by Tom Finan, Executive Director, Construction Forum STL
Last week the White House wrangled with Congress over the Wall/Budget, Sheriff Joe was about to be pardoned and Hurricane Harvey was bearing down on the Texas coast. With all that going on my wife Kathi and I sat at a dining room table in a middle class home in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico and enjoyed dinner with the two Issies and their family.
A few weeks ago Kathi, who is a professor of nursing and teaches community health remarked to me, "We're very lucky: We get to be 'retired' and get paid for doing the things we love."
In the seven years we've been together those things have included building a community garden in East St. Louis; two medical missions to the Amazon (we got married during the first one); working with the homeless; working with immigrants; fighting human trafficking; and delivering medical help and education to inner city kids. As she said, we're very blessed. And I'll just say it: Without Kathi's support, there would be no Construction Forum STL. She believed.
But we were both exhausted, and Kathi reminded me that we had never had a honeymoon. After a cancelled trip last year, she finally let me know that WE were going to Mexico or SHE was going. We went, to Cabo San Jose, MX.
Located in Baja Sur California, Cabo San Jose is the smaller, quieter cousin of Cabo San Lucas. It still has some of the Third World vibe that we had experienced on the Amazon. It also has world class resorts and millions of dollars of building and infrastructure construction going on.
Everyone there seemed to be either working, or training for work at state-run career and technical education schools. The Mexican Directorate General of Training Centers for Work (DGCFT) operates 198 industrial training centers (CECATI) located throughout the country, offering a list of 226 courses, covering 61 occupations, in 17 economic sectors.
Tour de Force
Kathi is a TripAdvisor ninja. Close to 30,000 people have read her reviews. Since this was my first real trip to Mexico (Do border towns count?) she wanted to arrange some special experiences for me.
We went on a sailboat snorkeling cruise. I loved the snorkeling. Then I was reminded of Mark Twain's quote, “Seasickness: at first you are so sick you are afraid you will die, and then you are so sick you are afraid you won't die.”
The following day, when my chalky complexion had regained its tan, we headed to Cabo San Lucas, where we met Issi Radilla, a 30-year-old entrepreneur. When he picked us up at the entrance to a shopping mall he was wearing a shirt for a fish taxidermy business he owns. His other businesses are "Juan More Taco," a food tour of local haunts and "Cookin' Cabo," a shopping tour and cooking class, which Kathi had arranged for me, the cook in our house.
Issi grew up 1,400 miles from Cabo San Lucas in Acapulco. His father, also Issi, is a serial entrepreneur as well. When Issi the younger was growing up his father sometimes had as many as seven businesses in tourism, construction, and real estate. "For my fifth birthday my gift was a pen and order pad for the restaurant my dad owned," he said. He attended the California Culinary Academy in Los Angeles, where he worked at upper tier restaurants. He is a Dodgers fan with a West Coast vibe. But he also has a deep appreciation for and love of sharing Mexico's thousands of years of culture and history.
He shared a lot of that culture with us on a whirlwind shopping tour of the back streets and neighborhoods of Cabo San Lucas. We learned that masa, corn boiled in alkyd water and ground today using motor-driven mills, is the same foodstuff that was ground thousands of years ago using a molcajete — the volcanic stone mortar which some of us serve guacamole in — and a temolote or volcanic stone pestle.
We shopped at a produce stand, a bakery for tortilla chips, the masa mill, a butcher (Always tip your butcher, Issi told me), a cheesemonger (Issi pulled to the curb and held up two fingers: the shop owner brought the cheese out) and a common area inside of Issi's gated townhome complex where he dashed from the car and swiped a few bougainvillea blossoms for tea and coloring margaritas.
At the house we met Issi's wife and two sons (The younger one is Issi, of course.) Then we began to cook. Chorizo and cheese for the chips, beef barbacoa with a marinade of peppers spices we hand roasted; chiles rellenos — but with Mexican ricotta and Amish cheese; tuna cerviche; and plantains, fried and crowned with spun sugar.
For a while Kathi and I were diligent prep cooks. Then some expected guests showed up. Issi, Sr. and a cousin had driven in from Acapulco. Issi's dad and I talked about business. Then Kathi and Issi, Sr. talked about medical missions (he has been working with doctors from the U.S. helping impoverished kids with cleft palates and other ailments for two decades).
The Best of Times
As we ate we talked about politics, but not much. We talked about families and life, a lot. Issi, Sr. kept making me bougainvillea- and hibiscus-tinted margaritas (I wasn't driving, and it was vacation after all.).
Issi just kept cooking. He had a "Juan More Taco" tour in two hours. The two Issies dropped us in town, with hugs all around.
We'll be back. No question about it: It was the best of times.