I’m a carfighter on recon in the Distrito Federal. Is this the car capital of the world? If you push the button here on this pole, an icon on the pole opposite appears. It depicts a little green man hunched over and running like a bat out of hell.
Not me. Us City-Without-Cars guys are on a mission. I saunter proudly.
But then taxis appear suddenly from multiple directions and with assorted levels of animosity. Oh-oh. I skedaddle and scuttle like a little green man, trying to catch my breath in the thin air of planet Mexicar, a wholly owned subsidiary of Mexi Co, singing oh-oh, Mexico. Co, che, co, I repeat for my Argentine readers, who have more time to read because they are stuck in their restaurants and the waitress won’t bring them their bill. “Co” is an English abbreviation for company, corporate, and similar nasty words that begin with co.
Okay, here’re a couple of words you’ll need for Espanol Basico: Mexico, che. Mexi coche. You still with me? Let’s walk, compadre.
The coche, Mexican for car when it isn’t downright carro, has besmirched this city of friendly people, famous for many a century for its clear air. Besmirched it in almost exactly one lifetime—mine. My dad remembers the city for its clear air and pitch-perfect climate. At least it still has the climate. On a possibly related note, I was conceived in this country.
Mexico City hates bikes. Mexico City hates peatónes—peons like me on foot. For people like me, where all the world’s a zona peatonal, this is a problem. Urban peatónes of the world need to unite and remember the basic sweetness of life. For example, go back to using sugar for what God intended it—urban gas tanks.
It’s hard to know who, besides automobile manufacturers, benefits from having engined vehicles in Mexico City. If you follow some of these guys on motorcycles balancing small loads of crap (newspapers and similar confections) on these machines with two-stroke engines making a cloud of smoke bigger than my dad’s Chevy Caprice Classic V8, you’ll notice they aren’t getting anywhere fast. I could carry five times the typical load on my bicycle with my single-wheel Bob trailer, grab a sangria-flavored soft drink, and still arrive in time to check out the [porno] Grafico, apparently the journal of record.
Engines—what’s the point? If you’re a taxi passenger, how many red lights do you want to sit through at Insurgentes before you figure it’s time to just get out and walk? The braver motorcyclists here in the Centro will push their way through moving cross-traffic against a red in front of several cops, because what the fuck. Cartoneros—I think they’re called ambulantes here—walk by all the time with big loads of cardboard and other stuff. They’re not fast but their payload’s got one or two orders of magnitude on that of the smelly, noisy two-strokes. These ambulantes can get the bulk of a piano or more on their contraptions, if not the weight. The overall lesson here is a rhetorical question: who needs even one engine here for anything at all?
And what’s with the peseros and micros? Micro? If that’s a micro then I’m King Kong. Micros are huge noisy camiones whose drivers are so skilled they can keep their rigs redlined at 5000 revs bouncing along in the gutter dusting off the poles where the little green men live, while inside the vehicle working-class people are sleeping their way through four-hour commutes from hell. Go ahead, I dare you, stick a bicycle in front of that and see what comes out the back end. I’ve tried a little Canadian fuck tu madre on them when they menace me but nothing, absolutely nothing slows them down, though frankly I’m not going to hazard a chinga tu madre or similar pleasantry. But seriously, think of a whole city turned out for dumb-ass chambas, jobs designed to keep the working class living hand to mouth. Hombre A goes to colonia B, hombre B to colonia A. As my son would say, really? Of course hombre A can’t just do the shit job right here in colonia A next to his apartment, he’s got to go way the hell across the world’s biggest concourse-of-Babel to get to B, like it’s some form of employment worth moving heaven and earth for. Along the way there’s a standing army of idiot cops like monkeys with machine guns, saluting as their officers cruise by in Nissan pickups with lights permanently on, the back loaded up with other idiot thugs, the lot of them in ridiculous costumes like monkeymen who’ve figured out the rudiments of human shame and therefore adornment. How’s that for a line you won’t get in the travel section of The Star? And my parents wonder why I’m not getting paid more for my writing!
We’re not in Kansas anymore, Ma, we’re in occupied Mexico, with the crowds of roboflesh of every sort from federales to seguridad privada at every corner, short cute boys from the provinces fleshing out the paradox of an occupying army with no occupation. Bored stiff, waiting for action. Lustful fingers caressing short barrels envaginated in holsters, fingers caressing the intricacies of pudendal triggers recessed in curlicues of steel. At least they aren’t beating the crap out of the locals, like they do in places with regimes like Canada’s. Or if they are, they do it in side alleys, not right out in front of the cameras as in Canada last June or out in plain view every time a Canadian cop does another street execution with a taser.
But Mexico City. Well, Mexico City is its own consolation. Remember that. It gives you back everything it stole on the street. Look over here, beneath the smoke—it’s actually clear today and you can see the mountains—is this not the serious magic you thought it would be from the moment of some first song long ago? Mexico. Seems like half the town’s built out of lava rocks spewed from nearby volcanoes. Imagine that. It’s still red, like it hasn’t cooled yet, and it’s filled with air—light rocks. Rocks seeping blood. There must be some serious convergence of magic lines in a place like this. Some lady handed me a big free cup of jamaica yesterday, apropos of nothing, and I drank it down, staring into the crimson dregs, thinking idly as a longwalker might, I’ll have to find that Torre Latinoamericano, I haven’t seen that for a couple of hours, and suddenly I see a zebra pattern in the red at the bottom of my cup. So I pull out my camera to get a picture for little Liam back at the ranch, who will like the blood red of the jamaica. Hell, this whole paragraph is brought to you by the color red. So I get a picture for Liam and when I look at it, the zebra pattern is a perfect representation of the Torre Latinoamericano, that old stalwart of a skyscraper! It’s a miracle! Put a basilica here! Call the Pope! Oh wait, they already have a building here. And at that I look up for the first time and see the tower right above my head. I’m in just the headspace to know—to know—that I conjured that building by staring into my cup. I’m in Mexico, so of course I expect a milagro. The whole city’s a conjurer’s trick, after all. Get thirty million people to imagine, simultaneously, a dry city in a desert built on top of a lake where they used to have naval battles, and it can happen.
Love the sinner, hate the sin, love Mexico City, hate the cars. Day One I put on my best shoes, take a run from the back of the hostel, hit the stones the cleaning lady has soaped for ten meters—no wimpy lawyer-pleasing piso mojado warning sign for her, no senor—and skid out across the foyer, through the front door, across the sidewalk, and nearly into the trafico, saying “whoopee!” at the top of my lungs. “Mexico, listo o no, estoy aqui!” or some such half-baked exuberant Spanglish. Coffee withdrawal’s got a .357 to my templo mayor but I’m like, no sir, gotta get my shoes shined. Not that my Montreal-based two-tones have seen a lick of wax in their lives of hard labour on Toronto’s rock pile, but I’m in Mexico, which is the Paris of Mexico, and I know the protocols. He who is tired of having his shoes shined in the capital is tired of life. A willing lad dusts me up for the price of a cup of coffee, and I’m off to find the sweet elixir.
Lots to tell you, but I’ll have to be brief for now. Followed the ESME demonstration two days ago. These manifestationes or marchas are big affairs here. Several thousand electricians marching along rhyming loudly, as far as I could tell, aqui, se ve / la fuerza de ESME, and so on. And it did seem like a force. The cops buzzed around on those expensive two-wheeled things where the wheels are side-by-side like they have in old-people’s communities in Florida. I forget the name, but they can make anyone look ridiculous and rich. Plenty of money in this country for security. For workers—not so much. Half the Zocalo is an encampment with angry signs against leaders. I’ve never understood how that whole leader thing works in any country, but you can tell when people are angry and organized.
Alright, I hate to stop these pieces in the middle, but I have to go. The gorgeous city—El Monstruo—is humming all around me. Stay tuned for more tales of little green running men.
DAVID Ker THOMSON was conceived in Mexico, carried or born in America and, when his mother could bear him no longer, was born in Canada and therefore no longer born or carried. He rejects all nation-states as occupying invaders and has never been born, being, as his brother puts it, quoting Shakespeare, “untimely ripped from the womb.” Much of his writing can hardly be born by paying editors. He has never been born, and trusts that you will bear with him. dave dot thomson at toronto dot ca