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February 23, 2016

The strange tale of a reclusive white man who followed his Mexican friend to a party on the Queen Mary and got more than he bargained for.

It was getting late and I was alone, living alone, writing alone as usual in my apartment in Hollywood when Julio came barging in with the big news. He was so excited, I was barely able to understand what he was saying because he was speaking so fast and also because I don’t understand Spanish. I was able to get him to sit down and relax long enough for him to reach inside his pocket and produce a crumpled up flyer that was obviously an advert of some kind. After hours of rigorous translation, I was able to surmise what it said.

It seems that somebody was throwing a huge party or “fiesta grande” at the Queen Mary in Long Beach where Mexican corrido singer and folk hero Roberto Tapia was playing a free concert. The main point here is that everything was going to be “gratis” or free. Free food, free booze, free parking, everything free, the leave-your-wallet-at-home-if-you-want kind of free. The only catch was that the venue could only hold 10,000 per the fire code so if we were going to go, we would have to get there early.

I knew nothing about the Queen Mary or Roberto Tapia and truth be told, I don’t really care for Mexicans. Still, gratis is gratis and when the day came we piled into Julio’s van and headed south towards Long Beach. It was myself, Julio, Julio’s wife Janice, his 5 kids, his mother-in-law, one of her friends and a couple of total randos. Julio insisted on playing Mexican music the entire way but not Roberto Tapia. Apparently, in Mexican culture it is bad luck to listen to the artist that you are on your way to see live. That suited me just fine as it all sounded like gibberish and was giving me a headache.

We arrived in Long Beach several hours before the doors were to open and we made our way to the Queen Mary, which to my surprise, turned out to be an enormous ocean liner from many decades past that has been restored and converted to host events, concerts and weddings, art shows, etc. I was amazed at the size of it, and a great looking ship too. Ultra clean, new paint, very classy like it just came off the showroom floor.

We found parking without incident and completely free, as promised. While there were tons of Mexicans waiting in line already, I estimated that there were 5 maybe 6 thousand max. We were going to be let in for sure. Julio and company set up shop at the end of the line while I went around on foot to see what I could see. More and more cars started showing up and before long there were thousands more Mexicans flooding the streets. I had no idea that Roberto Tapia had such a following, it seemed that every Mexican living in the U.S. and perhaps one or two that came up from Mexico was trying to get into the show.

At any rate, the fiesta was on. The free parking overflowed and then erupted into a tailgate party the likes of which I had never seen. Soon, the docile Mexicans of moments before transformed into loud, rowdy yet generous partygoers. Drinks began to flow liberally and more than an ass was made out of many at the scene. At one point I was pinned down by a group of revelers and a bottle of tequila was poured down my throat while another shook my head violently and blew a whistle to the delight of everyone in the crowd.

After a while, I became the unofficial white mascot of the party and was treated to the best that the tailgate had to offer. I was starting to get pretty buzzed and we weren’t even on board yet. After one last beer, I excused myself and made my way to the spot in the line where I remembered Julio to be. By this time it wasn’t so much of a line but a seething, brown mass of humanity pushing up against the side of the enormous vessel. After about a half hour of searching and almost giving up, I heard Julio calling me and gesturing to the line. Thank God he found me because I was getting a little nervous. I’m not going to say that I was the only white person there but if there were others I didn’t see hide nor hair of them.

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Excitement was now building up inside me and I wasn’t the only one. My thoughts turned to the food and speculating on the variety and quality of the spread they were going to put out. Even as the ship was seemingly floating in a sea of Mexicans, more and more cars were pulling up, many turning right around realizing the futility of their effort. There was no way of telling how many people had showed up but I guessed that there were WAY more than 10,000. Hopefully, when the doors opened they would usher us on to the ship with as little bloodshed as possible.

There we were, butts to nuts and we still had over an hour to go before they were to let us on board. Julio could sense the tension in the air and began to sing one of the corridos that Roberto Tapia is famous for. It wasn’t long before many in the crowd around us started in and soon it seemed like the whole crowd was crooning in unison. It was all a little confusing to me, playing the music of the group you are going to see on the way down is a big no-no but singing the music outside of the show, no issues with that. Interesting.

After what seemed like an eternity, there was some activity around the doors leading on to the ship and several people started removing the red velvet ropes that led inside. About five minutes later I started seeing people at the front of the line start to enter. I was able to see over the heads of most people in the crowd because Mexicans are pretty short and I am pretty tall, which is one of the reasons why they find me so interesting. People began to cheer as more and more figured out they started letting people in and I was pleasantly surprised how respectful everyone was in entering, no pushing and very little shoving even though most people were half drunk, including myself.

As we filed through the doors, I was amazed at how elaborate the reception area of the ship was. Huge crystal chandeliers everywhere, polished brass and marble, walnut paneling, very classy all around. The splendor of the Queen Mary wasn’t lost on my companions either who gawked at the surrounding in a hypnotic gaze. It was not easy to navigate through the ship. We followed a group of people until we realized that they had no idea where they were going. Then, we would follow another group and the cycle would repeat itself until we were walking around aimlessly.

Throughout our journey, I could smell some amazing food cooking up and I was anxious to find out where they were planning to dole it out. I always like to know where the food is served and where the bars are as soon as I arrive anywhere, in case of emergencies. After surveying the situation further, I learned that there were multiple ballrooms setup with food stations as far as the eye could see. I don’t usually eat ethnic food but it all smelled delicious and again, gratis is gratis and I was planning on getting my money’s worth, that was for sure.

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After I figured out where the food was, the booze was not far away. Multiple open bars spread out conveniently throughout the dining areas. Tuxedoed bartenders stood behind well-stocked bars complete with 20 different tequilas, high end booze front, right and center as far as the eyes could see and not a person in sight taking money. Wow. This was something special. More people started coming in and I figured to get a drink and a plate of food then do a little more exploring before the concert started. Julio was gone by now, chasing his kids and mother-in-law around who were having the time of their lives.

After getting my hands on a double Margarita and a huge plate of food, I walked over to a high table and ate my food while looking around at the crowd. It all seemed a little too good to be true, like on my way out I was going to be presented with a bill for hundreds or even thousands of dollars that I cannot afford. Who was this benevolent soul who paid for all of this and what did they want in return!? As I looked around, I didn’t see anybody else bothered by such ideas so I decided to enjoy myself and accept that sometimes good things happen to good people.

I went back for plate after plate of exotic Mexican dishes I had never heard of before like ‘carnitas’ and ‘pollo’, washing it down with ice-cold Mexican beer and room-temperature Mexican Tequila. The more I drank, the more I wanted to talk to someone about how great this all was, but being the only white guy there made me feel pretty self conscious. There was no English to be heard no matter how hard I listened for it.

After a few more beers, I made my way to the deck where others were gathered to take in the view afforded by such a great height. From above, I could see the parking lot now mostly empty of people and strewn with mounds of litter that workers in orange vests were diligently cleaning up. How they got stuck with working today of all days, a day that will go down in Mexican American history, I couldn’t tell you. I felt sorry for them, they must have been really down low on the Totem pole. Oh well, life is for the living after all.

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On the far end of the deck on the other side of the conning tower was another bar so I walked over and got another free drink, no tip, as is my style. When I am told that something is free, it is either free all the way or it isn’t free at all. As I stood there against the bar admiring my own thrift, I noticed a noticed a not-so-horrible-looking white woman on the other end of the bar in amongst the Mexicans, seemingly by herself. I thought up a smooth line and walked over to her.

“Do you speak English?” I asked with a devilish grin. She stood there silent for a few seconds, engrossed in the moment.

“Unfortunately I do,” she said, wanting to be polite. We stood there looking at each other for a few more moments before anyone spoke.

“So, do you know what’s going on here?” I asked. “I mean, free food, free booze, free parking, free Roberto Tapia? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining or anything, it just seems strange to me.”

“It’s a matter of fact I do know exactly what is going on here,” she said with a grin. “And very soon here, so will you,” she added and then laughed maniacally while walking away.

I wasn’t sure what the big joke was but she seemed to be in on it and I was not. Maybe she was part of the show somehow, who know? The sun had set and it was getting dark so I decided to have one more drink and head down below to the grand ballroom where Roberto Tapia was set to perform. I followed a group of Mexicans down a series of stairwells until were arrived. It was standing room only and set up to accommodate a very large crowd and most of the prime real estate had been taken up. There was no way of knowing where Julio was and I wasn’t even going to attempt to find him.

There was a DJ spinning some songs and getting people in the mood for Tapia. People were already dancing and the vibe was festive as more and more started to file into the ballroom. By the time I had arrived at the grand ballroom, the only place to stand was towards the back but this was OK because there was a bar there and I cozied up next to it. People couldn’t wait for the show to begin and shouts of “Tapia” were heard throughout the ballroom. Not long after that, the lights were lowered and the crowd started losing it’s shit.

The stage set up was pretty impressive and it seemed that they went to a fair bit of effort putting the whole production together. Little by little, band members came out on to the stage and started warming up. The audio was dialed in and sounded a whole lot better than I thought it would based on the shape of the room. The place was really coming alive now as the anticipation of seeing Tapia was almost too much for some to bare.

Right when I thought that the place was going to explode, the music ground to an abrupt halt taking everyone by surprise. People looked around not knowing what had happened. A few moments later over the PA came an announcement and then a huge, flat panel screen was turned on that illuminated the whole ballroom. Soon a man appeared on the screen, a white man in an expensive business suit wearing a sombrero. It took me a second to realize I was looking at none other than Donald Trump.

Trump had a big smile on his leathery face as he spoke what sounded like perfect Spanish as far as I could tell. From the looks on everyone’s faces Trump was not conveying good news. Women were gasping and audible cries of “no mames” were heard throughout the ballroom. Before Trump could finish speaking, a mass exodus began and I got swept up into it. Not knowing what he had said, I just followed the crowd and tried to decide how terrified I should become. People pushed, shoved and stomped over each other in their desperation to get out of the ballroom. The high levels of alcohol in everyone’s blood added to the confusion and general sense of panic. I was pretty confident the ship wasn’t sinking but I couldn’t tell for sure.

After throwing a few elbows of my own, I made my way through the crowd and toward the rail of one of the lower decks. When I finally was able to get a look off the boat, my heart nearly dropped to the deck. We were moving. The ship was sailing. Not only that, we had been sailing for some time and land was a good deal off in the distance. No one had noticed because we were distracted by what we thought was a kick-ass Roberto Tapia concert. I was not the only person taken by surprise. What is going on? Where are we going? Who was that strange woman? Am I going to be killed as some sort of sacrificial white lamb? Is Roberto Tapia going to play or not? All valid questions. It was all up in the air at this point.

Mexicans, I’ve learned, are a very easy going people. Even as the realization set in that they were being deported in a crazy, reverse Trojan horse/Shanghai type of situation, they understood that there was little anyone could do about it, at least for the time being. The ship was too far away to jump off and swim to shore and the water was very cold and presumedly filled with sharks. However, the bars were still open and there was still plenty of food so it wasn’t like some slave ship, you really couldn’t ask for better conditions in which to be deported. I feel that the biggest disappointment was that Roberto Tapia never showed. Little by little, the crowd started enjoying itself again and figured they would all laugh about it in years to come.

As for me, I took a page out of the Mexicans’ book. It is pretty hard to be outraged when you have a belly full of great food and strong buzz going. I figured it wouldn’t be too hard to get back into the United States once we arrived in Mexico and in the end it really wasn’t, even though I didn’t have my passport. I went back up to the top deck where I could get a drink, some fresh air and a better view. As I walked up to the bar to order, out of the corner of my eye I saw that same mysterious white woman just hanging out alone like she was the first time I saw her. I had a few questions so I walked over.

QM bar.jpg

“Say, are you involved in this somehow?” I asked with a stern expression. “You work for Trump, or what Honey?”

“You bet your sweet ass I work for Trump,” she said in a low voice. I had to give it to her, she was honest. “You know how much I’m being paid for this? A lot, OK! I like it, it’s satisfying work and it’s what I went to school for.”

“You went to school for thinking up creative ways to deport Mexicans?” I asked.

“Listen douche,” she said, starting to get nasty now. “I have a very specific set of skills that you don’t understand and I don’t have time to explain to you. I pull down a ton of doe, that’s all you need to know.”

“Well that’s great Sweetheart, but what am I supposed to do?!” I asked starting to get huffy. “I’m not Mexican!”

“You can fuck right off and die as far as I’m concerned,” she said and then turned on her heel and walked away disappearing through a door behind the bar.

I remained at the bar for the remaining duration of the trip. I kept thinking about that nasty girl and what could have happened in her life to hold such hate in her heart for Mexicans. How many people are out there like her? Unlike my casual indifference for Mexicans, she harbored a serious, active resentment towards them and made it her goal to get rid of them apparently. Is this the trend to come? Is this the new cool thing? How many other tricks does she have in store? Maybe a rocket ship next time? The whole thing seemed ugly to me but she did mention she makes a lot of money so who am I to say?

When the ship finally came into port we were in Ensenada, about 2 hours south of the border. I only stuck around long enough to have a little lunch and a few beers before I got on a bus traveling “norte” or north. Before I knew it, I was back in Los Angeles. I chalked the whole thing up to a big misunderstanding and I’m not too upset about it. I never did see Julio or any of his family members ever again. I guess they really enjoyed Ensenada and decided to stay.