Our neighbors to the right suffered the loss of their patriach over the holidays, leaving his elderly wife and son living in the house. Noticing the always beautiful garden lying fallow made me sad, so I was delighted to see a gardening service truck pull up to their curb. In the vernacular of Two Men and a Truck or Three Men and a Baby, these guys had the name “Three Men and a Blower” pasted on the side of their vehicle. I have been around a few years and never have I seen a crew of landscapers this long in the tooth. It took them fifteen minutes to shuffle along from the curb to the front door. I had to give them an “A” for azalea, however, for still being employed at their age, and moreover at a labor intense job such as gardening. The shortest of the trio, also appearing to be the oldest, wore a sweat stained straw hat. The man was locked in a permanent stoop forcing his head down toward his shoes. Where his arms were exposed beneath his short sleeved shirt the skin seemed almost shiny in appearance like well tanned leather. Either the years of constant sun exposure, or perhaps life in general, had forged deep furrows along his cheeks leaving him with the appearance of a dried apple head doll a tourist might purchase in a Mazatlan tienda (store).
As I passed the window the next several hours busying myself with clearing the dishwasher and folding laundry, the three men continued to toil in the garden at a pace giving even the snails most likely hiding in the ivy beneath their feet an opportunity for escape before being crushed by their heavy work boots. If paid by the hour this was shaping up to be a real pruning, if you know what I mean.
Around mid afternoon I was expected downtown for a doctor’s appointment. Quickly showering, I hopped in my car and backed out of the garage. In the rear view mirror the three men were still visible. To explain the configuration of our yard, the road is up a flight of stairs from the level of our house. Besides ourselves, three other houses share a common driveway, the only egress to the road. The house where the men were working is the last one in our group before reaching road level. In the middle of the driveway blocking my exit stood the bent gentlemen precariously balancing an armful of yard clippings. Never in my life have I seen a human being move more slowly. His movements so imperceptible I wasn’t sure if he hadn’t frozen in the spot where he stood never to move again. Not wanting to startle him, I leaned out the window and yelled “excuse me”. Nothing. Hmmmm. One of the other two workers fired up a blower making repeating myself seem an unlikely resolution to the problem. Getting out, I approached him from the back and gently tapped him on the shoulder. Like someone had released his arms from being constricted by a rubber band his hands flew up in the air releasing the lawn cuttings once again on the driveway and in the cup of his hat. Not looking up, well, because he could not, and though I couldn’t see his expression, I had a feeling this didn’t sit well with him. He muttered something in Spanish. Fortunately, my four years in Spanish class hadn’t, I am sure, taught me this particular phrase. Waving his hat to shake out the grass, he began to walk toward one side so I could pass. Ten minutes later he reached it. I waved an apology as I passed. I can’t say for sure but I believe he offered me the international signal of good will as I drove by.
Thinking of the three gentlemen as I drove, my mind wandered to Mexico. How long it has been since I’ve crossed the border for a visit. As a teen going to Tijuana, T.J., as we called it, was an activity saved for warm summer days, and convertibles. At the border clad in shorts and huaraches we flowed along with the river of tourists heading through the gates at the border and into the dusty downtown area. Touristy shops were everywhere, sustaining the lifestyle of those making their homes in the surrounding area. Before long shopping bags were filled with colorful velvet bulls, leather wallets, and huge paper flowers to take home as souvenirs. Being young and incredibly stupid, we ate juicy slices of fresh watermelon from the stands on the streets never giving a second thought to the flies landing and taking off the pieces of fruit as like planes on an aircraft carrier might be adding to our systems. Walking along the seemier side streets, smoke wafted out from beneath swinging doors and behind those doors music and laughter from bar patrons whiling away their troubles over a cool cerveza on a hot afternoon. Rumors of what went on beyond those doors remained rumors to us because no one dared venture behind the doors to confirm or deny them.
Once shopping was done and if a piece of the day was still ours, we would sometimes turn south to drive down the coast to catch a swim at one of the beautiful beaches. It was an interesting area to visit. Such sharp angular contrasts between the beauty of the shoreline and the evidence of extreme poverty everywhere you rested your eyes. Rosarita Beach was one of my favorite rest stops, popular with American ex-patriots and tourists alike. Street merchants dogged your steps while you walked through the shopping areas. Beautiful linen tablecloths, mirrors of pounded tin, watches, and warm blankets were offered for a bit of bargaining, flung over arms or showcased on the backs of the chairs as you sat and enjoyed a bottled water or lemonade.
For me the colors were vibrant there, and the people despite their challenges, easy to smile, sing and dance. I’ve taken two cruises to Mexico and would like to go again some day. Another notch on my bucket list.
This chili was great. I did it in the crockpot because it doesn’t heat up the house and it’s hands free easy. Enjoy. I’m taking a break for a week or two, Happy Cinco de Mayo!
Spicy Crockpot White Bean Chicken Chili
3 large boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 1/2 cups onion, chopped
1 1/2 green pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 7 oz. can pickled jalapeno slices, drained
1 4 oz. can chopped green chiles
3 16 oz. jars salsa verde
1 cup chicken broth
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 15 1/2 oz. can white beans, rinsed and drained
1 15 1/2 oz. can canneloni beans, rinsed and drained
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, minced
2 cups white rice (optional)
Monterey Jack cheese
Tortillas chips, crushed
Spray 6 quart crockpot with cooking spray. Place vegetables on bottom of pot. Top with chicken breasts. Sprinkle jalapenos and chiles over top. Mix together salsa verde, broth, cumin, chili powder, salt and black pepper. Pour over top. Cook on low for 8 hrs. Remove chicken from pot and shred with a fork. Return to pot.
Add beans, sour cream and cilantro to crockpot. Cover and cook on high for 1 hr. until all ingredients are heated. Serve as is with garnish or over cooked white rice.