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Of Bullrings, Billowing Capes and the Queen of Chula Vista

May 22, 1988|Bill Manson

TIJUANA — Pachanga !

The bullfighting season is on!

And no one's going scuffing the turf more eagerly than Kay Scott and Lois Haselton. Sure, Kay's knocking 70 and Lois 50. Kay's a widow, an ex-liquor store manager, Lois once handled public relations for Scripps Memorial hospital and administered a nursing home.

But don't let that fool you. That's just Monday to Friday. You've heard of Jekyll and Hyde?

Come weekends that life goes . . . click! Switched off. Switched over like a TV channel selector to . . . 00.

We're at the Plaza de Toros in Tijuana. Bright new red and white paint on the woodwork, raked dust, bubbling people, sweating barmen mixing sangrias of tomato juice and tequila, pfffssst!-ing the tops off half a dozen Superior beer bottles at a time, oblivious to the mariachis blaring out "Cielo de Andalusia," their polished trumpets fairly ricocheting stars off from the sun.

Aficionados Serenaded

Even the giant bass guitars glow a bulbous, amber welcome to this next-holiest group below the toreros--the aficionados.

This is the in-group. Those considered serious enough to be invited to drink, eat, mingle and meet with everybody from bullring owners to matadors on the day before the first crowds come pouring through to celebrate death and valor in the afternoon.

This is the pachanga .

A Mexican with a fine white fitted suit shouts out over a dozen heads. "La Reina de Chula Vista!" Julio Vieyra, a one-time bullfighter, looks over to a little group of tall Gringos giggling like kids meeting on their first day back at school. He elbows his way through the crowds.

"Kay! Como estas? "

Julio embraces the thin, gray-haired grandmother from Chula Vista, kissing her on both cheeks.

"Aha! La cuadrilla!"

The veteran puntillero --he has the unpopular task of delivering the coup de grace to bulls with a small dagger--looks around the group of old hell-raisers. He sees the smiling schoolboy face of Whitey Kick. Whitey must be 70, but down here his eyes shine like those of a 30-year-old. His margarita arm sticks out straight to save the drink as Julio embraces him. Big Mario Ferrucci beside him is next.

Queen of Chula Vista

The Queen of Chula Vista looks around indulgently at her friends.

"We've been coming down here quite a number of years. We're the cuadrilla all right. You know, the cuadrilla's the group of toreros who support a matador in the ring. We'd be in there supporting Julio, if we were a bit younger . . . ."

"Kay! No one can be younger than you. I should call you the Princess of Chula Vista."

Kay puffs her cigarette and smiles. The gallantry. Who else but a Latin?

The mariachis are striking up with a southern ballad. The conversation is fractured and fantastic. "Did you know," says Reuben Padilla, former director of tourism for Baja California and now the bullring's PR chief, "that ole comes from the Arabic Allah ? They shouted it in the time of the Moors, when the matador was spared for another pass. 'Thank God!' they cried. That was 1,500 years ago."

"Did you know," shouts someone else, "that I was at the Running of the Bulls at Pamplona last year, and the bulls were almost trampled to death by the crowd? Each one had a little red copy of 'The Sun Also Rises' in his hand . . . . "

"Did you know," says Kay, "that I've seen Gilbert Roland, John Wayne, Robert Stack, Stephanie Powers and Robert Goulet in this very bullring--except they don't seem to come down anymore . . . "

Somebody's calling.

"And do you know the major ?"

Bullring Owner

A slim middle-aged man with a thin face and sharp eyes emerges from the crowd. Major Lopez Hurtado turns out to be almost 80, a self-made millionaire with two bullrings, one of them the Monumental Bullring-by-the-Sea in Tijuana. He tells of the 2 million to 3 million pesos he's losing every year keeping his rings open, of his early years in the heroic times of Mexico, among such giants as Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata.

"And he still carries a gun," mutters Kay with a wry smile.

It turns out she has also met Pancho Villa's widow, 10 years ago, down in Chihuahua. Kay, it's beginning to appear, knows just about everybody.

Rogelio Leduc comes smiling up to Kay. They embrace. He's a matador, a noted rejoneador , an expert in the Portuguese style of horseback bullfighting. He's been a professional 15 years and gored five times.

"Kay, she's the great one here. Her late husband, Bob, he was one of the greatest aficionados. Not just a turista . . . . He knew the toreo like few men."

Kay's eyes melt.

Suddenly there's a blast from a distant trumpet. It's the mariachis, and they must be in the ring already. "La Virgen de Macarena" sounds out.

"Come," says Kay, "this is our one chance in the year."

"Chance?"

"You'll see."

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