Dateline: A tope-infested, traffic-clogged street in Mexico City.
So you think you’d like to take your car into Mexico and drive around the country. Are you ready? Pull out a pencil and paper, and take our little quiz and see how you do.
- I would consider myself to be:
- A polite and courteous driver who tends to yield to help traffic flow.
- An assertive driver, but willing to give and take.
- A battle-hardened veteran of driving in Boston, New York City, or Chicago who gets my way when I need to.
- The thought of navigating through rush hour traffic in Boston, New York City, or Chicago:
- Makes me think, “Bring it on, baby!”
- Doesn’t thrill me, but seems manageable.
- Reminds me of how many times I’ve already done it successfully.
- Gives me the willies.
- Sometimes you just need to break a few traffic rules (illegal left turns, etc) to save your own sanity:
- Yes, I agree and just go for it.
- Yes, but I look first to see if there’s a cop around.
- No, it’s not worth the risk.
- If I need to change lanes prior to making a turn in heavy traffic I can:
- Always get to where I need to.
- Mostly get to where I need to.
- Often have to backtrack because I missed the exit/turnoff/split because some pendejo wouldn’t let me through.
- The car I plan to take into Mexico is:
- Shiny, new, and nice.
- A decent, later-model car that has aged well.
- Something that’s clearly showing its age, with a dent or two visible.
- My internal sense of direction is:
- Excellent; I usually know where I’m going and can track my orientation through a series of turns.
- Decent, I mostly know where I’m going.
- I rely on signage, familiarity or a GPS.
- I have experience riding a motorcycle on the street in urban areas:
- I tend to follow too closely:
- Seldom or never.
- If the car in front of me has malfunctioning brake lights:
- I often have to slam on the brakes in a panic.
- I can mostly tell if someone’s slowing down without relying on his brake lights.
- I can tell if someone’s slowing down, leave plenty of space and I also scan two cars ahead.
- When my car is approached by various vendors of fruits, sodas, etc, or squeegee men:
- I’m delighted to buy something in traffic.
- It makes me nervous.
- I buy if I feel like it, but can also firmly say no.
So how’d you do? Let’s score the quiz.
Question 1, traffic manners. If you answered C, give yourself 10 points. Five points for B, and if you answered A, you’re probably a really nice person, but score zero for this question. The fact of the matter is that driving in Mexico is often extremely aggressive, and if you’re used to driving in a US suburb, or anywhere on the West Coast, driving in Mexico is going to require a much more aggressive style than you’re used to. If you answered B, but still want to try, come to Boston to practice first.
Question 2, fear of driving in crazy traffic. If you answered C or A, give yourself ten points. You’re well-prepared, but even you will have to steel your nerve south of the border. B, 5 points, and D gets zero. Having driven extensively all over the USA on business, I have to say that my hometown is the worst, followed closely by New York and Chicago, though the latter two cities have grasped the concept of lanes, something that still eludes many Boston drivers. If you can drive in downtown Boston, at rush hour, you’ll handle Mexico with aplomb.
Question 3, willingness to bend traffic rules. If you answered B, give yourself 10, for A, 7. C again is the loser with zero points. Mostly you don’t have to break laws down here, but sometimes you do. Like when the speed limit on the freeway is 40 KPH (25 MPH) and everyone’s doing 100 KPH. Or like one afternoon in DF, to get to my new hotel about a mile from my old hotel (a journey of about an hour), I had to drive over a median strip that separated two sides of road that went the same direction. And then I took an illegal left turn. Had I not done so, I’d be writing this post from inside a mental hospital. Or from my truck, still in traffic months later.
Question 4, ability to force your way through when necessary. A gets you 10, B 5, and C zero. The fact of the matter is that there are plenty of people here (just as in Boston) who’d like nothing better than to make you miss your turn. You need to show them that you aren’t to be F-ed with. Otherwise you’ll get lost and have only yourself to blame.
Question 5, type of car you’re planning to take. OK, this one barely merits being a question. Take my advice and drive a junker into Mexico. You’ll draw a lot less attention, and arrogant Chilangos in their shiny BMWs won’t try too hard to keep you from changing lanes. A = 0, B = 5, C = 10
Question 6, sense of direction. A =10, B = 5, C =0. If you own a GPS with maps of Mexico and answered “C,” give yourself 5 points anyway. I have no idea how well a GPS would work here, but at least you admit your weakness and are countering it. The fact of the matter is that signage here is terrible and confusing. My best advice (barring a GPS, which I was too cheap to buy) is use your phone to Google-map your route, familiarize yourself with your general direction, and if you have good sense of direction, rely on that in preference to whatever the signs might appear to say. Quick error-correction is also advisable, i.e., don’t drive too far in the wrong direction.
Question 7, motorcycle experience. Yes gets 10 points, No gets zero. Why? When you ride a motorcycle, you are trained to be much more attuned to road conditions than you are in a car. People don’t see you, and you must literally live by your wits. You look several cars ahead, and you keep much tighter track of who’s around you. This is a great skillset for driving a car in Mexico where people are doing all kinds of crazy, unpredictable nonsense.
Question 8 and 9, following closely and judging speed of car ahead, should really be one question, but I was too lazy to figure out how to word it. The basic point here is that it seems like 10%-15% of Mexican cars have malfunctioning brake lights, even seemingly newer cars. If you’re not good at judging whether someone’s slowing down, tailgating is only going to make your life that much worse. And just like in the USA, if you rear-end someone, it’s your fault regardless of the condition of the guy’s brake lights. And you know he’s going to insist that they worked fine until you hit him, right? Questions 8 & 9, for each A =0, B =5, C = 10
Question 10, dealing with street vendors or performers. You will constantly be approached in your car to hand over money for things edible, a window-wash, or to pay for the floor show which could be anything from a clown, juggler, flame-eater, or contortionist. These folks understand a no-no shaking of your index finger, but some are slower to figure it out than others. These folks aren’t dangerous, just trying to make a living, but annoying at times. Frankly, I’ve paid for many a squeegee job as they are usually excellent and should set you back only 2-5 pesos. Answers A & C get 5 points, B gets zero.
So how’d you do?
34 or less. Mexico’s a great place, but you’d be very unhappy trying to drive here. Just fly down and take buses and taxis and consider yourself saved a considerable amount of hassle.
35-55. You could well drive in Mexico, but might want to spend some time practicing in Boston, NYC, or Chicago downtowns at rush hour. But is it worth the hassle?
56-75. You’re automotively unflappable. Do you want to come with me next time and share the driving?
Over 75. Remind me not to drive anywhere near you.