Dateline: Mexico, DF
With apologies to the Kingston Trio
Mexico City’s Metro System is the worst possible way to get around the city. Except of course, for taking a taxi, or even worse, driving. Or taking a combi, many of which seem to have been built in the 60’s and last maintained some time in the 70’s, many driven by maniacal young men with their girlfriends riding shotgun. And don’t even get me started on the MetroBus, which at rush hour makes sardines feel like they normally live in a spacious three-story penthouse apartment in the largest building in New York City.
Of course, as is my wont, I may be exaggerating a smidgen. Just for dramatic effect. Because except for rush hour, the Metro is actually a very good way to get around DF. It’s cheap, at a mere 5 pesos, or about thirty two American cents a ride. Compare that to Boston’s “T” at about $2.65 a ride, and New York’s Subway at close to $3, and you’ll immediately recognize what a bargain it is. And there are no destinations, certainly in Boston, that can compare for sheer fascination value with stops like Garibaldi, where itinerant mariachis hang out hoping to be picked up for a gig. Or the Zócalo, former Center of the Universe, and now center for all the happenings in Mexico City. Or any number of other exotic destinations that can be yours for a mere thirty two cents. And it’ll make you feel exotic, as you’ll probably be the only Gringo on board at any given time.
It’s also probably the fastest way to get around town as you zip along underground, unimpeded by anything except the occasional suicide. And if that happens, lordy, you’ll wish you had decided to drive. Then the system gets shut down for hours and the city comes to a virtual standstill. Fortunately, this gringo has never personally experienced such a thing, but he has been told gristly tales. Apparently it happens several times per year. Seems like a very inconsiderate way to go too. Not to mention painful. I think I’d opt for a quick slug of an entire bottle of tequila, or really just about any other method, rather than throw myself in front of a speeding metro train. It is NOT the best passage into the afterlife.
Ah, but the Metro at rush hour! Then all the speedy convenience suddenly vanishes in a puff of brake dust. Take my most recent experience trying to pick up Edgar on Friday evening at the TAPO bus station, conveniently co-located with the San Lázaro station of the Metro’s Line #1. Edgar’s bus was due to arrive around 6:15, and I texted him at 5:00, saying I’d meet him in the station. Since I had been wandering the city all day, I was a mite tired, and decided to take a nap in the meantime. I set an alarm, but somehow miscalculated the time, and woke with a start at 6:00 PM. “Oh my god, I’ve got to pick up Edgar and I’m late,” I thought in a panic. Since he’s a small-town boy, I figured it was best for me to find him rather than risk losing him amongst the twenty million Defeños frantically trying to get home. So I rushed out of my hotel and walked briskly to the Cuauhtémoc metro stop and prepared to head to San Lázaro. Even with only fifteen minutes, I figured he wouldn’t have to wait long for me as it’s only 5 stops away.
Soon a train entered the station, but it was completely full, and only a few people managed to get on. I wasn’t among them. But I moved down the platform toward the end of the train, figuring that the last car of the next train was likely to have some more space. Nope. The second train came by, only this time, maybe three people got off, and the same number managed to get on. The train was absolutely packed. Meanwhile, the sardines were living large in their cans. Then, more and more people kept arriving on the platform. Five more trains came by and I wasn’t able to get on one of them, and the platform was thick with people and more were arriving by the minute.
So I gave up. I texted Edgar. “There’s no way I’m going to be able to meet you. Seven trains have passed and I can’t get on one of them. So you’re going to have to meet me. I’ll wait on the platform for you. Just take line 1 to Cuauhtémoc station, and I’ll be under the red digital clock.” Since he was going against the commute, Edgar had no trouble at all, showed up about 20 minutes later, and we were reunited.
Sadly, while I’m pretty comfortable with Mexico City’s metro, I don’t know it well enough to know which directions of which lines have this kind of problem at “rush” hour. And rush hour lasts from about 5:30 until about 8:30 or 9:00 PM, and I guess there’s also a morning rush hour too, though I’m not an early bird when in DF.
So take the metro when you can, but beware of rush hour. And if you manage to get on a train? Be prepared to get to know your neighbor. Well. Perhaps a little too well.