|About Ron Ridenour|
Learning to shit fast is the trick to bus travel in Mexico.
Traveling on a bus the length of Mexico, one has to have time and patience—but it’s cheap.
No one knows the hour of arrival. It can vary, depending on the drivers, the police and army checks, and whatever the roads and weather may decide.
The northbounder was full up. Besides two women and their two coughing children, the forty seats bounced with unemployed agricultural workers, mostly young and hungry.
Those I spoke with were bound for “the other side” and hard, low-paid, insecure labor. At any time, an immigration service raid can snap them up and kick them over the border, and without the last days or even weeks pay. Some never make it to the first town in the land of opportunity. Either they get arrested by border patrol or shot to death by Minutemen, neo-Nazi “wetback hunters”.
In silence comes the heat, the cold. It all depends if the air conditioning or the heater is in working order. And the temperature shifts dramatically in this vast region.
There are no ash trays but lots of smokers. Nor are there containers for trash. Fifth accumulates on the metallic floor.
I am the only one reading a newspaper. Some passengers are reading short romance novels. Jokes are made about the partially clad women, especially the blondes. I use my newspaper to fan away the stench of omnipresent farts and the odor of shit emanating from the toilet nearby.
One has to stand to defecate for lack of space and because the broken seat hadn’t been washed since… Naturally, there is no water. Still, the commode is useable whereas on the return trip the drivers used the laboratory for luggage, causing defecation and urinating stops by the roadside where tree leaves wiped us dry.
Stops are always short, even the scheduled ones. The drivers often do not say how long we’ll have. It can vary from five minutes to an hour. We all rush to the toilets. Sometimes the line stretches through the rest stop. No time for Freudian excrement hang-ups.
At one stop in Culiacan, there were actually clean flush toilets with
running water and a sink. On the way back to the bus, we were stopped
by an armed guard demanding “un boleto de impuestos”
(a tax). I figured I paid for the trip so why a tax to accommodate nature’s calling. No answer. I balked. Three rifle-toting guards rushed up. I complied.
The roads are fine: mostly paved and without large holes. The landscapes offer diversion: deserts, rolling hills, mountains, and millions of cactus. On the hillsides, the bus sways like the swinging of campesino machetes slashing in the midday sun.
Suddenly the bus stops.
La policía board. Four broad-bellied uniformed men, pistols tucked into belts, saunter down the aisle scrutinizing their property.
“Documents! Get out your identity papers!”
They search faces. They read birth certificates.
“What state are you from?” one asks the man behind me.
“Who’s the governor of Qaxaca?”
“Rubén Lacero Gómez,” the worker replies firmly.
“Reubén Lacero Gómez!”
The cop seems unsure. He moves on to the next guy.
“You! Says here on your papers you’re from Guerrero. Who’s the governor?”
“Well, you see, sir, I’ve been in Mexico City some time now and I don’t reckon I know the governor’s name anymore,” the young, muscular man meekly replies.
“You don’t, huh! Go outside and wait for me.”
It’s my turn. I show him my tourist card and passport.
“How long you been in Mexico?”
“Six weeks, just like the card shows, and I’ve got six left.”
“You come here from Cuba?”
Now why would he ask me that? I don’t look Cuban, do I?
“What has where I come from got to do with anything? My passport says I was born in the United States of America. Isn’t that sufficient?
Tight-lipped. Another one comes with brass on his labels. He demands my papers from his underling. He stares at each page.
“Come with me!”
Under Sinalo’s stinging sun, the chief demands to know, “Why
do have El Salvador stamped in your passport?”
“I have the visa because I plan to travel there soon.”
“And where are you going now?”
“By the border. Why?”
“What difference does it make,” explodes my gall. “I bought a ticket to Mexicali. My papers are in order. What’s the fuss?”
His black mustache twists downward.
“Ah, you speak good Spanish. Why is that?”
“I hope you are not offended by my Spanish, señor.”
He returns my grin and my papers.
My seat-mate is still under interrogation by a burly man. I wait to get on the bus until my mate is free. The governor’s name remains a sore point.
“Pendejo” – stupid- yells the policeman and pushes him toward the bus.
No one is missing half-an-hour later as the bus starts up.
José excused himself to me for not knowing the governor’s name and thus inconveniencing us all.
“All I do is work and look for work. There is no work in Guerrero. I’ve tried many provinces. Now I try the other side, like so many more. I must feed my family. I am young and capable. But these police: why do they trouble us, for what?”
We muse over possible reasons, and then José asks me:
“And you, why do they question you?”
“Perhaps, it is because I am not certain who the governor of El Salvador is.”
After a nap, we are awakened by the driver shouting, “Mexicali!”
José looks worried.
“How many dollars does it cost to get to California?”
“I don’t know. I am not knowledgeable about the system. I have heard there is plenty of work in the fields but that the border is tightly controlled, and trouble is quite possible. If you do make it, don’t work as a scab, don’t undermine the conditions for the other workers. Join a union and together maybe you can make it go.”
I’m the only one off in Mexicali. The rest are on to Tijuana.
I wave to José from the roadside as the bus turns towards the closest city to the land of opportunity.
City lights blink far away. I walk toward them. My bags make the going slow. I wonder where I might find a local bus to town. A boy on his donkey comes in sight. I ask where I might find a bus.
“You won’t. They are on strike.”
[December 1987, Mexico. Rewritten November 2007, Denmark.]
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