Dateline: In the War Zone of Mexico City
There’s a war going on here. A battle in the streets. You may not have heard of it. Sadly, it’s been going on for years now, so it’s not really newsworthy any more. Oh, sure, the occasional outrage beyond the normal course of battle may well get a couple of lines on page D-11 of the local papers. I know I’ve read a story or two about a particularly gory dumping of remains here and there. But pretty much the conflict has faded into the background, with everyone resigned to this war as just one of the facts of living in Mexico City. The capitalinos are resilient bunch, if nothing else. And foreigners had better just adapt if they want to live here.
Perhaps more shockingly, this battle isn’t limited to some fringe areas like the infamous Tepito, some random, informally-settled hillside at the edge of town, or in some other marginal neighborhoods. Nope. This battle is being fought in some of the poshest areas of town. Reforma itself, Mexico City’s “Champs d’Elysées,” is the site of near-constant conflict. And skirmishes regularly break out in places like public parks, plazas, the leafy Boulevard Álvaro Obregón, Condesa, and yes, even in Polanco. The tourists complain about it, but the locals just shrug. In fact, most don’t even notice.
But this is not to say that the city is just accepting this state of affairs. No. The government of Mexico City has hired literally thousands of warriors to fight this battle. And the city shows no signs of wearying in its attempt to impose order on the streets. To their credit, they’ve got an impressive force. Thousands and thousands of these agents patrol the streets, armed with traditional, but sturdy weapons. And despite their archaic look, at least to Gringos, these sturdy weapons are more than up to the task of waging the battle, however inefficiently. Moreover the city has heavier equipment that it deploys when the battle grows intense, as well as a number of fixed installations, though not enough, and too small and weak to really control much territory.
But as the history of this war too clearly shows, it’s a war of attrition, with victory far from a foregone conclusion for either side. Though the city’s warriors are well-equipped for battle, adequately trained, fully backed by the force of law, and willing to fight, the fact of the matter is that they are vastly outnumbered by the superior, if lazier, millions on the other side.
Fortunately, there’s no shortage of combatants on the dark side who are tiring of the battle and would like to come clean, literally. And interestingly, their fellow combatants haven’t taken any reprisals against these turncoats. Perhaps because the forces of darkness are almost endless? Perhaps because they accept a certain level of attrition? Who knows? But there’s seemingly little to no downside to escaping from a life of grime.
Sadly, the city hasn’t made it easy for the turncoats to come clean. Oh sure, any strong-willed person could easily cross over to the good side, just as some people can simply quite smoking. But for most it’s tough, and recidivism runs high. And maybe that’s just the nature of things, that this battle will rage on eternally. Personally, I’m praying for peace.
I refer, of course, to the battle against litter and trash. Simply put, I seriously doubt there’s a city in North America with a lower ratio of public trash cans to population anywhere. Take the Plaza de Los Insurgentes, crossed by literally millions of people a day. It’s the size of a football field and always full of people. Yet there is not a single public trash can. Not a one. I’ve repeatedly scoured the place, and I can assure you. Elsewhere? On street corners? Nope. In other plazas? Nope. Along busy pedestrian streets? ¡No mames, güey!* Mostly this is a trash-can-free city, though there are a few exceptions.
Sure, there are a few places with public trash cans, like along Reforma or in parts of the Centro Histórico. But they’re almost laughable, tiny little things, the child soldiers of this particular war, unfit for the battles that await them. Like two office wastebaskets, joined at the hip and hiked up a small pole with a small opening, they are somehow meant to contain the trash of several hundred thousand pedestrians before they overflow. And that’s when the bins themselves aren’t completely missing, leaving only the poles behind, an all-too-common occurrence. Unfortunately there are too many of these “walking wounded” soldiers around town. It’s a disquieting sight.
So it’s likely this battle will continue to rage on, with the city’s army of trash sweepers, equipped with their Harry-Potter brooms on one side, and the millions of trash-dropping combatants on the other side. Those of us who simply wish to put trash in its place are stuck in the middle of this combat zone while the battle rages on.
For now, the city is winning through sheer perseverance, but tomorrow is another day. As for me? I’m doing my part, but it’s a daily struggle.
* Chilango-speak for “You’re shitting me!” or “No Way!”