Rene’s Reopens In New Location

It’s baaaack! There was much celebration this Semana Santa (Easter Week for you Gringos) as the door was finally opened at the new Rene’s Sports Pub with a grand opening three-day celebration this weekend.

For all you newbies, Rene’s Restaurant and Bar was a Rosarito institution, opened in 1924, and the first operational business in the Rosarito area (yes, even before the Rosarito Beach Hotel). The original Rene’s closed its doors several years ago and was later reborn as a casino.

Rene’s was my first Baja bar. After purchasing a house there (right behind the bar) I returned nearly a year later and the bartender remembered me and my drink of choice. I lived in the campo at Rene’s for many years (no drinking and driving for this lady!) That was one brilliant bartender!

Rene “Chato” Ortiz is now continuing the legacy with Rene’s Sports Pub now on Rosarito’s main boulevard, across the street from the Rosarito Beach Hotel, between Banorte and the ice cream parlor. I asked Rene why he decided to open at this location and he replied that he wanted to be in “the historical zone of Rosarito.” Smaller and more intimate than the original, there is comfortable indoor seating for 25 – 30, but all seats have an excellent view of the many televisions, all tuned to a variety of sports (Judge Judy available upon request). Hence the “three-day” grand opening… there simply was not enough room to allow everyone who wanted to participate in this important event to be accommodated in just one day. Outdoor seating will also be available for diners/drinkers.

Speaking of dining, Rene’s opens at 8:00 am (until 9 pm) with a variety of Mexican favorites including soups, birria, beef, and fish tacos, chiles rellenos, and chicken and pork tamales. The bar opens at noon for your imbibing pleasure.

Joining Chato at the bar is Rene Jr and cousin, Oscar Ortiz. And some old familiar faces will be joining in the fun, but you have to stop in and see who they might be. Specialty drinks and Happy Hour times are being determined now (hey, did I mention this is a brand new bar?)

Drop in. Reunite with old friends. I’ve visited several times already (researching this article of course), and always run into an old timer like myself.

Rene explained he is “coming back to the brand” of Rene’s by opening here, close to the original location. But look for a second locale in the future. Rene is contemplating another (bigger) bar with a craft brewery theme, partnering with local craft breweries.

Parking isn’t great, so grab what you can. But don’t grab the blue handicap space unless you have an official placard, and stay out of the designated spaces of nearby businesses. Cops are cracking down on unlawful parking.

Tuesdays With Morrie

How much time do you spend dealing with money? You have to earn it, report it, pay taxes on it, spend or save it, make plans for it, donate it, teach your kids about it, have enough of it to retire, and ultimately spend a huge part of your life dealing with it. Is it worth it?

That is the core question that Morrie Schwartz, a retired sociology professor, discusses with his former student and current friend, Mitch Albom. After graduation, he began working as a sports reporter  for a newspaper and became very successful. Unfortunately, he became so obsessed with his professional career that he nearly destroyed his marriage. His wife felt neglected because of his obsession with his work.

Morrie, according to Mitch Albom’s famous book and the play of the same name, is interviewed by Ted Koppel for the TV show Nightline. Mitch happens to catch it. Plus he is at a turning point. His co-workers at the Detroit Free Press are on strike and consequently he is out of a job. That gives him time to reflect about what Morrie explained to Koppel, namely that most people spend too much time on things that don’t make them happy. He learned that focusing on who you love and nurturing that love is much more important than  the pursuit of money. As they say, “money cannot buy happiness.”

Mitch calls Morrie and arranges to meet with him every Tuesday, which he does for the next 14 weeks. Morrie, who has quickly advancing ALS, lasts that long but finally succumbs to the debilitating disease. Through it all Morrie remains upbeat and insists that ALS gives him time to reflect on his impending death. He has time to contact all those he loves. He can even fairly well predict the progression of his disease and the time he has left to reach out and communicate with all those people in his life who have meant so much to him.

For the Rosarito Theatre Guild’s production of Tuesdays With Morrie, we welcome two veteran actors, Jim Johnson and Colton Dennis, who play Morrie and Mitch respectively.  Jim is currently the Director of the Gallo Center Repertory Company.. The Center for the Performing Arts has, a 1,200 seat theatre which has attracted national shows, including “Cats”, “Evita” and “Shrek: The Musical”.

Colton Dennis is a very experienced actor, who, as a young man in his 30’s, is perfect for his role as Mitch. He is  an actor, director and co-artistic director of Patterson Repertory Theatre. He has performed with numerous other companies in the Central Valley.

Jim and Colton have performed several times together,  and their collaboration has resulted in a really stimulating one-act performance.

Performances are May 9th and 10th at 7 pm,  with matinees  at 2 pm on May 11th and 12th. For information call 664-631-3320 or visit www.rosaritotheatre.org. Tickets can be purchased through PayPal.

Gringo Gazette Writer Branches Out

Frequent contributor to the Gringo Gazette, Ren Drake Hill, has recently branhed out into the YouTube talk show scene. As the newest member of InfoNort, the online Rosarito-based news reporting organization, she along with local photographer Diego Knight host the weekly talk show “Baja Talk Time.” The 10 – 15 minute weekly broadcast features interviews with local people “in the know,” previews cultural, sporting and civic events, and provides important information specifically important to foreign nationals (Americans) in Baja California.

Baja Talk Time is produced by Denisse Carrion de Garrido and Crispin Garrido Mancilla of InfoNort, whom many will know from their frequent live news broadcasts between Tijuana and Ensenada.

New episodes of Baja Talk Time will air every Friday afternoon on YouTube as well as on the Facebook pages Baja Talk Time, Baja Living, InfoNort Rosarito, Baja Sports, and GringoGazette North.

Rosarito Pottery Studio Celebrates Local Kids

The local pottery studio “DeColores Mexico” which offers experiences, classes and workshops for creating beautiful, usable art, is providing one lucky kid each month (April, May, and June) a free birthday party for up to 10 people.

In order to achieve this, Gloria Robinson, co-owner of DeColores is asking the community to nominate a family who would not be able to afford a birthday party.

Please send your nominations in a letter with a recommendation of why they deserve this special birthday party! You can email your submissions to [email protected]

DeColores is celebrating its first year this coming June and the birthday party giveaway is one of the ways they are celebrating.

Children and adults can all have fun while enjoying the variety of activities they have to offer, like bilingual story time and paint, kids night out (where parents can enjoy the evening without their children, art classes, doing dishes with Isela (guided painting), wine and design night (our favorite!) and kids art camps during school breaks.

The studio is owned by three women who each have a different background and bring something unique to the table. Isela Rosales is the house artist, who develops class curriculums, teaches classes and designs art projects for children and community programs. Julia Mahon handles the business side of the studio, and Gloria Robinson coordinates marketing, public relations, and community outreach.

DeColores is located on KM 40 of the free road to Rosarito, in the Santini strip mall. Find out more about them on their facebook page or visit www.decolores-mexico.com

What’s Going On In Playa Hermosa?

Playa Hermosa is rapidly becoming much more than just a beautiful place to relax in the sun and frolic in the waves; it’s fast evolving into a multi-faceted complex of unique entertainment, shopping, exercise and industrial outlets, from the free public access beach to retail and industrial enterprises leased from the federal government.

The area with the most intense activity is along Blvd Costero, between Blvd Estancia and Ave Esmeralda. Costero (the “beach road”) connects points north, i.e., TJ, Rosarito and El Sauzal de Rodriguez, to the highway that goes all the way to La Paz or turns off onto La Carretera La Bufadora and the famous tourist attraction known to Gringos as “The Blow Hole.”

This area is being developed by some very creative individuals and groups.

One of the most visible enterprises is the shopping mall that is being constructed from cargo containers abandoned by the shipping companies. A conglomerate of businessmen leased the land from the federal government, and has constructed a complex of units that will boast cafes, bars, restaurants, boutiques and other retail establishments.

The two towers above the second-story of the complex will have a space and planetary observatory that will be open year-round.

The mall will also have unparalleled views of the Pacific Ocean, the islands and the peninsula that is home to Punta Banda and La Bufadora.

The level of activity at the site has become very intense lately. The good weather is allowing for painting of the exterior to commence (the primer coat has already been applied, and the color coats have just begun to dress the place up). Wood floors have been installed, as well as staircases leading up to the units on the second floor.

CFE powered the place up months ago; the water supply is backed up by pilas and pumps, just like the ones used by the hotels in the area.

A sports complex is also planned, with a jogging track, basketball hoops, and a variety of exercise platforms for the fitness enthusiasts to tone themselves physically.

A safe  playground area for youngsters is part of the plan, and will provide a safe and protected environment for toddlers and young children to channel their energies.

Lifeguards will be on duty during times of peak activity, and Playa Hermosa is patrolled regularly by local, state and federal police. The fire department (“bomberos”) have mobile units manned by alert personnel with search and rescue capabilities; they even have surfboards!

Access to the area will be through a gatehouse manned by a federal guard (next to the VIP Market and BP gas station complex).

Another noteworthy activity at Playa Hermosa is the daily research and development of drones by the Bay Area company known as Cape. They also have leased the land from the federal government.

Cape also provides its coverage of the beach area directly to the local police department.

In addition to the drone coverage, the feds have their own set of cameras monitoring the area 24/7; the cameras and floodlights are powered by solar panels.

Across from the Navy Base, further east from the prime location of the Playa Hermosa entertainment complex, is the newly constructed City Express Hotel, which is nearing completion and will possibly be open in time for the summer tourist season.

A weekend buffet restaurant has been open on Costero for years, and a large construction project has recently begun adjacent to it.

If you haven’t been to Playa Hermosa lately, be prepared to be amazed. It’s already Ensenada’s most popular recreational site, and it’s rapidly becoming a  safe, sane and educational center for the entire family.

Of course, access to the beach is still free. You can enjoy the simplicity of it, and  take in the new developments at your own pace. Please remember to take your trash with you when you leave, and respect the environment that we all share and love.

Cruz Roja is Calling

“La Cruz Roja… Te Llama”, Cruz Roja…It Calls You. That is the motto of the 2019 national Cruz Roja Colecta, continuing through May 30th.

The Colecta officially kicked off with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Rosarito Cruz Roja Hospital by Hospital President Sergio Conrado Hernandez. Unveiled was a new addition to the stable of ambulances and a new Critical Care four-bed unit, created at a cost of $2,900,000 pesos. Funds for these entities were obtained from the 2017 and 2018 Colectas. Phase 2 of the hospital upgrade will be to renovate the hospital lobby area and purchase another ambulance and rescue equipment.

Dubbed the “Red Room,” specialized doctors and medical staff will provide surgical interventions that they were unable to perform until now.

Each year the Cruz Roja hosts a kick-off breakfast, allowing the larger donations to be delivered in person along with a delivery of the Annual Report. In 2018 there were 12,794 “urgencies” (visits, costing about $857,125 (USD). There were 5,740 ambulance calls (with a minimum cost of $50 per trip every time they leave the station), and 450 higher level rescues.

Volunteers are the lifeline of the Rosarito Cruz Roja hospital. The Damas (Mexican volunteers, always smartly dressed in their navy blue uniforms) raise money throughout the year and host a pre-Christmas Bazaar at the Rosarito Beach Hotel, with all proceeds benefiting the Rosarito hospital. Volunteers of the two American volunteer groups raise money throughout the year by the operation of two thrift stores, one in Rosarito, near Waldo’s, and the other on the boulevard in Primo Tapia.  These two groups hold numerous fundraisers throughout the year, with all money going to the local Cruz Roja organization. In fact, a special “shout out” went to the Cruz Roja Voluntarios Americanos groups who were both well represented at the breakfast, and who also donated over $7,000 (USD) that morning.

The Herm Pena Paramedic Foundation raises money throughout the year and has provided uniforms and equipment for the Cruz Roja Rescue unit. A second major fundraiser is being scheduled for later this year in San Jose, California.

Remember, these are the people who can save your life! But they need your money in order to continue their operations. Cruz Roja is funded by your donations. Although they do receive a few pesos from property tax payments and car plate registrations, that’s not nearly enough. They receive no funding from the Mexican government.

If you have had the opportunity to visit Rosarito’s Cruz Roja Hospital in the last ten months, you’ve undoubtedly heard the banging of hammers and the racket from power tools. As a recent walk-in patient to Cruz Roja, I can personally attest to the great care I was given after a misdiagnosis by my American doctor. Cruz Roja discovered what was actually wrong with me, and after one afternoon of treatment I started to recover.

I know a lot of us don’t like to carry a lot of change. It gets heavy! My suggestion is to keep a handful of dimes and pesos in your car door or ashtray (you aren’t still smoking, are you?!). Now you will have something to drop into the bucket every time you encounter a Cruz Roja volunteer. And I know some of you are zipping through the unmanned toll gates, so you have a few extra dollars you won’t miss.

For additional information, contact locally the Cruz Roja Voluntarios Americanos of Rosarito and Primo Tapia (www.cruzrojaprimotapia.com and on Facebook: Cruz Roja Voluntarios Americanos Rosarito), or the national organization at www.cruzrojamexicana.org.mx.

Ed. Note: Altough this article refersto Cruz Roja’s Rosarito chapter, the  “Colecta” goes on in all of Mexico. Don’t miss the chance to support them if you see them shaking cans in your city.

U.S. Tax Clock Stops While In Mexico

The IRS is going through tough times. In recent years, Congress “punished” the agency by providing it a super lean budget. The shutdown also left it with millions of unopened letters and mail. The IRS Ombudsman estimates it will take a year to get back to normal.

One of the things Congress did to the IRS was to require that inactive collection accounts be turned over to Private Collection Agencies. Those were old accounts the IRS felt had little collection potential. Off to work PCAs went, and we have some results. They are not very good at collecting. And when they were able to reach the taxpayer and the taxpayer wanted to set up a payment plan, somehow it fell through. I’ll add that it was tried before, and this time around it seems like yet another fiasco.

Why, you would say, do I take time to write about this? Well, for any of my readers that may have outstanding IRS debt, it is always important to know a few things. Generally, once the tax liability is assessed (imagine the entry in the government’s ledger “Joe owes us X dollars”), the government has ten years from that date to collect. So, it’s easy to say, “Why can’t I just wait this out if the debt is old?”

You should know the 10-year collections clock comes with that “exceptions apply” language we often see in ads. One you should know about: If a taxpayer is outside the U.S., the collection clock stops until the taxpayer returns to the U.S., then it restarts six months thereafter. Otherwise, it stops forever.  If, in the course of your conversation with one of these folks, they learn that you like real margaritas and tacos, instead of their north-of-the-border facsimiles, your collection file will be coded such that the debt will not expire.

The other consequence is that those debts continue accumulating penalties and interest. It’s not difficult to see how old tax debt can balloon up to the magic debt level that would make you eligible for passport non-renewal or cancellation.  You see, they have all kinds of persuasive methods.

Another way in which this can be addressed is through a payment plan that takes into account your living expenses versus your income, or through an offer in compromise where a sum is offered in exchange for release of all liabilities. Whether one or the other is convenient depends on one’s individual circumstances.

Orlando Gotay is a California licensed tax attorney (with a Master of Laws in Taxation) admitted to practice before the IRS, the U.S. Tax Court and other taxing agencies.  His love of things Mexican has led him to devote part of his practice to federal and state tax matters of U.S. expats in Mexico.  He can be reached at [email protected] or Facebook: GotayTaxLawyer.  This is just a most general outline. It is informational only and not meant as legal advice.

It’s Quinceanera Time Again!

Have you (or a member of your family) a gently used party dress that could be up-cycled into a Quinceanera dress for a local soon-to-be 15 year old? Would you like to donate a new dress to a really great cause?

The Quinceanera (15th birthday) is an important event for Mexican girls transitioning into adulthood on that special day. The CEIB Reggio Emilia AC launched an Empowering Teen Girls Program in 2015, focused on vulnerable teen girls. The Quinceanera is a “graduation” from their course of study in the program which focuses on health, human rights, entrepreneurship, ecological awareness and much more. The grand evening date has not been finalized, but will be in April or May.

Sponsors and volunteers are always needed. For information on donating resources, time, or cash, please contact Centro Educativo Integral Bilingue Reggio Emilia AC at their Facebook website. Registration will open in November for courses running December through April of next year for qualifying teens. For more information on becoming a part of this cultural occasion, please call 661-850-0325.

Pemex Rip-Offs

While the news of pipeline gasoline thefts has been in the headlines recently, the practice of scamming customers who are refueling at the gas stations is old news. In a place where the minimum wage is roughly US $5.25 a day, everyday transactions are opportunities for workers to supplement their income. Gas station attendants sometimes take advantage of those opportunities, and that’s why they are often sporting a big smile when a gringo drives in.

Opportunity knocks loudly when you pull your rental car up to the gas pump and tell the guy to “fill it up.”  Although many stations here have implemented “attendant controls” including required smartphone input of pump number, amount to fill and employee code, not all attendants will draw your attention to the pump to show that it has been reset to zero before they start pumping. You may be paying for fuel someone else already paid for, and those extra pesos are destined for the attendant’s pocket.

While the gas is pumping, attendants will quickly ask to check the oil. Say yes and pop the hood for the next opportunity: after a minute at the front of the car screened by the open hood the attendant holds up an empty oil container to show you the car took a whole liter. You’re feeling good for doing the right thing, but he likely didn’t show you the dipstick beforehand.  You didn’t need any oil; he just showed you an empty container he keeps on the side rack and charged you 150 pesos. Too late now, but at least make sure you ask for a receipt in case you get lucky and have a rental car company that reimburses the expense.

Whether you’re in a rental or your own car, paying cash for the gas opens a couple more doors.  The number one rip off by far is by “palming.” Palming happens when the gas station attendant sees you pulling US $50’s out of your wallet for your fill up, and he pulls a US $20 from his left pocket as he takes your 50 dollar bill in his right hand – all the while chatting you up about your wonderful stay here.  He’ll turn quickly to look at the pump to double check the amount and then turn back to you showing you the $20 and apologetically tell you it’s not enough. You immediately think you messed up because you weren’t paying attention (after all, greenbacks are all green) and hand him more.  That trick is big money.

Next on the hit list is expecting change from your US dollar payment. You’ve likely noticed that each gas station posts a sign with a single rate on it, for example, “CAMBIO 18.60”. That’s the USD/MXN exchange rate – the number of pesos they will give you for each dollar.  All pumps ring up in pesos.  The attendant sees your US dollars and keys in the 750 peso pump amount on his phone and turns the phone around and shows you $42.61. You hand him $45 with a smile and say keep the change.  You might do a quick mental calculation using an easy 20 peso conversion rate to rationalize the amount and figure it’s close enough.  Meanwhile, the attendant keyed in 17.60 (not 18.60) to calculate the US amount and has now supplemented his pay with your transaction by $2.29 plus the tip. The pay is good today.

Using pesos only? Palming also works with the local currency, by gaming the number of notes you hand over.  Pass the attendant two or more notes of the same denomination along with some change, and he may fumble and accidentally drop the handful and come up showing you that you came up short by 100 or 200 pesos, then it’s his word against yours. Get out more pesos.

Think paying with a credit card is a better bet? Think again, especially if the attendant takes the card out of sight to process. Always keep the receipts to remind you of the transaction dates and check your credit card statements for unknown transactions.

The gaming is not limited to individual attendants either. Pemex stations are privately owned, and the corporation or government isn’t diligent about measuring whether each pump is correctly calibrated to metering out the correct volume of gas for each transaction.  It is possible you are getting only 30 oz. of gas when a liter is 35 oz. A few station owners use this tactic, but you’ll never know which ones are and which aren’t unless you’re on empty and fill right up. If your tank holds 50 liters and gas is priced 20 pesos per liter, and the pump total shows 1,300 pesos, then the math doesn’t add up and you are being taken, again.

So to sum it all up, you’ll unknowingly donate to the local economy just by driving a vehicle. Who knew?  Best advice is to get those US greenbacks converted to pesos and pay attention to what you are doing. Get out of the car, look at the dipstick, watch the oil get added, count out your bills as you pass them over and take the time to calculate your USD exchange on your own phone.  And just before you turn the ignition key and drive off, count your change. Last time I gassed up the attendant tried to short me 100 pesos thinking I wouldn’t notice. When I called him out on it guess what he did? – He gave me that great big Pemex smile and handed me the extra 100 pesos. The best part of a good scam is you never knew it happened! Just keep smiling.

Semana Santa Is Just Around The Corner

BY EDGAR GONZALEZ

For American students, this time of  year  is related to the spring break, with all its holiday activities, including college kid drunkenness or simply a fairly sane beach vacation. But for many Mexicans, this time of  year signifies “Cuaresma”, which is the preamble for the “Semana Santa,” or holy week. This is a time for celebrating the most important events in the last days of Christ. Mexico is a Catholic country by tradition, though not by law; vernacular Mexican costumes and celebrations have deep connections to  Catholicism’s important dates.

The first important event most Mexicans celebrate on this date is the “Cuaresma”, or in English,  “Lent.” This is the time for spiritual preparation for Easter. The cuaresma is a 40 day event that starts on Ash Wednesday and ends on holy Thursday, just before Good Friday.

These 40 days represent the 40 days Jesus spent on the Judea desert praying and fasting prior to his final mission. We don’t fast for 40 days, but believers are supposed to fast on this special day. It’s ok to just have one meal and no red meat, but  most people barely fast and avoid eating meat on the Cuaresma Fridays. That is why in many Mexican restaurants during Cuaresma season Fridays, they offer special versions of their dishes that do not contain red meat. Fish is acceptable, and in the last century, the church included chicken as an acceptable meat.

On Ash Wednesday, people go to church to get a cross of ash drawn on their foreheads by the priest, while he pronounces the words, “You are dust, and dust you will revert to,” a custom that is credited to Pope Gregory I. The ash comes from the burning of the holy palms that were used the previous year on Palm Sunday. The use of ash in Catholicism is a custom that goes all the way back to the third or second (depending on the source) century but its roots come from the Jewish traditions.  The ashes symbolize the temporary passing of our existence in this world, and as a reminder that our place in Heaven awaits us.

This date also signals the end of Carnaval season. Carnaval is closely related to the Holy Week, for it is the celebration that happens just before all the fasting and sacrificing that is to be done to show repentance and worthiness.  Carnaval in Latin means “goodbye to meat,” so just before all the Semana Santa doings, and maybe to liven things up for the last time, people have the great party that is Carnaval, not unlike the bachelor party before marriage. This is a custom that goes all the way back to the Romans, who held huge banquets and other bacchanalian excesses.

As the Cuaresma ends, the Semana Santa begins. This Holy week is also a national holiday for the Mexicans regardless of religion. Mexico is now a secular country, so religious holidays are not official, but most schools in Mexico have at least a week of vacation for spring break. Some allow two weeks. The Mexican labor calendar lists three days as obligatory paid vacation from what you would call, for reasons I can’t fathom, Good Friday to Easter Sunday. This vacation almost overlaps with the American spring break, but most of the time it starts at the end of your spring break.

The date of Semana Santa bounces around like crazy because it’s based on astronomy: It’s the first Sunday after the first spring full moon. This year’s festivities start on Sunday April 14th and go all the way to the next Sunday the 21st, and Cabo will be crazy with vacationers from the mainland of Mexico this week. Many of them come over on the ferry and camp out on the beach to save money.

This holy week is meant to celebrate the passion, death and resurrection of Christ, and Palm Sunday is the day it all begins, as this is the day that symbolizes when Jesus entered Jerusalem.

Then we have the Holy Monday, that day Jesus drove the merchants from the temple. On Holy Tuesday, Jesus anticipates the treason of Judas. Then we have Spy Wednesday, on this day Cuaresma ends and Easter begins. This is the day Judas conspired to sell out Jesus. On Maundy Thursday He had the last supper and at the end of that night He was arrested. On Friday He is nailed up and killed and on Holy Saturday He is mourned. The celebration comes to a crescendo on Sunday, which is the day Christ comes back to life.

On Holy Saturday a lot of town churches present a play that represents the whole ordeal, which is called Via Crucis. They reenact the passion of Christ. Passion week is so named because of the passion with which Jesus willingly went to the cross in order to pay for the sins of the people.  This is an event that attracts a lot of people, believers and non-believers. The biggest Via Crucis in Mexico is the one organized in Iztapalapa in Mexico City. This Via Crucis has had in attendance a crowd of two million spectators and 3,000 amateur actors playing their parts.

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