The real Don Adams came to Mexico to die. It seemed like a good place for such a significant event. Convenient. He could drive down from Texas. Good weather if anybody wanted to walk in a funeral march. Free flowers all around.
The way Don saw it, doctors and cancer had been trying to kill him for years. They had gotten to the “not long to live” stage. Prostate problem had run amok.
Bad stuff spreading is very bad and doomed is such a damned discouraging word.
Well, it didn’t happen.
Soon after the turn of the century, a Mexican doctor switched one drug in the American chemo cocktail and the patient improved dramatically. Potions and mixtures of a herbalist had an additional positive effect. Amazing.
Don Adams, being pragmatic among 17 other things, decided to continue eating. He got a job teaching English as a second language. It didn’t pay much but it was legal employment. Contrary to rumor, ESL isn’t all fun. Many Mexicans who can afford it don’t bother to get serious.
Don was ready for ’em. He was an experienced survivor.
As a high school dropout and Navy enlistee for the Vietnam engagement, he had dodged bullets in DaNang.
As a truck driver, he had once battled and lost control of a runaway 18-wheeler. As an insurance adjuster, he suffered along with policyholders after a horrible hurricane. He rolled a company car six times and walked away.
Before and after, he worked as a mobile home hulling foreman, oil-field roughneck, horse trainer, auto body shop manager, bar bouncer and “some other things that hurt my head to try to remember.”
He eventually got his GED, dabbled 12 years securing a college degree, ventured into graduate study and survived an exciting but trying time as a public school teacher of behaviorally disordered teens. They called it special education.
He coached seventh grade tennis. He made the teachers’ union nervous. An armed Palestinian mother, on her way to school to shoot him, was arrested just in time.
There was more. He had been married three times.
Moving to Mexico was a sudden decision but not that big a deal. Adams took what he had left in the bank, cleaned out his Texas teacher retirement plan, loaded his truck and headed SoB, his codeword for south of the border. He hopped around Mexico, tried San Luis Potosi, Bucerias, Monterrey, Puerto Vallarta and La Manzanilla before landing at lakeside. That’s the side of Lake Chapala, in the state of Jalisco.
He lived for a time in San Juan Cosala but I met him in Ajijic. My first impression was that he was a little wild and crazy but I could tell he was tough.
And, he had common sense. I admired the man before I had any idea how many hurdles he had cleared.
There were warm stories of him helping create a children’s library in San Antonio Tlayacapan. He was a hit in his portrayal of “God” in a community Christmas tableau. He was gowned in purple satin and wore a make-believe beard of cotton and construction paper. He seemed surprised by his success.
“My prior acting experience consisted primarily of lying to a series of wives-at-the-time to forestall divorce.”
He became a distinguished author, a star attraction at dinner parties, interesting in any conversation. He was a hot columnist right here in the MexConnect e-magazine. He was a featured resource on MexConnect forums. You got questions, he had answers. He’d been around.
Some disagreed with his rants and political positions.
One critic wanted him deported. One poked fun at his commentary, said he really should get back on his medicine. Cheap shot at a dead man walking.
Under an earthy covering, Don Adams has a proverbial heart of gold. Here’s all you need to know: For months, lakeside legend Judy King tried to give him a shaggy, hand-me-down dog. He finally took it and received, as a bonus, 13 thousand flees.
Pirata, the One-Eyed Wonder Dog, became the joy of his life.
Much of Don’s fascinating knowledge of Mexico was gathered the hard way, by bouncing over topes and running the occasional red light, by digging and scratching for workable solutions to real challenges.
Eventually, he put it all in a book. I recall the celebration when he finally finished that project. Really big deal. He types with just one finger.
“Respect for Mexico, its customs and its laws and a solid reality check for would-be expatriates are the polestar themes… Adams covers it all, giving cookbook directions, references, and abundant doses of good humor mixed in with lively anecdotes… from lawyers, guns and money to hired help and fruit drinks and even death, there isn’t an aspect of living in Mexico which isn’t covered in chapters starting with the immigration process and leading the reader through housing, moving, driving, insurance, utilities, eating, communications, pets, medical care, teaching English, learning Spanish, and even sex….”
I bought a copy. The book is absolutely full of stuff, a whole haystack of information pitched in between the covers. I found it a bit disjointed, like conversations with Don sometimes are. He knows so much about so many things, it is hard to keep him on one track. Skilled writer Teresa Kendrick had recognized that Don needed an editor. She made an honest effort. She also became wife Number 4. Good woman. Courageous.
I recall when Don Adams stopped fiddling with the forums, stopped writing columns and departed lakeside.
He made a point of saying he was leaving by choice, that nobody, nobody, was running him out of town.
He took up oceanfront residence in Cuyutlan. He described it as a little Rodney Dangerfield sort of village that doesn’t get much respect. Black volcanic sand is one cause. When asked why anybody should bother visiting such a small, sleepy place, Don said the answer is in the question: Because it’s a small, sleepy place. We visited.
Locals liked Don. He was a participant, a contributor, a giver instead of a taker. He adopted injured and stray animals and paid for repairs. He got very interested in the sea turtle hatchery. He improved his rental home. The owner rewarded him by selling it.
Don and Pirata, the One-Eyed Wonder Dog, went back to Texas, to Lake Bridgeport. Don needed more medical treatment. Fighting cancer must be maddening, up and down, highs and lows, encouraged for a day, depressed for a week.
“God has an especially wicked sense of humor on occasion,” said Don. “Luckily, I seem to be one of His favorites at present.”
Man and dog left the lake after the man had some sort of disorienting episode and required hospitalization. After that, he went to his sister’s home and farm for foster children with medical needs. He fed the animals and entertained the kids.
Bad news: Doctors found more cancer that required another round of doctoring.
Good news: Don W. Adams and Teresa A. Kendrick collaborated on a prize-winning screen play, “Sanchez the Gringo,” set in Texas after the Civil War. It won a Gold Remi at the 40th annual Houston Filmfest.
“A stranger rides into a Texas border town of the 1800s. With gold stolen from the Mexican army, he becomes a lightning rod for the armies of two countries, the Texas Rangers, a venal priest, opportunists, rustlers, stampeding cattle and Mandalay Cruz, a Mexican widow trying to rebuild her ranch.
“Mandalay tells him of her murderous sins and Sanchez reveals the secret of his mystical life of more than 300 years. They become lovers and business partners and, unexpectedly, parents to the orphan girl Chabela….”
Developing news: Don’s daughter Abby and her husband Brian are building a new home and a father-in-law wing for dad and dog. Don is shopping for a kayak with two seats. He and Pirata are going to paddle around a nearby lake and soak up some vitamin D. He has other big plans involving grandchildren.
Unusual business news: Don is negotiating with documentary producers to film “Dying With My Daughter,” the process starting now and including his last breath.
“This may sound macabre to many, but Abby, as a hospice nurse, wants to provide an educational aspect, and I, as a patient, want to show that you can, in some cases, carry on for years after a ‘terminal’ diagnosis.”
Mexico’s Day of the Dead is undoubtedly a factor in this decision. Mexicans supposedly look on the brighter side, poke a little fun at death and accept it as a natural part of life.
Don Adams absorbed much from Mexico. His offers free guidelines: “Observe with an open mind, join in local activities, ask questions, practice smiling.”