Armpit Fare

Go south, young man

It's amazing how different you feel when you cross over the imaginary line dividing Mexico and the U.S.

You go south, for example, and suddenly the Coca-Cola is a beverage worth drinking. Unlike the bland American version, Mexican Cokes come in slender glass bottles and go down hard -- just try sucking down an entire bottle and see what happens to your nose. The explosive fizz of flavor and carbonation is something that older Americans can still remember from their childhoods, before Coca-Cola went entirely to corn syrup for the sweetening of its American beverage. Down south, Mexicans still get to drink Coke made with real sugar, and the difference is striking.

Another staple that improves greatly over the border is the simple flour tortilla. Here, a tortilla is just a tortilla, even if it's from Carolina's. But a Sonoran tortilla is a masterpiece of the genre, often imitated but never equaled. In the entire world, you can't find flour tortillas as delicious as those perfected by the sobaqueras, so-called because they stretch their tortillas so big the delicious treats reach all the way up to their armpits, or sobacos.

And speaking of bodily matters, there's another major difference you experience when you head south, and on this count Mexico does not hold the advantage. I'm talking about toilet paper. You learn to appreciate your Charmins when you're in Nogales. No matter how expensive, Mexican tissue fails in every respect. Frail and rough, it performs poorly, and you can't even flush it. Poor water pressure in Mexico means you can't put something as bulky as toilet tissue down the commode. I bet you're scrunching up your nose right now, just thinking about it.

Ah, but what Mexico lacks in squeezable paper products, it more than makes up for in just about any other topic related to your physical well-being. The Mexican doctor, dentist and pharmacist are what this country once had -- dedicated people who are honest and affordable. I had chronic bronchitis for three months a couple of years back. After endless doctor visits, x-rays and a gamut of medications, I was still very ill and nearly broke. Fed up with being sick, I drove to Algodones and visited the first general practitioner I could find. After an examination ($20), x-rays ($25) and blood work ($20), I was given a quick shot in the ass and a prescription. Within the week I was nearly 100 percent of my feisty self.

In 1987, I headed south to have my thyroid removed for only $4,000, and I was able to purchase my expensive medication for just $20 a month. Another member of my family -- whom I won't name -- got a good set of boobs for only $2,000.

Just think of the kind of money you can save on a trip down south, sipping Cokes made with real sugar, eating burritos made with tortillas stretched by sobaqueras, and getting a new set of knockers.

Just remember to bring your own toilet paper. Silvana Salcido Esparza

The author is a local chef and restaurant owner.

 
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