I do believe I’m ready to share what it’s like to drive a car around our little part of Mexico. The bad dreams have started to subside and the night terrors are actually getting a little better, so maybe I can talk about it now without throwing up a little.
And I mean shortly after we got here, because, for at least the first week, I refused to get behind the wheel. You probably can’t see the tears rolling down my face in this photo, or the fact that my knuckles are completely white as they desperately clutch the steering wheel (the hand actually on the wheel, not the other hand holding the cellphone for this completely made-up selfie…) In fact, I was worried I’d never be able to get behind a wheel ever again – in any country. But, needs must be met, and new furniture for my house isn’t going to buy and deliver itself, so I gathered up my courage and firmly grabbed the keys to our rental.
Now let’s flash-forward several weeks to me now:
This 2nd photo represents a person’s anger at being cut off, almost side-swiped and narrowly missing a collision. And now I’ve just introduced you to my typical morning – EVERY morning – of driving my children to school. And that’s just my morning drive.
Let’s set the scene: here in Mexico, we have roads that very much need repair (pot holes that will swallow your car whole and NO orange safety-cones warning you to this threat), roads that rarely have the yellow or white lines indicating the lanes (is this one or two lanes here? can I cross into the other lane?), intersection lights that are completely ignored (especially by taxis and buses – they don’t even slow down for red lights, they will just blow right through them), and road manners from other drivers that make a very mild-mannered driver like me – look like I do in the picture 2 above. I’m thinking of giving up my caffeine need in the mornings because my typical drive into school wakes me up a million times better with the constant adrenaline rush, fear and rage than what countless cups of coffee can provide.
And I am so daily amazed at this vehicular phenomenon – because, generally, I am comfortable making the generalized statement that people here in Mexico are so friendly, warm and welcoming. But just like The Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde – these people transform, behind the wheel of a vehicle, and I feel like I’m stuck in a nightmare version of Super Mario Racing 2. Honestly, I do think my previous experience at video game racing has actually helped me to navigate and survive this demolition derby… oh I mean, driving – here. Certainly, every time I pull in my driveway without an accident I feel like throwing my fists in the air and yelling “NEW HIGH SCORE”!
And it’s not just them – since I’ve been driving here, I’ve already hit another car (parked) in a parking lot (no damage done), ripped off a metal strip from underneath one rental car (not sure what it was for), and have put a dent in the frame of another rental. But I don’t honestly think those were my fault – I’m trying to assimilate with the rest of the Jekylls here in this scarey jungle of wheels, squealing breaks and constant horn-honking. And this is EVERYWHERE – not just on the major roadways or the busiest intersections – everywhere. Like even when I’m driving the girls into school – which only has one gate so we all have to squeeze through single-file – and to get into this gate you have to hang a school tag from your rear-view mirror. So that white mini-van that almost hit me this morning just so it could get into the school 5 seconds before us? WTH? She was so close to hitting my car we could have rolled-down our windows, introduced ourselves and shook hands. She’s cutting me off with such precision that I can clearly read the tag hanging off her mirror, memorize what she looks like and the make and model of her car so that if and when I do come face-to-face with her in a future school event, I can totally give her the cold shoulder. Why does it have to be like this here?
As bad as this is for me, I imagine it’s worse for my kids, who really should just feel lucky that I don’t make them wear helmets in the car, or at least be bundled up for protection like that poor kid Randall in The Christmas Story. Probably the entire time I’m driving them anywhere, they think they are being chauffeured by Yosemite Sam as I’m trying to keep the responsive cursing under control and under my breath.
No one uses turning signals (yeah, my dad will fit right in here). There are very few signs that mark one-way roads, or even the speed limit. And when I do actually see a speed limit sign, I actually laugh out loud. The idea that I can take my eyes off the road for even a second to check my speedometer is really funny. Any lulls that I do actually get while I’m driving I need for changing the song on iTunes. What little road/driving laws that might exist here are not enforced – there are no traffic police. Well, at least I’ve been told traffic cops do exist here but I’ve never seen any – which is probably a good thing because we’ve been warned about them.
Another frequent nightmare on this issue I’ve been having isn’t so much about how I’m going to survive driving in these conditions for the next 2 years and 10 months – it’s about how I am becoming one of these driving-Jekylls and how bad it’s going to be when I have to re-assimilate back to the U.S., where we do have orange safety-cones and laws and lane restrictions and traffic cops and polite drivers who will actually wave you in and then not proceed to psych you out by almost hitting you and clearly marked signs of where I can safety turn, park my car or even [gasp!] what the speed limit is.
When I get back to the U.S. I’m probably going to be hell on wheels, and when I do get pulled over for doing something that I had been doing every day here in Mexico just to survive, I very much doubt the police officer will accept my “surviving in Mexico for three years” excuse.
At this point in my future, I’m sure I’ll be back to looking like I do in photo 1.