By Gene Kira, Nov. 19, 2001, as published in Western Outdoor News:
It's a mandatory ritual. On every fishing trip down to Baja Sur, the very first thing I do in East Cape is stop at the "Minisuper Playa del Tesoro" market just south of the Pemex station in Los Barriles. It's a small building, painted red-and-white, with a Tecate Beer logo on it, and an open-air window facing Mex 1 from under a big shade tree.
Inside, Doña Guadalupe del Socorro Romero de Smith is sitting in her chair with the fan and TV on. Doña Lupe's parrot sits in its big, snake-proof cage, waiting patiently for customers, and Mini, the chihuahua with the Mickey Mouse-shaped spot on her back, scurries from corner to corner, chasing figments of her imagination.
Doña Lupe, always impeccably coifed and dressed, looks up from her Mexican soap opera, and, seeing that I am not a customer, smiles and waves.
"He's in back. In his trailer."
I open the gate and knock at the door of the small trailer that sits beside the house. There is a shuffling inside. Something hard and heavy falls to the floor. Then the door opens, and I am face-to-face with Baja California's greatest folk historian and storyteller, James Pledger Smith.
If he's been working hard, his mustache and fingers are stained yellow from the nicotine of his ever-present cigarettes. He moves slowly, and sometimes he limps a bit, from the burden of old injuries suffered in his many previous lives, and perhaps from the weight of the tremendous body of Baja wisdom, history, and lore that he continues to accumulate in his considerable mind, year after year.
Usually, we sit on Jimmy's front porch, share a couple of cervezas from Lupe's retail stock, and I write in a note pad, as Jimmy tells story after story. Some are hysterically funny, others crushingly sad. All are important, revealing Baja stories, insider stories that you won't get anywhere else. Jimmy doesn't mess around with the mundane stuff.
But this time, I have come to congratulate Jim, and get his autograph on a copy of his brand new book, The Grinning Gargoyle Spills The Beans, and Other Yarns of Baja California. On its surface, Jim Smith has written one of the finest books about Baja California that you will ever read; in voice, and tone, and certainly in content, it is every bit as richly cantankerous as Steinbeck. But really, this book isn't about "Baja" at all. It's about how an American gentleman and scholar came to respect and love the Mexican people, and about how they in turn, helped him create the place that is his emotional and intellectual home.
Jim Smith is not an American expatriate living temporarily in a foreign country. He is a Mexican citizen, and the patriarch of a large and loving Mexican family. He is a living part of Baja California's present, its past, and its future.
The Grinning Gargoyle is a collection of 56 of Jimmy Smith's deeply insightful, always entertaining stories. In them, you'll find rare perspectives on many well-known Baja characters, and some that you've probably never heard of. There are many show-stoppers. Two of my favorites are "How I Met The Famous Author" (you'll never think of Erle Stanley Gardner in the same way again), and "The Tragedy of Concepcion Aguello (yes, Jim, I shed a tear over that one)."
But the stories close to Jimmy's heart are probably his best. The one-page vignette, "David Moises," is an unforgettable masterpiece, and best of all is "The Conquest of Doña Lupe," in which Jimmy tells of how he courted his future wife, the belle of San Ignacio, for 15 years, before she finally relented and agreed to marry him.
Doña Lupe is still there, every day, at the Minisuper Playa del Tesoro market, and if you stop to say "hola" to Jimmy and get a copy of his book, be sure to ask for her autograph, too.
(Related Baja California, Mexico, articles and reports may be found at Mexfish.com's main Baja California information page. See weekly fishing news, photos, and reports from the major sportfishing vacation areas of Mexico including the Baja California area in "Mexico Fishing News.")