Speed BumpsPart IThere is a new Mexican national pastime, almost as popular as bullfighting and soccer. It is sitting in a motionless car on the Mexico City freeway with the motor running, breathing in great quantities of life-giving smog and wishing you were in someplace nice. Like Los Angeles.
The population of Mexico City they tell us is in excess of 20,000,000 give or take a few million. The auto population of Mexico City is probably the same because every family has a car, a wreck, or at least a few car parts parked out on the street in front of their houses.
Because of the population boom, the state of the roads, and my record with trailers --- getting lost with them, running off the road with them, losing them and my temper simultaneously --- I thought it better not to drive through the city with my new antique 1960 trailer in tow. But then I reasoned that if I got on the road early on a Sunday morning, I could avoid most of the traffic.
So on Saturday night, we stayed in a near-by garbage-bag of a city called Toluca, a few miles to the west of the capital. At five AM, we were up and on our way into the city. At six, we hit the Mexico City limits. At 6:05 I had taken a wrong exit off the freeway, and me, the car, my trailer and my companion Jesús were lost in a maze of scenic, tiny streets left over from the days of Cuauhtémoc.
After consulting a map --- and the entrails of a cat I had mushed while it was sleeping peacefully on a side street --- we had made it back to the Periférico, the main freeway around the city, by seven-thirty. We drove along for a half an hour or so, and then I saw a sign I thought said "Acapulco" so I turned off and we ended up in one of the serpentine dead-end streets that make up the bulk of the campus of the Autonomous University of Mexico.
I stopped the car and did the weeping-head-
on-the- steering- wheel routine and told Jesús that I was too old to be driving anymore, much less through the wastelands of the Autonomous University of Mexico City, and that I should have been buried alive on the day I got my first driving license. I told him I was now resigning, and that if he didn't want to take over, he could just shoot me --- a horse no longer fit for pasture, much less able to find his way home.
Fortunately Jesus has seen this shoot-me-
if-you- must routine before, so he got out and promptly found a taxi-driver who told us how to escape. He assured us that we were right next to the Periférico: Take that street over there, go left then go right. You'll then be on your way to Acapulco.
As usual, I didn't see the second right until we were well past it. Jesús told me I had missed it. I said no problem. I put the car in reverse and backed the trailer into a fireplug. Fortunately the water was shut off that day, and after a bit of pounding with a wrench, Jesus was able to get the trailer back more or less unbent and, sweet mother of god, we promptly ended up on the Periférico at its final turn-off to Acapulco.A trailer tied to the back of a car may increase one's carrying capacity but it restricts one's freedom. One doesn't get off the main highway without knowing exactly where one is going. I tried it once. I was driving down a narrow two-lane highway through the city of Tapachula, near the Guatemala border. I thought I saw a sign for a Pemex station down a narrow dirt road. I was wrong --- there was no gas station. After a 1000 yards or so, the road dead-ended into the public market with a few hundred people, dogs, horses, and vegetable peddlers milling about.
Successfully backing up with a trailer continues to be one of the great mysteries of western science. It has something to do with Boyle's Law. At least, that's what your car begins to do as you shift back and forth between accelerator and brake, trying to get the goddamn thing to go in the direction you want.
If you turn the steering-wheel right, instead of the trailer going to the left as it would if you were going forward, it wanders off somewhere to the right. Then if you turn the wheel harder to the right, the trailer doubles back over the hitch and jams itself up against the bumper of the car and smashes out one of the brake lights. This happened to me once. Don't smile. If you are foolish enough in your golden years to take off on a tour of the States with your own fifth wheel I guarantee it will happen to you.
Fortunately, I was also, at that time, driving with Jesús --- not the one from Bethlehem but my long-time friend from Puerto Perdido --- although it might have helped to have the former along with us as well. Jesús II got out of the car and stood behind the trailer where I could view him in the mirror and he showed by hand gestures exactly which way to turn the steering wheel to back us out of there.
With our combined talents, we were out of that dead-end in Tapachula in less than three hours, much to the merriment of the many Saturday afternoon shoppers and the children and the army of drunks who debouched from the Cantina Cula to watch this incompetent gringo whose normally dark hair had turned so white so suddenly.