To Be a Gringo

I stole some limes.

Well, I didn’t actually steal them, since they were gratis condiments on the table at dinner.  And, considering that every other tree down here is a lime tree, I could have just plucked a big one on the way home.  But I took a couple, wrapped them in a napkin and pocketed them.  Seriously, it’s like stealing air.

The lady at the next table over totally saw me do it, and responded with a smile.  I only snagged the limes because a bunch of us went to a big industry event today, SAPICA, and got to talking about Mexican traditions, and that it’s impossible to get a proper gin and tonic on a sunny Tuesday afternoon.  We made it our mission, and it only took 3 hours to track down gin, and then tonic, and then, of course, limes.  Trust me, a cocktail is SO much better when it’s laced with skullduggery.

SAPICA is one of those massive trade shows known around the world when it comes to footwear.  It’s held in a big convention center in town, and everyone who’s anyone in the shoe biz comes down for the week.  Granted, my business is bags and panniers and some small accessories, but it never hurts to seek information and inspiration, even if it’s not really my bag.  (Get it?  “Bag”.  I’m pun-derful.)

I hopped a cab with some other shoe designers over to the show, and luckily had pre-registered ahead of time.  Since my little company is in Indiana, I was handed a very special “International Buyer” badge.  My goal for the day was to scout out more tanneries and workshops, as well as some hardware and tool suppliers.  Boy, was I completely misinformed.

As it turns out, SAPICA is more or less a wholesale buyer’s club for retailers who are looking to fill their shelves with all the hot new shoes.  If you’re into that sort of thing and like shopping for footwear, then this would be your heaven.  Six football fields of all the hottest new shoes from every possible designer, including Ralph Loren, Tony Lamas, Paris Hilton, Gucci…  Millions of strappy sandals, chic flats, cowboy boots and stilettos that are simply impossible.  Not really my scene, but worth a look, even though I kept glancing around the room for the “husband’s chair”.

The weird bit about the show was the “booth babes”.  I would estimate that 80% of the attendees of the expo were women, and about 90% of the products shown were female-oriented.  Which makes sense.  What doesn’t make sense, is that 100% of the wide eyed sales people were all large-chested young women in ridiculously tight outfits and insanely too much makeup.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a little T&A in a calendar tacked up in a garage, but this was WAY too much.  Twenty minutes in, I mentioned to a colleague, “If these guys really wanted to turn me on, they’d have set up a foot-operated edging machine in front of their booths instead of the bimbo parade!”

Nevertheless, I soldiered on through the show and actually found a couple of good ideas along the way.  I saw a lot of VERY bad ones, too, but it takes all kinds.  The best part of day, however, is finding an amazing sushi place to grab lunch and pig out.  I also got to spend the day getting every sort of look from everyone at the show, being the big gringo that stands out in a crowd like a Macy’s parade float.

To be honest, sometimes getting that sort of attention down here is nice.  Girls tend to look my way a lot, on the bus, at the mercado, walking down the street…  I’m the interesting blanco.  But, most of the time, the attention is unwarranted and I’m always being peered at as someone that can be taken advantage of, for a couple extra pesos.  Today, for example, I had to run out to the leather district to pick up a few supplies, one of which is a fairly standard strap splitting tool.  In the states, it costs about $200, but I was hoping to find a good deal on a used one in Zona Piel.  I asked every shop I ran across, and even found a place that would sell me a nice one that was motorized and WAY nicer than what I was seeking, for $200 (In the US, that machine would be about $1800).

And then I hit up the one shitheel dealer that I hate to buy from, but is the only one who always has what I need, and always overcharges me.  His awful son was tending the shop, and I needed a specialty punch for what I was working on, so I picked that up, and asked him about the splitter tool while I was there.  He told me he had one in the back, and for me, it was 9,000 pesos.  I figured he mistyped, and I said, “900 pesos?”  Nope.   9,000 pesos, or about $450 American.  That is how price gouging works here, if you’re a gringo.  “Mi est no stupido, punta-bitch!”  I laughed at him and walked away, right after I called him “loco” and dropped the tools on his bench like a hot microphone.

Now, don’t get me wrong, most Mexicans, just like most Americans, are absolutely wonderful people and have been so very kind to me while I’m here.  I’m truly surrounded by so many incredible people who are happy to host me, but just like the street hustlers back home, there are a few bad apples.  In complete contrast to that shopkeeper, I also was looking for some brass-cast strap rings, and found a great little shop that was incredibly happy to help.  Yes, I didn’t speak enough Spanish to properly communicate what I was looking for, but the girl working there was happy enough to let me come behind the counter and search through their inventory until I found what I needed.  She was giggling constantly, and I’m certain I heard the term “gringo” come up a few times, but she was kind and charged me the same as everyone else – 18 pesos for 18 pieces (about $1).

The communication barrier isn’t too much of a barrier, thanks to some translation apps and my wholehearted attempt to learn as much Spanish as I can.  The racial/political barrier, however, is trying.  I’ve been stared at in disgust a lot, and when I get on the bus, I hear utterances of the word, “Trump” more than I’d like.  Businesses treat me like I’m a moron with endless cash that they can plunder, and even my friends have a hard time realizing that I’d rather order ceviche than a burger and fries.  I’m constantly generalized, marginalized and materialized, which can get bothersome, and reminds me a lot about the issues that feminists have fought for in the US for decades.

Last week was International Women’s Day.  I was in the offices of a tannery, where the guys bought roses to give to all the ladies as a symbol of goodwill.  It was incredibly sweet, yet I’m starting to understand why that holiday exists – I feel like a cute girl with big boobs every time I walk out the door down here.  Everyone’s always staring at me, and the biggest assholes of them all want to manipulate me because they think I’m stupid.  Everyone wants something and as much as I want to trust people, I’m in self-preservation mode 24/7.  I’m not in fear for my health or safety (don’t worry, Mom), but I’m walking around town with a target on my back.

So, I’m doing what I can to stay fierce.  I’m not committing to anything until I get ALL the numbers in writing, because I don’t have to.  I’m trying to figure out cost effective ways to do things without sacrificing the quality of my stuff, and always keeping one eye open for a smarter solution.  Most of all, I’m taking care of me and mine, which sometimes includes stealing a couple limes.