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Author: Subject: Cantina Conversations--a must read
Baja Bernie
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Posts: 2962
Registered: 8-31-2003
Location: Sunset Beach
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[*] posted on 1-2-2008 at 09:22 PM
Cantina Conversations--a must read


From Bouncing Around Baja

The best conversations in the Cantina occur before the place even opens. The old timers, Snap-on Bill, Gary, Bubba, Jose and on the weekends yours truly gather to have coffee and lie to each other. Just the other morning I was greeted by Dick Harrison who is the leader of the pack at 78 years young. He has had some rather serious health problems over the past couple of years and he has wasted away to a mere shadow of his former Marine self. His mind is still as sharp as a tack, though, and he can still slide a dagger in your back as he smiles in your face.

Case in point: Just the other day I wandered in and was greeted with, “Well, top of the mornin’ to you, Bernie! Is it true what I just heard about you? When you were interviewed for the San Diego Police Department is it true that they asked you what one and one was and you replied ‘eleven’? And that when they asked you what days in the week began with ‘T’ you replied, Today and Tomorrow?” Putting up his hand, as the others cackled at my expense, to stop me he continued. “Then I understand the interviewer asked you who killed Abraham Lincoln and you admitted that you didn’t know. Then he told you to go home and study up on that event.”

At this point Bill was coughing so hard that Dick had to interrupt himself. “Then I understand that you rushed home and told your Dad that you had a great interview. And that you told him that the department already had you investigating a homicide.”

He is a guy who stands, when he can, 5’7” tall and weighing about 140 pounds. Giving a guy who stands 6’2” and weighs 230 pounds this kinda’ grief.

I just waited for Tom, a retired sheriff from LA County to come in and when he asked, “What are you doing, Bernie?” I replied, with a straight face, “Oh! I’m investigating a homicide.”

We all chuckled over this for a while and then Bill came up with a great one. “You guys all know Jim the fisherman from Angels Camp. Well, he caught a 30-pound halibut from his kayak yesterday morning. He was so excited that he immediately headed back toward camp to show his prize fish off to the other guys in camp. Just before he hit the beach he noticed the Mexican Game Warden waiting for him. Did he have a license to be catching these ‘Mexican’ fish? Okay, may I see it? Oh! You don’t have it with you. Well then I will be forced to seize your catch. Being a fair man the Warden agreed to let Jim keep several other fish but he did take the 30 pounder explaining that his family was having a party that night and a fish this grand would have a place of honor at the table.”

This turned out to be just one great fish story as we found out when Jim came in all puffed up with a picture of his 30 pound halibut. A record until a guy out of Ensenada reeled in a 47-pounder just a few days later.

Drop by one morning, the coffee is free, there is a wonderful view of the ocean, and you will meet a fantastic bunch of Baja Bums.

Later in the week Gary was telling us about his last medical check up. When the form asked him how much he drank he answered with a question mark. Where it asked him if he smoked he answered 3 packs a day. When the doctor came into the room Gary got off of the examining table to shake the Doc’s hand. The doctor flew into him with the first question being why the question mark? Gary replied, “Because I don’t honestly know how much I drink. I normally don’t drink at home, but I do drink all day. My problem is I don’t know how much booze they put in my drinks so I had to answer with a “?” mark. So Doc please don’t bother to lecture me about my smoking. I been doing that for 50 years and I enjoy it.” Gary could be taken for the Marlboro man and in fact he was a cowboy in Colorado before becoming a fireman in California. “Just get on with your tests and leave me alone.” When the tests were completed the doctor came back into the room and told Gary, “You are the healthiest man of your age I have ever met.”

With the story finished, Gary sipped his drink and went back to watching the dolphins play in the surf.

Recently all of the ‘guys’ were shocked to see a lady of about 60 years come striding into the Cantina through the back door. She was wearing a business suit and high heels. Looking closer we saw nylons. Es verdad! (It’s true!) Behind her came a rather nondescript young man with a large smile—turned out to be her son. The lady had Baja written across her forehead in gold letters. As usual we discussed everything except that which we were interested in. Finally she opened up. Looking at me she made the statement that she had bought my book, Mi Baja, last night and that she had finished it just before dawn. “Wonderful,” she said.

She then went on to say that she was from Minnesota and that she loved to fish. “Yesterday we boarded an all day boat out of Enseneda at 0130 (wow that was when most of us were thinking of bed). I caught 15 yellow tail tuna.” Her son laughed and said it was only 12 yellows and three albacore. “Boy, I am really sore from fighting with those fish. But what fun!”

A tough lady that. I noticed her hearing aids and somehow felt more comfortable. I mentioned that my book would be a fun and warm read after the first heavy snow back in her neck of the woods. This caused a most unusual response: She fixed me with her pale blue eyes, and quietly told me that after a good storm she was out in it preparing for the next crop! You know we never doubted her—she would make a true ‘Baja Gal’—in a heartbeat.

And then there was the morning that Larry Johnson happened in for a pre-drink drink and laid this story on us. “Well you know way back in 1949 I decided to ride my new BSA motorcycle down to Cabo to do some real fishing. (Larry has traveled the world over looking for fish and has been considered a world-class fisherman for over 40 years.) I just headed south and about the time I hit Catavina I was just plumb worn out riding around and some times over those damn boulders. Just a little ways south of the rocks I pulled into a small rancho. They fed me a good dinner and moved the kids out of their bed so I could use it. Real friendly people! Funny they had never seen a motorcycle until that day. The next morning the misses fixed a huge breakfast. They topped off my gasoline and I was ready to head out. When I offered to pay for the food, gas and lodging the head of the rancho—I don’t remember his name—refused any money. He just kept saying ‘da nada and nada’ and a bunch of other things. So I just thanked him and headed south. Down the road a bit I stopped a guy heading north and asked him to give my previous host $10.00 U.S. to cover his costs for feeding me.”

“Well, let me tell you I really learned a few things when on my return trip I stopped by the same rancho and the old guy came out, returned my $10.00, and told me to just keep going. I apparently had insulted him in more than one way. I offered to pay and then I made it even worse when I had a neighbor of his deliver the $10.00. I never forgot those lessons. If you want to get along with these proud people don’t think first of money or material things and always remember to honor their pride.”

Larry spent four months kicking around Baja Sur on that motorcycle and the only thing that sticks in his memory was his learning experience with that Mexican rancher.

A sad update to this story. Coming into the Cantina a coupla days ago I was greeted by a box full of books on “my” stool at the bar. I glanced at them and Dick briskly told me to put the box over there and sit down. I meekly complied as I received a terrible shock. Dick told me that all of the books were now mine because he would be going into the hospital again.

The last time was over two years ago. The doctors opened him up, and then sewed him right back up with the admonishment that he had perhaps two weeks to live.

Yeah, the big “C” had claimed another victim—or at least it tried. Bill brought Dick back home and things worked fairly well for the best part of two years. Until this ‘man’ had wasted away to about 110 pounds. It was at this point that Dick had put all of his ducks in a row, his estate in the States was settled and now he started giving his stuff away to his Baja friends.

A real tough old Marine—he carried his obituary around in his wallet. He had been severely wounded in Korea and his hometown paper had published his obituary—which turned out to be about 50 years premature.

Dick is one of the primary reasons I wrote “Mi Baja No Worry No Hurry”. He kept after me until I finished it and then sold it in the Cantina. He always said, “It put us on the map and people know how to say La Salina. That’s enough for me.” He also has been ragging my ass to complete this book. I just hope he will be around to read it.

Some people may be offended by these conversations but these people have lived good and productive lives and they have chosen to leave that thing that we loosely call civilization behind so that they may continue to pick and choose how they would live the rest of their lives without some ‘politically correct’ do-gooder dictating to them.

Dick marched through those Gates, with head high and shoulders straight, on July 20, 2003. He left a real large hole in a lot of our lives. Looking at that empty bar stool hurts.
Tu mi maestro. (To my teacher.)

Semper Fi, Dick.

[Edited on 1-3-2008 by Baja Bernie]




My smidgen of a claim to fame is that I have had so many really good friends. By Bernie Swaim December 2007
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