling. I should risk the vortex of darkness and danger. They can’t steal my watch. I haven’t one. I have five when I think about it. I always think I have one. Tissot. I got it while a tourist in Dubai in a brightly lit shopping complex. But actually I have five, including my dad’s old watch which is in the strong box, the old fashion, green metal box for the important documents in life. The glass bead bracelet I bought my mother while a tourist in Venice is there as well. She never wore it. Dad always wore his watch. He bought it locally.

I should go to the left and shun the bright light. I would be the only tourist in the shop. Maybe there is a reason for that? Hygiene? That’s why all the locals are – just fine.

It shouldn’t be that hard for me to go into the cantina. After all, I’m sitting over looking Santa Monica Bay on my deck, and it has become dark, and I’m just imagining the cantina and the town. I’m not even in Baja California. I’m in real California. I am relying on Eva for the lobster sized scorpions of course, I wouldn’t have imagined those. I’m not very good at horror stories.

Hemmingway had a story where a scorpion was crawling onto a hammock… I don’t remember what happened in that story. But in the end he blew his brains out. Hemmingway not the scorpion.

Left or right? Why is it so hard? It should be easy to be brave in your own imagination. But the lure of the vortex and the darkness seem so real. If I go to the left I mustn’t look back. That’s like looking down. If I go to the right then I may miss my only chance. There may not be many side streets to take.

I don’t know how I came by this one. I started here. I just dropped myself into this place and didn’t even pay for the bottle of drink – I was never even inside. I have no past. Time drifts so a future is certain to a small degree. But what is it?

I need to decide. It’s an imaginary decision. Maybe if I went inside my trailer and found my watch it’d be easier to decide. It would give me a time frame. An urgency. I could make a cup of tea while I got my watch. But then I’d be leaving Todas Santos without a decision.

I’m drifting. The darkness is calling and I find myself ambling toward the cantina, my shadow blending, melding into the rest of the darkness, vanishing as I do. The tourists can’t see me now from the ocean front and what do those in the town center think of this silhouetted figure pointlessly coming their way? Neither can see past the glare of the lights. I’m a drift and gone.

I’m watch-less in Todas Santos.

—x—

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