Friday, January 26, 2007

GOOD INK FROM South-of-the-Border

QUADALAJARA --- The Utopia that Once Was

Reviewed by: ALEX GESHEVA, Guadalajara Reporter

Jack Tumidajski came to Guadalajara in 1972. He spoke no Spanish and knew almost nothing about the area. He just knew Mexico represented independence, freedom and a great chance to meet some dark-eyed "señoritas."
Do you think you've heard this story before? Not from this perspective. In his book, "Quadalajara: The Utopia That Once Was," Tumidajski lovingly relates the story of one of the city's earliest gringo communities: wheelchair-bound quadriplegic and paraplegic war veterans, accident victims and degenerative disease patients.
Readers will find Guadalajara as it will never be again. Rent is 40 dollars a month. The Paralyzed Veterans of America become the first group to purchase their own clubhouse (as The Reporter wrote back on July 29, 1967), and aides of PVA members are ignominiously arrested after an "illegal" poker game. The Informador newspaper is there to point a judgmental finger. Wheelchair bound gringos fire guns and bring their own muscled, equally wheelchair-bound bodyguards to intimidate political rivals.
But readers will recognize the heroes. Tumidajski writes of his own experiences as a gringo fumbling his way through the city's social tangle, caretakers, girlfriends, housemates and apartments. He tells of those who married locally and made it work and those who never quite managed to blend in, car accidents, road trips, fishing trips to Manzanillo, organizing picnics to help local orphanages and disabled children and nights spent chugging tequila.
In 1977, Jack Tumidajski got a Jalisco driver's license in his hand-controlled car, a jittery Transito cop in the passenger seat. He was even surprised by local police while parking with his girlfriend and paid bribes to escape arrest for "cosas inmorales." He is honest and humble about both his strengths and shortcomings. He is someone readers will want to know.
Quadalajara itself is a character in this book: "a unique place in a unique time" when those considered odd and unwieldy in the United States forged an independent life for themselves in another country.
A love for this city is just a small part of why this book makes for a good read. Most of the temporarily able-bodied (as a paralyzed friend once called them) are deeply curious about what life is like in a wheelchair. Tumidajski is brutally honest: from his accident only days after his safe return from Vietnam, to rehabilitation, isolation and bouncing back, he shares many minute details of himself. Ultimately, we learn that life in a wheelchair is like any other. The focus is on independence, love, entertainment, a place to call home, a meaning to the day.
Tumidajski's story is unblemished by flights of imagination, sparely told and more compelling for it. Spanish is seamlessly integrated into the text, with footnoting translated. The back section of the book is a treasure trove of historical documents, including everything from PVA correspondence to newspaper articles and personal photos.
"Many quads, paras, and other wheelers rolled around this unique city," writes Tumidajski. "Just as the Quadalajara era will never be duplicated, forgotten others will remain unknown – many of them the original Explorers and Pioneers of an almost forgotten moment in time." That comment is followed by almost 40 pages of the names of those he remembers, with a short description of each one. Like the book itself, it is a touching tribute to a time and people that deserve to be remembered. By the 1980s, peso devaluations and rising prices no longer allowed low fixed-income gringos to care for themselves as they needed to. Gradually, the Pioneers drifted away or were left behind in dwindling numbers.
On September 29, 1979, Jack Tumidajski, then Mexico Chapter PVA President, was in a Reporter photo. At the side of the then-Consul General, the Transito Chief and the Vice Consul, he was at hand to inaugurate what was probably the first handicapped parking space in Mexico. More than two decades later, he's back in the local English-language newspaper, this time with a very good, well-told story.
To order "Quadalajara: The Utopia That Once Was" visit the book's website at or ask at Sandi Bookstore.


Saturday, January 20, 2007


What's that expression: "Life Happens While You're Making Other Plans?" It happened to me early in this new year. Consequently, a few projects were put on "hold" and a few plans had to be changed. Looks like I'll have my next "book signing" as an inpatient at the San Diego VA Medical Center. I'm kinda/sorta a mini-celebrity around the Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) unit anyway with a few books having been passed around amongst the upper echelon of the medical staff there. Will that translate into being assigned one of the prettier nurses each day while I'm there? Doubt it. On my last two inpatient stays I was assigned male nurses for the first SIX days before finally getting female student nurses for much of the remainder of my "visit". Wonder what they have written in my chart, anyway? On a different note, got any inquiry on my website for someone from Tulsa Oklahoma trying to locate one of the old Quadalajara guys. Ironically, he had called me a week prior after a mutual friend lent him his copy of the book. Last I heard they'd been yakking it up over the phone. Reuniting lost loves is another job I never expected to inherit? But it's another rewarding aspect of my book project.

Sunday, January 07, 2007


I've thought since day one that I'd like to add some pictures of the early years in Quadalajara and also to have a photo to coincide with some of the folks I've already mentioned, as well as, some of those who I mention from time-to-time. Oh, the wonders of meeting people who are computer savvy. It's probably not as difficult as I expected it to be? I actually "uploaded" (I think) some photos onto myspace. Once I had someone show me how, it was fairly easy. Next project: scan old photos onto a disc and slap 'em up here. Stay tuned................


Tuesday, January 02, 2007


NEW YEAR'S 2007! What a better way to start the New Year then by going back in time some thirty years? It was after one of the Mexico Chapter Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) meetings that I was approached by then Mexico PVA President Keith Ziegler about taking on the position of "Chapter Historian". I was one of the last "new guys" to become active in the chapter while Keith had about a decade's worth of work and dedication under his belt. Looking back, I wonder now how it would have turned out? I never really considered Keith's offer, dismissing it without much thought. I never heard the words "Chapter Historian" uttered before or after our brief conversation. I was having too much fun taking advantage of my second chance at life, exploring all aspects of this adventure of living in Quadalajara, to be bothered with keeping a record of the Mexico PVA........Fast forward to June 2003: Keith Ziegler and I were now both living in the Phoenix area. Our relationship had evolved from a working one to that of being friends and neighbors. In fact, once I started working on the book, Keith and I became even closer. I grew to respect and admire this humble dedicated family man the more that I researched QUADALAJARA. The old Mexico PVA files & documents that Keith "discovered" while cleaning out his closet form the backbone of the book. Our formal and informal interviews added flavor to this unique piece of history lived by and shared by so many quadriplegics, paraplegics and other wheelchair users. In a strange twist of fate I finally became the unofficial "Chapter Historian" and "expert" on all things about this special place in time. If anyone has a question that I can't answer, I know a few folks who just might be able to help.