Ever since we arrived in Ajijic we keep meeting new people in everyday settings from all over the world. On the golf course, in particular, we have met many golfers in a regular pickup game. We don’t make bookings here although one can. As a double we are always able to get off the first tee within minutes of arrival and always have a caddy which is a novel experience on its own. It is a sight to have eight people standing on the green at once and every caddy giving very precise line and speed putting instructions. They take their putting expertise very seriously!
One pair of regulars we have played with several times is Keith and Martin. Keith is a 76 year old distinguished looking gray-haired Col Saunders with a white goatee. A very happy, overly friendly chap with a banter that puts me to sleep between strokes. Turns out old Keith was a former test pilot and an aeronautical engineer who was on the original design team for the F18 fighter jet , Canada’s premier war machine (and the jet we heard land and take off thousands of time living along the airstrip in Baden Solingen) Keith spent his sunset years teaching aeronuatics at Annapolis, America’s premier naval officer training university.
His buddy Martin seems to be always asleep. And it is no wonder having to listen to Keith for four hours, fours days a week. Martin always wears a seedy, western straw hat and has the facial skin of saddle leather from a lifetime of being in the open sun. He always seems slightly dazed and plays like he was all alone on the course.
Turns out Martin was a shepherd . . . of sorts! He had just got out of the business by selling his 97,000 acres of prime grazing land in Wyoming His acreage ran from 3000 feet to 12,000 feet and along its southern edge was over 30 miles long. I just can’t get my head around those numbers! Thirty miles!
It wasn’t all that rosy as the size of the estate would suggest, however. A few years ago the price of wool dropped and when he had his sheep sheared he offered the shearers all the wool in exchange for the shearing instead of paying them and they turned him down. The wool sat in storage for a year and a half till he was able to liquidate the wool at a break even price.
It also took him three years to sell the ranch. In the meantime he and his wife set up a B and B at their ranch and ran a winter snowmobiling operation. They had to bring in all the produce, supplies and clients from the main road six miles away by snowmobile! SIX MILES. When Martin described this phase of his career he lit up like a roman candle exploding with all the little money making schemes he cooked up. Apparently they were booked almost solidly from Nov 1 till the beginning of April. Thirty four clients every night! And they were the only two running the ranch, providing 2 meals a day and providing all the fresh linens.
Martin twinkled when he explained that HE sold all the gas for the snowmobiles. . . .. AND he ran a bar, open all day! Nudge, nudge, wink, wink!
He confided that he finally sold the B and B for a million and the sale price of the 98,000 acres was undisclosed. But it was sufficient to buy a luxury three bedroom condo for his kids to visit in Manzanillo on the coast and an estate here in Ajijic still large enough to graze his former sheep herd for a least a day or two.
When Ann asked Diana, his watercolor artist wife how she felt about the movie Brokeback Mountain, she exploded with delight. She felt the movie had been made on their ranch it was so much like her former homestead. She swore they used their truck and that it had the same license number. It must have been the moving experience of a lifetime in ranch country Wyoming after years of hard labor and many ups and downs to see their homeland come to life so lushly on the giant screen. They raised three children in God’s country and sending them all to university. I know this to be true. Martin and Diana know what hard work is. When they offered the ranch and/or the B and B to each of their children. They all declined. As Diana said “They watched how we worked and they did not want to do all that when they had university degrees”
Donald, another golfer also packed up and left the far wide open west. He sold his building materials and hardware store in a small town in North Dakota ten years ago and moved to Scottsdale Arizona and retired. They lived there for eight years and as he described it, he and his wife woke up one morning and talked about their life and that they only had a limited number of years left to enjoy. They talked about their life in Scottsdale. Everything was so clean and so safe and everyone was the same age and had the same republican beliefs and the same Christian outlook. Life was too perfect. But they decided they needed more and packed up and moved to Ajijic, just off the main street where they hear the traffic all day and night and how a young neighbor plays his radio at a unbearable blast, but that they have never felt happier and more alive than living here in Mexico.
Narciso, is an old man. Narciso was my caddy yesterday and lugged my monster bag around the course without any sign of weariness. He offered up clubs and advice with a cheerful manner. His putting advice was unerring. On two occasions early in the game I chose to go with my read on a put to my regret. On the 8th hole, a high tee overlooking a par three green 150 years away, as is common on this hole, I offered Narciso the opportunity to take a shot. He willingly accepted and I offered him Ann’s club since I am lefthanded. He said ” No, I will try it lefthanded” “Do you play lefthanded narciso” I asked. He laughed and said “never before” and promptly dropped it on the middle of the green.
This prompted some talk about his golf. Narciso plays with a handicap of ZERO! He caddies because it allows him to play golf at the course free. Last year he came second in the three day Caddies tournament in Los Angeles and is departing shortly to compete again this year.
As a seventeen year old boy he left Mexico to make a life for himself in the USA. He worked as a janitor for ten years and then became a caddy at the Beverly Hills Golf Club and spent the rest of his working life as a caddy. He loved caddying for Joe Pesci and nobody would caddy for Sylvester Stalone, for that matter nobody would play with him! He married, became an American citizen, had 4 kids and now waits eagerly to turn 62 when he becomes eligible for a California pension of 700$ per month. He is 57 now and looks 70. All those years in the blistering sun have aged Narciso and for that matter most Mexican men who work out of doors, way beyond their years.
Narciso has worked hard all his life as a caddy. What does he have to show for it? Well, he loves golf, he loves his work. He is happily married and while most of his children are married and living in America he has a young ten year old daughter living here in Ajijic. Is this enough to show for a life’s work ? Yes, of course it is, but his hard work has also resulted in his ownership of five gorgeous three bedroom homes here, in a town that is experiencing a housing boom. Two of the homes are for sale, one is for rent and we may rent it next year and he lives in the fifth.
This morning I went out for a very early round of 18 holes as Ann was committed to her aqua aerobics class. I joined up with Rick an athletic looking handsome man who turned out to be gentle as a lamb. I couldn’t guess his age but he lives in Ajijic after living in Los Angeles most of his life. He plays 18 holes every morning at 7 AM.
We chatted amicable enjoying each others company and sharing personal stories and interests. After I told him I had been an educator he explained the he took over where I left off. Rick was president and CEO of Marvel Media formerly Marvel comics which under his stewardship had become a moviemaking behemoth and a Dow Jones superstar outperformer. He listed many of the films he produced most notably the Spiderman Movies starring Toby Maquire. Here was this softspoken gentle man who could just as easily have been my caddy as the CEO of a media giant playing golf without any pretension , without any entourage.
Here was a guy that was in the same league financially as Donald Trump yet led a quiet lifstyle in a small town in Ajijic. When he is in LA he rides his bike 15 miles every day before going to work. Rick expressed concerns about environmental issues in Ajijic and in America, about the growing gap between the rich and the poor in America, about the foolhardiness of Bush’s No Child Left Behind charade. I can only imagine what this man of action is able to do with his untold wealth and enormous skills and passion. It reminds me of the gap between old time entrepreneurs still lingering like Donald Trump, Conrad Black, and the men behind Enron and the new age entrepreneurs like Buffett and Gates and so many silicon valley billionaires with their remarkable contributions towards the injustices around the world.
When you step up to the tee on the first hole in Ajijic you never know who you will end up playing with…nor who will be your caddy!