Half of the joy of traveling abroad is the build-up: the planning of the trip, packing, visualizing yourself at the place, and of course gloating about it. That might be my favorite part. I don’t go too over the top, you can’t do that if you want to do prolonged gloating. If you go too far—like posting about in on social media every other day with quotes like, “I can’t wait to go to Mexico in 152 hours!!!!”—people won’t want to listen anymore. There’s an art to it. It’s subtle. You have to make it feel like a natural thing to bring up.
It’s much better than bringing it up myself. I find it’s hard for me to naturally talk about myself. Whenever I do, I do it at all the wrong times. I’ll greet someone and when they try and greet in kind I’ve been known to interrupt and blurt what’s on my mind. In this case: “I’m going to Mexico.” It’s awkward, kind like when you meet a little kid for the first time
After you say, “I’m Nick, it’s nice to meet you.” (Usually, this is where a normal human being would respond, “The name is Gerry, it’s very nice to meet you.”)
But a child, their brain is still mapping things out. So instead of saying, “It’s a pleasure.” They say instead, “I ate a whole handful of bark dust yesterday.” Clearly, it’s something that’s been on their mind and they’ve been waiting to tell the right person or everybody.
I have a propensity to function like that little 7-year-old. Minus the bark dust. So I try to bring up my trips as natural as possible.
For example, I might innocuously ask a friend, “Hey what are you doing this Monday?”
“Nothing, wanna grab some beers?” That friend will respond.
“Yeah that sounds great—oh wait… shit.” I might laugh innocently. “I’ll be in Mexico. What about next the next week?”
(Or I might write a blog post with a very subtle title.)
And if they haven’t heard that I’m going, the glorious questions follow.
“When are you going?!”
“How long are you going to be there?!”
“That’s going to be so much fun!”
Everyone is very excited. Well, excited and a bit of the opposite. Every time I “subtly” tell someone I’m going south of the border for an extended week, they say just how much fun I’m going to have…
… then they give me this look, like they’re sharing a little small-town secret, and they say, “Just be careful, OK?”
Now, I know Mexico isn’t exactly small-town Ashland. Certainly, it’s far more dangerous than the yuppy suburbia of my home. But, really. These people look at me like I’ve just told them I’m going to war-torn Syria. They get this look in their eye like this might be the last time they’ll see me. A friend of mine gave me an extended, very long hug, before saying the same words as the others: “Be careful.” Like I was a soldier going off to war.
I mean, it’s not like ISIS has a sister college of terrorists in Troncones where they play Mariachi instead of the Adhan as a call to prayer.
I’ve probably said something to offend two cultures. Maybe I do need to be a bit more careful.
In a way, it’s a bit insulting. They’re not talking to Animal House’s John Blutarsky, here. They’re talking to the king of worry, the patron saint of dread. How bad is my worrying? Let me give you an example: I’m a guy that worries about getting a new mailman; because the first thought that goes through my mind isn’t, it must be Craig’s day off. Instead it’s, maybe this new mailman has killed Craig, and is now assuming his identity. I spend more brainpower and time than I’d like to admit talking myself down. And yet my brain then goes through the things I would say when they’d interview me six years later, after the extent of his murdering spree has been unsurfaced.
“I never would have guessed.” I’d say. “I thought Craig got a new job and moved to Santa Monica like he’s always talked about doing.” Then I’d bury my head in my hands, and finish with, “I just wish I would have said something.”
This is my life every day.
So when they tell me to, “Be careful.” It’s like telling a police officer to “Make sure to handcuff the guy that just tried to stab you.” They know it. You know it. Hell, even the handcuffed guy knows it.
Remember all that great stuff about vacations? The prep work and the planning? For most people, a lot of research happens during that time: what sort of things will they want to do? What’s nearby? What kind of food is there? Is there any live salsa dancing? What’s the beach look like? Can I rent bikes there? Do they do Art workshops there? How many books should I bring? What’s the night life like? Is it very touristy? Do they ever do parades?
For me? Well, let me illustrate the point by sharing with you my last five Google searches:
- “Crime in Troncones”
- “Crime in Zihuantanejo”
- “Murder rate in Troncones”
- “Cartel activity in Mexico”
- “Things to do not to get robbed in Mexico”
And here’s a bonus:
“Do I need a lawyer to write a will?”
Do you see anything in there about fun things to do in Mexico? No. Because I haven’t even begun to search for it. The irony is none of those searches will do a darn thing for me. Wanna know how not to get robbed in Mexico? Same damn way you do it in America. Don’t be an idiot and try not to have $100 bills hanging out of your pockets.
And if I am the victim of some sort of crime, whether it’s robbery or the more Hollywood-esque limb removal, all this research will do is tell me, “I told you so.” And I’ll wish I stayed in my little Ashland apartment spending another week watching Netflix and reading about D&D campaigns.
I haven’t even a chance to really day dream. All of my day dreaming has been in various ways I’ll get out of a hostage situation. The Spanish I’m learning? It’s for getting around, sure. But I’ve also looked up phrases like, Lo siento, soy un tonto Americano (Sorry, I’m an American idiot) and, Por favor, toma mi dinero, lo siento me mojo mis pantolenes, (Please just take my money, I’m sorry I wet my pants).
Yes, I looked those up on Google translate, and yes, I’m hoping they understand that and take pity on me and only give me one black eye.
I’m sure it’s going to be great. I just keep telling myself that as a way to convince myself. Perhaps all this worrying people are placing on me is the retribution for so eagerly gloating about it. Perhaps it’s warranted.
And perhaps it’s not.
Mexico is a country with culture like any other. There are kind people to go with the unkind. Their history is rife with conflict, whether it’s revolution or a war on drugs. But it’s also full of art, of delicious food, of dancing, of friends and family. Mexico has mothers and daughters and brothers and fathers. Mexico is comprised of humans, and while that carries with it an inherent threat, it also means there is a great amount of goodness there.
So stop it. Stop telling me to be careful. I’m not an idiot, despite what my Spanish might suggest. I’m not going to walk around the country with a checkbook full of signed, blank checks. I won’t drink cocktails from strangers because I don’t want to wake up in an ice-bath minus a couple kidneys. I won’t go geocaching Guerrero, just like I wouldn’t stop and ask for directions in a dark alley in Chicago at three in the morning. I’m enough of a storm cloud about things, I don’t need you to add to it.
I’ll be fine, or I won’t. That’s how life works.