Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Dental Hygiene in Mexico

September Self Portrait, 2003

Once again I bring you a bit of travel advice learned at my own expense.

But first, let’s address this gloomy picture, above. It’s depressing. I know that. But that was the whole idea. A hurricane had blown through Virginia Beach a couple of weeks before, doing considerable damage to our home and yard and leaving us without electricity for two weeks. The picture was taken in a hotel in Baltimore, where I’d retreated briefly for a client assignment. I looked depressed because I was depressed. I’d spent most every waking hour of every day since the storm dragging storm debris out to the street in front of the house, where FEMA trucks—42 loads’ worth, it would end up being—would haul it away over the next couple of months.

After the Storm, 2003

On a lighter note, this picture also recalls an embarrassing moment when I’d stared into a hotel mirror during a business trip to Mexico City about twenty years ago.

One of my associates and I went to Mexico to do some research for an international consumer electronics manufacturer. Neither of us had ever spent any time in Mexico. Our wives were convinced we’d pick up some dread intestinal disorder, for which reason we packed enough Kaopectate to keep a small army free of diarrhea for a year. When we met in Dallas for our connecting flight to Mexico City, we pledged to drink no local waters, no drinks cooled by ice from local waters and avoid any foods and liquids that hadn’t been cooked or processed in high heat.

A representative of the client was there to meet us at the airport and whisk us off to the company’s Mexican headquarters for lunch with the managing director. Given the prestigious reputation of our client, we’d envisioned a posh corporate dining room where we wouldn’t have to worry about anything bad, digestively speaking.

The company “limousine” turned out to be a battered VW. The client’s Mexican headquarters was in a shabby industrial area. The executive dining room was a plain, windowless little anteroom to the managing director’s office. The meal they served on plastic plates took the form of three pastel-colored puddles of unidentifiable liquid. My associate and I tried to make polite conversation while filling up on bread and canned soft drinks.

The real quandary, it turns out, came the next morning. The company had put us up in a very nice hotel in the Zona Rosa. Everything was fine except that the tap water was noticeably discolored by rust. I wouldn’t have normally thought twice about this. But it being Mexico, I immediately reverted to my worst self and started wondering whether I should close of my mouth or eyes when I got into the shower.

Stupid? Yes.

But that wasn’t the most embarrassing moment. The most embarrassing moment would have been my ever so brilliant strategy for brushing my teeth. I wasn’t about to brush my teeth with tap water, not even the supposedly filtered tap water of a fancy Zona Rosa hotel. There had been no bottled water in the hotel gift shop. So I’d bought a bottle of Pepsi.

I’ve already anticipated your thinking, haven’t I? Yes, the logic of brushing my teeth only to flush and coat them with a sugary liquid afterwards made no sense at all.

But it being the only “safe” liquid I could get my hands on, I figured I’d mitigate the sugar problem by getting my teeth all brushed and lathered up with toothpaste first and then give them a quick splash with the Pepsi.

Have you ever cooked those Chinese vegetables that explode into something 300 times their original size the second you drop them into the wok? Well, if you understand the chemistry of that you’ll probably know that this is exactly what happens when you splash a little carbonated soft drink on toothpaste.

I’d barely gotten the first drop of Pepsi into my mouth when the toothpaste reacted to it. It was all over in just a few seconds. But for those few seconds my mouth was its own being, independent of any control I might try to exercise. I didn’t think I’d be able to even open my mouth wide enough o expel all the toothpaste and stuff that wanted to get out of my mouth, and NOW!

Let’s just say it took a while to clean the bathroom mirror.

I’ll close with the self-portrait below, taken a few weeks after the one above to show my friends that I hadn’t fallen into a complete funk.

October Self Portrait, 2003


  1. Hahaaaaaaahaaaa! too funny. One must think about these things whilst traveling, though. I understand. I'm in the process of booking hotels in the northeast, and I am keeping the "BedBug Registry" open, checking every single hotel I'm booking. Creepy water, bedbugs, ants,...if you travel, you've seen it all.

    Love the photos--I literally laughed out loud. (That shirt color is good on you, incidentally.)

  2. Oh how I remember Hurricane Isabelle! In our part of Virginia Beach power was out for 11 days. This a week after I had cervical spine surgery and was stuck in a cursed stiff cervical collar with no A/C!

    On my only excursion into Mexico, to Nueva Laredo the weekend after graduating from USAF Basic Training in San Antonio, the "Mexico expert" in our group had us drinking nothing but Dos Equis the entire weekend. Yes, I even brushed my teeth with it but was leery of mixing cervesa and Crest so I omitted the latter.