Mis Tres Amigos
By Margie Harrell
As I leisurely strolled the colorful side-streets and paths of Chapala the village seemed unusually quiet with very little activity in the plaza. Then I remembered, it was siesta time. Between 2:00pm and 4:00pm every afternoon Mexico closes it’s gates to all business. As I enjoyed this peaceful day on the shores of Lake Chapala, my decision to retire in Mexico was beginning to feel like the perfect choice. Calm and contented I continued on my way. I had business in town and must get to it. It was here that I stumbled upon the first of my three amigos.
My first stop was at the office of the realtor who handled the paperwork vis- a- vis my home in California. The arrangement was, all expenses incurred by the renter (me) were to be paid by the realtor (them) and I was required to go to their office once a month and settle up accounts. I am sure this honor system has changed many times over the years but I was fortunate to live in Mexico at a time when life was still fairly easy and simple. I recall a time when I was having my auto repaired and when it came time to pay I asked how much and his answer was quite a surprise. He replied “You drive two, three days, you like, you come back and pay me.” True story—Such innocence and trust.
The Chapala Realty office is located in a century old two storied house in the heart of town, one block from the only traffic light for miles. The location was ideal at a time when the lake was clean and fresh with no dreaded lirio - the hyacinth flower plant that seemed to grow overnight. It was possible at that time to swim and fish right from your front door. I hadn’t noticed the man sitting on an old chair on the porch but I immediately made a snap decision, a habit of mine, on who he must be. It was hot, everything was closed, so he had decided this would make a perfect spot to spend a couple of hours and cool off. I said nothing to him as he dozed in the shade.
La señora who answered my persistent knocking said she was not authorized to take pesos and please, could I come back after 4.00pm. Just then the stranger spoke. “I can take care of that for you” he said. He startled me at first but his outstretched hand soon held all my pesos. Why did I give him my money, I didn’t even know this man? With no receipt, no name to trace him later and worst of all—I liked him, I headed for the stairs. As I scurried off the porch steps he disappeared into the office—When I questioned further as to who this stranger might be the reply was. “OH, that’s Richard Tingen —he’s the owner of Chapala Realty and other local businesses. Richard Tingen, I must remember that name I thought—and I did.
Technically Mr. Tingen was my boss when I wrote monthly articles for the Ojo Del Lago—As I headed back to my casa my thoughts were racing. This was definitely going to be a learning experience living in Mexico—not for Mexico, they already knew the secret of a long life—keep it simple and don’t sweat the small stuff. It was I who was the student and Mexico had much to teach me.
Although we didn’t have a lot of face to face meetings over the years I always felt Richard was keeping an eye on my work. Periodically the editor would tell me that “the Boss” enjoyed my article in the Ojo that month”. And I thought he was just a vagabond traveling the warm spots for the season. My spies tell me he has found his permanent spot-in-the-sun in Puerto Vallarta high on a hilltop where he can observe the world but they can’t always see him. Just like the day we met in Chapala many moons ago.
When I first met David Tingen I recall how young and eager he was, ready for whatever the world had to teach him. His family was growing and he was full of enthusiasm to work when he was offered the position of publisher at the Ojo Del Lago. His Dad would be stepping aside somewhat so David could take on the job but don’t sell him short, he is much more than just the boss’ son.
The impression that comes back to me of this fine young man is how tall he was. Tall and slim. Señor David is of Mexican and Canadian decent and very proud of both. His heritage shows in his politeness and respect for others. When he is conversing with you it is your face he is looking at, an art many of us have lost over the years. Our lives are full of distractions but David has mastered most of them. When you have taken the time to speak to him, he will give you the courtesy of listening intently to you.
Just before I was to leave for the U.S I was invited to attend an employee party at the Tango restaurant on Colon. David was the host for this evening of fun and food and also the relief bartender and in charge of whatever else may go wrong. I never saw the man sweat—he was always cool and calm or else the best actor in town. I had arrived with the editor of the magazine and as I sat nursing a wine cooler my escort did a fantastic Mexican two step. David came by our table and sat down then ordered a fresh drink for me. We proceeded to have a delightful conversation until the dancer returned, a little out of breath I might add—David excused himself and went to the kitchen to check on our dinners. The evening was a complete success thanks to our host and the Mexican people who really know how to party.
When I finally realized it was time for my kind of writing humor to take a back seat in the Ojo I sent in my resignation. I received a wonderful note from David thanking me for all the articles I had written for the Ojo Del Lago over the years.
I quote “We all are going to miss you, no other writer in the area has your edge when it comes to writing about Mexico. Please return to us soon”. Thank you David, I shall remember Mexico for the rest of my life and the tall man I knew then was and still is a true Winner!
Sr. Alejandro Grattan Dominguez - pretty impressive moniker I would say until you look closer and discover the man is even more interesting than his Spanish/American name. The list is endless. He is the author of seven novels many of which ended up on Best Seller lists, He has written hundreds of articles on varies subjects, old movies being his specialty and adding to this impressive list he directed and produced movies both in Mexico and in Hollywood and of course, he is the Editor Emeritus of the successful Ojo Del lago. I recall with a smile the first time I met him.
My Real Estate tour guide for the day had taken me to the village’s must-see place—the Lake Chapala Society grounds where everything you ever wanted to know about lakeside could be found. The local Writers’ group were having their monthly meeting on the property so I asked if there was someone in charge that I speak to... “Alex- she called out to a rather worldly looking gent—“this is Margie, she would like to chat with you”. Oh my, we are to chat - all I could manage to get out was “Are there any prerequisite to attending your meetings? He leaned a little closer and replied as straight faced as any seasoned comedian—“Yes, there is”—here it comes. Awards and completed novels I was sure would be on that list. His reply? “ Just one, you have to have a pulse”. He told me later that his one-liner had been used many times before by others. But I didn’t care, I loved it. We were best friends. Teacher and student from that moment on. I only received one bad review from Alex on an article I had sent to him for review for the monthly Ojo. I never forgot it. He was harsh and non-forgiving. It was shape up or ship out time for this writer who was getting a little too sure of herself. One kick in the pants from her well-meaning friend was all this novice needed.
Many years have passed since our first meeting but if I close my eyes real tight it all comes back like it was yesterday. I send emails and Christmas cards to my Three Amigos and always they ask when will I be returning to the Mexico I loved so much. My answer is always the same. “
The good Lord willing, mañana mis amigos, mañana.
For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com