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  Texas : Features : Mexico

AN AUTOBUS NAMED ESPERANZA
or Adopt-A-Gringo

by John Troesser

Although I hold no fear of driving into Mexico, I occasionally cross the border on foot. Indeed, I have grown to appreciate the nuances (and outright comedy) of driving in a land short on infrastructure and adequate signage. I'm still a little un-nerved at blinking caution lights, but that makes sense too, when you stop and think about it. Just hope that the guy in back of you decides to stop and think about it too.

I was going to Matamoros to visit a children's home run by old friends who had run a similar one in Reynosa. They had recently graduated from advanced training in Mexico City, and had only been here at their new assignment a few days. Directions were vague, but unlike New York, Taxistas in Mexico are usually natives and know every inch of their town. Over the phone Miguel had assured me it was only a stone's throw from the bridge.

I came to the first taxi I saw and asked the driver how much to take me to Colonia Esperanza. "Eight Dollars" was the reply. I told him I were born en la noche, but not a noche. I found a taxi a block away and the driver asked $6. I told him it was near the bridge and he told me in a very apologetic manner that I had been misinformed.

I said I was on a budget, and I'd walk. Gracias. Two blocks later I heard a horn and he pulled alongside me and said he'd take me for five since it was the children's home and I'd already walked two blocks. So far everything was in the script. But then I refused his offer.

He pulled ahead, parked his car and walked back to me. My first thought was: "He's not taking this well." He pointed behind me at an old Bluebird School Bus now being employed as city transportation. He said that its fare was 50 cents and the next one would take me downtown where I could transfer to the Colonia Esperanza bus. I found his courtesy most startling, but then I remembered I was in Mexico and remembered a thousand such courtesies, often from unlikely sources.

Like Blanca Del Bosque, Blanche DuBois' Mexican cousin, I've always depended on the kindness of extranjeros.

We shook hands and I caught the next bus. His words were right as rain and no one looked up when I boarded the bus and asked the driver for a transfer. I asked if he would point out my stop to me and he nodded. I knew everyone on the bus heard me, but you'd never have known it by their faces. Everyone sat in their own world, except for a little boy who looked at me in the slack-jawed way kids around the world watch television.

After 10 minutes of watching the Mexican streetscape, I started getting eye contact from several people at once. Then they started squirming. They'd look at me and look towards the front of the bus. It was very much like watching spectators at a tennis match except the heads were immobile; only the eyes moved. Subtlety is often wasted on me, so it was only after they started shouting at the driver and he slammed on his brakes in the middle of the block that I realized I had been in danger of missing my stop. Everyone smiled and the driver flexed his neck muscles in a good natured grimace. I swear to this day, that I heard a collective sigh of relief as the bus pulled away.

Now I was on a corner with my transfer in my hand and buses were passing at the speed of driven golf balls. The ones that had visor signs were no help, since they announced "Chartered," "Out-of-Service," and in at least one case, "Kansas City."

A gray headed news-vendor sat on a chair reading a paper and noticed I wasn't from around there. He asked where I was going and I told him Colonia Esperanza. I must've looked tense to him, because he said, "Relax, I'll tell you when your bus comes."

A bus passed and I looked at his face. He didn't even look up from his paper, but he shook his head. Another passed and his face might as well have been carved onto a pyramid.

Had he already forgotten his promise? Another passed and there was a slight movement around his mouth, but he was just reacting to a cartoon. After 10 minutes passed, I found out the names of his children and that he had been stationed in Campeche during his Army days. I thought I'd try the tennis-match eye-switch business on him. He picked up on it instantly, but his reply was always a silent shake of his head. Not once had he looked at a bus!

Finally a bus turned the corner, and still without looking he said "Here it is."

As the bus pulled up in answer to my hand signal I noticed the deafening roar of its mufflerlessness. He looked up at me over his reading glasses and pointed to his ear with just the slightest trace of a smile. "The muffler," he said. As I lurched to the back of the bus and saw him recede in the distance, I noticed he was smiling. I waved, but he was already back to his paper.


Epilog

After my visit I was driven back to the bridge and the first taxi's fare estimate was more than fair. I wouldn't have driven it myself for less than $10.

My visit was as pleasant as ever and I was glad to see my old friends and their new charges. But I still think about the new friends I met that day in Matamoros; the ones that I'll never see again.


July, 2000
John Troesser


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