We were at a sidewalk cafe in Guanajuato sipping on our lattes and watching people go by. Next to us was a group of 10 local men who’d pushed their tables together and were laughing and joking while drinking their morning coffee. They were all well-dressed, middle-class men in their 50s and 60s.
A filthy man with a torn shirt and hair so matted it looked like a dirty sponge, plopped down at the one open table and started playing his guitar and singing. He sounded like a wounded animal; all the street dogs howled and ran away at the sound of his voice. In Mexico, musicians often play songs at restaurants and then walk around asking for donations. I usually give a few pesos to these guys because they add atmosphere. This guy was such a bad singer that I almost paid him to stop.
After playing just one tortured song, he walked around to the other tables asking for tips and came to us last. I shrugged my shoulders and said no.
The dirty musician spun around, angrily thew some cookies on the ground and started yelling with flailing arms at all the men in the cafe. No one gave him any money, and he was not happy.
The man at the head of the table jumped up and immediately started yelling back at the musician. All the other men just kept sipping their coffee and continued chatting as if nothing was happening. Kristi and I stared in amazement.
The old man and the musician were in a heated disagreement, but it was evident that they had common ground in the liberal use of the words cabron, pendejo, and chinga tu madre. On a couple of occasions, the musician stepped towards the old man with a cocked fist, and the old man lifted his chair in a threatening position. They both held their ground, poised to attack. It was quite literally, a Mexican standoff.
I kept waiting for the young musician to get cracked on the head by a wooden chair from a rough-and-tumble, wild west Mexican cafe that specializes in espresso and herbal tea. It reminded me of that old John Wayne western when he walked through the swinging doors, plopped down at the bar and ordered a double-soy caramel macchiato before inviting the villain next to him for a duel in the street.
After the heated exchange, the musician gathered up his stuff and began to walk away. Another old man who was taller and heavier than the musician approached from out of nowhere, and in a very relaxed manner, reached over and slapped him across the face while saying, “Chinga tu madre!”
The young musician, reeling from the emotional and physical sting of being bitch-slapped, responded with “Chinga su madre a usted!” This killed me. He used the formal usted form to tell someone to fuck his mother.
In one last attempt to save face, the musician stepped towards the group and shouted, “NO TENGO MIEDO!” – I am not scared! He then scurried away like a frightened rodent.
The old man took his seat and recounted the story to the guys who had just watched the encounter, offering an analysis of the near fight the way a broadcaster breaks down a sporting match. Kristi caught his eye and gave him a thumbs up. He hid his face behind his hands in an exaggerated gesture of shame and then came over to join us.
“I am sorry,” he said. He wasn’t proud of the fact that he got into it with the musician and was embarrassed we had to witness the fight, sort of like a parent that feels guilty after arguing in front of the kids.
“No problem!” we said. We were happy to have some entertainment with our morning coffee, and at last, after 5 weeks in the lawless land of Mexico, we finally got to see some of the famous violence.
Have you ever been in a
bar fight cafe brawl in Mexico?