Thursday, December 06, 2012

Where the cash goes

You don't write checks in Oaxaca, not for a pair of jeans and not for the electric bill. It's a cash-based economy for the most part. I've gotten used to taking out chunks of change to cover everything from school tuition to the down payment on our house. And, once I have a little cash, it's all too easy to spend. Unlike the United States, which often demands driving somewhere or finding something open at an odd hour, Oaxaca's corners, byways, and pueblos do business around the clock.

First there's the phenomenon of the corner store. This still exists in some U.S. cities, at least in high foot traffic areas, but in Oaxaca it's a staple. There is a miscelanea (a store that sells miscellaneous items) in every neighborhood, and some have multiple. They might sell the junk food and soda you would see at a California corner liquor store, but they also have fresh fruit, veg, ingredients for baking, salsas, fresh pan dulce and the like. The better stocked miscelaneas, though they might be so tight you can hardly turn around in them, have a seemingly limitless stock of any item you wind up needing, such as lip gloss, light bulbs, and party favors.

But shopping in Oaxaca gets even more convenient than walking to the corner. We have various peddlers, vans, and vochos that come by, knocking on our door to sell mountain honey, dried hibiscus blossoms, tejate dough, probiotic drinks, oranges, tortillas, fish, and pan dulce.

My favorite type of convenience shopping is at intersections. Any long red light at a major intersection is an open invitation for vendors to jump into the line of cars and sell stuff through the car windows. The toy of the moment is always on offer, be it a bouncing Sponge Bob doll on a furry pipe cleaner or a wind-up baby chick. Bags of limes, boxing gloves, plastic airplanes, Zapata moustaches, chicklets, roses, and churros wrapped in pink paper--we've gotten them all en route. It gets so, on the way to a party, we'll stop at a favorite intersection to buy a gift, and another to get a food item to bring.

I credit all this street activity to the fact that Oaxacans walk and take public transportation everywhere. Yes, there is un monton de drivers buying items through their car windows, but what supports that corner store culture and the street peddling around the clock is that people get out of their homes and, instead of pushing the garage door opener, they push a stroller or carry their babies and they walk to get their shopping done, vinyl market bag on shoulder and cash in hand.