Tuesday, February 3, 1998
SAN JOSE DEL CABO, MEXICO -- The cow on the highway—maybe it was an omen. Gerardo missed the cow, his purple mail jeep caroming off the pavement into the cactus. Amazingly neither he nor his three passengers, including a little baby, were seriously injured. The jeep was totaled and left by the side of the road. A woman passing by took them all to the hospital. Gerardo suffered scooped-out leg wound, some road burn, and a cut in his scalp requiring one stitch. He was the only one who needed medical treatment. The next day the police called, inquiring as to whether his jeep had been stolen or he had had an accident. Since he had had an accident he had to pay for a new road sign and the pavement that had been scratched—7000 pesos or about $900. Plus he had to pay the policeman $250, just because. There was also the boat that had capsized in the surf. Gerardo had to cough up a quick $600 to repair the outboard motor. All this one month before he was to open his new restaurant.
The grand opening of his new natural food restaurant, Natura Los Conchas, was less than a month away. He had no car. He hurt like hell. His wallet was suddenly much lighter. He had to hire a staff, set up his suppliers, get the proper licenses, pass various inspections, buy furniture, kitchen equipment, plates, glasses, silverware, napkins, and the list went on. A couple scheduled grand openings came and went unrealized. Good business sense precluded a good show.
His cook tends to not show up at least once a week. On three separate occasions, three separate dishwashers failed to report to work the same day they were hired. Suppliers consistently can not deliver the necessary produce. His landlord is a pain in the ass.
While Natura Los Conchas is not the first restaurant Gerardo Villanuevo has managed it is the first he has owned. "Running a restaurant by myself is the hardest thing I have ever done," he says. It is a typical San Jose del Cabo day—hot and sunny. We are sitting at a table on his verandah. The azure Sea of Cortez stretches out before us, a block away. There is a very pleasant breeze that sweeps through the large open window areas. The traditional palapa roof adds to the exotic atmosphere. Despite the hurdles he has had to overcome lately, he remains supremely confident. He is sure of his location, sure of the look of his restaurant, sure of his menu, and sure of his capabilities. "It’s just a matter of time," he tells me in his perfect English. A certain stubbornness radiates from his smiling face. He has just expanded his seafood menu and hopes to have live music within the next couple weeks. He talks about valet parking.
At the moment the restaurant is empty. It’s the calm before the storm, between lunch and dinner. The tables lay neatly set. The cook has reported for work. The waitstaff is fussing about. The magic of the desert night will soon descend. On the boom box over the bar, "Skyway" by The Replacements is playing. I ask him if he knows what a skyway is. He shakes his head. I describe the winters in Minnesota. Again he shakes his head. "It can’t get any worse than that," he tells me.
Oh, yeah…yesterday I remembered. Those goofy creatures. On the rocks. By the water. Fast little things. I see ‘em on one side of the rock, the next thing you know, they’re on the other side of the rock. I jump over and they run back. Back and forth. Over the rock. Sometimes they go in the water. They don’t think I can see ‘em. They’re right there! I use my paw to get ‘em to move. I stick my head under the water to bite ‘em. I stick it alllll the way in. When I get them in my mouth, yuk! What are these things? I shake my head and they drop back in the water. I paw ‘em. There are hundreds of these things. I could chase ‘em all day but…just as I was getting’ into it, we had to go. Oh well.
And the hotel. So much human food. Everyone loves me. Pats me on the head. Make stupid little human voices. I just look up at ‘em and wag my tail. This is the life, let me tell you!
OK, so it’s not high adventure. I’m in a hotel. I got lots of work to do; to catch up on. This is no vacation, in fact, I have not had a real vacation since I quit being a dentist 15 years ago. But, don’t get me wrong…I ain’t complainin’. Alls I’m sayin’ is that there’s just that not much is going on that anyone would want to hear about.
I go to my secret reef and spear-fish dinner between noon and two. On the way back I stop at the public market to pick up anything I need for dinner, or whenever. If I can’t get away, I take a bike ride into the mountains for as long as I can swing it—some time late in the afternoon--just to get out and blow off energy. An hour up into the mountains, and a 15 minute blast back downhill. About six, work’s over and I crack open a beer. This year I seem to be favoring Bohemia and Dos Equis. I start thinking about dinner. Since I got here I usually eat with Jay and Marj. Between the three of us, we can always come up with something tasty: fish tacos, shrimp, chili rellenos, some sort of rice dish. Last night we had, along with about a half-dozen others, a Texas-style, slow-cooked, brisket. Tonight we’re having fresh clams sautéed in butter and olive oil, parsley and basil tossed with pasta. A nice white wine and some of Marj’s home-baked bread. Marj and Jay leave in a couple days and I fear I will begin to dine alone. Alas. After dinner, coffee, a little brandy or Wild Turkey, maybe a ceegar, and a good read. Last night I started The Butcher Boy, by Patrick McCabe. I just finished Gun, with occasional Music, by Jonathan Lethem. (It took me a while to get into it, but once I got going it was a lot of fun. It is going to make a great movie.) And there’s always Up In the Old Hotel for inspiration.
Otherwise, it’s business as usual, only 3000 miles from the shores of Lake Superior. If anything interesting happens, like I get attacked by a moray, put in jail, or drive into a cow, I’ll let you know.