The Diablos Rojos del México play in a fairly crappy ballpark. It’s way too big for the team’s fan base, and the only game that gets near to selling out is the home opener. So it’s nice to go to other parks in the country. On Wednesday, I went to Puebla, a city about 130km southeast-ish of Mexico City. Puebla is where all the cinco de mayo stuff happened. More importantly, it’s the home of mole poblano. And it’s also the home of the Pericos de Puebla, who have a nice little park, called Estadio Hermanos Serdán. Los Diablos were playing the Pericos. And the following is my semi-true account of my time in Puebla, watching baseball.
Like my fellow Miss World contestants, I love travelling. And I like the start of the journey, too. What would normally be boring local, rush hour, public transport is the start of an adventure. And more than anything, I like travelling over land. Flying takes the fun out of travelling. Your brain and body do not feel the distance covered if you don’t do it by land. I am, though, not such a purist that I insist on walking, obviously.
I went to the nearest big bus station, Taxqueña, looked at the desks of the various bus companies, and walked up to the first one where I saw a bus to Puebla was leaving soon. I gave the dude 180 pesos, and I had nine minutes to get to Sala 2, puerta 4. Plenty of time to get a cheese pasty for the journey. I gave a bored guy 16 pesos, he gave me a yellow-y, vaguely-warm, half moon of food in a brown paper bag. I thanked him, turned to walk to the gate, and tripped over the weighing machine that I’d failed to notice. I laughed to myself, coz whatcha gonna do? There’s no way you can trip over a weighing machine and still delude yourself in to thinking you’re as cool as Bryan Ferry, right? Good of them, though, to put a machine like that next to a store selling high calorie food.
Next to the bus, a woman welcomed me, smiled, and checked my ticket. Then a man smiled and asked to look in my bag. He checked the main section with a plastic-gloved hand, but he didn’t check the front two pockets, where I keep my Walther PPK and dynamite.
Like a crappy stand-up comedian routine, I was sat behind a guy who talked on his cellphone with his seat reclined for the whole journey. He had a flowery shirt and long thinning hair. When not on his phone, he was reading a karate magazine. I was glad I had an imaginary gun in my bag.
On the TV screens they were showing a dubbed version of “2012” with the volume up. I listened to a rival baseball Web site’s podcast, and the talk of Tony Gwynn’s career was punctuated by explosions from the TV.
45 minutes of the two-hour journey were taken up just getting out of Mexico City. After a while driving through some forest-y, hill-y bits of landscape, things flatten out, and I spent the rest of my journey looking at Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl. The former is a dormant volcano. The latter is a not-dormant volcano. Type Popocatépetl into the search thingy on Twitter and most days of the year you’ll see a photo of it with some smoke coming of the top. Today was no different. As the bus approached Puebla, the peak of Popocatépetl was covered in clouds. As we drove through the outskirts of the city, the clouds had gone, and in their place was a big plume of dirty grey smoke coming out of the top.
The main Puebla bus station is called CAPU. It stands for Central de Autobuses de Puebla. It has a great logo with nice blocky letters and a graphic representation of the bus station’s horseshoe-y shape.
In Puebla, you notice straight away that you’re in a town that welcomes a lot of tourists, as there are lots of direction signs in Spanish, English and German in the bus station. I followed the signs to where the local buses departed from. A bus driver saw me looking at a sign and yelled, “Centro?” Yep, the white tourist wants to go downtown, how did you guess?
This isn’t just a Mexican thing, of course, but it happens a lot in Mexico City, and it happens in Puebla, too: people sitting in the aisle seats on a bus and looking annoyed if you ask to sit down in the window seat they are blocking. I couldn’t be bothered to annoy a local, so I stood the whole way until I saw a part of the city I recognised as being downtown. A friend’s mother had recommended a hotel so I walked through the downtown streets to find it. I passed the Zócalo, the main town square, where some people sat on benches, other people sold balloons and shoeshines, and Adidas had set up a big World Cup-themed display. They had huge replicas of every World Cup ball since 1970. People took photos with the balls. Most just smiled in front of the balls; younger males, though, seemed to all want to pose as if they were kicking or heading the balls.
Like the bus station, signs for tourists about local landmarks were multi-lingual. And a really nice thing in Puebla: as well as regular street signs, they have chest height plaques on every corner with the street names in both Spanish and Braille.
Something I have come to love about travelling is not booking a hotel in advance. It’s a small thing I learned to appreciate when I spent three months bumming around South America in 2008. I started that trip as a nervous traveller. I only really went on the trip because I thought if I didn’t do it then, I never would, and I would always regret not seeing Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia, or Iguazú Falls. I began that trip planning everything. But slowly I relaxed and got into the groove and came to love arriving in a town late at night or in the early hours of the day not knowing where I would sleep.
I got to the hotel my friend’s mum had recommended and they had just one room left. It was 550 pesos a night. Cool. I’ll take it. Credit card, print, signature, key. Lovely room with wooden shutters and an incredibly high ceiling. I dumped my stuff, checked the result of the Australia vs. Netherlands game, and headed back out to find a bar to watch Spain vs. Chile.
I ended up at a place called La Casa del Conde de Ovando. The server was surly, they were playing incredibly loud shitty Mexican rock music (there is no other kind of Mexican rock music), but they had a two-for-one offer on Tecate during the game. After bringing me a beer, the server asked if I wanted something to eat. Chalupas, a local thing, were cheap. 30 pesos for five.
They were kinda gross. They are greasy-as-fuck fried corn tortillas. Some were smothered in salsa verde, some with salsa rojo. Bits of onion flapped around with tiny chunks of chicken flesh on top. When I tried to pick one up, taco style, the tortilla ripped apart and its contents fell onto the plate. Still, I ate them all. And drank more Tecates as Spain gave sports journalist some fun obituaries to write.
I had a wee walk around and without enough time to go back to the hotel or do anything worthwhile I decided to go to the ballpark, even though it was only 4.30 and the game didn’t start until 7.00.
I asked a policeman where I could get a bus to the estadio. He was delightfully helpfully, stopping a bus from pulling away to ask the driver if he was heading towards the ballpark. He wasn’t, but he told me where I should stand to get the right bus.
A bus ride later and I was walking across a parking lot outside two sports stadiums: the baseball park and the soccer stadium, home of Puebla F.C.
Stalls were setting up near the ticket offices and turnstiles. Stalls selling all kinds of unofficial gear. Pericos stuff, Diablos stuff, and major league teams’ stuff. Other stalls sold snacks. I asked a woman making cemitas what time the stadium opened the gates. 6pm. I had over an hour to kill in a car park. So I asked her, faux tourist-y, what a cemita was. She got her son to show me the huge bread roll from which the snack takes its name, then pointed to each of the ingredients on her table, like she was on a TV cooking show. Milanesa, hot dog sausages, tomatoes, onions, rajas, avocados, queso Oaxaca, freshly-fried potato chips, all on a bed of potatoes cooked kinda like home fries inside the aforementioned bread roll. She asked if I wanted to try one. I tried one. It was tasty, really good actually, but I regretted eating something so big. The afternoon beers and full belly were giving me a bit of a headache, and a bit of a bellyache, too. I waited by the chain-link gates in front of the turnstiles with the handful of older people who were also there too early.
Tickets for infield seats were 150 pesos, more than double the price of similar seats back in Mexico City. But then, if the Diablos charged 150 pesos for a ticket, their already poorly-filled stands would be virtually empty.
When 6pm arrived and the gates were opened, all the old folk, with their credit card sized season passes, all walked swiftly to the “preferente” section and parked themselves in their regular seats. I don’t know that for sure, but you can just tell sometimes from where people choose to sit that they always sit in that seat. Seating at most parks in Mexico is general admission, so staking out your spot early can be important, especially for games like this versus los Diablos, who are mildly like the Yankees of Mexican baseball (from a huge city; lots of championships; quite a lot of money, comparatively). Me, I went for a pee in the green cement trough in the gents, and then walked down to the fourth row and around to the centre, perfectly in line with second base and home plate. I would’ve sat in the front row, like Jack Nicholson or something, but the big net protecting us from losing our teeth had been repaired multiple times at field level and was virtually impossible to see through. Like a moth, a beer seller came down and grinned at me, almost laughing to herself, like “this gringo customer is MINE!”
Groundsmen watered the dirt, and painted the lines, the stands started to fill up, and the jaunty, caffeinated Mexican music gave way to November Rain. The full nine minutes. Players threw balls around in the outfield. A dog wandered in from right field and sat down on the dirt near second base. He flopped onto one side, lifted a leg, and began licking himself. The crew didn’t seem to mind and he outlasted Axl Rose, just licking his junk on the infield dirt, no big deal.
Employees from both teams with branded scorecards and clipboards sat directly in front of me in the third row and got their radar guns out. (Not a euphemism.) Oh yeah, man, I’m in the proper seats with the radar dudes! The Pericos dude with the radar gun was very friendly with the concessions women. Especially the donut lady. I am writing a telenovela script about this, so hands off.
The managers gave the line-ups to the ump, everyone shook hands, the pitcher warmed up, and the home plate umpire turned away from the field and crossed himself, Catholic-style, before the first Diablos hitter came up. The batter’s box in Puebla looks different to the majors: no line between where the batter stands and home plate, and no line at the back between the catcher and umpire.
The porras (vaguely organised groups of fans) on both sides of the ground (one along the first base line, the other along the third base line) were in full flow. Drums being beaten and huge bells being rung on both sides. But out of sync, which, sitting in the middle, was a tad annoying. There were 30 or so Diablos fans in a group on the third base side of the infield, and about the same amount scattered around the rest of the park. Last time I came, there were much more, as it was a weekend, and a short drive was a baseball-based weekend away.
Middle of the second, the Periquitas came out of a hole right in front of me. Between the catcher and backstop, there is a trap door, and seven women wearing black shorts, tight white bra top things, flesh-coloured stockings and thigh high boots came out waving gold pom poms. They danced to whichever song it is that Pharrell Williams sings on that is popular right now. All smiles, tits, and hair. There, dancing, only because that’s what women are there to do, apparently: titillate men at sports events.
The local ten (we have the DH in the Liga Mexicana) took a 3-0 lead off of two bombs. That’s slang for home runs. They weren’t actually soldiers or terrorists detonating bombs to defeat the opponent. As in Mexico City, they played that hideous Tomahawk Chop music and the crowd, depressingly, obliged.
Then I noticed that the left side of my rear end felt damp. I touched my jeans and my rear end was damp. I put my hand in the back pocket on that side and pulled out damp coins and a damp Post-it which, at that point, had a bleeding ink version of the crude city centre map I had drawn on it before I left my apartment.
I raised my cheek to look at the plastic seat: nothing. It didn’t look wet. I did the same on the other side of the seat. Again: dry. How in the…? What the…? Why? I felt my arse again. Definitely wet. The other side was totally dry.
Oddly enough, after my cemita, when I waiting for the gates to open, I’d wondered: what would you do, Craig, if you shat yourself at a ballpark? I played the thought out: I’d likely be able to grab a taxi and use the plastic raincoat in my backpack to sit on so as not to shit-up the taxi. But there I was with a wet arse, in the fifth inning of a baseball game. Four innings left. Wet arse.
The reality of my wet rear end won. I would have to leave. Pericos pitcher Lauro Ramirez loaded the bases and then walked a run in, Diablos were now only two runs behind, but my behind was more important. I didn’t want a nappy rash. I paid for my beers and got a bus back downtown.
On the bus, I kept on wondering: how the hell did my bum get so wet? There was nobody behind me, no way a spilled drink could’ve got me so wet without me realising it. Then I had a thought: the Pericos radar gun dude put a towel down on his seat before he took his place. Maybe, after the rain shower the night before, water was somehow trapped under the seats and comes out through the cracks in the plastic when it was sat upon. Maybe radar man knew this. Maybe, Colombo. Maybe.
Regardless, I had a wet cold arse. I got off the bus where I had got on earlier and walked back to my hotel. I was ridiculously self-conscious about it. Every time I heard someone laughing somewhere behind me on the street, I assumed they were laughing about the gringo with un culo mojado. I started quietly singing Cielito Lindo to myself: I-I-I-I, I have got a wet arse…
Back at the hotel: shoes off, trousers off. Gave them a quick sniff. Nothing untoward. The mystery would have to go unsolved. Zodiac Killer, yo.
That hotel room, dear reader, had a good bed. (Should you ever be in Puebla, the hotel is called El Hotelito.) Slept like a log. Up at 6.50 a.m., as is my wont; showered, dressed, and ready for the day. Except nowhere selling coffee was open that early.
I occupied myself for an hour or so, then went to the Zócalo and had some scrambled eggs, orange juice, and coffee. Then I took a nice leisurely walk around a market, and soon enough, it was time for the England vs. Uruguay game. Found a bar, upstairs looking out over the Zócalo. Two for the price of one beers again. Nice one. Tecate, por favor. The place was empty apart from me and a gaggle of meseros. Proper collective noun, that, I think.
The teams came out. The Uruguay national anthem sounds like the theme tune to some non-existent Eddie Murphy and Julia Roberts romantic comedy set in 19th century Vienna. The British anthem was played for the English team and almost involuntarily, I stood up. Come on, England! Let’s go!
Just before the game began, a family sat down to eat at the next table. The wife had mole poblano, the husband had spaghetti bolognese AND mole poblano. Fat bastard. The kid ate nothing; he just played a game on his cell phone. With the volume all the way up. Hey, open mic stand-up crowd, what’s up with shitty parents who allow their kids to do that in restaurants?
At times the TV signal was like an anti-World Cup glitch video art statement. Wingers crossed balls in, glitchy glitch, skips what happens, just see a keeper holding a ball safely. I moan, but really, your sports memories in life don’t remember the definition of the screen. Those things aren’t important. I’ll remember watching this game well: that I was in a crappy restaurant that I was too meek to leave at half time.
I sneezed. I’d been counting. I’d done 16 sneezes without being bless you-ed (or salud-ed) since leaving Ciudad de México. After just recently finishing Dan Rhodes’ lovely novel “Gold,” I now know that I’m 16% of the way to dying according to the author’s invented superstition.
As you know, Luis Suárez scored two goals. Wayne Rooney scored one goal. England are out of the World Cup thanks to Italy and Costa Rica not understanding how things should work to make me happy. It’s a shame, really. I like the current team, which is more than can be said for most English teams at recent World Cups. Also, as a Liverpool fan, it’s weird for me to see Suárez score and not celebrate, and to then jump up and down when a Man U. player scores.
I wandered around for a bit, had a look in some shop windows, saw the lovely new-ish Adidas Messi sneakers that are all white and pink and blue and yellow and disgusting-but-awesome. I want those sneakers. I stood there wondering, should I? I didn’t, but I kept on wondering. Maybe when I get back to DF, I should just buy them. I’ll regret it if I don’t.
Next stop was a place called Salón Famililar Corona. They had a bar next to the street, and tables in the back. I sat at the bar and asked if they could put the Japan-Greece game on. They obliged, but left the music playing. After a few songs, it became apparent that they used Spotify. Free Spotify. The version with the adverts every few songs. Cheapskates.
When I asked for a second Corona, the barman poured a bit of their cerveza de barril into a glass. “Try this.” This is a strange thing about beer in Mexico. Beer from the tap is never ever labelled. It’s like getting a “meat” curry. It was okay, and like a slender tree, I bent to his will and asked for one of his no-brand beers. It was kinda grim, I realised, after a few sips. The pipes weren’t clean. I drank it quickly and ordered a Corona to get rid of the taste.
Now, I was planning to finish this post with a lie. I had come to Puebla with the express idea of watching two baseball games. It was a simple plan because I’ve seen the sights of Puebla before: my visit was purely about relaxing, watching World Cup games in cafes or bars, and seeing Diablos-Pericos games in the evenings. But come Thursday morning, I really had no desire to go all the way to the ballpark that evening. I just didn’t have the heart to sit there and drink beer just for the sake of drinking beer, while the porras created a racket of drums and bells, and infielders let balls skid past them into the outfield. I just wasn’t in the mood. And this is something I’ve been feeling all season. When I’ve watched it, I’ve not actually enjoyed baseball much this season. And I don’t know why. Part of it, I suspect, is not getting into it at the start of the season. Various life reasons conspired to mean I didn’t see any MLB games until May. And my new apartment is farther away from Foro Sol, and I’ve been a bit too lazy to trek there and back as often as I have done in the previous three seasons. And, y’know, this is not school work, nobody is forcing me to love baseball right now. This is a relationship. Right now it’s a rough patch, but it doesn’t mean I want a divorce. I’m in it for the long haul, it just isn’t great at the moment.
I was going to lie to you, dear reader. I was gonna invent a reason why I didn’t go to Estadio Hermanos Serdán. Then, about an hour before the game, I was downtown just after leaving the Corona place, about to cross a small street. One step into the street, I noticed the lights had changed, so I stepped back. A silver VW Golf coming up the street saw the light turn from red to green, and the driver sped up. He misjudged his speed and the speed of the elderly woman who had continued crossing the street and clipped her. The car didn’t stop.
The woman twisted, and fell to the ground. She hit the ground hard. I ran across between other cars. I asked if she was hurt. Her upper arm was grazed badly and bloody. She said her ankle was in a lot of pain. I looked down and saw that her foot was lying at a bad angle. My cell phone was out of credit, so I asked her if she had one so I could call for an ambulance. She had one in the front pocket of her smock. I called 066, the emergency services number, told them the situation, and waited with her. A couple of youngsters stopped to see if they could help. He, as is the custom, had short spiky hair caked with gel, and a counterfeit red Mexico away soccer jersey. She was pretty and I’m ashamed to say I sneaked a peak at her cleavage as she bent down to talk to the woman. I told them an ambulance was on its way. The woman thanked them for stopping, insisted that God should bless them, and I smiled to them to say, it’s okay, I will stay with her.
It took about ten minutes for the ambulance to arrive. The paramedics immediately diagnosed a broken ankle and likely some broken toes, too. I asked the woman if she wanted me to call someone. She said she lived alone and her son lives in Mexico City and her daughter is on vacation with her husband in Tulúm. I told her I could go to the hospital with her. She said I shouldn’t bother. She asked my name.
“Gracias, Krek, you are very kind.”
I asked her name.
I asked the paramedics if I could come. They said yes. Secretly, I was quite excited to see inside an ambulance, something I’ve never seen before in real life.
They put Yolanda on a stretcher and inside the ambulance, I sat across from her, and held her hand while one of the paramedics secured her legs. At the hospital, I waited, drank a surprisingly decent cardboard cup of black coffee, and waited some more. After about an hour and a half, a nurse wheeled Yolanda out with her foot covered in plaster. It took another half an hour for her to deal with the insurance and paperwork. I pushed her wheelchair outside. She asked if I had a cigarette and we smoked together next to three doctors. She asked where I was from and if I liked Puebla. She told me I should go, she could get a taxi. I objected, saying I would make sure she got home okay.
We finished our smokes and waited for a few minutes for a taxi to come. It turned out she lived just a couple of blocks from my hotel. I paid the taxi driver and helped her into her house. I told her I was around until about noon the next day and that if she needed anything I would gladly help. She told me her neighbour could do that, I’d been enough help already, “God bless you, Krek.”
Readying to say goodbye, she told me there was tequila in the sideboard, and she would like to offer me a glass. A quick tequila turned into two, then three, then four. We chatted about life, Mexico, Europe. She put her hand on my thigh, and looked at me. “It’s been a long time since my husband died,” she said, moving her hand up my thigh. But I decided not to lie about why I didn’t go to the baseball game. I just couldn’t be bothered, really, and was rather looking forward to a relaxing evening watching crappy TV and reading a book. Which is exactly what I did. And as luck would have it, the game was rained out, anyway.