For All Nails #85: Mobile Locos
by Noel Maurer
- Excerpt from The Real Mexico
- by Franklin Genovese
- (New York, 1974)
Number one tip for driving in Mexico: don't. The problem is that just isn't possible outside Mexico City and some parts of Puerto Hancock, and it isn't all that good an idea in those two cities either. FN1 Train from the airport? Bus? What's that? Both Puerto Hancock and Mexico City have rail lines out to John Hancock and Andrew Jackson fields, but they're more modern art than useful transit. Visiting the USM without renting a loke is the equivalent of deliberately paralyzing your left leg before visiting Paris. You can do it, but why?
Mexico has the best roads in the world. The best. Unfortunately, most of the drivers on those incredible Mexican roads are, well, Mexican. I arrived on a Sunday. That meant that the traffic was light enough to appreciate the real beauty of Mexican driving. Imagine a game of flipperball, except the balls turn at will and seem to want to hit the paddles.
Right outside the airport I saw a housewife speed up, dart across five lanes of traffic and dive into an exit. Her children were playing in the back of the vehicle. I was shocked. Sure, I could imagine that sort of driving from a teenaged male in a twelve-cylinder Conquistador, but this was a mother with her offspring in the car! Admittedly, the car was about the size of your typical New York apartment, but still.
I thought I was prepared. After all, nobody in North America really obeys the speed limit. FN2 We're North Americans! A free people in a free country! Whereas Mexico is a rigidly regimented military dictatorship, where everyone is drafted into the Army at the age of eighteen. You expect order. From the air, as your airmobile descends into JHF, you see what looks like order, a rigid grid of streets extending endlessly outwards from downtown, clusters of rascallos FN3 dotting the basin, and a net of well-designed stoplesses uniting it all. FN4 It doesn't prepare you for what you find the minute you pull out onto the road.
Random lane changing. Passing on the left. Rolling stops. Amber light? Speed up -- it'll turn red soon! There seem to be two rules to driving in the USM. Rule 1: show no fear. Rule 2: try not to deliberately commit suicide, unless that conflicts with rule number 1.
Mexicans appear to have never heard of a signal light. What's a signal light? Oh, that little lever on the left side of the steering column has a function?
The horn, on the other hand, Mexicans consider the horn very useful. They use it to signal lane changes, turns, deceleration, acceleration, and general annoyance. They also use it to brake, turn, start, and change gears. It seems to boil down to the following: only honk when someone does something unexpected, unless you expected it, in which case you should honk to show appreciation.
Note that I haven't mentioned the mental state in which too many Mexicans are on the road. I don't mean anger or stress, although there is plenty of both. I mean the hazy cloud of mota that so often seems stronger and thicker than the exhaust fumes. In theory, driving while intoxicated is against the law. In practice, driving while intoxicated is against the law. The fines are horribly steep. And the law is enforced. The problem is that every testosterone-laden young man considers it a badge of honor to toke up and drive without getting caught. The result is that every Monday you've got road crews out on every stopless repairing bent guardrails and replacing knocked-over streetlights. I suppose it does wonders for the unemployment rate.
I must say that Mexican roads are incredibly well-planned. The entrance ramps are long enough to allow even the most underpowered North American import to accelerate up to 70 -- that's right, seventy -- miles an hour before needing to merge into traffic. The lanes are broad enough for lorries the size of Massachusetts. The shoulders are broad. The signage is wonderful. You almost never need to consult a map. It is as impressive from the ground as from the air.
Of course, all those features are absolutely necessary to prevent mayhem. You need lanes that wide, to give drunk drivers enough space to properly weave. You need great signage, because taking your eyes off the road for one second means sudden death. You need long entrance ramps, because traffic in Mexico moves at two speeds: completely stopped, or way too fast. And you need wide shoulders, to accommodate the metal piles that closely resemble crunched-up pieces of paper littering the sides of every Mexican road.
Mexicans love to claim that their country has far fewer locomobile accidents than North America. Mexicans are also apparently blind. Which may explain their driving.
Mexican driving is terrifying not only because Mexicans drive like terrors, but because Mexicans drive terrors. FN5 You don't have to be here long to believe, really believe the Mexican government's protestations that the reason North American lokes don't sell in this country is simply because nobody will buy them. In fact, a visitor quickly notes that Mexicans not only refuse to buy North American imports, but won't even buy the models their own lokemakers export to the Confederation. They're simply too small.
Mexicans buy cars that are about six blocks long and have the turn radius of the HMS Leviathan. At first I was nervous about driving one of these monsters, a dusty Galloway Guardian, the smallest car on the lot. (Not quite true -- but the smallest car was a two-seat Toledo roadster that cost far more than I could possibly justify to the accountants back in New York.) I returned it the next day. It was too frightening. I'm not sure the other drivers on the road would have even noticed running me over.
The intercity roads appear less frightening than the cities, but that's an illusion. Never less than two lanes each way, and usually three, they have no speed limits. None. Go as fast as you like. Which explains the one-loke wrecks that occasionally dot the side of the road, as if a car was speeding along and suddenly spontaneously jumped up in the air and exploded. More likely, the driver's intelligence suddenly and spontaneously jumped out of his brain and exploded. When I was a teenager we used to suffer those kind of Driving Without Intelligence incidents back in Georgia, when our brains would suddenly cease functioning and cause the car to end up in a tree. Strangely enough, those DWIs seemed to be associated with the consumption of an entire eight-pack of Lawton and an unsuccessful attempt to convince our girlfriends to engage in acts which will not be mentioned because they are still illegal in most of the Southern Confederation.
Such acts are not, however, illegal in California. In fact, trapped in traffic, I once saw a couple engaging in acts that I truly did not think were possible for anyone other than a professional gymnast. Sadly, an accurate description of what I saw would make it illegal to distribute this book in Georgia, either Vandalia, both Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire.
Speaking of traffic, you haven't seen a traffic jam until you've been trapped on the upper deck of the Playa Hermosa Locopista in rush hour, right where it intersects the San Pedro. Ten lanes of traffic on each deck, an incredible bowl of spaghetti larger than Manhattan, a true miracle of modern engineering -— and not a loke moving.
You would think that an average velocity of five miles an hour would prevent accidents. You would also be suffering from a lack of imagination. When travelling rapidly, Mexican drivers are limited by the inexorable laws of physics from executing certain manuevers. (At least not without causing the loke to spontaneously leap into the air and explode.) When crawling through traffic, such limits fail to apply. I now understand why the rental company required me to purchase collision insurance. I am also very glad that I rented the Behemoth instead of the Galloway Guardian.
Tempers flare. Horns honk. Fists wave. A Mexican traffic jam is far more frightening than a mob. The French monarchy would have collapsed in 1789 had a traffic jam stormed the Bastille instead of mob.
By the way, did you know that it's legal to carry a firearm in your loke in the state of California? Giant lokes with gunracks and armed drivers. Think about it. No wonder Mexico rarely bothers to mobilize its army along the border. Monticello's rush hour traffic alone could overwhelm the entire Southern Vandalia militia. All it needs is a leader. Be afraid, be very afraid.
Becoming a pedestrian in Mexico does nothing to lower the visitor's stress level. First, in most parts of the country, you feel like an extraterrestrial merely for trying to walk. In fact, the police stopped and questioned me for strolling in San Fernando, a suburb of Puerto Hancock. Lest you think Santa Monica is out of the ordinary, the same thing happened in Chihuahua City, and again in the Mexico City suburb of Chalco. Of course, no one was driving in Chalco either, but that's another story.
I talked with a San Fernando police officer. San Fernando is an endlessly sprawling mass of single family homes, low-slung apartment buildings, and shopping "centros" -- a far different phenomenon than our own shopping "centers," and see Chapter Four -- by far the ugliest architecture you've ever seen. FN6 The police station is in a temporary modular building put up during the Global War and periodically renovated afterwards. When I asked about the ugliness of the architecture, someone said, "Why make 'em pretty if a terremoto is just gonna come along y knock 'em down anyway?"
The officer laughed when I asked about walking. The man shuffled over to a file cabinet and pulled out some statistics. "Here," he said, "Here's why the patrullas kept stopping you. You know what the single biggest source of road fatalities is in this city? Drunken walking." FN7
Drunken walking. That is to say, anyone walking any distance in San Fernando is likely to be inebriated, or becannabiated, and is therefore likely to wander out into one of the city's wide boulevards and be run down by a speeding loke. You arrest them to avoid the cleanup costs.
North American drivers, given Mexico's infrastructure, would be in paradise. Parking is a constitutional right. Signs make sense without a decoder ring, and are plainly visible. The acceleration lane is an innovation desperately needed back home. FN8 Mexicans, on the other hand, would do quite well with North America's road net, so badly designed that following the rules is impossible. Sadly, as with so much else, history dealt our two nations bad hands: they got the half of the continent with the good roads.
Forward to FAN #86: The World Joan Made.
Forward to 1974: The Second Republic.
Return to For All Nails.