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James Campion

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A Black Friday Stampede In Baja

Posted: 12/04/11 08:00 AM ET

Bored, Drunk & Hiding In Mexico While The World Spins

Mid-afternoon in Salsita's Café, a garishly authentic dive near the historic town square of San Jose, Mexico. The glorious quiet is accented with an aroma of fresh salsa fresca and bean spices wafting from its kitchen, inspiring a wave to our friendly barkeep for a lunch menu. My wife sips Tequila staring at the tiny television flickering weirdly violent images across its screen.

"Black Friday is underway in the US," a British voice intones with the kind of blissful sarcasm best presented from a BBC anchorman witnessing the stampede of consumer madness. "Millions of shoppers, many of whom have waited for hours in long lines throughout the night for giant chains to open their doors at midnight, begin a furious rush to procure the best bargains and herald in the American Christmas season."

"This is why we're sitting here," I whisper calmly to my wife, tipping a bottle of warming Corona to my lips in a deliberate attempt to punctuate the statement.

The wife says nothing. She rarely if ever says anything when I comment on something strange occurring on television. This holds true if we're seated on our living room couch, or in bed, or at an airport gate. When she is enjoying Tequila, there is scant chance she will even acknowledge my presence.

But, really, what is there to say when enduring clip after clip of what has to be assumed are "normal" adult humanoids crashing through barely opened automatic glass doors to careen spastically over end-caps and clothes racks in a trampling charge worthy of the Running of the Bulls or the opening sequence to a 60s' Japanese monster flick?

So the wife sips her Tequila.

"Estimates from independent economic indicators say that this year's all-important Black Friday retail numbers will dwarf 2010, even as the US economy sags," the British voice continues. "Consensus from the American Consumer Council predicts a nine percent increase in retail sales this year, a crucial gauge of how the economic climate may go in 2012."

Our barkeep, a handsome, quick-witted soul whose name, Izel, means "Only One," decides to fill the silence left dangling by the wife: "This is...what...is...Is this real?"

"Oh, yes," I say proudly, as if translating the behavior of my countrymen with certitude. "We celebrate the inauguration of every major holiday by launching ourselves into silliness. On the Fourth of July we blow shit up. Just blow shit up. Everywhere."

"On purpose?" Izel asks.

"Well, of course," I tell him. "On Easter, we lather chocolate all over our bodies and writhe in vats of jellybeans and duck sauce."

"What...duck sauce...they make sauce from a duck?"

"Correct," I continue, satisfied to be helping my new friend appreciate the customs of the true American. "New Year's marks the time when we take all the alcohol and drugs we have failed to consume in the previous year and challenge each other to a collective gorging that in many ways signifies re-birth."

"This..." my wife hisses, "...is why I don't retort."

Izel chuckles nervously, as he notices my wife roll her eyes.

"Don't listen to her," I caution. "Black Friday did not get its name by accident. It is imperative that Americans shop like it will be their last time to spend money, to insure the national economy. It is a way of life, the very fabric of our country's life-blood. After our generation's greatest calamity on 9/11, the president of the United States told us to go out and shop!"

I have plans to prattle on, but get distracted by video of Manhattan's Herald Square looking like Occupy Wall Street, but with haircuts and pocketbooks instead of dreadlocks and bongos -- the One-Percenters on Parade.

"Christmas time here is very quiet," Izel says, sounding disappointed. "Too quiet."

Of course, we are miles and seemingly centuries from the images flashing across the tiny screen that hangs above the bar. San Jose is a sleepy fishing town perched on the curve of the Sea of Cortez founded in 1730 on blood and Catholicism by Spanish pirates, Native Americans and Jesuits, who turned it into a mission. San Jose is an escape for the artists who make the pottery, linens, and tourist junk sold ad nauseam day and night across the beaches of Los Cabos.

For a full hour before settling into our comfortable place, bellies firmly squeezed into bar, my wife intensely browsed hand-painted sink basins until sadly realizing none of them would fit our bathroom counter. "We can gut it!" she decided gleefully. I offered that we'd think about it over Tequila, a dangling carrot that never fails to distract my bride from taking heavy tools to vital portions of my home.

"Make sure you keep these coming," I nod toward her near-empty glass. Izel smiles and fills it.

Suddenly, a mist of rain turns steady, causing a rush of tourists to pour into the café, interrupting our oasis from the Black Friday specter. The women furiously shake out their hair and the men flap their arms. Up until now, the bar has been empty, save for two half-soused artisans, the wife and myself.

"Goddamn, it!" shouts the silver-haired Midwesterner.

His wife, a look of utter horror masking her overly adorned pallor, stammers, "Where did this come from?"

The young couple in the corner groping each other giggle. A family barrels forth through the tiny entrance squealing, making the chubby fellow with the phalanx of cameras uneasy.

"Can I get a towel?" the father figure asks no one in particular, sounding like one of the "all-inclusive" types that converge on small Mexican shore towns every autumn.

"What is wrong with these people?" my wife asks the barkeep, but he is long gone, having run with four young boys to frantically drag the leather porch furniture back into the bar.

The cook, who we learned an hour ago likes to be addressed as Clavo, pokes his head from the back with the grin of a man about to clean the house at the roulette table.

"Holy, mother," he whispers.

"What? What?" my wife presses.

"It has not rained here for more than ten minutes in four years."

Although spoken with astonishing conviction, this sounded apocryphal in that creepy Biblical way that gives the impression a greater force is allowing this strangeness on a whim. However, it was true as far as I could tell. We had not seen it rain in southwest Mexico in the three years we'd spent November here and the many friends we have convinced to invade this magnificent place had not either.

No one had experienced so much as a mild Nimbostratus.

As more people, mostly mildly perturbed Caucasians, stumble into the café, the rain intensifies, prompting the recitation of precipitation history from Señor Clavo. "It has only rained twice in the past year, amigo, for ten minutes each, last September -- ninth and nineteenth. People will be dancing in the streets," he told us.

"The farmers," one of the artisans adds, now pushed to the corner of the bar, as the tiny front room begins to take on the look of lifeboat. "They pray for rain and it never comes, but now it is a gift."

Black Friday on the outskirts of the 21st century has its own stampede.

We turn back to the bar and my wife sighs.

"One more for the road."