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Sunday, February 15, 2009

An American in Baja: PACO

An American in Baja: PACO

Paco gave his sombrero away. Imported, expensive and jaw-dropping, this hat had a huge brim to match its flourish. He gave it to a minor soap opera star, a pleasant, pudgy lady who was desperate to protect her pale complexion from the powerful sun’s rays we have here in San Felipe. Robin, his love, was chagrined, but then this was Paco. He is the embodiment of chivalry.

Paco is not his true name. When he moved to Mexico, the locals had a hard time pronouncing his American name, Hal. Embarrassing his Mexican friends was unacceptable, so Hal just gave himself a new name. Robin lifted it from a bottle of his cologne that she liked. Problem solved.

He is tall, almost imposing in stature. His broad, tanned face is softened by silver, well-trimmed hair and a neat goatee that hints of just a little danger. His eyes seem to disappear when he laughs, and he laughs a lot. His has a deep, rich sound to it, as if you just told him the greatest joke in the history of the world. But, there is an inviolate line he never crosses. He’ll never hurt your feelings just to get a laugh.

Paco is the president of the Lions Club here in town. He is perfectly suited for the job. His is a charitable nature, pained by any poverty and deprivation we see around us. He’s found the right venue in which to change things. His energy never seems to flag, and he sets a great example for the rest of us. He’ll perch precariously on the top of his station wagon to put up a poster, he’ll rise before the sun to give you a ride, he’ll spend all night building a stage when everyone else has gone home to bed. It was Paco who drove into the desert to rescue folks stranded there. It was Paco who drove my husband Dan to the hospital and stayed until we knew Dan was okay. To cite the classic baseball metaphor, Paco steps up to the plate. No, wait—Paco stomps on the plate and yanks it out of the ground. He can do no less.

Forty-odd years ago, Paco should have died in the jungles of Vietnam. Dreadfully wounded and shot up with morphine, he was left to die in the dark of night with a few of his fellow Marines keeping watch and waiting for the end to come. Whether it was God’s foresight or Paco’s intrepid will to survive, he made it out and got back to the business of living. He has an agenda he must tend to. There is work to be done and friendships he must honor. San Felipe needs his diplomacy, his energy and his laughter.

If you would like to meet him, come to a Lions Club meeting, karaoke night at the Lighthouse or climb a mountain during the Baja 1000 where he perches as a sort of guardian angel for the racers.

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