I put a little spritz in my hair and a little gloss on my lips this morning.
The university where I work here in Oaxaca was expecting a visit from the state governor, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, and the staff here at the Language Center was instructed to look extra-sharp for the occasion. (Or at least to don something besides the grubby jeans and t-shirts that we usually wear to teach. Sloppy gringos.)
Ruiz Ortiz was supposed to stop by our Language Lab to check up on some new hi-tech language equipment, equipment that the state had funded. The time for his visit was set for high noon today, and we were notified of the visit yesterday.
The thing was, all of the equipment for the new lab had just arrived and was still packed away in boxes as of yesterday. University staff spent the entire afternoon setting up the new computers and desks to make the lab look like it was up and running…but as we’ve yet to receive the actual language software that will eventually be used in the lab, none of the computers was actually, you know, operational. We hoped and prayed that the governor wouldn’t ask for a demonstration.
PR at its finest.
So, at noon today, we received word that the governor was on his way. All 15 of us language staffers, dressed in our Thursday best, filed out of our offices to the entrance of our immaculate-but-useless language lab. A news crew scurried up the walkway. A photographer showed up with a huge camera.
We waited anxiously for el gobernador to arrive.
And we waited.
And we waited some more.
After about 20 minutes, our secretary got a call. The governor would be there in 10 minutes. We should wait. Un poquito más, por favor.
So we waited some more.
And some more.
Another 20 minutes rolled by. No sign of the governor, nor of his entourage. The midday sun beat down on us. The sweatier we got, the more restless we got.
I, having worked five years in PR in Chicago (and by “worked in PR,” I mean, “stood around for hours, waiting for important people to show up for their damn photo opps”), had a sinking feeling that the governor wouldn’t be coming by for a while (what given that we were dealing in PR time, compounded by the infamous phenomenon that is Mexican Time.)
So I went back to my office to catch up on email. I worked for an hour, interrupted by two false alarms where I was informed that the governor was on his way, and that I should hurry back to the lab and get ready to greet him.
Lies! There was no sign of the governor. We waited some more.
At about 1:50 pm, almost 2 hours after the goveror was supposed to show up, the Vice Rector’s office called to say that he was terribly sorry, that Señor Ruiz Ortiz wasn’t going to be able to come after all, and that we should feel free to go to lunch.
So about 10 of the 15 Language Center staffers left. I stayed back for a few minutes to finish my email. I shut my office door at about 2:01 pm, only to be greeted by a rush a university staffer rushing toward me with a walkie-talkie.
The governor has arrived! Hurry, hurry, hurry! Put on your lipstick and go greet him!
So, I rushed into our Language Lab, accompanied by the three other teachers who hadn't been smart enough to get out while the getting was good. We lined up to shake hands with el gobernador and his crew.
Upon meeting me, he asked if I was a student.
His visit lasted approximately three minutes, long enough to smile for a few photo opps and ask all the foreign staff where we were from. He barely looked at the lab, which is just as well because none of it actually worked anyway.
And then he was off. Riding into the sunset (or, rather, into the blazing afternoon sun), earpiece-weilding bodyguards in tow, in his shiny black government-issued SUV, complete with tinted windows and Mexico City license plates.
The university's tech crew is going to come this afternoon to dismantle our fake language lab. We need the space for classes and exams, so we can’t justify using filling it up with faux lab stuff until the software is actually, you know, installed.
Yes, I’m rolling my eyes as I type this. Silly me, I thought I left all of this PR ruckus behind me when I left Chicago. But a friend, an old colleague, has just reminded me: PR is like the Mafia. Every time you think you're out they pull you back in. (Thanks, Kritty!)
That final sentiment is especially fitting when you consider I’m an ex-PR staffer who lived (scratch that...survived) two months in the Mafia-filled city that is Culiacán, Sinaloa. The ex-governor of my home state of Illinois is currently in the slammer. And Mr. Ulises Ruiz Ortiz doesn’t have the most stellar of track records, either. (There’s a clock in the main square in Oaxaca City that is actually counting down the number of days left in his term. Serious.)
Long live the photo opp!