We went to Nuevo Progreso, Tamaulipas yesterday. We went to the dentist, as we have been doing for years.Â We also went to the people pharmacy for us and the veterinary pharmacyÂ to buy flea and tick medicine for our pets. We also just like to get to Mexico now and then, even if it is only to cross the border. We also donÂ?t mind saving fortunes on dental care and pet medicines.
Alas, it was a rather sad trip. Our dentist was upbeat as always and it is a pleasure visiting with him and his wife, catching up on whatÂ?s going on in their family.Â HisÂ business is down by half from last year.Â And he and his wife have a new baby. Some dentists may close. I didnÂ?t visit my garrulous barber, which I usually do, since it was late in the day and I could not take any more bad news.
Quiet Is Muy Triste
As we walked down Nuevo ProgresoÂ?s main street, we would tell a difference from the last time we were there, only a few months ago. For one thing, there was less noise. Err, excuse me, some people would say less music. Normally, every street vendor and many of the shops have something blasting at you to grab your attention. The overall effect of this cacophony of rap, salsa, geezer rock and ranchero tunes is either quite lively or quite irritating, depending on how much of a grumpy old geezer you are. I donÂ?t think they toned it down because grumpy old Mikey was coming to town (no comparison to Santa).
While it was afternoon, the theme music should have been Silent Night. A few dispirited songs wafted from baby boom boxes, but it was as if the disembodied musicians themselves were depressed. It was actually possible to walk down the sidewalk without bumping into vendors and stands. I donÂ?t think the reason was that I have become much thinner (though I did lose 15 pounds on my recent strenuous trip and am hard at work regaining them). There were fewer vendors.
I bought a belt and a hat band for my Panama hat from Merida. I didnÂ?t have the heart to bargain with the two vendors, but they came down on their price anyway. It was a little sad.
The Only Growth Industry
There is a new growth industry, though Â? shoe shining . Both boys and men offered to shine my sneakers for Â?almost nothingÂ? or one dollar, whichever came first. Even I draw the line at that kind of munificence.
Sadness All Around
La Fogata, the venerable old cabrito restaurant was shuttered and someone had set up a stand where their front door had been. (It is always possible that they were just on vacation, but early-December is an odd time for a restaurant to close for vacation). The last couple of times I ateÂ there, it was pretty empty. Still I donÂ?t want to start an Internet rumor that they are closed. LetÂ?s just say they are Â?resting.Â?
The Canada store was open, but there were many empty shelves. Our veterinary pharmacy was still open, but prices had gone up about 15%. We were happy to pay the increase as we still saved 60%. Our people pharmacy was closed. (There are still about 1,726 pharmacies open, so donÂ?t worry). But we liked the people at the now-closed pharmacy and they always remembered us. They were our friends. There were several empty storefronts.
The point is that these are real people who have lost their livelihoods through no fault of their own. Many are our friends. They arenÂ?t involved in drugs. (Well, okay the pharmacies sell Viagra, but you know what I mean). Their town is probably the safest on the border Â? as it has been for decades. Their police (who never bothered tourists) were cleaned up when the Army took over and most people I talked to thought that was a good thing. There had been one cartel incident earlier this year or late last year. That means there were 364 days out of a year with no trouble of any kind, not even pickpockets. It is not Cd. JuÃ¡rez. ItÂ?s just a little town that depends on tourist for business.
OK Mike, What Are You Selling?
Despite an Internet rumor, GarciaÂ?s Restaurant was open as was the store (although they had empty shelves too). And that brings me to my point. Someone once asked why I harp of the safety of Mexico so much. What am I Â?sellingÂ?? I am Â?sellingÂ? compassion. I am speaking for my friends who depend on tourism to feed their families. I am raging against ignorance and intolerance. Yeah, my business suffers from bad press about Mexico too, but I have other ways to make a living. My friends in Mexico who own shops, hotels, restaurants, and so on do not.
Learn A Little Geography
The press has the responsibility to report real news. Yes, bad stuff does happen. Very bad stuff. But what those reading the news donÂ?t get is that these incidents are isolated. Bad stuff happens in the USA all the time. We accept that our country is not a war zone. We know that Chicago or Portland are not Memphis or San Diego. Yet we become geographically blind when it comes to Mexico. The entire country of Mexico is not a war zone. Neither is Reynosa or Matamoros. Even if they were Â? that would have nothing at all to do with Nuevo Progreso. BTW Â? I still go to Reynosa and drove through Matamoros a month ago. Neither my car or my person collided with any bullets.
A good part of the responsibility for the hard times in Nuevo Progreso and indeed the rest of Mexico lies with people like you and me. It is people who spread rumors like the one below, people who spread and repeat nothing but negative messages about Â?MexicoÂ? when they have no idea of geography.
After the Gulf oil spill, beaches all along the U.S. Gulf had to combat this geographical blindness among Americans about our own country, so maybe I should not be so surprised.
In case you were one of the ten people in the world who did not get the Internet Â?WarningÂ? involving the Â?Cartel Credit Card ExtortionÂ? here it is condensed. Someone made up a story that happened to Â?close friends of theirs.Â? Anybody ever heard of Snopes.com? I donÂ?t know all that many people butÂ three told me that the incident happened to someone they knew. Oddly enough, the Â?victimÂ? was three different people, not the same person known by three people. It must have been a busy day for the cartel.
In the false rumor, supposedly because GarciaÂ?s was closed, these Â?close friendsÂ? went to another restaurant to eat. (I am not naming the other restaurant because there is no need to libel it any more). They were presented with a bill for hundreds (or maybe thousands) of dollars. When they questioned this the waiter pointed to two tough-looking hombres by the door and said that they were cartel people who had taken over the restaurant. If the gringos did not sign the credit card voucher, they would not leave the restaurant alive.
Now, any rational person could see the holes in this story. But, those who just want to believe the worst about Mexico latched onto it and spread it around. Many of them added more made-up stuff Â?provingÂ? how unsafe Mexico (the whole country, mind you) is. Most of those people never went to Mexico in the first place.
Only You Can Prevent Negativity Fires
I know this wonÂ?t happen, but if there are any people with negative opinions of Nuevo Progreso (or Mexico) but with open minds, I urge you to form a posse for your protection (unarmed, please) and go across to Nuevo Progreso to see for yourself what it is really like. Look into the eyes of the businesspeople who are trying hard to smile and be friendly, but who are struggling to keep their doors open. Walk down the main street and chat with a couple of vendors (most speak English). Get to know the real people your libel is hurting. Maybe the next time you get a chance to say something bad, you will think before spread negativity and you hurt people.Â