Wednesday, December 23, 2015

driving in mexico -- the christmas special

It is Christmas week.

You could not tell that by our 90 degree days with their 75% humidity.  It feels a lot more like the Fourth of July than two days before Christmas.

But there is no doubt: it is Christmas.  And I have evidence to prove it.

Exhibit A is that bell at the top of this essay -- complete with night-time lighting.  It is the sole civic Christmas decoration on the main street in my part of town.  I am certain there is a story behind it.  And I suspect I know the guy who will help us out on the subtext.

But the bell's shimmer pales in front of Exhibit B. 

Every Christmas (and several other holidays during the year) the local traffic police show up in town to write tickets for infractions that go unnoticed the rest of the year.  (It is hard to shake the feeling that the Policeman's Benevolent Fund for the Children of Policemen is being replenished with a healthy dose of new pesos.)

Expired license plates.  Riding a motorcycle without wearing a helmet.  Going the wrong way on a one-way street.  Not wearing a seat belt.  Driving while sitting on a fat wallet. 

I sit on the sidewalk in front of a restaurant across the street from our only bank.  The bank parking lot is a regular hangout for the police.  The street theater is worth spending a full afternoon.  Almost everyone stopped gives the policeman a good dose of fauxrage.  So far, I have not seen any of the police accept a bribe in lieu of a ticket.

The police have plenty of pigeons, though.  Our seaside villages are packed with tourists.  The northerners have started arriving.  But this is the week when residents of Guadalajara visit their seldom-used beach houses.  And busloads of highlanders show up for a week in the sun and sand.

Of course, there is always a flock of former locals who show up in town with their Volvos, Escalades, and the odd Hummer here and there.  Most have license plates from the more affluent states that crowd around the Federal District.  But there are plenty of California license plates, as well.

I know the drill -- having spent my time growing up in a dirt-poor logging community in the coastal mountains of southern Oregon.  Almost all of the families I know from there have moved away to find fame and fortune elsewhere.  But they love to show up for the annual summer town picnic with their achievements dutifully displayed.

For those of us who live here, it is a time to be very careful driving.  We live without traffic control devices.  Those that exist are customarily ignored if the situation is safe.  And I use "safe" very loosely there.  I have been amazed how our mix of traffic works like a well-choreographed ballet.

But things are different when new drivers are tossed into the mix.  Most American and Canadian drivers simply do not have the local rhythm down.  They believe a stop sign means stop. 

That is fine unless the guy riding your bumper believes the stop sign  means tear through the intersection if no one is coming.  The ensuing rear-end collisions are as predictable as a Trump insult.

And then there are the returning Mexicans who have not been here for a time and are uncertain where they are going.  Immediate left turns then veering into a right turn are common enough that I slow down when I see an out-of-state plate. 

I won't even waste time talking about cars headed the wrong way on one-way streets where illegally parked vehicles barely allow one car to drive through.

Fortunately, driving in Mexico has taught me patience (and a desire to speed that is a trait to be unused for the next two weeks).  So, I drive carefully through town, trying to keep up the local rhythm.  Knowing this too shall pass.

I may not get back to you before Friday.  Therefore, let me wish all of you a very merry Christmas -- from both Barco Rubio and me. 

We will talk about the new year later.


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