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Jimmy Smith, "The Grinning Gargoyle" A Great Friend.
Jimmy and Family and his home turf.Click thumbnail to view full-size
Jimmy Smith was Baja's Great Raconteur
The Grinning Gargoyle: We Ain’t Forgot Ya!
When Jimmy Smith finally published his long awaited book, “The Grinning Gargoyle Spills the Beans,” his friends and admirers - who were legion - only had a few more years to enjoy the company of this great raconteur.
I met Jimmy when I was writing for Carrie Duncan's benighted rag, the Gringo Gazette, in Los Cabos, Baja California, around 1999 and we remained in touch until I left the area in 2003.
There was something magic about Jimmy: he would hold court in his little property on the highway by Los Barriles, while his wife, Lupe, ran the tiny store which, along with Jim’s pension, kept the wolf from the door and locals supplied with cold beer and cigarettes, plus a few other essential odds and ends.
It is said that no one knew Baja better than this leathery old ex pilot, who had flown planes stitched together with baling wire and string into Baja’s gnarly dirt and sand runways, ferrying such notables as Erle Stanley Gardner and Ray Cannon - to name but two - around
Jimmy passed away at the end of 2003. I had also returned then with a girlfriend to look up the people I had left earlier that year. I stopped at Jimmy’s but Lupe said he was resting and I didn’t have a chance to see Jim that year, to my eternal regret.
All his friend had to do to be spellbound for an hour of two was to call on Jimmy, accept a cold beer - he always had one popped - and wait until that faraway look came into his eyes and he was off on another Baja reminisce; his constant cigarette burning in an ashtray close to hand. In fact, Jimmy’s smokes were so much a part of the man, it was said after Hurricane Juliet in 2001, that the biggest crisis the Gringo community faced was getting Jimmy’s favourite brand to him, as all the roads in and out of Los Barriles had been cut by the torrential rain and flooded arroyos!
To me, what shone about Jimmy, apart from his relaxed hospitality and contentment in his own skin, as we say these days, was his culture and sheer intelligence. Jimmy understood you; what you were and what you needed to keep you going up that weary old road. I was mostly in La Paz when Jimmy got ill and he wasn’t in the habit of complaining about a few old pains: I heard he rested more, popped a few pain killers and then was back in the outhouse ready to chat and recount more of his famous yarns of the people and times of Baja over the last 50 years.
I have unfortunately lost my copy of his book with the caricature of Jimmy Smith adorning the cover. If you see one, snap it up, for no book has been published with such a riveting and hilarious cover picture of the Grinning Gargoyle himself on an airplane. North Americans will still be able to get copies of the book: the postage may be prohibitive for people elsewhere, I saw Barnes and Noble as well as Amazon had copies online, both new and used: none were really cheap.
Despite Jimmy’s view of himself as the gargoyle, he was really a handsome and sensitive bloke - if a bit worse for wear! If you read some of the stories in the book, you will know why.
Well, Jimmy: won’t let you rest, will we? You been the wrong side of the grass for six years and there’s still no one around like you, despite all the “Baja Bob’s” and the “Baja Dave’s” who have been around a while and like to think of themselves as being attuned to, and apprised of, all that makes up this wonderful peninsula. Gargoyle, you had all these gifts without effort, and not once did you refer to yourself as “Baja Jimmy,” you were way above that.
James Pledger Smith RIP From RC, your bud
Photo credits Western Outdoor News Photos of Jim..