Fuck man. I’m fucking tired. I don’t want to clean my house. I don’t want to pay my bills. I don’t want to fucking go to the grocery store and fucking buy dinner and fucking cook dinner, but, all those things have to be done. I was awake at 2:30 LA time this morning, trying to get a taxi to the Mexico City airport. If we missed our plane we were fucked. They were closing down the airport for the National Air Show. If the Mexican Air Force is on par with the rest of the country’s infrastructure it will be three Cessnas held together with duct tape. Rusted out fuel tanks will give way. The fiery wreckage will immolate large sections of the cheek-to-jowl crowd. Many will die but the celebration will continue.
The airport was gonna close for the National Air Show and the streets were locked down for the National Military Parade and we had been up late for the National Screaming and Fireworks. You are in the Zocalo, the town square basically. Except it’s huge and it’s surrounded by huge 1700’s buildings, thousands of people are around you, hundreds of thousands. A little ripple in the crowd sends a mass of people pushing into your back. If one little thing went wrong dozens of human beings would be crushed. Children underfoot. Everyone craning at a balcony. The president will stand there. He will pull a rope and a bell will ring. He will chant the names of important Mexican people and events and these thousands of people will scream “viva!” Then they will blow up fireworks right over your head and people will blow vuvuzelas. Many wear rain ponchos in the national colors, provided by the government. To get in you are channeled into a steel corral, again with thousands of people pushing behind you. Riot police begging for calm. It’s cold, raining. Nobody cares.
They had to hose out the Zocalo just the day before. There had been a tent city there. A teachers’ protest. We went to see it the night we landed. Thinking it would be like the sissified hacky sack and chemtrails sign routine of the American left. No. The whole thing, thousands of yards square, was a tent city, ropes stretching old tarps over pup tents, bonfires in trash cans, kids running around. Portraits of Che, of Mexican Revolutionaries. The port-o-sans were mostly full– not “occupied” but full to knee height with leaking shit, taped off. Someone had put a curtain around a bucket instead. The teachers had come from all over. Oaxaca, Chiapas, little hill towns. Hundreds and hundreds. They had been there 26 days, drawn there to stand up against education reforms. The government wants the power to fire teachers over standardized testing. Cut pensions for new hires. This has either already happened in America, or it will. Someone may have protested. I don’t know and that’s the point. Americans are absolute pussies about having everything in their lives taken away, except their guns.
Schoolteachers here, though, traveled thousands of miles. Slept for weeks in what became a giant sewer. The graffiti said Mexico No Tiene Presidente. They were pissed, and they were fucking serious, and they shut a big part of the city down. Tiny people with wild hair and Toltec faces warming their hands over trash can fires. Loudspeakers urged resistance. You could look people’s eyes and see they weren’t broken.
The cops gave them an ultimatum. Be out by 4pm Saturday. We were staying up the street. “Cops were everywhere” is an understatement– across from us were armored vans, flatbeds with M-16 wielding army, pickup trucks with steely eyed men in riot gear and shields. You’d turn a corner to go down a street and be faced with a police barricade dozens strong. And this happened street after street. How many cops could they possibly have. How many kinds. State, city, federal, army, cruising around menacingly with heavy firepower everywhere you went. The civilian cops drive silver Dodge Chargers with the gumballs constantly lit and spinning. They get behind you and you don’t know if you’re fucked till they pass you, or give the siren a blast. They wear thick bulletproof vests. Most carry assault rifles. Their guns have the blacking worn off.
We had a date, me and my buddy Porfirio, to go to his grandparents’ for dinner. Chiles en Nogada. Stuffed peppers in a sauce made from creamed walnuts, topped with pomegranates. They were sweet people. They lived in an apartment with a Picasso drawing on the wall, a real one. They had a servant. Abuelita didn’t like the teachers. Thank God the cops are kicking them out, she said. She didn’t like the new pope either. If you’re not going to wear the robes, what’s the point. She didn’t like the poor, really, but she was so sweet I couldn’t disagree with her. They were aristocrats. They showed photos of themselves, their family, with luminaries and presidents. In Abuelito’s study I noticed a book about Hitler. Then to its right, another book about Hitler. And another, and another. I didn’t ask.
Don’t go back down there, they said. Too dangerous. Let us lend you our driver Javier. He is at your service for your stay. Sirens were blaring by every few minutes, helicopters thundering overhead. Big firecrackers booming ominously. It felt like that deleted scene in Apocalypse Now. The one where they dine with the old French colonists. The servant girl smiled and the chiles were excellent. She makes fifty dollars a week.
We turned on the TV. The news showed the teachers packing up. Peacefully folding their tarps. Large parts of the Zocalo bare. Good, we thought. They may have caved, but at least no one was hurt.
We went back. Even more cops circling. Nobody cared. It felt like New York. People ignore bedlam on the street and they ignore you too. It was a nice neighborhood, unbelievably nice, but there was still trash everywhere. Cars screaming through intersections against the light, mopeds gunning it on impossible turns. Horns constantly, for no reason. Weird cars– tons of Volkswagens, Nissans with weird names like “Tsuru.” A tiny Chevrolet just called “Chevy.” All screeching into tiny spaces, merging too fast into every possible inch, honking and honking. A red Jetta went the wrong way in the bus lane. A bus hit it head on. When we passed it the guys from the car were standing around the remains laughing. The bus driver threw a full beer out his window onto the car’s windshield. Fired up the bus and pushed the Volks off the street. The men laughed more.
The cars haul ass down tiny streets but people walk right on front of them. Push baby strollers an inch from speeding tires. At a big intersection the light will change, and the other side will ignore it, or too many people will go. Cars will block the thoroughfare for many light cycles. The chain reaction spreads all over the city. You will be sitting at a light until you’ve burned half a tank of gas. People don’t do anything about it. They just honk.
It may not always be this bad. It may just have been the teachers. Their occupying the Zocalo caused roads to be closed. Then the cops came to deliver on their ultimatum and it got worse. We were on a big street called Insurgentes and a traffic cop was directing an influx of cars avoiding blockades. He might as well have been a drunk who rented a traffic cop costume so he could fuck things up. We were at the same light for an hour. Cops everywhere but they don’t pop you for running a light, driving in the bus lane, taking out an old woman’s grocery bag with your side mirror.
We wanted to go back and see the teachers packing up. Talk to them. But we had to meet Adriana, Porfirio’s cousin. She was going to be our social host. Had all kinds of shit lined up. A bar that specializes in a traditional Mexican moonshine. An all night party in the shadow of the pyramids. She was cute. 23. The kind of girl who knows her panties are sticking out the top of her tight jeans. Knows you’re thinking about it. Porfirio and I are close, though. So: jerk off and forget it.
We went out to get drunk.