How did a small-town Tennessee girl end up living in Obregón Sonora, Mexico and why does she still call it home over 40 years later? When did she and her late-husband decide to start the very first Mexico hunting operation in Sonora? What was their hallmark menu item, and who were among their guests? How’d she end up in the record books for a game bird previously believed to be extinct for more than a century? And how’d she really feel living south-of-the-border during the past 12 months especially? Mrs. Sharon Crider is affectionately How did a small-town Tennessee girl end up in Sonora, Mexico and why does she still call it home 40 years later? When did she and her late husband decide to start Sonora, Mexico’s very first duck hunting operation? What was their hallmark menu item, and who were among their guests? How’d she end up in the record books for a game bird previously believed to be extinct for more than a century? And how’d she really feel living south-of-the-border during the past 12 months especially? Mrs. Sharon Crider is affectionately known as Gringa to many of her long-time neighbors. Today, she shares a candid perspective of past, present and future times that simply cannot be gained during a week-long duck hunting vacation.
“Gringa” Sharon Crider Describes Living in Obregón Mexico for 40 Years: Mexico Safety, Raising Family, First Wingshooters Hunting Lodge in Sonora
I took Spanish in high school. I took one semester and dropped it because I said, “I’ll never use it.” And I’ve been living in Mexico now for forty-something years.
Ramsey Russell: Welcome back to a special episode of Duck Season Somewhere. I am in Obregón, Mexico, in Sonora. Beautiful duck hunting. It’s late February. I love this time of year. I’ve got a really, really cool guest. Yesterday, my long-term associate outfitter said, “I want you to meet somebody.” He said, “I know you. I’ve known you for a decade, and I know how your mind works. You’re really going to like this person and her stories and her knowledge and wisdom.” Folks, today’s guest is the amazing and beautiful Ms. Sharon Crider. How are you today, Sharon?
Sharon Crider: I’m just fine. But my name is Sharon Freeman Crider, from Tennessee.
Ramsey Russell: Tennessee?
Sharon Crider: Tennessee. The Smoky Mountains.
Ramsey Russell: Yes, ma’am.
Sharon Crider: So everybody says, “How did you end up here?”
Ramsey Russell: How did you end up here?
Sharon Crider: A crazy question, and how life moves you around. It’s crazy. I took Spanish in high school. I took one semester and dropped it because I said, “I’ll never use it.” And I’ve been living in Mexico now for forty-something years.
Ramsey Russell: Forty-something years.
Sharon Crider: Yeah. So there you go. You never know what’s going to happen.
First Hunting Lodge in Obregón, Sonora Mexico
Nobody was hunting. Nobody even knew it. Look, when we came down and we went into the white-winged dove hunting business—hunting doves, we started with—everybody, all of our friends, thought we were crazy.
Ramsey Russell: It must have been a long path to get from eastern Tennessee to Ciudad Obregón here in Sonora. What brought you here? How did you end up here forty years ago?
Sharon Crider: Well, I ended up marrying Jerry Crider, a baseball player from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in the mid-’60s. We moved. We were never in one place for more than three or four months. He played winter ball—we were in Hawaii, we were all over the place. In ‘69 he played for the Minnesota Twins. In 1970, he was with the Chicago White Sox. He was a pitcher. He said, “I was never a star, but at least I made it.” He was playing in the league here in Mexico the last year, in 1974. He had hurt his arm because he pitched all year round. He pitched long relief, short relief, and he was a starter. So he was crazy.
Okay. We came, and we were in Guaymas. He said, “I heard there was a dam in Obregón called Oviáchic, and they have great bass fishing. They’re black bass.” On his day off, we took the kids—we had three kids—and we brought them down here. He went fishing. He met a guy from Alabama. They became friends. When he hurt his arm, he was released from spring training in Oakland, Arizona. They released him because of his arm, and we ended up coming back here. We never left.
Ramsey Russell: The fishing must have been really good if you never left.
Sharon Crider: Yeah, it was. At that time—I’m talking about the ‘70s, ‘77, ‘78, ‘79—Obregón was the best bass fishing lake any place. We had Bill Dance down. We had bass people from Alabama—all of the bass people, the fishermen and everything—they came down here to fish. It was great bass fishing.
Ramsey Russell: We still fish it today, down here, with our outfitter. It’s great, great bass fishing. How long was it, from when he started fishing it and had a great time with his friend from Alabama, until y’all got into the fishing resort business?
Sharon Crider: Well, we ended up buying Charlie out. His name is Charlie Gray. We bought him out, and he went back home. He went back to Alabama. He sold ten bass boats—that we bought from him—and the concession that was out here. So Jerry is fishing with people from the States, packages and everything, and he watched the sky because he was from South Dakota. He was a hunter from a kid, and he saw all these ducks flying, heading south. He said, “Wait a minute, those ducks can’t all be going to Sinaloa, to Culiacán.” So he and a friend, in a small plane, went out over the Yaqui Valley. At that time, too—and still—the Yaqui Valley was known as the breadbasket of Mexico. It was all grain. It still is, but now there’s a lot of citrus and a lot of vegetables and everything. When we came down here, they had to bring in tomatoes and everything. This was just a grain valley when we first started. They saw it, and they went close to the ocean. There’s the marshes out there, where the ocean meets the fresh water that comes out of the valley from the irrigation. The ducks were there. There were thousands and thousands of ducks.
Ramsey Russell: And nobody was duck hunting them.
Sharon Crider: Nobody was hunting. Nobody even knew it. Look, when we came down and we went into the white-winged dove hunting business—hunting doves, we started with—everybody, all of our friends, thought we were crazy. Doves were a pest. Nobody ate dove. They were a pest. In fact, they’d call Jerry and say, “Have you got hunters? We need them to come out, to keep them from eating our grain.” He didn’t even have to look for dove.
Ramsey Russell: That’s great. It’s funny you talk about the breadbasket of Mexico, because when I met our Obregon Mexico hunting outfitter down here ten years ago, he was describing the agriculture and the irrigation required and the freshwater. We’re here in a desert. He said, “Oh, there’s a lot of wheat.” He said, “If you’ve ever eaten a tortilla, it probably came from the Yaqui Valley. The wheat probably came from the Yaqui Valley.” You don’t believe that until you show up here and there’s just millions of acres of wheat and corn.
Sharon Crider: There is an international school with people that come from all over the small countries, the poor countries. They come here, and they study. They plant wheat, or whatever the grain is, on so many hectareas, and they see how it does. It’s called Seano. In 1974 or 1976 or something, Norman Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize, and he’s the one that set up this Seano here in the Yaqui Valley. We have a lot of history here that nobody ever thinks about. A lot of things go on around here.
When started hunting ducks in Sonora Mexico?
Ramsey Russell: What was the name of y’all’s outfitting business? To clarify, y’all were the first waterfowl outfitter, the first wing-shooting outfitter, in Sonora.
Sharon Crider: Yes.
Ramsey Russell: What was the name of your business?
Sharon Crider: It was called Mex-Bass. It’s registered as Mex-Bass because Charlie Gray—we bought his business, and he was strictly bass so he had named it Mex-Bass. So we bought it, and all the paperwork and all that kind of stuff was already set up. We just went with that. What happened with the ducks, also—we had a group come in from California, and they were fishing and dove hunting. They said to Jerry, “The bucks are in the ducks.” That’s when we went and bought airboats and started looking, started doing the duck hunting. Because you have to go into those marshes—well, you know, you have to use an airboat. You cannot go in.
Ramsey Russell: No, it’s bottomless. Most of the places just don’t have a bottom at all. It’s just muddy. It’ll kill you.
Sharon Crider: That’s why nobody ever realized or even tried it, I think. They couldn’t get in. You couldn’t get in in a panga—one of those boats that they use, the shrimping guys. There’s no way.
Ramsey Russell: Especially when the tide goes out. Most of them are tidally-influenced, off the Sea of Cortés there.
Sharon Crider: That was the secret, was the airboats.
Ramsey Russell: Y’all brought the first airboats before duck hunting. Did y’all build them here or bring them in from the States?
Sharon Crider: No, we brought them from Houston.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, yeah. That makes sense. They know about airboats.
Sharon Crider: Yeah. We had clients from Houston, also, for the dove hunting and all. They helped us with the airboats, to buy them in Houston and all that.
Ramsey Russell: Where were most of your clients from, back in those days? Do you remember? California? The South?
Sharon Crider: No, we had them from all over. The president of 3M came in. We had them from Minnesota. We had them from Texas. California. All over, really. All over the states. Maybe not New York City. We’re probably not that big of a deal.
Ramsey Russell: Well, even the good people of New York don’t claim New York City.
Sharon Crider: Not anymore.
Ramsey Russell: No, they don’t.
Sharon Crider: There was a group from Japan that came, but they were fishing. They came from Japan, though. There were about twelve of them.
Ramsey Russell: We’ve had a group from China that came down here and hunted and fished, one time. Pre-COVID.
Sharon Crider: Yeah. We’ve never had any people from Europe that I remember, no.
Ramsey Russell: They’re too cheap. It’s true.
Sharon Crider: Yeah. I don’t know. Anyway, I don’t think they’re really hunters to begin with.
Ramsey Russell: No. They go out and shoot the driven pheasant type-stuff. Sharon, because you’ve been here a long time,how have things changed—here in the valley and here in this part of Mexico—in the last forty years? Since those days when you and Jerry set up that lodge? How have things changed?
Sharon Crider: Well, Obregón has expanded tremendously. When we came, it was beautiful. It still is. It’s a good town, but it’s gotten very big. Very big. It will be one hundred years old in 2027. A hundred years old, the city of Obregón. The city was designed by Americans and guys from Europe that came with the wheat, the tortillas, the flour. That was a big deal. Exporting cotton was big here, at one time. Rice was, but they didn’t have enough water. They had cotton gins. I think they went out of business in the early ‘70s, or something. So they came in, and they designed the city. I don’t know if you’ve noticed how wide the streets are. You go to Álamos, and your side mirrors almost hit the buildings on both sides. The streets are real narrow, like the old Mexico. Here the streets are very wide, very nice. They laid out the town very well.
Ramsey Russell: Sharon, can you describe a little bit about y’all’s wing-shooting business? Because here’s what I’m getting at: I’m not in the duck hunting business. My outfitters aren’t in the duck hunting business. We’re in the people business.
Sharon Crider: Absolutely.
Ramsey Russell: I was not surprised after I got to know you, but I did learn yesterday, as we were talking, that you weren’t just a wife. You were part of the business. You were part of the guided Mexico duck hunting experience. You took care of wives, and you hosted hunters, and you did the details. Can you just kind of go into what all it took to go into your business like that, back then?
Sharon Crider: Well, they usually say a man and a wife can’t work together because they fight all the time. I’m sure you’ve had that experience. Well, as long as the women control the money, there isn’t a big problem, really.
Ramsey Russell: No, I can’t argue that. I cannot argue.
Mexico Hunting Lodge Meals, Service, Reputation
When the guys got here the first night, they had a T-bone steak that was an inch and a half thick. They never forgot it.
Sharon Crider: No, we enjoyed it. I’ll tell you one thing that we did, the service that the guys never forgot, the ones that came back every year. When we were in Maracaibo, Venezuela—Jerry was pitching—we went to a place called Zorbas. They had a steak there that was like an inch and a half thick, and we never forgot it. So when we came here, and we ended up having a place where you have the rooms and everything—a club, a private club. We used the hotels at the beginning, but we ended up renting this house, and it was a clubhouse. When we did that—when the guys got here the first night, they had a T-bone steak that was an inch and a half thick. They never forgot it.
Ramsey Russell: Because that’s an American thing. I’ve been to Mexico—I’ve been to restaurants, I’ve been to a lot of outfits down here—I have never seen an inch and a half thick steak. They want it thin so they can cook it hot and quick.
Sharon Crider: No, it was incredible. What they couldn’t eat, they’d take for a sandwich the next day. Jerry and I never forgot that steak from Venezuela. That’s what it was. The guys, when they’d come back every year, they expected that the first night they arrived.
Ramsey Russell: Talk about some of the other foods y’all ate, because I know y’all didn’t eat just steak every night. It cracks me up, here at the lodge we’re staying at. We have chicken and pork and blah, blah, blah. But then they have Mexican night. I’m in Mexico, and we’re gonna have a special Mexican night? Like, we’re in Mexico! It seems like every night is Mexican night. But what were some of the other meals y’all served?
Sharon Crider: Actually, I think we did, we did the T-bone, and then we had one night of the dove and the ducks and fish. We had a chef that could do the duck on the grill. That was it. He was absolutely excellent. And the dove on the brochettes. He was the one who did all that. I don’t think we ever did serve a chicken. I don’t remember that.
Ramsey Russell: Well, there’s plenty of them around here.
Sharon Crider: Yeah. Bachoco’s the largest chicken producer in Latin America and South America, and the family’s here.
Ramsey Russell: One of the house specialties where we are is a thick, smoked pork chop. It’s a famous pork chop from around here.
Sharon Crider: Yeah. We did do that one, too.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. That’s a big deal down here, isn’t it?
Sharon Crider: I think your outfitter copied our menu!
Ramsey Russell: He probably did.
Sharon Crider: I’m going to have to charge him something.
Ramsey Russell: Well, they say imitation is the ultimate flattery.
Sharon Crider: Well, I don’t know. Even the waiters, the restaurants around here, noticed our service with our people. They realized that you have to give service to the people. If you don’t do that— They’re here for three days and four nights. The package that we had, basically, was three days and four nights. They pay quite a bit because they come in commercially. The licenses, all that stuff, it costs. If there’s one day that they can’t shoot because of the rain or something, you have to make sure you have good service, for them to come back. If you don’t have good service, you don’t get them back no matter what. They’re very dissatisfied when the rain hits. They think you’re the one that sent it.
Ramsey Russell: They’re down here to hunt. Who are some of the personalities? I know that a lot of the televised anglers fished with y’all. Bill Dance, and who all?
Sharon Crider: That was at the beginning. You ask me all this after I’ve been here so many years. We’ve been out of the business since 1990.
Ramsey Russell: I know. It’s been a long time.
Sharon Crider: So I mean to tell you, I have to shake my mind to remember. Do you remember the group Three Dog Night? One of them came down.
Ramsey Russell: Really? They were duck hunters, or fishermen?
Sharon Crider: Duck. These, we’re talking about hunting. Cannon? You know, he had the television show.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Cannon. I don’t remember the actor’s name.
Sharon Crider: I can’t, either. It’s been too long.
Ramsey Russell: We watched it. Just like with Mannix and everybody. I remember those days.
Sharon Crider: He came down. Let me see. Oh yeah, the guy from Dallas. J.R. He came. Jerry got really upset.
Ramsey Russell: Why?
Sharon Crider: Because he had a bill with his picture on it, and he was flashing it around. Jerry didn’t like him. He said his head was too big.
Ramsey Russell: Was he a good shot?
Sharon Crider: Well, I don’t know. I must have been out of the— I don’t know where I was. I didn’t meet him. Jerry didn’t like him, so I didn’t go over there. I usually went in the evenings just to check and make sure everybody was doing okay. My face was there also.
Ramsey Russell: It’s been my experience, traveling worldwide, that a woman brings a good touch to a hunting lodge. It really keeps it respectable. It’s just a nice touch, you know?
Sharon Crider: Well, they knew they couldn’t bring gals in there. That was off limits from the beginning. We laid those rules down at the beginning because we had three kids that were in school in town, and it’s a small town. If we had gotten the reputation—
Ramsey Russell: Who wants all that stuff in their house, anyway?
Sharon Crider: Besides that, down here your reputation is very important.
Ramsey Russell: We’re going to talk about that. We talked briefly about that yesterday. About reputation, about people, about Mexicans. How old were your children when y’all moved down here, Sharon?
Sharon Crider: Jeff was six, Kathy was four, and we had a daughter that was eleven.
Ramsey Russell: Did they go to school here, or did they get tutored or something at the house?
Sharon Crider: No, no, they went to school. They went to Catholic schools.
Ramsey Russell: I bet they learned to speak Spanish pretty quick.
Sharon Crider: You gotta be kidding. It’s taken me all these years, and I’m still learning. They were our translators when we’d been here for like four months. It was stupid. You know? It makes you feel real weird.
Ramsey Russell: Every time new technology comes along and you want to figure out your cellphone or an app, just ask a kid.
Sharon Crider: Yeah, really. That’s the truth. No, I don’t know. We put them into the Catholic private schools. Well, private schools in Obregón. La Salle was the boys’ school, and that’s from France. There’s lasallistas, they’re Catholic priests from France. They have a school here. I don’t know, we just put them into Catholic schools and they adjusted very well. Like you said, they learn immediately. Within three or four months, they’re speaking the language.
Ramsey Russell: Did you have daughters or sons?
Sharon Crider: Two girls and one boy.
Ramsey Russell: Did the boy play baseball?
Sharon Crider: Yeah, he played in the Little League here, and so forth, but he wasn’t a sports guy.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve noticed baseball is a very huge sport here in Mexico.
Sharon Crider: Well, in this area. In this part of Mexico.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Not everywhere, but here for sure.
Sharon Crider: Yeah. Because Southern Mexico is soccer.
Ramsey Russell: I know there’s a team up here in Hermosillo, the Naranjeros.
Sharon Crider: Yeah. We’re the Yaquis, here.
Ramsey Russell: The Yaquis. Right here. I’ll tell you a baseball game I’ve always wanted to watch. It’s just an adult league dirt field way out in one of these areas we hunt. An hour south of here, just out in the sticks, in a little Indian village. As we pull in, there is a—bigger than a Little League field, it’s like an adult-size field. There’s not a single blade of grass. The entire field is hard-packed like this pavement. I just imagine, oh boy, hitting a line drive to shortstop and it ricocheting. You got to be playing an A-game, quick, to be out there. That’s fast. I said, “God, I’d like to see these guys play baseball.”
Sharon Crider: You know who was one of Jerry’s bird boys at one time?
Ramsey Russell: Who?
Sharon Crider: Fernando Valenzuela.
Ramsey Russell: Really? He’s from around here?
Sharon Crider: He’s from south of the airport. A little village south of the airport. He was chasing doves. Then he came and played in a golf tournament here. He’s a golfer, also. I haven’t seen him in a long time now because he lives in California and all, but he used to be here frequently because his parents were still alive. I think when his parents died, he quit coming to Obregón. I just remembered that. You just drew that little memory out, of Fernando.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, Fernando Valenzuela. Famous major league southpaw pitcher that started as a Mexico white-winged dove hunting bird boy.
Rediscovering Gould’s Wild Turkey in Mexico
Ramsey Russell: You told me an interesting story yesterday. Y’all were fishing. You had this dove business, the duck business, and everything else. J.R. Ewing is hunting with you. But someone had told your husband about some amazing trout fishing up in the mountains.
Sharon Crider: Since he was from South Dakota, they told him that there was trout in the mountains east of here. The mountains are the Rocky Mountain chain that goes down. What’s the name of it? The Sierra Madres, yeah. It’s the Rockies, or whatever. They told him that there was trout, so he gathered three or four guys and they went up to look for trout. Just to check it out, to see what was going on. He came back ,and he said, “I saw a turkey up there that’s not a domestic turkey. I don’t know what it is, but it’s not a Rocky Mountain turkey, because of the markings.” He said, “I have no idea, but it’s not a domestic turkey. That’s all I’m saying, right now.” He went back with some friends, and they did the turkey hunting. They got a guide from the town, and so forth. Jerry was an excellent turkey caller. He’d got the box, I think, from South Carolina. In fact, I still have his turkey hunting calls.
Ramsey Russell: There are some serious turkey hunters in South Carolina. That’s right.
Sharon Crider: I still have his two. He had one that he used in his mouth, and then he had the other one, a box call. After about a year or two, he still had that thought about that turkey up there. Those turkeys, they were different. He called a university in Texas, someplace in Texas, and some guys came in—there was like three of them—during the turkey season. He took him up there. They took the skins back, and it ended up being the Gould’s Wild Turkey, which they had thought was extinct for like a hundred years or so.
Ramsey Russell: They thought it was extinct in Mexico, or extinct everywhere?
Sharon Crider: No, extinct, because there was no record—in the wild turkey magazines—there was no record of the Gould’s Turkey [preceding the mid-1980s].
Ramsey Russell: Wow. This would have been in the early ‘80s?
Sharon Crider: Yeah. ‘80s. ‘81, ‘82, ‘83. In there. He got pissed at me— Excuse me, I said the wrong word. I went up, and I went turkey hunting. We got up at 4:00 AM, 3:30 or 04:00. We’d go out, lay in the woods, and then he would call in the turkeys. It took me six days to shoot one because he would be behind me, and he would call them in, and he said, “I’ll tell you when to shoot.” He says, “Do not move.” In fact, one time the hen came up and started picking at my pants.
Ramsey Russell: Really?
Sharon Crider: Yeah. But the males are smart. They’re smarter than you guys. They don’t come in very often. So like I said, it took me six days. I finally got him. He’s standing back there, and he’s calling them in, and he says, “I’m going to count. On three, stand up and shoot.” On three, I stood up and shot. I got him. They took the measurements and everything, and he had a triple beard. That made him even madder. I sent my stats to the National Wild Turkey Federation for the Gould’s turkeys, and I was in the book for a while.
Ramsey Russell: You were the first? Maybe the first?
Sharon Crider: Maybe. I could have been. I don’t remember now, to tell you the truth. Anyway, he was really mad then. He said, “Why are you in there, and I’m not?” I said, “Well, you never send any information in. How are they supposed to know?” Because his was bigger. His weighed more. He was up there quite often. Anyway, it was nice.
Ramsey Russell: That’s just an amazing story. Did he have anything to do with naming it Gould’s? Who named it Gould’s, do you know?
Sharon Crider: No. That was a species. That was before. I don’t know how long.
Ramsey Russell: It had been named, but they thought it was extinct. So it kept his name once they found it.
Sharon Crider: Yeah, it kept its name. At that time, there were five or six subspecies of wild turkeys. I don’t remember exactly, but they had to change the record book. Well, maybe there’s six now, but there were five back then. They had to change the record books and make them six, because they had no record in the National Wild Turkey Association.
Ramsey Russell: Did he ever go into the turkey business? Guiding turkey hunts?
Sharon Crider: Yeah. We had turkey hunts. The season was very short. It was like two or three weeks in March or April. But yeah, we had people, but he did it more for fun. By the time you fly somebody up there, and you have all the people from here go up there, and you take all of the supplies and everything; it’s not really a business. It was a fun thing.
Ramsey Russell: He was a turkey hunter.
Sharon Crider: Yeah. Well, he was a sportsman, period.
Ramsey Russell: You said something that I thought was the highest compliment. He could make a living doing anything he set his mind to. Athletically, like that.
Sharon Crider: Yeah. Not many people make a living on what they enjoy.
Ramsey Russell: Right. That’s a fact.
Sharon Crider: He did everything. Baseball, hunting, fishing, golf. He ended up being a scratch golfer down here, and he didn’t start golfing until he was 35 or 36. When he hurt his arm, when he got out of baseball, he started golfing. He was a born sportsman.
Ramsey Russell: Born sportsman. He loved it, though. He didn’t just enjoy it, he loved it. He was passionate about it.
Sharon Crider: I have a picture of him when he was four years old. His grandfather, at a fair in Sioux Falls, had Jerry pitching, and he charged people to watch him pitch. Jerry said, “I have never forgiven my grandfather. He never gave me a dime.” But I’ve got the picture of him pitching at four years old. He got a scholarship to the University of Sioux Falls in football. He was a natural sport. He was a natural athlete.
Ramsey Russell: Did you hunt, growing up? Did you hunt or fish with your parents or grandparents, growing up in Tennessee?
Sharon Crider: No. Well, I might have shot a .22 a couple of times. But no. My dad, he liked fishing, but they really weren’t into that. Don’t ask me how I ended up doing what all we did.
Is Mexico Safe?
Sharon Crider: My grandmother, when we moved to Mexico—you guys are going to like this—She’d never been out of east Tennessee. She said Pancho Villa is going to kill us. That was just her image. Which, we’ll get into that, because the image of Mexico is so tacky. I can’t believe it.
Ramsey Russell: You’re single. You live in a beautiful home here on the golf course. You’ve lived here for forty years. It’s your home. This is your home. You still go to Phoenix, but this is your home. Because of the media, because of this stereotype that I think is a complete and utter fabrication, the number one question I get asked by people that watch too much John Wayne’s Alamo or read too much Lame Street Media is, “How safe is it in Mexico?” I’m like, “Have you seen the news, lately, in America? What do you mean? Is Mexico safe compared to what? To Detroit? To Dallas? To Jackson, Mississippi? Seattle? Minneapolis? Is Mexico safe compared to what? These people are wonderful and friendly and service-oriented. The whole Mexico culture is service-oriented.”
Sharon Crider: Yes, very much so.
Ramsey Russell: Sharon, way back when in my life, in a former career, I started off as a forester, and we did a lot of reforestation. We had a lot of immigrant tree planters. They were the happiest, hardest-working people I’d ever met. Because we were working seven days a week trying to get all those trees out, my wife would bring my little children. They were about as tall as this table. Those folks would just take up with them, and I realized they were so family-oriented.
Sharon Crider: Very much so.
Ramsey Russell: Their whole thing revolves around family, down here.
Sharon Crider: It still is. It’s the same. And their friends. I’m a comadre, as we call them. We baptize, or we first communion, people. They took us in. We’re just part of everything here. It’s amazing. When hunters would come in from the airport to our lodge, which is downtown—it was close to where you stay during your Obregón Mexico duck hunt now. There’s shacks all along the highways. When they go white-winged dove hunting, you see all kinds of shacks and stuff. I really think those people are happier than most people in the States, because they live in a family atmosphere in their home. There might be six of them living in three or four rooms, but they work together. They share together. The States has gotten very distant. They send their kids out at 19, 20, 21. They just send them out of the house. Not everybody, of course, but they send them out of the house. They say, “You go to school. You go do your own thing.” Here, they don’t. It’s amazing. My kids are up in Phoenix. When Jerry died, my friends here said, “You’re not going to go to Phoenix and live with your kids?” Because their kids are always around. I said, “Well, no, because I have no friends. I have very few friends in Phoenix. My friends are here, we’ve been here so many years.” When I can’t walk or talk, I’ll go and knock on their door. But until then, no.
When we came here to Mexico in the ‘70s, one of the first things I noticed was—I said, “They’re Southern people.” They have the same customs in Obregón that the Southern people have. Hospitality, family, all of those values.
Ramsey Russell: You’re very happy. This is your community. This is your home. What is it like living here in this part of Sonora?
Sharon Crider: Well, I’ll tell you what. This part— Okay, here’s a good example. I like the plates and everything they make out of the clay.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, I love it.
Sharon Crider: But my friends and all use Pyrex because they shop in the States. They couldn’t believe that I like the stuff here.
Ramsey Russell: It’s terracotta-like, or something.
Sharon Crider: Yeah. The thing is, it’s very modernized in Sonora because we’re next to Arizona. They have a commission between Arizona and Sonora. It’s called the Commission. They get together twice a year, and they compare. They do schools, interchanges, and so forth. I’m the treasurer of the sister cities of Obregón and Tucson. There’s no money there. That’s why I took it. They have no money. They named me treasurer when they had the meeting, and I didn’t go. When they finally told me, “You’re treasurer,” I said, “How much money is there?” “Nothing.” “Okay. I’ll stay until there’s money.” Because when money is involved and something goes wrong, who’s the one that gets canned? The treasurer. So forget it. So it’s actually very modernized here because we’re neighbors of Arizona. It’s great living here. Listen, if you get in the wrong part of town in any place in the world, you’re in trouble. I don’t drive at night, but I don’t drive at night when I’m in Phoenix, either. You just don’t know anymore. Things have changed.
Ramsey Russell: Look, one of my children got their driver’s license back home. I live in Mississippi. 3.5 million people. Country. You know, Mississippi. And I forbid them—
Sharon Crider: I’m glad you’re from Mississippi. Tennessee is a little bit better.
Ramsey Russell: No, it’s just not as flat. Same people, living on the side of a hill. When they got their driver’s licenses, they had to drive down the interstate corridors around Jackson, Mississippi. I’m like, “If you get a flat tire, if you run out of gas, don’t pull off the interstate. Call your daddy. Don’t pull off the interstate, and go into that town. It’s a bad area. Don’t go there. It’s dangerous.”
Sharon Crider: Every place is the same on that. But I just can’t give enough credit to the people here. The industry that’s around, Cargill with the grain. The Yaqui Valley is like 250,000 hectáreas, so it’s huge. Right now, one of the top avocado growers is from here. They export to the States.
Ramsey Russell: Speaking of the people, the hard work, the ethic—I’ll tell you something I’ve noticed. Because you’re talking about America versus here. You come up to a red light in Navojoa—come up to a red light in Obregón—you sit there parked in line, and somebody comes out. They don’t walk up and down, holding their hand out, begging. They come out, and they wash your window.
Sharon Crider: Oh, those guys.
Ramsey Russell: But they wash your windows. They don’t just hold out their hand for a tip. They’re doing something before they ask. That’s kind of a cool.
Sharon Crider: Yeah. No, it’s good because they are not beggars. They’re not beggars.
Ramsey Russell: They’re not. To me, it is so impressive. They just want to work. Our conversation reminds me of the time I was way over on the eastern side of Mexico—in this little dirt road town—and I met a blind man, blind since birth, that delivered water. He walked in from out of town from where he lived with his mother in one of those little shacks, he got a handcart, he went to the water store, and they gave him five gallons of water to put on his handcart. Blind. He knew where all 450 doors were. He delivered for money. Somebody said to him, “May God bless you, that was such an inspiring story.” He got a confused look, and he goes, “God has blessed me. I’m the blind man who has the most important job in my community.” It was that same year that, very briefly, Carlos Slim—of Mexico’s Telefónica—became the richest man in the world. When he became the richest man in the world, he was asked by a reporter, “What would be your charity?” He says, “Santa Claus is a children’s myth. My gift to my people is the opportunity to work. My people want to work.” I thought, “Man, what an amazing testimony about the country of Mexico.”
Sharon Crider: Yeah. It really is. Like I said, I can’t say enough. Because I’m still living here, right? It’s a great place to be. You said, “How did it get the reputation?” I think it was the old movies where they showed the Mexicans underneath a palm tree. That was from the ‘30s and ‘40s, man.
Ramsey Russell: The very highly sensational American media machine.
Sharon Crider: Well, it’s running everybody now.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. It’s everything. Fake news.
Sharon Crider: Yeah. I had a priest—well, a guy that’s studying to be a priest. He’s from California. He’s in a seminary in Álamos, and they said, “He’s white?” So now they’re trying to get rid of all of us, the white people. It’s weird. This summer was one of the most embarrassing times I’ve had down here as being an American. Because of the riots, because of everything that’s happening up there.
Ramsey Russell: It’s ironic that so many people have such a maligned, stereotypical opinion of dangerous old Mexico, dirty Mexico, yet I’ve become friends with a lot of the staff throughout Mexico. Fifty friends down here. We all WhatsApp and talk just weekly, daily, and they’re not texting me with all that mess that’s going on and busting my balls. They’re writing to a friend and saying, “Ramsey, what in the heck is going on? Where are the police? Where is the military? Why is such a beautiful city burning? Why is your government letting that happen?” What I know, having been down here for the last twenty years off and on—that would never happen in this community, ever. Nobody’s ever going to destroy the fabric of this society, and the government—or, for that matter, the cartel—stand by and let it happen. Nobody’s going to let it happen.
Sharon Crider: Well, we’re talking politics a little bit here. I’m telling you, the States is going socialist because the people, most of the ones that are causing the riots and everything, have never lived anyplace else. They’re a spoiled a bunch of people. They’ve never lived in another country and saw how people live in other places. They don’t know how good they have it. They’re spoiled. They’re spoiled rotten. For instance, our baseball team here in Obregón, the Yaqui Indians, fought against the Apaches. They were warriors. The ones in Navojoa are the Mayos, which are the Indians there. Well, right now, if they were like the States, they’d be trying to change the name of the baseball teams, right?
Ramsey Russell: Mm-hmm. But they take pride in it. They’re very proud [of their heritage].
Sharon Crider: Yeah. So I don’t know. Hopefully, we can do something about it at one point. I pray.
Ramsey Russell: It’s a minority, though. I don’t want to get too far off into politics. Nobody wants to hear all that. We’re tired of hearing it. But at the same time, I’m reminded—as much as I travel throughout the United States and all the friends I’ve got from New York to California and everywhere else—it is such a vocal minority. It’s extremely urban. It’s not even liberal versus conservative in America, anymore. It is extremely urban versus everybody else. 99% of the country’s real America still, but they’ve got the media, and they’ve got the voice.
Sharon Crider: The big cities are the ones that are doing all of the damage. All of it. Because you go back to east Tennessee or down in Mississippi, and you’re received. Just, you’re received. That was another thing. When we moved here, when we came here in the ‘70s, one of the first things I noticed was—I said, “They’re Southern people.” They have the same customs in Obregón that the Southern people have.
Ramsey Russell: I would agree. Yeah.
Sharon Crider: Hospitality, family, all of those. A bunch of those people from Tennessee and Mississippi and all through there came across Texas and down into Chihuahua and into these mountains here.
Ramsey Russell: That’s right. I heard you say something funny yesterday that you learned since you’ve been here, is that you never say anything bad about somebody because they’re all relatives.
Sharon Crider: They’re all relatives. That was a learning experience at the very beginning. Yes. You cannot say anything about anybody because they’re all family. You just can’t do it. You have to really watch what you’re saying, which is great.
How Safe is Mexico during Covid Pandemic?
It’s a peace of mind to come to Mexico and the entire society—rather than shutting down people and putting them out of work and closing businesses—is taking it very seriously.
Ramsey Russell: One last observation, then we’re going to change subjects, but all this mess about COVID. Frank and I went to Walmart yesterday. It had been a couple of years, and as I’m walking into Walmart I asked him, “Can you believe this? Last time I saw you, last time we ate dinner, last time we went and ate seafood, who would have dreamed something like this would happen?” I’ve spent quite a few days in Mexico, several times this year, and it feels so normal. It feels so pre-COVID to come down to Mexico, because it’s normal. But everywhere I go—into the groceries, into Walmart, into businesses, into shops—they’re all open. Nobody shut them down. They’re open. But when you walk in, you take your temperature. Nobody’s doing that in America.
Sharon Crider: They’ve been doing that since it first started.
Ramsey Russell: Wait, wait, wait. Why are we shutting down restaurants, and putting people out of business, instead of safety protocols?
Sharon Crider: Well, they do occasionally—like a month ago or so, we had a scheduled golf tournament, and the governor put the state in red. So we had to cancel the tournament. But at the very beginning, when it first started—it started here around the 15th of March. I don’t remember. The States had it in February, I think. It was starting to move. But here everybody started the 15th of March, and we’ve been using masks ever since. You couldn’t go into Walmart, you can’t go into any grocery store, any place, without your mask on. You walk through, you put your shoes in—I never understood that.
Ramsey Russell: It’s clean. Everywhere you step onto something, and now your shoes have no germs. You’re not tracking COVID. Some of the places I’ve seen, they spray a little mist, so you have no cooties.
Sharon Crider: So that’s been from the very beginning, really. And the temperature.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. I was in Walmart yesterday, and everybody’s wearing a mask. But I’m looking around going, “Nobody’s got a fever. Everybody’s shoes are clean. Everybody’s hands are clean because it’s not optional. They just smile, say, ‘Señor,’ and you wash your hands.” I’m thinking, “I can’t go to Target, back home, and have this assurance.”
Sharon Crider: They spray down every cart, also. I don’t know if you noticed that.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, I did notice that.
Sharon Crider: We go to church. We’re distanced. You walk into the church—they do the same thing. It’s the same routine. You have to have your mask. They do your hands, you do the feet, and they do the temperature. Somebody takes you and they seat you to where your distances are marked off. The pews are marked for the distance and everything. That’s been from the beginning, also. But I’ve known people that have died from it.
Ramsey Russell: Of course, yeah. It’s real.
Sharon Crider: It’s real. It’s there. But I feel like most of them had other problems. I think 80-90% had other problems, and I sure take my vitamin D.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, I take my vitamins, and I abide the rules. But I’m just saying, it’s a peace of mind to come to Mexico and the entire society—rather than shutting down people and putting them out of work and closing businesses—is taking it very seriously.
Sharon Crider: They did close the casinos. The casinos aren’t open yet. It opened for a while, but they wouldn’t allow anybody in over sixty. I thought that was kind of weird. Most of the people, right now, that are in casinos are over sixty.
Ramsey Russell: That is kind of weird.
Sharon Crider: Yeah. But anyway.
Changing Obregón Mexico’s Public Image
Ramsey Russell: You told me a story yesterday I really loved. Obregun—not Obregón, Obregun. Will you tell that story from the beginning? Because it really goes to the heart of what’s going on here in this community.
Sharon Crider: He has a business of vitrales. What do you call it? Stained glass. He’s a teacher, and he went to Texas. This was probably five years ago, he was saying. I think he was in Dallas. He was delivering some stained glass that he had done. He designs the stuff and all that. He does a lot of stuff. Some people came up and asked him where he was from, and he said, “Obregón, Sonora, Mexico.” They said, “Oh! Obregun, gun, Obregun.” Well, that kind of pissed him off right there, you know? But he said, “Okay.” Then, maybe a few months later, he goes to Austin, Texas, for the same reason. He takes some work he’s doing. Some people came up, and they said the same thing, “Obregun,” when he said where he was from. He really got mad, then. He decided, when he came back, that he was going to try to change the image projected of Obregón.
Ramsey Russell: Change the public image. To clarify, Obregón is not a particularly dangerous town.
Sharon Crider: No. Well, they do have a cartel.
Ramsey Russell: Name a major US city. It’s really not particularly dangerous.
Sharon Crider: We’ve never had mass shootings or anything. The cartel goes after the cartel. If you don’t pay your bill—and you’re in the cartel—you’re done for, here. That’s the truth. There’s no getting around it. Anyway, he decided, “Okay, Obregón is going to be a hundred years old in 2027. If you go to Paris, what’s your image that you imagine? Or if you go to New Orleans, what’s the first thing you think of?”
Ramsey Russell: I think of the Eiffel Tower.
Sharon Crider: Yeah, and New Orleans—the food, Bourbon Street and all. He decided, “You’re going to go visit—” he told me. We have a place they call Laguna del Nainari. It’s a manmade lake, and they have statues there. It’s a park.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, right there in the center of town.
Sharon Crider: Yeah, in the center of the town. They have parks, and they sell cocos. They sell food, tacos and so forth. It’s been there for quite a few years. He’s decided that he is going to make the largest art gallery in Mexico, in open air. An art gallery outside. The largest in Mexico. He’s working on it, and you’re going to go see that. It’s amazing, and he does it with tiles. Little tiles. Little pieces of tile. I’ll tell you, it’s impressive.
Ramsey Russell: Some of the pictures you showed me, yesterday, were incredible. Like mosaics. Little, tiny, tile mosaics.
Sharon Crider: Right. That’s exactly the word. Mosaic. He’s decided to do that. He says there’s a few businesses that are coming into it right now, and all of them like the idea because it’s nothing political. Nothing. He’s not asking any political party, the mayor, anybody, to help. The thing is, he says, “The people here will take pride in their town, and we have to do this.” He’s relying on the people. Of course, I bought one. I put “Crider Freeman and family,” and he’s got it in mosaics on the floor, there.
Ramsey Russell: I’m going to go look for it.
Sharon Crider: Yeah. It’s amazing work, and he’s going to change the image, the projection, of Ciudad Obregón. I think with your help we can do it also. When we had the business, some gals came in with their husbands. I’d take them to San Carlos, which is like an hour north of us on the Sea of Cortés. That’s Guaymas, San Carlos. San Carlos is a big tourist place, now, for the new Mexico. An hour and fifteen minutes south of us, up in the mountains, is Álamos. It’s a colonial town like you see in southern Mexico. So they got to see both of them from Obregón, which we’re right in the middle.
Favorite Things to Eat in Obregón, Mexico
Sharon Crider: Ciudad Obregón, we’re an industrial city with all kinds of food. You can name everything that—
Ramsey Russell: I can name a lot. I do like the seafood. I love the fresh seafood in Obregón. It comes by the Sea of Cortés. If I have a day between clients, there’s a restaurant—Los Arbolitos—where all the staff there know you want to go eat those ceviche, scallops and shrimp.
Sharon Crider: Yeah. It’s all fresh. It’s fresh, fresh, fresh.
Ramsey Russell: One of the funniest things is—ten years ago, my outfitter says, “Do you like hot dogs?” I go, “Hot dogs?” He goes, “Do you like hot dogs?” I go, “I love them.” He said, “We’ve got the world’s best hot dogs.” I said, “Really?” “Uh, yeah.” It’s just a little bitty cart on a street corner, and oh my goodness. Bacon-wrapped, all-beef jumbo frank loaded with all kinds of good stuff besides mustard and pickles, I can tell you.
Sharon Crider: Wait, the bread is the secret to that.
Ramsey Russell: Is it?
Sharon Crider: The bun.
Ramsey Russell: It’s a very good bun.
Sharon Crider: Okay, a hot dog is a hot dog. But the bread—it’s the bread. Because in Phoenix, my kids—I take the buns up to Phoenix.
Ramsey Russell: Really? Is it made here in Mexico?
Sharon Crider: Yes.
Ramsey Russell: By the time I’d eaten my third or fourth hot dog, I had met like the university president, the chief of police, a hospital executive. I’m on a street corner, in front of God and everybody, thinking, “That doesn’t happen in war zones.”
Sharon Crider: No. There’s taco stands at night. How many taco stands do you see? They restricted them and they wear their masks and they’re very clean. There’s no problem.
Ramsey Russell: That’s right. I’ve spent enough time in Mexico that—outside of Arizona, maybe as far east as a few hole-in-the-wall places I found in Texas—I don’t eat Mexican food. I don’t eat Mexican food at all, back home in Mississippi. My wife wants to go to a Mexican restaurant? I go, “This ain’t Mexican food.”
Sharon Crider: I quit that a long time ago.
Ramsey Russell: It’s not even close to Mexican food. California’s got burritos dialed in, but this is good food.
Sharon Crider: The mayor of Tucson—I’m talking about years ago—he came down for the sister city program of Tucson and Obregón. He came. We took him to one of those corner hot dog stands. And then the next night, the tacos. That’s what he wanted.
Ramsey Russell: That’s me. Absolutely. You take it for granted, probably. You eat it all the time, down here.
Sharon Crider: Yeah. Well, in the Yaqui Valley, where we’re located, there’s so much fresh stuff. All of the beef is grown here. Sonora beef is famous in Mexico City. The pork from this area is shipped all the way to Japan. The chickens and the eggs and all of the poultry is Bachoco, which is here, and we have all the seafood. So what else do you want?
Ramsey Russell: What else? One of the most exotic meals—I hope it don’t get nobody in trouble. I just got to tell this story because we’re talking about food, and I love food. We were out in BFE. We’re way out in the middle of nowhere, just one of these little communities. I couldn’t tell if it was Yaqui or Mayo or Maya, I don’t know, but it had dirt roads. My driver and the airboat captain were out scouting for a little television show we were going to film. One of them speaks broken English, one of them doesn’t. They’re yammering.
The one who speaks some English goes, “Do you like turtle soup?” “Yeah, matter of fact, I do like turtle soup.” He said, “Okay, after we go over here and look at this place where we’re going to put the blind, we’ll come back.” He said, “This little house”—and it wasn’t a restaurant, it was just a home that, on the patio, was a restaurant—“and we’ll stop by and get some turtle soup.” We get back, and, as I’m eating my really good turtle soup, I’m just thinking to myself, “I’ve been duck hunting down here for a decade and I’ve never— I’ve seen a few green sliders, a few red-eared slider types, but I haven’t seen no snapping turtles or softshells.” I’m thinking to myself, “I know this ain’t no green slider turtle. You don’t eat those things.” I’m sitting there eating. It’s delicious. It occurs to me, “Wait a minute, surely this ain’t one of them endangered green turtles out of the Sea of Cortés?” I ask, and she goes, “Yes, yes it is.” I go, “But you’re not supposed to eat them.” She goes, “But it was in the net!”
Sharon Crider: Yeah. The thing is, they’re not doing it commercially. So it’s no danger.
Ramsey Russell: Right. They’re not out there targeting them. It just gets into the net. But it was good. I love it. I just love everything about Mexico. People ask my favorite destination—and I do love Argentina, and I’m never going to leave America, never going to get rid of the greatest citizenship of the greatest country in the world—but I love Mexico.
Sharon Crider: No, I don’t know, you guys might move down here to Obregón, one day.
Ramsey Russell: I do love Mexico. I do love this part of Mexico. I could see myself living here, like yourself, at least most of the time or some of the time.
That’s my name down here: Gringa. Because it’s not offensive. It’s like any word in the world; it’s how you say it and how you use it.
Sharon Crider: The thing is, we’re just four and a half hours from Nogales. Any time you really want anything, you just jump in the car and go.
Ramsey Russell: When you go back home to Phoenix, do you drive or fly?
Sharon Crider: No, I drive. In fact, I’m leaving Monday. Going to go change cars. But the thing is, now it’s all four-lane.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. It is four-lane, very nice.
Sharon Crider: All the way to Phoenix is a four lane highway, now. When we first came down here, it was two-lane, and it was dangerous, but you have to do that anyway. Now it’s so easy. You can jump in the car and do it. There’s a lot of people that live in San Carlos—a lot of gringos, they call us. That’s what they call me: Gringa. That’s my name down here in Mexico: Gringa. Because it’s not offensive. It’s like any word in the world; it’s how you say it and how you use it. They told me Jerry was Gringo, and I’m the Gringa. My kids are gringitos.
Ramsey Russell: They say it with affection.
Sharon Crider: Yes. When Jerry played baseball, they called him The Fox. I was Mrs. Fox and our kids were little foxes. We’ve always had crazy stuff, but it’s fun. I’m expecting you to come down here to Mexico in probably about ten years or so. I hope I’m still alive.
Ramsey Russell: It could happen. It could happen, and I will look you up if I do. Sharon, thank you very much for sharing your stories. I sure am glad I met you.
Sharon Crider: Same here. I hope you come back. Anytime anybody wants to talk to me, they just call you, and they can call me. If they want to find anything out.
Ramsey Russell: Live from Obregón, Mexico, y’all have been listening to my friend the Gringa, aka Ms. Sharon Crider. Originally from Tennessee. Been living here in Sonora, Mexico for forty years. Thank y’all for listening to this episode of Duck Season Somewhere. See you next time.