Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Pleasant Interlude (Queretero, Mexico) Precedes the Taxi Ride from Hell (Mexico City)

Art and I meet Kim and Guillermo, two of my acquaintances from the US, in a popular downtown Queretero cafe. The couple, she a type A gringa and he, a more laid back Mexican national, live just a few blocks from Art's house. I haven't seen them for about a year and a half, since they left Virginia to spend six months on Guillermo's family's farm in the middle of nowhere (according to Kim) and their subsequent search for the right city in which to build their future. I had heard they'd been living in Queretero from one of my occasional dance partners, but had only just managed to get in touch and arrange our meeting a few weeks ago.
It is a treat to see them.

Guillermo, with Kim's marketing expertise, is starting up a quality house painting service: written estimates, no thinned-down paint, we show up when we say we will, and other things taken for granted, perhaps, in the USA, but not necessarily givens in Mexico.

We eat dinner in a funkily graffitied, grotto-like eatery, where a ladder rises to a loft above our heads and from which a fork falls, tines downward, almost skewering Kim. We enjoy our sandwiches and conversations, and I have the feeling that, in time, my three companions will become good friends.

Art leaves to attend a meeting concerning his work on the upcoming bicentennial celebrations (he's involved in painting a mural and scripting a sound-light-dance-orchestra-theater extravaganza that will run through all of Mexican history in a couple of hours). Guillermo -- tired, after a full day's physical labor -- heads back to the apartment. Kim and I walk back to the center of town, to listen to a band playing jazz in the plaza. We knew each other only superficially in the States, having worked on some community projects together and greeted each other at meetings; tonight we have the opportunity to sit and really talk. I will look forward to seeing her again when she returns to the US and will enjoy catching up again when I'm back in Queretero.

In the morning, Art drives me to the bus station. In several hours, I'll be back in D.F.

The bus ride goes smoothly. I purchase my cab ride into downtown, historic D.F. and get in line for a "secure" taxi. The cab driver grabs my two bags, places them in the trunk, and gets into the vehicle. I am already seated in the back, digging for the seat belt, which I never manage to unearth.

We take off and drive a little ways off, when the cabbie requests my ticket. I hand it to him and tell him the address of my hotel. He swivels all the way around, looks me in the eye, and says, "Senora, do you speak Spanish?"

When I say yes, he tells me that, due to the demonstrations taking place downtown, there is no way he can drive me to my hotel. He can drop me at any of four locations which I've never heard of, but I'm likely to be attacked and robbed, once the demonstrators notice that I'm a foreigner with luggage.

I ask why they didn't inform me of the problem when I was purchasing my ticket and he says that the people there don't know anything and wouldn't say anything if they did. I point out that I've paid to go downtown, and that he needs to take me somewhere I know and from which I can safely reach my hotel.

The driver starts arguing about the impossibility of my request. In the meantime, I dial my hotel and ask the clerk if the streets are closed off. She tells me that there's no problem getting there, and I relay that information to the driver.

He is becoming increasingly irate. At every red light, he mumbles under his breath. If a car passes in front of us, he leans on his horn and curses. He weaves in and out of traffic, dangerously close to nearby vehicles and pedestrians. His back becomes stiffer with every passing second, and I am becoming more and more concerned about his sanity and my safety.

Although traffic appears no worse than at any other time I've taxied in from airports or bus stations, the driver has started ranting. "Who will pay me for my time? Who will pay me for my gas?" He shoots angry looks at me via the rear-view mirror. These are obviously not rhetorical questions. "Are YOU going to pay me for this?" he yells.

"I've already paid to be taken to my hotel," I tell him.

"I only get part of that money!" he screams and seethes.

"It is your job to take me to my hotel," I insist, but I am scared. "You can drop me off right here," I say when we've reached familiar territory. "I'll just walk the rest of the way."

"It won't make any difference!" he shouts.

When we pull up, across the street from the hotel, I am wondering if he will drive off with my belongings. I hop out of the vehicle and stand next to the trunk. He opens it but doesn't make a move to help. I pull out my bags, as he stands over me, glaring.

I am shaking but I am safe.

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