Mexico – a complex culture of family, friends, and connections.
Its warm and charming people gather happily to chat and share, most times in the plazas. One such locus, Alamos’ Plaza de la Alameda, is a bustling center complete with bandstand for music. In its early days, this plaza was shaded by gloriously huge cottonwoods (cottonwood tree = alamo). In time they died, leaving giant, leafless, branchless trunks – grotesque, lumpy, ancient, upright corpses. Nobody wanted to remove them – they were history. After all, the Alamo tree is the cottonwood, for which the town was named. But there were many and they were right ugly, unfitting for a town designated a Pueblo Magico, one of Mexico’s picturesque antique colonial towns.
Finally a presidente (mayor) took them out and had new saplings planted. This was a good thing. Nobody complained. As the welcoming entry to the town, the run-down Alameda needed to be prettified. Many stands selling tacos and fruit ices ring the Alameda, as well as shady tents with tables and chairs where you can eat birria (spicy stew) and caldos (steaming soups). Aromas of simmering chiles and meats waft alluringly as you pass, stirring appetites. Mariscos, fish platters, vie for your palate. Shrimp tacos are exquisito. And oh my, there are crispy churros, the sugary fried dough drooling goodness on your fingers. There are on the Alameda as well, little ma and pa businesses – sales tables for colorful handicrafts.
And there is Bobby.
He’s an impressively rotund man on our Alamos’ Alameda, one who sings like an angel. Bolero Bobby, the shoeshine man, can polish up your shoes and boots till they gleam like mirrors. He proudly flaunts his handiwork by peering into the shine to catch his reflection – and he can serenade at your parties, punching out the standards and favorites of Old Mexico. His is a melodious, enthusiastic baritone. Powerful and pure. When we had a fund-raiser casino night/auction chez Cabot, Bobby came to robustly belt out those classics to the spending crowd. It was lively, it was joyful. He had people applauding and hollering requests.
We used to haul our leather downtown regularly, but then we had to go back north for a while, and he missed our custom. So enterprising Bobby started appearing at our house to exercise his trade. If we wouldn’t come to him, never mind. He would come to us. The muchachas would see him coming and scamper to the closets for anything leather to polish. It became a welcome routine.
The advent of “tenis” (sneakers) as footwear of choice hit his business hard – and we felt for him. Bobby attends his stand on the sidewalk edge of the busy plaza, a seat on the raised plaza for his shoe-shine customers, a shady spot usually surrounded by joking, kibitzing friends. We see fewer and fewer clientele in that chair… those darned sneakers now festoon too many feet. Can’t be helped – comfort will win out over style. Except for the august Mexican male tradition of business shoes and nice trousers; those men always wear leather downtown and to the office. Along with the customary white sombrero. As long as that custom endures, there will always be a place for Bobby. I can’t see it changing.
But you know, we don’t hear him sing out there anymore. Maybe times are changing after all?
Bah. We’ll fix that. I feel a party coming on.