Category Archives: border crossing


I see my one (ONE!) lonely post from last year and I think “I know, I’ll write about my Internet connection in Mexico!” But try as I might, I can’t make it funny or interesting. So just know this, Dear Reader, that I have a bad one. I swear it got much worse this year, although it didn’t seem possible. Like – No Uploading, Ever bad.

The first time I put on my headpiece each year is just seems so BIG!

The first time I put on my headpiece each year is just seems so BIG!

Galileo is in SoCal for our annual Posadas Dinner Party gig at La Golondrina in the old, historic part of Los Angeles, and instead of writing about farming in Mexico or other exciting details of our busy life (you think I’m kidding, don’t you?), I’m going to give you a glimpse into the life of us two professional musicians.




This is the sculpture at the Tijuana border. I think it’s imposing but ugly.

I am seated at a desk in a hotel room – the same hotel we have stayed in for several years now. It’s not glamorous. Many of you would not choose to stay here. But it’s clean (enough) and safe (enough), has internet (see above – this is why some of my friends and family only hear from me in December!) and we’re used to it. Enough about the hotel. We’re notorious penny-pinchers. We travel a full day to get here each year, leaving Central Mexico and the central time zone early in the morning, arriving at the border still in the morning in a new time zone, getting across said border, renting a car in San Diego and driving to the Los Angeles area and haggling over the price of the hotel. (Bet most of you didn’t realize you could do that). We usually have one or two days to get acclimated.


I got to see my friend Chris. Flannel twins.

Practice: maybe you thought that practicing is for beginners. Practice is for all musicians, all the time.
All through the year we practice, learn, and rehearse. For us that involves setting up equipment, as we don’t usually practice with acoustic instruments. Since Chon is a composer, we learn new songs throughout the year, to archive them, or to prepare them (arrange and organize) for live performances. Some weeks we have to put our farming schedule first, and put off practicing, but we always return to it as soon as we can.


Makeshift studio in our hotel room, using headphones purchased today at a pawn shop.

And Chon is thinking throughout the year about our December gig. We do two to four gigs during the year, and they include my birthday party (June) and Chon’s birthday party (December), New Year’s Eve, and other dates, like Valentine’s Day and Mothers’ Day. These gigs often include repertoire we plan to use at the Posadas parties.

The Posadas dinner parties are held in a restaurant that can accommodate several hundred people. We have played nearly every night of each December 16-24 since 1987. Really. The show is pretty much the same each season. In fact, the manager prints us out the very same show order every year. This year they wrote in an extra group of dances by the folkloric dancers, which might not seem really important, but it turned out to be. And it was a different dance group than the one that we’ve seen every year for many years.

Many of the families that attend have made this a family tradition for longer than we’ve been hosting the show. Really! So we see children and grandchildren of those families one night of the year every year. And after so many years, you get a feeling of what to expect each night. Since it is a family-oriented show, you may not have a realistic picture of how the evenings might go. Although there are many small families with charming, wide-eyed children, there are often large families and some pretty wild behavior. Take last night for example.

While we were setting up, an ex-student arrived to chat with us. Thanks for coming, Jose!! Planning to stay, he and his friends instead had to leave, there being no room in the inn, ha ha (posadas joke). It was sold out.

Our student friend Jose stopped by while we were setting up!

Our student friend Jose stopped by while we were setting up!

When I saw the thin blonde woman walk in, with her extremely high heels and faux leather pants, I knew how it would be. The year before, her large family group had brought confetti-filled egg shells, and throughout the evening had thrown the eggs and hard candies around, one even denting the finish of a guitar onstage. They tend to drink a lot of Margaritas. Who knows – maybe this is their one night of the year to really cut loose! And so they did. There were 25 kids, seated at long tables facing each other on the dance floor, (right in front of us) leaving little room for the marionette show and the dancers. The kids threw confetti eggs at each other, and playfully ground confetti into each others’ hair. Their parents could be seen and heard admonishing the kids, to little avail, although the kids really seemed playful and excited, and not hurtful.

We began the evening on time, with some jazzy Christmas carols on the piano. While I played, Chon was fixing the sound to be even better. After the jazzy carols we played and sang Christmas carols in English and Spanish, and then the dancers came to the now-tiny dance floor, a few minutes late. The leader/organizer of the dancers had asked us to let him know when there were two carols left before they began. We told him, but they weren’t quite ready. Christmas carols are not long! They are certainly not as long as a three-minute pop song. We sang two more, and then the dancers entered the crowded dance area and presented some short Aztec dances. They have beautiful costumes and headdresses, rattles, and fire! in a fire pot.

Then we played two dance numbers for the audience, one in Spanish and one in English. The kids continued bombarding each other with confetti. Confetti on a polished wood floor seems to make it more slippery but no waiter or waitress bearing large trays of food fell.

Then the Bob Baker marionettes show was presented by the talented puppet master, Eric. I love the show, and have not tired of it in all these years.  There are clowns, a skating bear, a couple in Mexican folkwear, a tall couple in ballroom dance wear, a tall pink cat with maribou and high heels, little boys, a big yellow chicken that lays an egg on stage. I find it delightful. The kids edged closer and closer to the center, making it difficult for Eric to navigate.

The music used for the marionettes is “classic” humorous songs all adults recognize, a Spike Jones number, and even light classical music like Leroy Anderson. Eric has the music on his iPod/iPhone and it’s easy to hook it up to our sound system, but difficult to equalize so that it sounds good through the big speakers. Chon does that well. Recently Eric and Chon have discussed making new recordings of the music so it doesn’t take so much adjusting.

After the marionette show we did a Posadas Procession, a shortened version of the Mexican tradition of singing groups of people visiting neighboring houses before Christmas. The kids “help” with this, processing around the restaurant, with the dancers carrying a large Nativity scene. Joseph and Mary seek shelter and the story ends happily. We play live music for this. With so many kids it was difficult to walk around.

We followed the procession with more dance music, and then played very brief music for each kid to swing at the piñata (there were two of them, as there were so many kids – the twenty-five seated on the dance floor were joined by others who magically showed up when we announced the piñata.

Throughout the evening the dance floor was occasionally taken over by men wearing Mexican gabanes holding glasses – of – beer? It looked like that. They are the ones who like it when we play rock music. And we do. See how eclectic it is?

The dancers returned for a dance from the Mexican state of Michoacan, the above-mentioned change in our tried-and-true order of events, and at this point we began to get complaints. They came to me, and not to the manager, so it was a little weird. No, it was odd, and I wasn’t sure what to say.

One woman, loudly, said into my ear as I was singing, “The Baldwins are leaving! We were waiting for the Mothers and Sons dance, but we have to go!” As soon as I could, I told her that would be the very next thing. The Michoacan dance dragged on. Aside: the dance from Michoacan is a famous one called Los Viejitos, The Little Old Men, and it’s comical. Or it’s supposed to be. Dancers with masks depicting old men with long pink faces, dance like young men, and fall down, and get up and dance some more, and generally make a nuisance of themselves. To be really good it must have physical humor. It seems mystifying to most of us gringos, however, as it was last night to the audience. I must be missing something. The blonde woman also came to the stage to comment about the Mothers and Sons Dance, and I told her that the program was the same, and it WAS, it really WAS, except for that one little insertion of the Old Men Dance. The blonde woman hissed at me, “NO, it’s NOT”. They know the order of the show!

Anyway, it ground to an end, and we were relieved to announce the Mothers and Sons dance. We have often thought about changing the music we play for this, but perhaps we should put that idea out of our heads. Then the Fathers and Daughters danced, and we followed this with the Hokey Pokey, (yes, we really play the Hokey Pokey), La Macarena, and then a melange of mostly original holiday rock music, which has really great energy, and many kids and parents were dancing, including the blonde woman, who at one point put one high-heeled foot up on a table so that her pants slid down in the back and we got a really clear view of a body part usually covered up, and later made some dance moves not usually made on family restaurants.

Aside about the Hokey Pokey and La Macarena: these are musical numbers that we have considered changing over the years, usually at the request of the dancers who are sick of it – not much challenge there for a dancer, you must admit. But we will probably NEVER change them, because you now see what happens when you Change Things. And the other night when we began La Macarena, a thirty-something woman who used to be a teenager at the show said to her sister, with a lit-up face, “Oh, this is my favorite!”

And then it was over. We tore down equipment, packed it up and stowed it, and headed to the Valley. We sat and watched an episode of Anger Management and went to sleep.

Our schedule every day of the show – you may think that a three-hour show is just that – three hours. But now you know – there’s practice and planning all year. There is instrument repair and wires repair. There is tuning. We leave to go to the three-hour gig at 4 p.m. We set up for 45 minutes to an hour. We eat. That’s a lucky part, because the food at La Golondrina is really good, and it’s better every year. We play the show. We tear down, and we get back to our non-luxurious hotel aound 11 p.m.  When you have that sort of wire-tired feeling you can’t go right to sleep, so you sleep late. Then there is usually enough time to get breakfast or lunch and get ready to go again. It’s great work if you can get it.

Navidad – Going To Mexico


Our recent annual Posadas Parties gig in downtown Los Angeles ended quietly on December 24th.  As we were setting up several employees asked if the evening would end earlier than the other nights, and Yes, we said. We used less equipment and smaller speakers, and shortened the times between events, so that we ended about 9:15 instead of at 10 p.m.

Some of our equipment waiting to be stored up two flights of stairs - ah, the life of a musician!

Some of our equipment waiting to be stored up two flights of stairs – ah, the life of a musician!

We trudged up and down stairs and put away our equipment in the storage room. We said our goodbyes to the dancers, the puppeteer and the employees, and drove to our motel for our last night.
In the morning we packed up our equipment and clothing, and went to a local pawn shop to purchase a drum machine we had spotted similar to the one we like to use for recording. We then drove to a cousin’s house near Covina where we enjoyed a wonderful meal with ham as a main dish (thank you, Sylvia!. In spite of all the excellent meats available in Mexico, ham and turkey are two things that just are not of the same quality. I am not embarrassed to say that I had several many servings of ham. I had an extremely enjoyable conversation with Sylvia and her lovely daughter while the daughter made guacamole as Christmas gifts for her friends. They were so attentive I probably talked way too much. I do miss having women friends to talk to, and I probably totally dominated the table talk.
As the afternoon wore on I began to cast glances at the clock and fret a little about leaving on time. Our car was due back at the rental agency in San Diego at 9 p.m., and I hazarded a guess that it would be perhaps a three-hour drive. We left about 6:45 after our goodbyes. While I kept driving at a steady pace for about three hours, Chon napped off and on.
We were on an unfamiliar freeway, and it just didn’t feel like exactly the right direction. When I began seeing signs for San Diego, but not for the airport, I called my sister, who was on the receiving end of a snow-and-ice storm in Arkansas. She speedily looked for directions to the airport (she is really, really good at using the computer), and told me if I saw highway 163 I should take it. As her words came through the phone we were just arriving at the off-ramp, and we zoomed onto it. Her directions were perfect and in a short time we were near the airport; we gassed up the car, checked it in and re-packed our things.
I may not have mentioned that one part of our luggage was a large box (The Box) with digital recording equipment we had purchased in Los Angeles. Chon packed it with clothing for additional protection. It had carrying handles, but it was quite heavy and rather awkward. In addition I was carrying a bag we bought at a thrift shop because it had wheels for ease of movement.
Although we had taken the Volaris shuttle from the Tijuana airport to the San Diego airport, we weren’t exactly sure how to catch it back to the Tijuana airport. Although I was fairly sure of the location, I hadn’t really thought about the lateness of our return, and wondered if it would come. An extremely rude taxi driver tried to convince us that my directions were wrong. We showed up, though, at the Amtrak station, and I got directions for the shuttle stop right outside the door. It would arrive, the attendant told us, at 11 p.m. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 1:10 a.m., and we were beginning to feel pinched for time. That is to say, this is when both of us were feeling that pinch; I had felt concerned since, say, about 5 p.m. There was one other person besides us at the shuttle stop, a young man who told us HIS flight was leaving at 11:45.
Our luggage under street lights outside the Metro Station in San Diego, CA. See The Box

Our luggage under street lights outside the Metro Station in San Diego, CA. See The Box

We looked at each other wordlessly. IF the shuttle arrived at the scheduled time, and IF it took zero minutes to officially cross the border, it still would just not be possible for him to make his flight because of the 20-or-so-minute drive to the border. He suspected it, and we knew it. He asked if we would like to share a taxi. There was one parked a half-block away, and before Chon went to ask if it was available, I asked him to make sure the driver wasn’t a complete A. He wasn’t, and it was available. He wanted $50 to drive us to the border, and the other passenger offered to pay half.  That made OUR taxi ride cheaper than taking the shuttle! We got a strong young guy to help carry The Box, and HE got at least a chance to make his flight.
We raced to the border, the cab driver probably in a hurry to harvest more work on this busy Christmas night. The cabbie had lied, however, when he told us that it wasn’t far for us to walk to cross the border; “less than a block”, he said. We tumbled out of the cab, unloaded our gear and began to walk on the new pedestrian path across the border. My bag, the one with wheels, would begin to rock wildly if I walked speedily or held the handle too high, so I brought up the rear.
We sweated our way along the well-lit, smooth sidewalk that led to a small brilliantly lit room where a sleepy-eyed female border agent asked us where we were coming from, and going to. Chon told her that the three of us were a band, and we were making a regular border crossing to play at a party. She waved us past her with a bored smile.
And then we walked, and walked. And walked some more. The sidewalk became a bridge. With many switchbacks. Chon and the young guy made several changes of sides of The Box because their hands hurt. Several times we passed a middle-aged gringo (and he passed us), and one of those times he asked us, panting, if we wanted to share a taxi. Yes, we did. As we finally arrived, panting, at the taxi parking area, we beckoned to him to hurry so he could ride with us. The taxi driver quoted a $20 price (yes, $5 apiece) and amazingly, loaded The Box and some other luggage into the truck and tied the trunk lid down. The four of us piled in, and passed around our smaller bags so that we could fit.
We started off for the airport, and every time we drove across a pot-hole the trunk lid would bang and the gringo with us would mutter “bad shocks”. We made it to the airport in record time, and the young guy and Chon picked up The Box again and carried it to the luggage scanner. We made it through that first hurdle and I had my visa checked. The young guy began to slink away, and Chon called him back to haul The Box to our check-in line, where he promptly and efficiently disappeared. Who could blame him? He DID make his flight, though.
And WE pushed The Box through the lines to the check-in, where we paid for the extra weight. Then we headed with our backpacks to the security check, where we were told that we could not carry our (brand-new, extra-heavy-duty, expensive) instrument cords in our carry-on luggage. (What???? No electrical cables in carry-on? That is not something I have seen listed as being prohibited by the airlines.) I waited while Chon ran back to the check-in counter where the airline workers told him to leave his backpack with them.  As this was simply not an option (great NEW backpack designed for computer, with a fine drum machine inside), he talked them into leaving only the cables with them, and returned cum backpack to the security check-in, and then, finally, we were through, and the rest was easy.
The Volaris flight took off and arrived on time (congratulations, Volaris!), and when we arrived I had my first opportunity (??) to help carry The Box. After only a few seconds I was so relieved that I hadn’t been the one drafted to lug it all the way across the immigration trails!
A friend picked us up at the airport, and as we headed for the highway to take us home, there were hundreds and hundreds of urracas, boat-tailed grackles, in enormous parvadas , flocks, flying overhead.
We got home about 40 minutes later, unloaded our things and went to sleep for four hours.



So many people have warned us (as they probably have warned you, too), about being careful in the border areas. Well, we will continue to be careful. But I’d like to say that the people I have met here are very nice. And, yay, our agent Samuel, as inept as he may be, just returned our money. All the money. And our pink slip. We still don’t really know what happened, but Samuel says he is considering a career change.  Supposedly, our truck is eligible for Mexican registration and plates. But it didn’t get registered (!*#*^). We are making new plans.

So Samuel is on our list of People Who Didn’t Take Advantage Of Us. So is Don David, the cook, who gave us enormous servings of food, a little more each day, because he knew we were stuck here, and that we were making two meals out of each restaurant visit. So is the manager of the hotel, Jorge, who lowered the price of our room even lower than Chon was going to ask him to. So is beautiful Alma, a front-desk lady who we engaged in many conversations. This is Alma.

I promise the photos will be better soon – I didn’t bring my camera, so these are phone photos. Rocio cooked a meal for us on New Year’s Day, when the cook didn’t show up.  Every person here was friendly, sympathetic and simpatico.

The Hotel Estrella Dorada Internacional is not fancy, but it’s got everything a traveler needs. I know, because I stayed here A WEEK! I certainly can recommend it to you if you need a place to stay in Nogales (on the Mexican side.)