Montezuma’s revenge

Montezuma’s revenge

You don’t get sick all at once in Mexico. It happens in stages, which means even though you went knowing how common it was to get sick — traveler’s digestive disorders, as one website delicately puts it — you can remain in denial that it could happen to you. First there’s the vaguest sense of unease, and the sudden lack of interest in the sandwich you just ordered. And then the slight queasiness. But that can be attributed to the crowds and the sun. It’s carnival in Mérida and the streets are bottlenecked with parade floats and dancers and blasting music. There are swarms of people and vendors and the police who are less like police and more like a SWAT team with armored trucks and automatic weapons. Clowns, balloons, assault rifles. Old ladies in embroidered smocks, children in strollers, teenagers with complicated haircuts and pointy-toed shoes.

You don’t think you’ll go down. You’ve been fine up till that point — jogging, getting enough rest, wearing sunscreen, eating healthy foods. If you do get sick it’s because of the green juice, which you bought to feel even healthier. So to be punished for that is unthinkable, especially when everywhere you look there are buckets of beer and meat bring shaved from a rotisserie. Margarita after margarita melty with crushed ice. People making terrible choices in what they imbibe, not to mention the angry sunburns of the tourists. But if you even think of the rotisseries with their cones of sizzling, slow-spinning pork, you feel dizzy with a deep-gut knowledge that something isn’t right.

Still, even if you do get sick it’s a matter of a trip the the bathroom and you packed Pepto in your first aid kit. You look for shade, sip from your already too-warm bottle or water, daydream of iced drinks. You get through the day, walking maybe 20 blocks to a restaurant you read about in the guidebook. It’s set in a crumbling mansion with a courtyard strung in fairy lights. It should be enchanting and maybe it will be later in memory. Maybe in the few photos taken of you, though already you’re grimacing, your forehead beaded and your hoodie zipped against a phantom chill. You order Enchiladas and a beer. The beer is cold but makes you break into a clammy sweat. Food smells are dismal: spoiled, overcooked, graying on plates. You shrink from your enchiladas when they arrive and walk to the bathroom instead.

At least you can still walk slowly. There’s no rush. A kind of creeping dread. Maybe one trip will be enough. Maybe you can return to your dinner.

But of course you can’t. The sickness progresses faster on the walk home. You stop at a store for saltines and Gatorade, you barely make it to the toilet at the bed and breakfast. There’s a complicated situation with the door lock, a dark garden to navigate, the small room that was so quaint and cheerful but is now only way too far from home. You lay, sweat-drenched and shaking, on one side and then the other. You try to find a sweet spot where you can drift off to sleep and dream of something other than seasick waves and slow-turning meat.

You do not die, but you almost wish you would. Only almost. In retrospect it’s terrible, but still. It’s not cancer or torture or incarceration or the myriad violences other people survive. It’s just bacteria and your body’s overly-dramatic reaction to that bacteria. You leave Mérida, hunched and pale, hair plastered to head, curled into a cab. You curl into a hard plastic chair at the bus station and then into a cushiony seat on the first class bus, blasting AC and the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. You sleep in fits, waking to a sharp slash of headache. As much as you feel like you could throw up again, you don’t.

The sick comes on slowly and recedes with even less speed. Days pass before you dare to eat a meal and weeks pass before you can attempt anything with spice or character. Months before you can think of Mexico. Years before you can consider another trip. Before you can convince yourself that you’re smarter, better prepared, perhaps you’ve built up immunity, at least you’ll avoid the green smoothie.

Just beer and fried tortillas, a frat boy diet. It’s only for a week. Save your risk-taking for morning jogs through pretty towns with their cenotes and churches, their broken sidewalks and shy stray dogs.

Greyhounds at The Grey Eagle

Originally published at Mountain Xpress.

20141202_211129_LLS_resized-1100x618“As long as you come out to hear us, we’ll keep coming back,” promised guitarist Andrew Trube of Austin-based band Greyhounds. “There are more people than last time we were here.” The crowd numbered optimistically at 30 — a small group inside The Grey Eagle. But Greyhounds, a class act, performed as if it was a sold-out show. Visuals, a lava-lamp backdrop, multiple smoke machines and a dancing spaceman added atmosphere (as did the musicians’ sharp-cut suits following a change from coveralls). But, as much fun as all if that is, Greyhounds provides plenty of ambiance even without props.20141202_211617_LLS_resized-e1417627331959-1100x754

Trube’s bandmate is keyboardist Anthony Farrell. Together, their sound is a bluesy, groove-heavy take on blue-eyed soul. But each musician, a songwriter in his own right, lends a slightly different flavor to that theme. Trube’s songs — from the tartly funky “Amazing” with its creeping background vocals and clunky beat, to the sharp-edged “St. Louis” with its biting guitar parts — are tightly wrought, driving and command feet to tap if not dance outright. Meanwhile, Farrell’s offerings — from the smoothly emotive “You’re Gone” with its vintage organ tone and percussive shimmer, to the spooky, pervasively moody “Lone Rider,” which spans the velvet-to-fiery range of Farrell’s vocal — are laid back and effortlessly cool.

The video for “Lone Rider,” launched in June does a tidy job of contextualizing the song within the band’s dusky, retro-tinged aesthetic, without diminishing any of the considerable mystique. “What’s on Your Mind,” a sweaty, pulse-thick and falsetto-sliced slow-dance, was also set to video earlier this year. “We know a dude who has a video camera,” Trube said from the stage. “He likes to make weird shit, so we’re like, ‘let’s do this.'”

Hopefully the videos get Greyhounds’ tracks to more ears. The band — together since the end of the ’90s — has already attracted plenty of musician fans. Trube and Farrell’s songs have been covered by the likes of Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks; Ruthie Foster sang Greyhounds’ song “Cuz I’m Here” on her album, The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster. The band performed that song at The Grey Eagle, the line “There are times when I can’t stand the thought of talking,” stretched out to give Farrell’s vocal space to unfold. The song pushes the far perimeter of the lanky, loose, emotionally wrung-out soul that Farrell taps into.

20141202_214843_LLS_resized-1100x618It also served as a perfect foil for the band’s material at the other end of the psychic spectrum: The Trube-led, harmonica-driven “Hot Sauce,” for example, or “Soul Navigator,” which could be Greyhounds’ authentic response to “Soul Man.”That song’s got it all — the swagger, the social awareness, the positive outlook and the stomping beat (played by touring member Anthony Cole, a formidable drummer with jazz panache and impeccable taste). Onstage, the spaceman presented Trube with a melodica to play the melody. At the end of the song, Farrell produced his own melodica, ending the song with a harmonized duet set to a bare-bones drumbeat. “We’re thinking of adding a third one for the drummer,” Trube announced. “A melodica three-way.”