McDonald's, Chicago, Illinois

When I was in Mexico, I learned that I could trust all the Mexicans with whom I dealt. My first trip I was very cautious on the road since I traveled alone. When I met up with my family in Celaya, I realized that I didn’t really know anyone since I had not seem some of my relatives in more than twenty years and some had not even been born yet the last time I was in Celaya. However, I always felt I could trust all my family member without any reservations.

The only Mexicans that I never felt that I could never trust were in Nuevo Laredo when I crossed the border. They just looked like shady characters to me as they tried to hustle me into hiring them as a tour guide to get a visa and auto permit. Perhaps I was merely prejudging, but I didn’t feel safe around them. I just sped past them with my windows rolled up. There were some people who were outright begging there.

I had flown and taken the train on my previous trips, but I had never driven to Mexico before. I asked advice for my driving vacation from everyone who had ever driven to Mexico. The general consensus was to stay on the main toll roads even though I would have to pay tolls because these were the safest roads in Mexico. My cousin advised me not to drive after midnight. I wanted to ask her why not, but then I realized that I would feel safer not knowing why not. I didn’t drive after 10 pm. I had no idea what to expect.

For example, I didn’t know about la propina, the tip. When I needed gas for the first time in Mexico, I stopped at a Pemex gas station. I didn’t realize that was my only choice since the petroleum industry is a government monopoly. First of all, I was surprised to be greeted by an attendant who asked me what kind of gas and how much I wanted. I can’t even remember when I last saw a full-service gas station. I tried to pay with my credit card, but they only accepted cash. I didn’t realize I was supposed to tip him, so I didn’t. However, he never gave me any kind of signal that I was supposed to tip him and he never complained to me as I drove away. Later, my cousins explained that everyone in Mexico lives off tips. From then on, I tipped everyone. And generously, whenever possible.

One of the things I liked about Mexico was that car washes were available at many parking lots. When I’m in Chicago, my car is always dirty because I don’t like to go out of the way to go to the carwash. In Mexico, the carwash comes to you. I went with my sons and cousins to the mall in Celaya to see Kung Fu Panda. An elderly man approached me after I parked my car and asked me if I wanted my car washed. I asked him how much and he was reluctant to tell me. Finally, he told me thirty pesos. He was going to wash my car and then I would pay him when I returned. He actually trusted me. But I knew we would be in mall for a few hours and it was already 6:00 pm, so, he might not be there when we came out–unless he stayed just to wait for me. I asked my cousin if it was okay to pay him before we went in. I actually trusted the man at his work and knew my car would be washed when I returned. My cousin was noncommittal. So I paid and my car was washed when we returned about midnight. The man had been long gone by then.

I trusted everyone and I felt comfortable in Mexico. I had no reason to be distrustful of Mexicans in general. Once, when I stopped for at a tire shop for air, the attendant inflated my tires. He stood there for a moment without saying a word. I asked him how much I owed him. He said whatever I wanted to give him. I gave him twenty pesos and he seemed happy with that. Anyone who did anything for you accepted whatever amount you gave them and were always grateful for it. I was always afraid that they would overcharge me. In fact, I was so happy that they didn’t, so I would end up over-tipping them.


I scared a lot of people when I looked like this! And I loved it!!

Canas in Spanish means gray hair. My gray hair started appearing in my early thirties. In some of pictures, my hair doesn’t even look gray. Sometimes it looks dark brown or black. Most of the time it looks like I have salt and pepper hair. In some pictures my hair looks completely gray. I’ve never worried much about my appearance. What you see is what you get! No hair dyes or plastic surgery for me. Despite the gray hair, I feel more energetic now than when I was younger. There’s a saying in Spanish: Con las canas vienen las ganas. This saying is difficult to translate, but it could be interpreted as, “With (gray hair) age comes desire/energy.” Okay, I did my best, but it loses something in the translation. I feel that I have more energy than my much younger colleagues, who seem to tire much sooner than me. Well, I just accept life as it comes. Life is a boxing match, so I’ve learned to roll with the punches. When I was younger, I thought that the best defense was blocking punches and punching back. However, no matter how good a pugilist you are, you will get punched. And quite often, too. So, I learned to roll with the punches.

Anyway, gray hair runs in our family. Or, so I thought. All of my uncles in Chicago had salt and pepper hair since their early thirties, and I followed the family genetic suit. But when I went to Mexico, I noticed that my male relatives in their thirties, forties, and even fifties didn’t have gray hair. And they didn’t dye their hair, either. So why do we Rodríguezes have more gray hair in America than in Mexico. Well, I’ll be honest with you, Gentle Reader. I don’t know! And it doesn’t bother me either. Except when I’m in Mexico and they ask me my age. I know that they’re trying to place me in chronological order among relatives, I being the long lost relative who finally returned to the mother country. I think it is only in these moments that I become self-conscious about my gray hair.

But I am thankful to have lived longer than I had ever expected I would as a boy. I remember watching all those old kung fu movies and fantasizing about becoming like the old kung fu master that is baddest warrior of all. You know the guy. The protagonist fights and defeats one combatant after another until at the end of the movie he confronts the deadliest warrior alive, who usually turns out to be a seemingly frail old man with long white hair and a long white beard. This was usually the best fight scene of the movie! Until the protagonist finally defeats him after a long and exciting battle. So this is how I thought I would become in my old age. Other than gradually getting older and older, I really don’t have much in common with the old kung fu master. Okay, I tried growing my hair and beard long, but no one really felt comfortable around me. So, I’m back to my short gray hair happy that, Con las canas vienen las ganas.

Con las canas vienen las ganas.

Kung Fu


Dr. D in kung fu uniform

You’ve probably noticed the yin and yang symbol at the end of some of my blog posts. I’ve been meanig to explain why I use it, but I’ve always been hesitant to tell you. Well, now it can be told. Now that I’m feeling more comfortable with you, gentle reader, I’ll tell you. But you have to promise me that you won’t tell anyone. Okay? Well … Okay, I believe that you won’t tell anyone. So here goes.

I didn’t want to go to Divine Heart Seminary, but my mother made me go anyway. While I was there, I kept telling her that I wanted to leave. Finally, she gave in and she said I could leave the seminary. However, she didn’t make any effort to get me into the Catholic high school of my choice, or any private school for that matter. We lived in Back of the Yards, so I had to go to a public high school. I went to Tilden Technical H.S. I was extremely unhappy there.

As bad as things were, I never regretted leaving the seminary. At that time, I was only five feet tall and weighed about eighty-seven pounds. I was the perfect target for bullies. Ever since I was little, I always fought back no matter who picked on me, regardless of the consequences. When I transferred to Gage Park High School, I was suspended quite a few times for defending myself. My mother yelled at me for having to miss work in order to get me reinstated in school. I told her that if she would have sent me to a Catholic high school, I wouldn’t be having those problems.

Oh yeah, my bedroom was in the unfinished attic of our house at 4405 S. Wood Street. That added to my overall happiness of my adolescence. My bedroom was hot and humid in the summer, and extremely cold in the winter. I spent a lot of time by myself in that room. I had a black light and fluorescent posters. I had my own black and white TV. I had a radio that I wired to every speaker that I found. I had surround sound before anyone else even invented it.

Okay, get ready. Here comes the part about kung fu. Are you ready? Well, here goes anyway. I hated getting picked on at school. And, I loved to watch TV every waking moment, especially all the comedies like The Dick Van Dyke Show, Laugh In, The Bill Cosby Show, The Flip Wilson Show, the Johnny Carson Show, among many others. If the TV show wasn’t a comedy, I didn’t watch it. With one notable exception. Kung Fu. There was something about that show that attracted me. Something that really moved me. I felt lonely, scared, defenseless, and scared. After watching Kung Fu, I learned to apply some of that philosophy to my life. Oh yeah, and I observed those martial arts techniques and learned to use them to defend myself at school and in the neighborhood. I never backed down from anyone. And everyone learned not to start trouble with me. I’m not saying I won many fights since I was smaller than most of the bullies, but I would cause enough pain and anguish to my assailant the he often thought twice before picking on me again. Once, a bully approached me to exact revenge from our previous encounter. I gave him a look that could only be interpreted as, “Bring it on!” He shook his head in disbelief and walked away.

The TV show Kung Fu actually changed my life. I started practicing kung fu religiously. I wanted to be one with the universe. I wanted to be Chinese!

My favorite TV show when I was in high school.

Well, I never became Chinese. Or even learned to speak Chinese. But I have gotten older and wiser. That last time I practiced kung fu? Oh, about forty pounds ago. But I always fondly recall David Carradine as Kwai Chang Cane or Grasshopper when he was known when he was a young boy in the Shaolin Temple back in China. But I still feel that I benefited from watching Kung Fu. So whenever I get philosophical, in my own unique way, I categorize my blog entry under Life and end it with the yin and yang symbol. Peace, love, and eternal cosmic wisdom!