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Traveling in Mexico, Part 2

Last week I promised to tell you about the most exciting part of my first trip to Mexico. You may recall I was in Monterrey representing Auburn University at a wildlife conference for wealthy Mexican landowners. Auburn University and Ducks Unlimited of Mexico (Dumac) sponsored the conference. (I am writing this piece only hours after the University of Alabama soundly defeated Auburn in the annual Iron Bowl. It was so embarrassing that I will not mention Auburn again.)

Dumac, like Ducks Unlimited in this country, engages in a number of fund raising activities throughout the year. As luck would have it, we were there at the time of one of the premiere fundraisers of the year, the pigeon shoot. Our hosts talked about the pigeon shoot every day. It sounded interesting. I’ve done some pigeon shooting myself. (In fact, I have a big box of clay pigeons in my garage that my wife keeps trying to get rid of.) I was invited to participate in the pigeon shoot and I agreed to do so if someone would lend me a shotgun.

The night before the pigeon shoot hundreds of people gathered at the fanciest country club I have ever seen. There were large tents filled with tables with fancy tablecloths and waiters in tuxedos serving all manner of exotic drinks. This was an auction. These folks were gathered for the express purpose of bidding on the “shooters.” Whoever “owned” the winning team of shooters would collect a lot of money the next day.

Drinks were plentiful and free. Our waiter knew only two English words—“whatcha drinkin.” Our hosts suggested that Lynn and I might want to try a “vampiro.” I did not understand all the ingredients (rattled off in rapid Spanish), but I believe this drink consisted of rum, gin, vodka, bourbon, rye, Scotch, a little more rum and one teaspoon of pineapple juice. Oh, and one-half cup of tequila. We had some number of vampiros. The exact number escapes me. Lynn volunteered to sing tunes from any Broadway musical that anyone could name. Others at the table persuaded her not to sing lest it disrupt the auction. I quietly hummed an entire Sarastro aria from the opera Die Zauberflöte. Fortunately, perhaps, most of the people at the table didn’t seem to notice.

After the auction, dinner was served at the usual Mexican dinner hour of 11:00 p.m. I’m told that the dinner buffet was fantastic. I should point out here that much of what I’m reporting was actually told to me by others in attendance because, for some reason, I have only a very foggy recollection of what all happened that night.

The next morning we assembled back at the country club for breakfast and the pigeon shoot. The same waiter with the same English vocabulary was there to inquire,“whatcha drinkin.” I don’t know how to spell the sound Lynn made but it was something like this: “ahhugghaayie.” It had kind of a pathetic gargling quality about it. Surprisingly, the waiter understood perfectly and brought Lynn a large bowl of menudo. Menudo is a rather evil looking soup made from the stomach and intestines of a cow and is considered, by our neighbors to the south, to be the quintessential cure for a hangover.

The pigeon shoot started precisely at 9:00, give or take a couple of hours. I kept looking for the machines that hurled the clay pigeons and I also wondered why there were several cages of birds sitting around. I supposed the birds would be released in a grand opening ceremony, like the doves at the Olympics. My puzzlement ended as soon as the first team of shooters went to the line. A guy, called a “pitcher,” whose arms were so big that he could no longer comb his own hair, reached into the pigeon cage, extracted a pigeon, pulled out a handful of tail feathers (to disrupt the bird’s guidance system thereby causing erratic flight), and launched the feathered missile into the air. After the pigeon passed a certain point, the shooter shot him/her. The pitcher launched another bird and the shooter shot that one as well. By now I had come to the realization that no clay pigeons would be injured or killed at this event. Our hosts quickly explained that this was not a cruel sport because all the dead pigeons would be fed to children at a local orphanage. By late afternoon the dead pigeons were gathered into large baskets to ripen for several hours before being delivered to the orphanage. I know the residents could hardly wait to dig into that meal.

I should point out that many shooters did little or no damage to the pigeons. The escapees, as we called them, gathered on the roof of a nearby covered swimming pool and watched the proceedings with considerable interest.

Pigeon # 1: “OK, here comes Henry”
All pigeons in unison: “Go Henry. Turn right. Fly hard.” BANG! “Ahhhh damn.”
Pigeon #2: “Here comes Mitzi. Lordy she’s good looking. Look at the tail feathers on that gal. Go Mitzi. Look! She made it. Here she comes.”
Mitzi: “I love that short guy from Alabama. He can’t hit sh…” (Sometimes birds that have just participated in an exciting gun battle talk very much like cowboys from east Texas.)

Occasionally, pigeons would crash onto the roof of the tent or on the tennis court in the middle of a game but no one seemed to care, except perhaps the pigeons. For their unselfish service to charity, the pigeons succeeded in raising over $14,000 for Dumac. No malo, ¿verdad?