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The Original Ugly American

Circa July 3, 1969



. . .They were waiting in line after crossing the border into Mexico at Lukeville, their destination Puerto Peņasco and the wide open playa.

In those days temporary entry permits were required in order to drive the 100 kilometers to the playa at Puerto Peņasco. These could be obtained at the Aduana, the first building after crossing the border. The Aduanal Office was an aging one room adobe brick building with large windows that were glassless to encourage the free exchange of air, a necessity in an era void of modern refrigerated air conditioning. Temporary entry permits didn't cost anything, he recalled, but there was often over a three hour wait due to the number of Americanos waiting in line to be served. This despite the officers' ability to type up and process the form in less than one minute1.

Some regulars were in the habit of drinking on the road, and particularly while waiting in line at the Aduanal Office. In those days drinking in public didn't break any Mexican laws, and it was a welcome refreshment in the stifling evening temperature and high humidity for those who waited until they crossed the border. On this occasion, however, a particular gringo just ahead of them had apparently not waited, and had been leaving the line every few minutes since his arrival to relieve himself and replace his continually empty bottle. When his turn came, he was without question one joker shy of a complete deck.

Entering the steamy office, he stumbled over el perro, who it happened, had just stepped in from afar to relieve himself in the open doorway. The dog let out a yip and skidded sideways, clear of the doorway, but not without urinating profoundly on the foot and pant leg that had caused his pain.

El gringo managed to stay on his feet through a series of missteps that terminated with a loud screech when he hit the Aduanal officer's desk with full body weight, tightening the desk against the rounded belly and freshly pressed uniform to a point where his upright chair squeaked backward a couple of inches. The officer waited politely for a few moments to see what would happen next. Gringo took this opportunity to look down at his wet pant leg and utter a loud profanity, then settled into a lackluster weave and mustered a slight grin.

Now it was the officer's turn. In one motion, he picked up the front of his vintage manual upright typewriter, shoved it to the back of his desk, and laid it over on its rear side. This was the initial message that no entry permit would be prepared for one obnoxious gringo.

But Gringo didn't get the message. He groped blindly through his pockets for ID, and ultimately produced a wad of paper that turned out to be a birth certificate.

The officer held out his hand in stop-motion while the paper was unwaded, dropped, picked up, and then placed on his palm. He dutifully studied it for a few seconds and then handed it back without comment. When Gringo just stood there, the officer pointed out in a complicated string of Spanish that said gringo was, in fact, borracho, and then stated flatly in perfect English,

"I can't give you a visa; you might hurt yourself."

Gringo began to get upset.

"But I have to have one - everybody else has theirs, and I have to go with them."

The officer shook his head and said nothing.

"You can't spoil my weekend like this! What am I going to do?"

"I'm sorry, seņior."

A one sided argument ensued, Gringo getting progressively louder, with the polite immigration officer periodically reaffirming his position in a subdued tone.

"I am sorry, seņior."

The exchange quickly accelerated, culminating with the sweaty, red-faced gringo towering over the officer's desk, scowling down into the indifferent face and pounding on the desk with his fist.

"By God, I've got my rights as an American citizen!"

"Not here, seņior, not here", the officer quietly replied, shaking his head slowly from side to side.

The palms-up stance and relaxed whimsical appearance of the immigration officer contrasted sharply with the anguished face of the ugly American to present a picture of absurd and comical proportion to those waiting in line2. It was also a free lesson on the negative extremes of human behavior; and those who witnessed it, sweltering in the humid evening heat, would not forget. . .

Circa July 3,1969


1It was not uncommon for an immigration officer in those days to type some 120 words per minute, utilizing only two index fingers.

2In the end, El Gringo was saved by his embarrassed companions, who dragged him away kicking and screaming, presumably to the confines of their vehicle, which quickly re-crossed the border and disappeared into the night.



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