Reality Check: Southwest Black Friday Revelations

Bored, Drunk & Hiding In Mexico While The World Spins

Mid-afternoon in Salsita’s Café, a garishly authentic dive near the historic town square of San Jose, Mexico. The glorious quiet is accented with an aroma of fresh salsa fresca and bean spices wafting from its kitchen, inspiring a wave to our friendly barkeep for a lunch menu. My wife sips tequila staring at the tiny television flickering weirdly violent images across its screen.

“Black Friday is underway in the U.S.,” a British voice intones with the kind of blissful sarcasm best presented from a BBC anchorman witnessing the stampede of consumer madness. “Millions of shoppers, many of whom have waited for hours in long lines throughout the night for giant chains to open their doors at midnight, begin a furious rush to procure the best bargains and herald in the American Christmas season.”

“This is why we’re sitting here,” I whisper calmly to my wife, tipping a bottle of warming Corona to my lips in a deliberate attempt to punctuate my pithy observation.

The wife says nothing. She rarely if ever says anything when offered commentary of strange behavior on television, whether seated on our living room couch, in bed, an airport gate or any and every place they put televisions now, so one can more frequently view the peculiarity of the planet’s highest intelligence. But when she is enjoying tequila, there is scant chance she will even acknowledge my presence.

But, really, what is there to say when enduring clip after clip of what has to be assumed are “normal” adult humanoids crashing through barely opened automatic glass doors to careen spastically over end-caps and clothes racks in a trampling charge worthy of the Running of the Bulls or the opening sequence to a ‘60s Japanese monster flick?

So the wife sips her tequila.

“Estimates from independent economic indicators say that this year’s all-important Black Friday retail numbers will dwarf 2010, even as the U.S. economy sags,” the British voice continues. “Consensus from the American Consumer Council predicts a nine percent increase in retail sales this year, a crucial gauge of how the economic climate may go in 2012.”

Our barkeep, a handsome quick-witted soul whose name, Izel, means “Only One” in the Mexican lexicon, decides to fill the silence left dangling by the wife; “This is… what… is…Is this real?”

“Oh, yes,” I proudly say, as if translating the behavior of my countrymen with certitude. “We celebrate the inauguration of every major holiday by launching ourselves into silliness. On the Fourth of July we blow shit up. Just blow shit up. Everywhere.”

“On purpose?” Izel asks.

“Well, of course,” I tell him. “On Easter, we lather chocolate all over our bodies and writhe in vats of jellybeans and duck sauce.”

“What… duck sauce… they make sauce from a duck?”

“Correct,” I continue, satisfied to be helping my new friend appreciate the customs of the true American. “New Year’s marks the time when we take all the alcohol and drugs we have failed to consume in the previous year and challenge each other to a collective gorging that in many ways signifies rebirth.”

“This…” my wife hisses. “…is why I don’t retort.”

Izel chuckles nervously, as he notices my wife roll her eyes.

“Don’t listen to her,” I caution. “Black Friday did not get its name by accident. It is imperative that Americans shop like it will be their last time to spend money, to insure the national economy. It is a way of life, the very fabric of our country’s life-blood. After our generation’s greatest calamity on 9/11, the President of the United States told us to go out and shop!”

I have plans to prattle on, but get distracted by video of Manhattan’s Herald Square looking like Occupy Wall Street, but with haircuts and pocketbooks instead of dreadlocks and bongos; the One-Percenters on Parade.

“Christmas time here is very quiet,” Izel says, sounding disappointed. “Too quiet.”

Of course, we are miles and seemingly centuries from the images flashing across the tiny screen that hangs above the bar. San Jose is a sleepy fishing town perched on the curve of the Sea of Cortez, founded in 1730 upon rivers of blood and Catholicism by Spanish pirates, Native Americans and ultimately, Jesuits, who turned it into a mission that still dominates the hamlet today. Mainly, San Jose is an escape for the artists who make the pottery, linens and tourist junk sold ad nauseam day and night across the beaches of Los Cabos.

For a full hour before settling into our comfortable place, bellies firmly squeezed into bar, my wife intensely browsed hand-painted sink basins until sadly realizing none of them would fit our bathroom counter. “We can gut it!” she decided gleefully. I offered that we’d think about it over tequila; a dangling carrot that never fails to distract my bride from taking heavy tools to vital portions of my home.

“Make sure you keep these coming,” I nod toward her near-empty glass. Izel smiles and fills it.

Suddenly, a mist of rain turns steady, causing a rush of tourists to pour into the café, interrupting our oasis from the Black Friday specter. The women furiously shake out their hair and the men flap their arms as if the terrible notion of getting wet against their will on the Baja Peninsula is some heightened measure of mortal sin. Up until now, the bar has been empty, save for two half-soused artisans, the wife and myself.

“Goddamn, it!” shouts the silver-haired Midwesterner. His wife, a look of utter horror masking her overly adorned pallor, stammers, “Where did this come from?”

A young couple, awkwardly groping, as young couples need to be doing at every waking second, giggle in the corner. A family barrels forth through the tiny entrance squealing, making the chubby fellow with the phalanx of cameras uneasy. “Can I get a towel?” he demands to no one in particular, sounding quite obviously like one of the “all-inclusive” types that converge on small Mexican shore towns every autumn.

“What is wrong with these people?” my wife asks the barkeep, but he is long gone, having run with four young boys to frantically drag the leather porch furniture back into the bar.

The cook, who we learned an hour ago likes to be addressed as Clavo, pokes his head from the back with the grin of a man about to clean the house at the roulette table.

“Holy mother,” he whispers.

“What? What?” my wife presses.

“It has not rained here for more than 10 minutes in four years.”

Although spoken with astonishing conviction, it sounded apocryphal—No rain for four years?—almost in that creepy Biblical phenomenon way that’s added to enhance the affect that you’re merely here because some greater force is allowing it on a whim. However, it was true as far as I could tell. We had not seen it rain in Southwest Mexico in the three years we had visited here during November, nor have the many friends we have convinced to invade this magnificent place. No one has experienced so much as a mild Nimbostratus.

As more people, mostly Caucasian and mildly perturbed, stumble into the café, the rain intensifies, prompting additional precipitation history from Señor Clavo.

“It has only rained twice in the past year, amigo, for 10 minutes each, last September—9th and 19th. People will be dancing in the streets.”

“The farmers,” one of the artisans adds, now pushed to the corner of the bar, as the tiny front room begins to take on the look of lifeboat. “They pray for rain and it never comes, but now it is a gift.”

Black Friday on the outskirts of the 21st century has found its stampede.

We turn back to the bar, and my wife sighs, “One more for the road.”


James Campion is the Managing Editor of The Reality Check News & Information Desk and the author of Deep Tank Jersey, Fear No Art, Trailing Jesus and Midnight For Cinderella.