Wednesday, March 28, 2018

musical chairs

"I don't pretend to be a man of the people. But I do try to be a man for the people."

I chuckled today thinking about those words of Senator Gracchus from Gladiator with their seductive Kennedyesque parallelisms hiding their vacuity.

And why would I be mulling over third rate dialog from a second rate film? They came to me while I was on a public bus from Barra de Navidad to Melaque for an ATM raid.

We are without a car for a couple of days. My Escape is in surgery at the Manzanillo Ford dealership (a place reasonable people avoid), and we returned the Sentra this morning that Darrel rented for our Tequila journey. That left us carless for the first time in our nine years of living here. It felt a bit odd.

If I had been alone, I would have walked the eight-mile round trip. But I wasn't. And because the Semana Santa traffic 
has begun in earnest, we were a bit reluctant to ride our bicycles on Highway 200.

Darrel and Christy have ridden our local buses on this and past visits. I have not. I have not been in one since 2007.

It is not that I have anything against buses. The ride is always blog fodder: as it was today. I am just not patient enough to wait for one to arrive. I usually have enough appointments scheduled in each day to make bus-riding an unaffordable luxury.

But I gave in and joined Darrel on his ATM quest. And I am glad I did.

In my daily routine, I do not encounter many northerners. They are becoming a rarer breed as the month goes on. Most of the part-timers have pulled up stakes and headed home. But not all of them.

The seats on the bus we caught were full once we got on. They tend to get that way during Holy Week. Tourists and residents get packed in together.

On the trip to Melaque, most of the riders were Mexican. But there were a few northerners packed in the back. It almost looked like a negative of 1950s Selma. And we were about to experience a similar cultural clash.

An older Mexican lady got on at the next stop. There were no seats for her. I started to get up to give her mine, but a middle-aged Mexican gave her his.

Sitting across the aisle from me were four northerners. Tank-topped and tatted. When they saw the lady, they scrunched back in their seats in that self-absorbed manner that clearly communicates: "Don't even ask me to help you."

I started to offer the standing man my seat. But, before I could, a young Mexican beat me to the punch. He declined saying that his was the next stop.

It was interesting to watch a culture where traditional manners are given something more than lip service. There is still a social hierarchy here that is honored in practice. Men defer to women. The young defer to their elders.

On the trip back to Barra, the bus was just as full. We were standing when another northerner in a tank top stumbled aboard the bus reeking of some sort of alcohol. At the next stop, he pushed an older Mexican woman out of the way to dash to a seat.

And then something interesting happened. A group of older northerners boarded the bus at our traveling market. Even though they were on in years, no one offered them a seat.

I had to ask myself whether we northerners have completely forgotten how social hierarchies work in our benighted belief that there are no differences between men and woman or between the young and elderly. Whether chivalry is just another word in the dictionary for something that requires no commitment. And that we pay the price here in Mexico for not showing what my mother would call "simple good manners."

I don't know. What I do know is my Mexican friends carefully watch our manners -- and often comment on them. Including one of my favorites. A waiter asked me: "Why do you Canadians dress like poor people?"

Manners on the bus is not a hard one to remember. The rules are exactly the same as the ones we learned from our mothers when we were four.

"Share everything."

Ronald Reagan once said: "There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers. We must have the courage to do what we know is morally right."

Even on a bus.


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