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Where's everybody?

Shep Lenchek

It was just about five years ago that my friends started to disappear from the streets of the little Mexican villages on the shores of Lake Chapala where I had retired some three years earlier. At first I thought they were sick or had moved back to the "old country” but then I met a few of them. They were sitting around in a coffee shop where we used to meet and discuss things like that new lady in town or how drunk Bob-------- got at that last party. But when I started to talk to them, I realized they’d been captured by something called the Internet. Listening to them talk, I could barely understand what they were saying. They were talking about servers named Lycos and Wahoo.

Gee,” I said, those are funny names for Mexican waiters. What restaurant do they work in?”

They looked at me with scorn, but when they started to explain things to me, I just threw up my hands and left. They might just as well have been talking Greek or Spanish.

But finally, late last November, I bought myself a computer as an early Christmas present

I guess it was my kids who convinced me.

“Dad, get with it. Buy a computer. You’re embarrassing your grand children." Their friends get e-mail all the time. "You’re not too old to learn how to use it." (True, I’m only 78)

All kinds of funny things started to happen. Suddenly, some of my friends were upgraded to gurus. We’re accustomed to border promotions down here, where corporals become colonels and bosun’s mates, admirals, but having Jews, Protestants and Catholics convert to Hindu holy men, was really mind-boggling. Anyhow for the whole month, they had been downloading all kinds of information and new words into my memory-banks. It was fun. I hadn’t cut and pasted since kindergarten

Then, 'twas the night before Xmas and when I fell asleep, instead of “Sugar-Plum Fairies,” it was bytes and backups, fonts and folders, icons and imaging, that danced through my brain (I’m treating these words like they were in a foreign language, because to me they are.) I guess what happened was that my brain pulled some of this new information out of my re-cycle bin as I drifted off into cyberspace. (I guess those gurus did a good job. Notice how fluent I’m becoming in Computerese?)

I dreamed that I was walking around in a big city, somewhere in the U.S.A. Although it was the middle of the day, there was no one else on the street. Many of the big buildings had “Office Space for Rent” signs over their doorways. Others seem closed. Hungry, I started looking for a restaurant. I finally spotted one, but it was boarded up.

“Where do all the people who work around here eat?” I muttered to myself.

Just then, I saw a woman come out of one of the buildings. Starting toward her, I waved and shouted -

“Miss, miss, do you know where I can get something to eat?”

Before I could complete my question, she turned on her heel and darted back into the building. Puzzled, I stood in the middle of the deserted street and scratched my head. Back home, everybody was always willing to help a stranger. Before I could make up my mind what to do next, I heard a siren, the screech of tires and a pick-up truck with a flashing light-bar mounted on the cab roof, came tearing around the corner. Four policemen stood up in the truck bed.

Startled, I stood rooted to the spot. They were dressed just like the police in Chapala, my hometown. What were they doing here?

The truck skidded to a stop in front of me, and the policemen, all carrying machine pistols, leaped out and formed a semi-circle in front of me. Two of them aimed their guns at me. The door of the truck’s cab opened, and a sergeant stepped out.

“Gringo, did you shout at a Señorita just a few minutes ago?” He demanded.

“Si, I mean yes, “ I stammered, “but I was just….”

The sergeant held up his hand.

“Stop!” Do you not know it is against the law to speak to another person unless you know their e-mail address and give them your password? The woman complained you were trying to interface with her.”

I remained silent.

I wasn’t sure I knew what interfacing was, but it sounded bad.

I didn’t want to get into the same kind of trouble Bill Clinton did when he claimed he misunderstood what sexual intercourse means.

Finally, I whispered, I never touched her.”

The sergeant looked at me as if I was crazy, then continued. ”What are you doing out here on the street at this hour. You are supposed to be home working. Even if you do not have a job, you should be using the Internet, trying to find one. An important message might come into your e-mail and you will not be there to send an answer.”

But sergeant, I do not have a computer,” I lied, but not under oath.

The policeman took a quick step backward.

"No computer?” he growled. "You must be an illegal, a wet-back without a Tarjeta Verde.”

He stepped closer to me, looked around and whispered, "Señor, if you need a Green Card or a computer, I have a friend . . . . ”

"Muchas Gracias, sergeant,” I interrupted. "I do not need a green card or a computer. I am just visiting from Chapala, in the State of Jalisco, which is in . . ”

Before I finished my explanation, the sergeant stepped forward and embraced me. The policemen lowered their weapons. Señor, we are from Chapala also.” he said.

Relieved and emboldened, I stammered, "b-b-b, but what are you doing here?”

"For many years we Mexicans came here to work in the fields, but now the Americanos wish only to work with computers. The do not even have to leave their homes to go to work. Now we get jobs as policemen. It is dirtier work than we did in the fields.” he replied.

As the sergeant was speaking, the four policemen climbed back into the truck, picked up guitars, a violin and a trumpet and began to play "Guadalajara.”

It brought tears to my eyes.

I looked up at the windows of the nearest building, hoping the music might attract someone who would tell where I could find a restaurant that was open. I remembered what happened the last time I asked a Mexican policeman for directions. I had been lost for hours. I was too hungry to take that kind of chance again. But nobody appeared.

"Where is everybody?” I asked.

"There are only a few people here, amigo. The companies have given up most of their office space. Almost everybody works at home. Besides, those here will not talk with you. They do not know your password and you may have a virus.”

Now the music stopped and the sergeant took off his cap and held it out toward me, upside down.

"Perhaps a little something for the boys?” he asked

I started to reach into my pocket for a few pesos, but found I didn’t have my pants on.

Startled, I woke up. Thank goodness it was only a dream.

Still half asleep, I began to wonder whether, someday, my dream would come true. If most people worked at only at home, they would never really know each other. What would happen to office parties and romances? What about office gossip? Where could people bitch about the boss? Not via the Internet. He might be on line and could pick up their names. Could it really reach the point where it was illegal to speak to a stranger in person ? Would it become a world of social introverts who "talked” to each other only via e-mail and knew each other only by coded addresses?

I sighed, turned over and went back to sleep, thankful it was only a dream. It couldn’t really happen, could it ?

When morning came, still upset by that dream, I went downtown and said hello to the first ten strangers I met. They all answered me.

Most of them smiled and not a single one called the police.

Although the Internet had come to Lake Chapala, I was still safe.

I wondered for how long.

Published or Updated on: January 1, 2006 by Shep Lenchek © 2008
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