Juan, You are loved and missed by many ...
Chris Sands remembers -
Juan was the first person I met when I came to Cabo San Lucas. Back in 2010, an old college friend who was working for a local adventure company wrote and told me I needed to think about moving. “You can make a living writing here,” he told me, “which is what you’ve always wanted to do. And beyond that, you’ll love this place. It’s wide open.” I was ready for a change in scenery, and figured I’d give it a shot. So I booked a flight. When I told my friend what day and time I was getting in, he said, “I can’t pick you up. I’m working. Just grab a shuttle and go to the Cabo Lounge. Juan, who’s the owner and bartender, will sort you out.”
And that’s pretty much what happened. I showed up at the Lounge with a load of ridiculous luggage – including a vintage picnic basket filled with weather inappropriate clothing and a bottle of 18 year old Laphroaig - and in short order had not only embraced the bar as my regular haunt, but also my office. Once I started finding work I would spend my afternoons sitting outside at the bar writing, with the occasional break for a $1 bacon cheeseburger and a cold Pacifico (this was before the burgers were banned, and before I discovered Victoria, which Juan eventually stocked for my benefit). My first articles appeared under the byline Vic Vertigo – short for Victim of Vertigo – a nod to the tequila Juan gave away whenever anyone paid their tab: which, by the way, I rarely did more than once every month or two.
If you knew Juan, then the fact that he would instantly welcome a stranger, let him practically camp out at the bar, and extend a line of credit will come as no surprise. He was a big man with a big personality, and an even bigger heart. A real prince of a human being.
Sometimes people took advantage of that big heart – the outsized tabs eventually went away for all but a few loyal barflys – and there were the occasional ill-fated love affairs with local and visiting women. But I rarely saw him express disappointment with anyone, and certainly he never stopped extending help and support to those who asked. For many in the expat community, like myself, he was a continual source of information and guidance in navigating the customs and language of an adopted land. Among untold acts of generosity, he helped me find my first decent apartment in Cabo, in the building in which he himself lived.
Thus, in the space of a few short months, Juan became my bartender, my neighbor, and, most importantly, a very good friend.
And at some point a few years into my life in Cabo, I started to think of him as family. All because of his generosity, of course. Whenever there was a Christmas dinner or a holiday event, he would invite me, knowing I didn’t have any family of my own here. Sometimes the parties were at the bar or his condo, but it didn’t really matter who was hosting. The gringo was invited. And I was hardly the only beneficiary of such kindnesses. They were legion. I remember he used to let our friend Cata – also, sadly, gone now – come over to his place in the middle of the night to watch tennis tournaments taking place on the other side of the world. He was, in other words, that rarest of breeds: the truly unselfish, unstintingly magnanimous individual.
Once I had found my footing and stopped working at Cabo Lounge, there were two times of day I particularly liked to visit the bar: early and late. Often when I went early, Juan and I would shoot pool until the other regulars started to wander in. I think he saw such games as good for business – sort of like lighting a smoke when you’re waiting for your table in a restaurant to open up – since the action was almost always interrupted by new arrivals. But sometimes the games were finished, and if I won too many in a row, I knew I could count on an invitation to the apartment to play video golf, a game at which I was never able to best him.
Late? One of the great joys of my life in Cabo has been late nights at the Lounge, when the front door was locked, the oldies station was turned on, and the happy few could enjoy a cocktail while Sam Cooke or Fats Domino sang about chain gangs or blue Mondays. Occasionally there would be a rap on the door – a prohibition style knock – from some other in-the-know regular trying to slip in for one last peaceful drink. And if you were still there when the lights went out, Juan was likely to invite you to go with him and Alex and Perla – his childhood friends and coworkers – for after midnight tacos or street corner burritos.
I don’t remember anyone ever being told they had to go home.
That wasn’t the way Juan worked. He always identified with Sam Malone of Cheers – another bartender who didn’t drink – who also served as the centerpiece of a small, yet tight-knit community of kindred souls, all of whom were unerringly drawn to what, to them, was the center of the known universe.
And whether it was early or late, everyone was always welcome. And yes, Juan knew your name, and what you drank, and a score of other details that were hardly worth remembering.
There was a picture of him in what I like to think of as his “Cheers” pose – behind the bar, arms outstretched in welcome – at the wake tonight. But it seemed out of place in a funeral home. It’ll look a lot better on top of the bar Monday night at the Cabo Lounge, when Brian Flynn and company are playing, and the year-round regulars (the number of seasonal Juan partisans not currently in residence could fill a good-sized soccer stadium) are gathered round him one more time, in the place he made so special for so many people.
One other thing I will always remember out Juan. He loved American slang, just as I love Mexican slang, and we would sometimes sit at the bar trading, say, a bumfuck for an ahuevo puto…each of us testing the way a new word or phrase could be casually dropped into conversation for maximum effect. I suppose I learned enough to get slapped or challenged to a duel in any country in Latin America, and I suppose Juan picked up the sort of colloquial argot that would have gained him instant acceptance in any beachfront cantina in Alta California: including not quite Shakespearean sobriquets like broseph or brotherfucker.
I don’t remember when the term brotherfucker began to be our standard greeting – as in “How you doin’ brotherfucker? – but it always seemed funny, and certainly summed up the easygoing yet familial affection I felt for the man. At a certain point he brought a keychain back from a trip and gave it to me, a cheap little wooden thing with brotherfucker carved into it.
That keychain is breaking my heart right now. I can’t unlock my front door without the feeling that tears are trying to leak out the corners of my eyes.
Rest in peace, brotherfucker. We miss you already.