This morning, at a coffee stand inside the Terminal del Norte bus station in Mexico City: Me: I'd like a cafe americano with milk, please. Young woman: We don't sell an americano with milk. You can get a black coffee or a cappuccino. Me: Can't I just get a small amount of milk in my coffee? YW: No. Me: What if I paid extra? It's only a very small amount of milk that I want. YW: We don't sell americanos with milk. Me: What if I paid for a cappuccino? And you could give me an americano with just a little milk in it? Then I would be paying for extra milk, because I want less than you put in a cappuccino. *She looks at me doubtfully.* Me: So I would be paying you more money. You would win. YW: That'll be 21 pesos. *(Yelling to her compañera)* She wants an americano with milk. *** A few minutes later, I watch as the barista adds exactly one-half cup of milk to my coffee, the same amount she used in other customers' cappuccinos. So much for wanting, as I told the girl in Spanish, "un chorrito de leche, nada más."
I have some pretty big news to share: after four years in Mexico City, we're moving to New York City. Crayton got a promotion, which is the reason for the move. We'll be there in mid-January. I'm not getting all nostalgic about eating my last taco and visiting my last market -- which would be too painful -- because I already know I'm coming back often. I am going to be the gal who splits her time between DF and NY, or at least that's the plan. I already bought a ticket to come back in March. My plan is to continue Eat Mexico, continue this blog, and keep writing. And just remain open to whatever opportunities the universe decides to pass my way. I read a line in a powerful story by Alfredo Corchado several weeks ago:
Do I belong to the United States, this powerful country built on principles of rule of law, yet still faced with contradictions—the insatiable appetite for guns, cash and drugs, or do I belong to Mexico, the country of my roots, where my umbilical cord is buried, where we use nationalism and patriotism to more often than not mask our corruption, our poverty and inequality?I wasn't born in Mexico like Corchado, but I do feel like my umbilical cord is buried here -- in Mexico City, underneath the mountains and the smog, the pesero buses that nearly run me over, and the street stands with homemade tortillas inflating on the comal. I can't leave this place. And in my heart I won't, but I will be open to the awesomeness of New York. I will buy a winter coat and clothes I can layer, things I haven't bought since college. We will order things online again. We will hear hip-hop and R&B at bars, and we'll stuff ourselves with Thai, Indian and Vietnamese food. Maybe we'll jet off on the weekend to some cute upstate New York B&B. (Or maybe we won't, because those things are expensive.) We will most definitely be hanging with our family there, and our friends. Who knows if we won't permanently be back in DF someday in the future? It might be when I have gray hair and grandkids. But this city will still feel like home to me. Thank you for joining me on this journey for the past four years. I hope you'll be there with me for the next chapter.
The quake was a doozy, though -- people here are still talking about it. I was just getting off the elevator when it happened. The door opened and I went to put my key in the door, and the door hit me in the forehead. I thought: What the...? Am I dizzy? Just then a young guy came downstairs and grabbed my elbow. "Vámanos, vámanos!" I stared at him. "There's an earthquake, señorita, we have to go." Feeling numb, I ran down five flights of stairs, holding onto his arm with one hand and clutching a stack of copies I'd made with another. The building was still swaying when we got to the parking garage. One of the cleaning ladies, who was also in the parking garage, fainted. She later told me her brother-in-law's family died in the earthquake in '85 because they were unable to get out of their building. After the quake was over, the power was out and the phones didn't work. I finally got a hold of Crayton about 1 1/2 hours later. I cried when I heard his voice. I'm still a little shaken up, even though it was a week ago. If Crayton stirs just a little bit in bed, I'm up immediately, thinking about the roof caving in. This whole thing also has me seriously wondering whether we should move into a lower floor apartment building. We're on the fifth floor now, and I really don't want to run down five flights of stairs again when the next quake hits. And I'm wondering, honestly, how much more of this I can take. Crazy drivers I can deal with. Mexican bureaucracy, ok. But earthquakes? I don't want to die in a stairwell, crushed by a falling wall. For the first time, I thought seriously about moving back to the States. There are earthquakes there, too, though. And I don't want to be afraid of something that may not happen. I'll probably start looking at apartments when I get back from my trip to New York next week, which I was planning to do anyway. Now I have a bigger excuse.Thanks to everyone for asking about us. We're fine. I'm sorry I didn't check in sooner, but I left for California for a few days to hang out with my family. (I already had the trip planned.)
“A red trickle flowed from the young victim’s nostrils, and when he stopped blinking the crowd started to thin, people walking away in a silence as yet unbroken by the wailing of an ambulance. At that moment, Araceli fully and finally comprehended the cruelty of her native city, the precariousness of life in the presence of so much unregulated traffic and unfulfilled need, a city where people born farmers and fishermen sprinted before cars faster than any horse or sailing ship.” -- From “The Barbarian Nurseries” by Hector TobarI’ve been a faithful user of Mexico City’s EcoBici bikeshare program since it began a few years ago. We don’t have a car, so both Crayton and I use the EcoBici to go pretty much anywhere. Crayton rides it to work; I use it to go to the markets, friends’ houses, and to my tours. In theory, the bikeshare program is a fantastic idea. We’re helping get more cars off the streets and we’re no longer paying cabs to sit in traffic. But a lot of times I wonder: what the hell am I doing riding a bike in this city? Cars cut me off. Pedestrians step right in front of me. Peseros rumble dangerously close to my left side, silently warning that they could come closer and crush me with a flick of their tires. I’ve been thinking about this even more than usual lately, because I had my first accident a few weeks ago. A woman in a dark parked car opened her door and I smacked into it. (Other than a few scrapes, I was fine.) Crayton has now had three accidents, including one that resulted in a cracked rib. The passage I quoted at the beginning of this entry is about a bike-riding vendor in Mexico City who is hit by a car. It's fiction, but still, accidents are a very real possibility here. As the EcoBici program continues to grow -- there was a six-week waiting list, last time I heard -- here are some suggestions on how cyclists can ride as safely as possible: Tips on How to Ride A Bike Safely in Mexico City 1. Follow the flow of traffic. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen people riding the wrong way down a one-way street. This is especially dangerous in the city's main bike lane on Reforma. A few times I've turned a curve and almost hit someone who was headed right toward me. Please, if you’re riding a bike, ride in the same direction as the cars. 2. Respect the stoplights. I know, I know. A lot of cars don’t respect the stoplights here. So why should the cyclists? The thing is, it’s much more dangerous for a cyclist to get hit by a car, than a car to hit another car. If you’re just blazing through the intersection without a care in the world -- as I’ve seen people do here -- you’re tempting fate. Crayton has also argued to me that if the cyclists respect the stoplights, then drivers will respect us more, too. I’m not entirely sure if I believe that one. 3. Be aware. Mexico City drivers are, by nature, both reckless and defensive. They'll ignore red lights and swerve across three lanes of traffic to make a right-hand turn. Chilango drivers still haven't accepted that cyclists share their roads, so if you're on your bike, it’s important to keep an eye on the cars in front of you and behind you. I often sneak looks behind my shoulder to see if a car is hoping to turn, or at least to let him know I'm there. I also use hand signals to communicate where I'm going. Which brings me to my next piece of advice... 4. Don’t ride too fast. I personally love riding down a busy street, the wind whipping through my hair. But if you’re riding too fast, you have less time to act quickly if something comes across your path. Riding a bike in Mexico City can feel like a video game a lot of times -- obstacles like the tamale vendor, the street sweeper, and the woman walking her dog step right in front of your tires, and you have to be able to anticipate. 5. Watch out for motorcyclists. For some reason in Mexico City, motorcyclists think they can ride in the bike lanes and blatantly ignore traffic laws -- even more than regular drivers. Other Basic Safety Tips
- Crayton and I always wear helmets.
- We never talk on the phone or listen to music while we ride.
- Texting while bike-riding seems like an obvious no-no, but I've actually seen people do this before.
I don't have a car, so I take cabs in Mexico City at least once every two days. I've been pretty happy with the cabs here, but a small number of drivers have tried to cheat me, usually by giving me an inflated fare. Yesterday for the first time, a driver gave me the wrong change and then laughed when I told him he owed me 10 pesos. "I can't give you 10 pesos because I don't have it," he said. "Sorry." This galled me. Sorry, I don't have it? What was I supposed to do with that? This morning I woke up before the sun came up and started thinking about all the things I've learned about taking cabs here over the past 2 1/2 years: always ask whether there's a meter, pay attention to the route, carry small bills. I thought this might be interesting to other people, too, particularly people who live here or visit frequently. I'm not complaining about Mexico City cab fares being too high, by the way. Taxis in Mexico City are much cheaper than what you'd pay in the States, and in fact I think rates in Mexico City are too low for the amount of time the drivers spend on the road. But in the interest of ensuring that consumers get a fair rate -- and in making sure they're conscientious riders -- here's my advice on taking taxis in Mexico City. ...
On my way home from the cleaners today, I saw a taxi driver cut off a pedestrian. The walker was an older gentleman, and he yelled "Huevón!" as the car drove past. I'm sure it was some sort of insult, but I don't know exactly what. In fact, the whole scenario reminded me just how many ways the word "huevo" is used in Mexico and how I'm still clueless on about most of them. The only instance I'm familiar with is vulgar. Huevos is considered another word for testicles. I'm almost sure there were some huevo jokes in my cooking class when we made rompope, because we used more than 30 eggs. I've also heard people use the phrase "Qué hueva!" and just plain old "hueva." Any out there kind enough to translate?
Warm breezes. Darkening skies. I've had a few "I hate Mexico" days lately, but the rainy season brings me back to why I love it here. These are the things that make up my neighborhood: A guy racing by on his bicycle, an orange basket strapped to the back. The pan dulce guy riding his bicycle down the street at 8 a.m., and then again at 4 p.m., his yellow and white striped conchas sitting snugly under a plastic sheet. The norteño-themed taco guys, scrubbing their grill and closing up for the day. The Condesa hipsters sitting outside Pizza Amore in flannel shirts and black-frame glasses. The little ice cream truck at Parque Mexico.
Whenever I’m on the phone with a Mexican person and we’re about to hang up, they linger, as if they really don't want to say goodbye. Me: "Bueno, te dejo." Well, I'll let you go. Them: "Sale pues." Me: "Este... sí." Them: "Nos vemos." See you soon. Me: Silence. Them: "Un beso." A kiss. My problem is that I don't have enough of these goodbye-filler words in my arsenal. (I don't know what "sale pues" entirely means, for example.) In the U.S., we generally say "Ok, I'll talk to you later, bye" and hang up. Most Mexicans I've talked on the phone with don't do this, and I end up hanging up too quickly, which seems rude. I use cuídate and nos vemos. Part of me wants to throw in ándale, too, as a type of "Okay then, sounds good." But I'm still unsure whether "un beso" works for male and female friends, and how to say goodbye when I'm talking to someone in a professional context. Cuídate seems too personal then, no? Maybe just a simple gracias, hasta luego. Any Spanish-speakers out there have any guidance?
an article published last year in Milenio. A 2008 article from Inside Mexico indicated that there could be thousands more, but the overwhelming majority aren't officially registered. As a woman I'd love to see more female cab drivers, especially in crowded areas where there are no taxi sitios. It's still not safe in Mexico City for single women to hail cabs off the street. Female customers traveling alone can be robbed, beaten or raped. I was really interested in how this female cabbie got her job, so we struck up a conversation. To my surprise, she seemed eager to share her story. The driver's name was Clara Dominguez, and she said she ended up as a cabbie four years ago after being laid off from her job in sales. “I did very well in sales -- very well,” she said, as we zoomed down Thiers, a busy avenue that connects Polanco to Reforma. "My boss wanted younger women." ...I've lived in Mexico City for two-plus years without a car. In that time, I've only had female cab drivers twice -- once coming back from the bus station in 2009, and once a few weeks ago, when I was returning from a doctor’s appointment in Polanco. Apparently more than 800 female drivers work in the city, according to
A weird thing kept happening to me in New York. Whenever I’d meet someone new, if we talked for more than five minutes, I took this to mean the person deserved a hug goodbye. In 90 percent of the cases, I was wrong. My new friend would stick out a hand for a goodbye handshake, while I charged ahead with my arms open, like Vince Vaughn in Wedding Crashers. A fleeting “what are you doing?” look often crossed their eyes. I tried to ignore it, but after like the third time this happened, I started wondering -- am I missing something here? Did I forget the proper way to say goodbye? I talked to Crayton about this last night, and he says I’ve always been a hugger. “You’re from California,” he said. I don't know. To me, I was misinterpreting these goodbyes, which meant that I'd lost a teensy bit of my American-ness. Before I moved to Mexico I could easily discern who got a hug and who didn't. But now, as an expat who's been gone for 1 1/2 years, it never even crossed my mind to shake someone's hand goodbye. Handshakes were so sterile! A hug conveyed warmth, and was still impersonal. It's funny because before I noticed the hug thing, I was actually proud of myself for ignoring my urge to kiss folks on the cheek. Kissing is a common Mexican greeting. It's way too intimate for the States. And I guess hugging is, too. What about you? Are you a hugger? Do you ever feel like you have to adjust how you greet people when you travel?