I capture some grainy shots with my Blackberry, then head to Neblina Café. I’ve been invited by the owner, the lettuce man, to a celebration of Dia dos Muertos. I sit and wait and nurse my beer as they setup – smells of incense and goiaba fill the air. They are disorganized, having troubles with the sound system – wonder if I should have come. Sparse crowd, people gradually trickle in. They are an hour behind schedule, right on Mexican time, as the show opens with Chichimeca chants and a cacophony of bird calls and a man with broken chords in his throat, beautiful and piercing. Then a dance of the dead to synthesized samples, moody dark, spare, as an old hag wrapped in black gauze gradually unravels herself, slicing through layers of oppression, they drop to the ground, revealing a smile, skin, the person within.
From the cosmic to the social, I head to Aleph Bar for a final hurrah with my PC09 compañeros – liter tall beers and spicy michaladas, smoke-filled courtyard, cold enough to see my breath. I shiver and listen to the banter, miss the jokes, even in English, and sip my giant Victoria. We are all going our separate ways tomorrow after three months of training and bonding – and a sense of the unknown hangs in the air. Each of us off to different sites to fulfill our Peace Corps duty; PST is not the Peace Corps, we’re told. We are about to find out what is.
It’s time. I’m tired of speaking English and pondering my Mexican future, but not diving in, instead hovering at the edge of youthful cliques clinging to each other, concocting plans to be together, zip lines from one community to the other, smoke and laughter bubbling out of them, masking fear and loneliness and there purpose for being here. We will surely learn soon, or not, it’s about something bigger than us, or not. Everyone has their own story – and in two years it’s certain to change.
I leave my pesos on the table, slide my half-drunk beer over to one of the boys, and slip out into the night, down the dark cobblestone street, toward the beconing lights of Garibaldi Street. It's late, no early, the wee hours and the place is cleared out, no problem finding a stool at Chon’s. Dos con res, por favor.
Chon nods, recognizing the gringa, tosses and slings beef and onions on the hot griddle, and piles two double-layered corn tortillas high with steamy meat. I take the plate from over the counter; it’s a real plate covered in a plastic baggie – a unique and ecological system of reuse that I’ve come to appreciate. The girls behind the counter with silver eye shadow smile shyly, wondering…I smile back, wondering. I snap some photos with my cell through the greasy glass. The senoritas giggle and sip hot pulche from Styrofoam cups.
I dress my tacos with green sauce, red sauce, chopped cilantro and onion, pickled radish, a squirt of lime – salty, sweet, spicy, tangy, crunchy, chewy rolls of wonder. Until my first time at Chon’s, I thought a taco was a taco was a taco. But I’ve learned.