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Watch Out for Mexican Carnies in Drag

February 5, 2011

I’m at the Valladolid Fair, accompanied by Johanna and Katrin.  All of the food stalls have banners with prices like:

 “4 quesadillas 4$”*

“pozole (stew) 4$”

The girls are hungry so we approach a waiter at one of the many tented stalls with plastic tables and Corona Beer and Coca Cola chairs.  He’s all man from the neck down – a broad and fat man in a polo shirt and baggy jeans.  But he has the grooming of a woman from the neck up – shoulder length orange dyed hair, the bangs pulled back in a ponytail, delicate hoop earrings, and shapely plucked brows.  Let’s call him Reina (queen in Spanish).   We sit down and take a look around.  There are a handful of other bad drag queens……..really obviously men, in men’s clothing, but with the hairstyles and facial grooming of women.  They remind me of a woman who spends a lot of time and money on her grooming, but she’s on the way to the gym – long dyed hair pulled back in a messy bun, perfect plucked eyebrows, and clothing for doing chores or working out.  Some are heavily made up and others have no makeup on.  They appear to be drag queens on a break…….sidelining as waiters at the county fair.

We really want to take some pictures but don’t want to be rude.  We ask Reina for an order of quesadillas, a pozole, and 2 drinks. 

As we eat we watch the queens.  We also watch the little kids in the nearby carnie ride – a shallow algae green above ground pool full of hamster balls.  Each ball is a 6 or 7 foot diameter clear plastic globe with a zipper.  A carnie opens the zipper, inserts a child, blows up the globe with what is essentially a leaf blower, and pushes the globe onto the pond.  The child rolls around frantically for about 60 seconds, like a hamster, then lies there in the bottom of the ball exhausted, bobbing around in the shallow trough of a pond until his time is up.

hamster balls

We finish eating and Reina presents us with the bill:

1 order of 2 quesadillas 8$

1 non-alcoholic piña colada 9$

1 juice 4$

1 pozole 4$

“Service charge” 4$

Total 29$

That is a lot of money in Mexico.  For 2 small plates of food and 2 drinks it’s robbery.  I’ve been in Mexico for 2 months and they never add a “service charge” to market or stall food.  If anything people leave a few pesos tip.

Kathrine asks “8$ for 2 quesadillas, are you serious, the signs say 4$ for 4”?

Reina replies, “Those are other businesses”. 

I ask “9$ for a piña colada, do Mexicans pay that price?”

He says yes and shows no emotion, is stone faced, completely passive, almost in a coma.  He must see that we are upset, but it doesn’t faze him.

So we pay……….we don’t know what else to do.  We get up and are steaming mad.  We walk for a few minutes through the carnival rides, and then stop to rant once it has sunk in that we’ve really been ripped off and didn’t put up a good fight.  We start to act out the things we SHOULD have said to Reina.  Like:

“You’re not pretty”.

Or, I grab my own breast and say “look, this is what a real boob looks like”.

Or, go buy a mask and say “you would look better with this on”.

Or, “take this churro and stick it up your arse”.   

Of course these are all very mature responses.  We speculate on Reina’s reaction – would he respond like the big man he is, or like a woman?  Punch or slap?

Johanna grabs my camera and we walk back to the place – no longer shy about appearing rude by taking pictures.  She walks up to a few feet from Reina’s face, asks him to smile and takes his picture….girl has some balls.  

the perp: Reina

Now that we have a picture of Reina for evidence we’re in a better mood.   We walk around through the stalls selling everything Made In China.  Katrin buys some heart shaped plastic glasses with clear lenses, and a tag that says “100% UV protection”, for 3$.

Katrin and Johanna sporting “100% UV protection” glasses

We go and talk to the ticket sellers at the fair entrance, and say we’ve been overcharged for some food and drinks and want to make a complaint.  They ask a security guard to walk us over to the fair office.  We follow him through the labyrinth of fair stalls and it starts spitting rain.  We get to the little one-room brick building with a folding table and plastic chairs, lined with pictures of the last 20 years of Valladolid beauty queens, and it starts pouring.  We hang out with the fair security guys for about 15 minutes, until they bring us to a fair official who will hear our complaint. 

in the fair office

I tell him that there is a group of men dressed as women, selling food, and they overcharged us.  I show him the picture of Reina, and the list of food and what we were charged.  A half dozen security guards and fair employees are looking on.  They gasp.  Yes, it’s a lot they agree.

We explain that it’s not the money that bothers us so much, it’s the dishonesty………….we don’t want this happening to foreigners when they come here.  The official says this is common; it happens to everyone not just foreigners.  As a group we walk over to the food stall.  Reina appears to be done working for the night, slumped in one of the plastic chairs.  I tell the official it’s him, in the blue shirt.  The official shows him my list, and Reina brings out a plastic laminated menu, which we didn’t have the foresight to ask for previously…………Yes, 8$ for quesadillas and 3$ for pozole.  Juice is 2$.  Piña colladas are not listed but signs around the fair show 4 to 5$.  Reina agrees to give us 4$ back for the piña collada, and 4$ for the “service charge”.  He hands me some pesos with a blank expression.  I put out my hand for more, and he hands me the rest.  We thank the official and pocket our little bit of money – more a moral victory than anything.  Reina isn’t even ruffled.  We felt violated, but now we feel a little bit better.

It’s pouring again as we thread our way back through the muddy lanes of Made in China merchandise stalls to the street.  We hail a cab.  I ask how much, expecting to get fleeced in the rain. He says a dollar fifty.  I ask to be sure I heard right “a dollar fifty?”  He says “yes, cheap” and smiles.  Yes, most Mexicans are honest, but watch out for those carnies in drag.

Note 1*: all prices have been converted from pesos to dollars

Note 2: all of the conversations with Reina and security happened in Spanish.  You know your Spanish is pretty good when you can lodge a complaint with the Carnie Police and get money back……..very proud of myself!!!!

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