Saturday, March 10, 2007

a cab ride in mexico city

i'm not sure if i'm stealing someone's line, but as a seasoned traveller it always has seemed to me that if you want to understand the zeitgeist of any city, you have only to take a taxi with a chatty driver. there are some obvious caveats to this (some of them are nuts), but the cab driver spends all day in the car listening to the news, seeing the city, and yapping with people coming in and out of the locale. if they can synthesize and communicate this considerable flood of info, you've got the city's leading authority on your hands as a captive audience for the duration of your trip.

during my short trip (3 days) to mexico city to do PR and serve as a security advisor to banamex, i stayed near the following bldg, which is beautiful modern architecture and surrounded by gorgeous new hotels and legions of sushi restaurants (oddly enough). note that i was ushered here by my host and shuttled around to nice places during my trip, never left to wander on my own as is my typical M.O.

during the trip, i wondered how much mexico city had *really* changed since my visit over a decade ago. it just seemed too nice. one of the first indications was a thick layer of smog over the horizon that would make even a native los angelino blush. check it out in the pic below. sorta hard to see but you'll get the idea.

so as i was on my cab ride back to the airport the cab driver noticed i was not on my cell phone any more and struck up the basic conversation of where i was from and such. as is usual when any guero replies in kind with espanol, he praised my spanish and i demurred. then the real conversation began as he asked me if this was my 1st time in the DF. i replied no and made remarks as to the stunning progress that was made but the persistence of traffic and smog, feeling this was a balanced response. he glanced in his rear view mirror with his cheap sunglasses and told me that the progress was "una ficcion" and that what i saw in the lovely new sante fe area was not real. he pointed out the window to the scene below and told me that it was the real mexico city: a city of poverty run by indifferent politicians and businessmen of indiscrimnate wealth.

we delved into a conversation about politics which seriously strained my now meager spanish vocabulary, but we made it through the nonetheless. i was assured that he, as the rest of the people i met, thought hugo chavez was freakin' insane. not that anyone i met liked bush, who happened to be doing a tour of latin america this past week, but that they understood that socialism and anti-americanism is not going to advance their cause.

and this is a shot from the other side of the cab. he told me that 20 years ago the ppl in the now favela style living were habitating in caves in the same area. crazy. the progress that has been made didn't seem to brighten his hopes, and neither did the successful, peaceful xfer of power from vicente fox to the new administration. other mexicanos i spoke with felt differently, as they see the many attractions of latin america and mexico for US businesses and elsewhere. they're in a close time zone, most ppl speak english, its inexpensive, etc. my sense after taking it all in is if they can develop a middle class, solve some of their infrastructure issues and keep a stable govt, mexico could be a center of world economic activity in the future.

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