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Diario de Ciudad de México VI

I’ve talked to Peruvians, Germans, Frenchmen, Australians, and Japanese on this trip, and they’ve all told me that the unwarranted fear of Mexico City in their home country matches or exceeds the level I saw and heard in the United States. Turns out that most of el D.F. actually feels safer than major metropolitan areas in the United States. ¨You come from Los Angeles,¨ said a concerned Mexican taxi driver. ¨Isn’t there a lot of violence there?¨

If you’re going to die prematurely in Mexico City, I wager you’ll do it crossing the street. Most intersections don’t have any lights for pedestrians, and when they do, the lights often show confusing combinations like a walking green man below a standing silver man or a green man and a red one simultaneously. Even then, drivers don’t really stop for you; most just kind of swerve around. I’ve developed two reliable methods to get across Mexico City streets: (1) wait until cars stack up at a stoplight, then walk safely through the middle, or (2) only cross when Mexicans cross. Somehow, they just know.

When last I saw Los Angeles, it had begun yielding to a siege of ads for Jack and Jill, Adam Sandler’s new drag comedy. The same thing’s happening in Mexico City, except the posters and billboars prominently feature some guy named Eugenio Derbez. Sometimes they only feature Eugenio Derbez. Turns out he’s a famous comedian here, born and raised in el D.F. He, too, has a drag role in the film, playing both ¨Felipe¨ and ¨Felipe’s Grandmother.¨


A few more facts for Asperger’s-ravaged rapid transit enthusiasts like myself: Mexico City metro trains run on rubber wheels, which go easier on the unstable soil beneath. They also have the only openable windows I’ve ever seen on a subway, which do let in a much-needed breeze. In a nod to illiterate riders, each station has its own icon representing the locality’s history, culture, or landmarks. A gringo actually created them: Lance Wyman, the graphic designer behind Washington D.C.’s metro map. I desire only one souvenir of el D.F.: a poster with all 150-odd metro icons. But no luck finding one yet.

I haven’t ridden many buses here, although in the Pasadena-like area of Coyoacán I tried out a pasero, a sort of puttering green van that stops whenever and wherever any rider or anyone on the street says to. (I think Philippine jeepneys operate on a similar principe, but I won’t find out for sure until April.) I also rode to UNAM’s campus on a system called the Metrobús, a network of large buses, wider even than subway trains, that go back and forth in their own dedicated lanes. Though usually against buses in all their forms, I kind of like the Metrobús for its speed, comfort, and general non-shoddiness. It brings to mind what I think L.A.’s rapid bus lines are trying to do, but without their own lanes — so, uh, not. Get that purple line drilled west, L.A.!

Public transit aside, every single vehicle I’ve ridden in has had a 5-speed transmission. Not an automatic in sight. Do I chalk this up, I wonder, do economic concerns, to quirks of manufacturing history, to Mexican driving culture, or what? I just feel relieved that nobody has called on to drive a car in Mexico City, since I haven’t put my hand on a gearshift in a decade. I’d look like an old driver’s-ed student. (And then there’s the traffic.)

I bitch and moan about how L.A. subway riders don’t understand the concept of standing on one side of the escalator and walking on the other, but I’ve found that chilangos never even try to walk up the escalator. What, no places to go, no people to see?

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