For starters, she has lemon meringue, as well as pecan, coconut, chocolate, apple and cheese pie. Big slices, jumbo slices, none of those mamby pamby baby slices, the ones you normally ask for – those pretend slices of pie. No, she’s got big ass slices and she’s carrying them around in a little basket on her hip, the way you’d carry a watermelon or a child. It’s 10:30 in the morning and you’re sitting under a palapa – an open air, palm frond covered structure on a beach in Yelapa, Mexico, leading a writing workshop for nine women. The Pie Lady, a lovely brown skinned girl in her mid 20’s comes right up to the table you’re all writing at and she says, “Pie, I am the pie lady.”
That’s when you know there really are some seriously bad hombres in Mexico and The Pie Lady is clearly one of them.
You know this because as she lifts the woven lid off the basket of pies, you see the stiff, fluffy white of the lemon meringue and you’re helpless. It’s 10:30 in the morning and you’ve got a suitcase full of workout clothes that you meant to pull out five days ago, but it just hasn’t happened. The beach, which you imagined yourself running on each morning is actually a tiny fishing cove with boats lazily bobbing in the water, and there’s a lot of manana in the air. Each morning you stare out at the beach from your 5th story room which looks out over the Bay of Banderas, and you think, “today I’ll run,” but you don’t. Instead, you light early morning candles on your balcony while the sky is still inky black. Then you wrap a blanket around your shoulders, get in the little hammock on your porch and stare at the sea.
Mexico has struck you dumb. Maybe it’s the constant soundtrack of waves lapping on the beach. Maybe it’s the 5am cry of the roosters and the blast of mariachi music that one of your neighbors wakes up to each morning. Maybe it’s the easy schedule – the sandy, barefoot commute from your room down to the beach for two hours of Wild Writing each morning. Maybe it’s all the free time you suddenly have so far from home, and how lonely and a little lost that can feel when you slow down enough to feel it.
All you know is, five days ago you made a to-do list of all the things you were going to do with your free time and now you’ve totally forgotten about it.
I could tell you about the Mexican guy with the tray of cheap silver and flashy beads who weaves in and out of pink skinned gringos shouting, “shopping, time for shopping,” or the two guys with 50 pound geckos riding on their shoulders who’ll walk up to you on the beach wondering if you’d like to get your picture taken with Pepe. “200 pesos,” they’ll say, and if you say no they’ll lower their voice and ask you if you smoke. Everyone has something.
But the pie lady, whose name is Clara, has pie. Pie for breakfast. And just as you’re about to lay some important bit of writing juju on your students, you realize that they’ve all put down their pens and are now excitedly digging into their purses to exchange pesos for pie.
You find it amusing, cute. You have no intention of getting a piece of pie – how decadent. Let the others get pie. In your world pie is something you aim for, something you earn. You wouldn’t think of eating pie in the middle of the day on a beach in Mexico, especially since the extent of your workout has been to lift yourself in and out of a hammock all week. Someone do the math – it just doesn’t compute.
All week you’ve been trying to figure out the peso to dollar ratio. When you’re buying a meal you run the numbers in your head, but as you try and calculate the cost of a slice of this pie and what Clara is charging these ladies, you realize that the real cost is not the pie itself, but in not eating the pie.
The cost of having a pie-less life.
Here’s what you’ve been missing: Anna’s beautiful open-faced smile as she chooses a slice of coconut from Clara’s basket, the lilt in Lisa’s voice as she appraises the apple, “heavenly,” and Christina’s grin as she bites into the chocolate. Watching your friends eat their pie, you realize that you’ve been saying no to moments like these your whole life.
And of course you’re not just talking about pie, you’re talking about the rigor you’ve done a lot of things with. We commend you – how do you do you get to the gym 5-days a week, run 8 writing classes, have cheese, cookies and alcohol in your house and not imbibe. You’re tough, for sure, completely focused on work, skipping out on dates and parties and friends so you can… get more done? Be more… incredible? Make more… money?
And in that instant you see how it is. You’re 56-years-old and you’re barefoot on a beach in Mexico at 10:30 am on a Thursday morning, sitting at a table of lovely women who are drinking coffee and listening to you read poems about starfish. And now someone wants to sell you a piece of pie.
Must we work so hard to earn our pie? When does the earning stop and the pie eating commence?
“Lemon meringue,” you hear yourself say, “I’ll take a piece of the lemon meringue.”
[Pie Lady photo credit: Lisa Boice]