This is an excerpt from a much longer letter from two years ago that doesn’t get to go public yet. But this has all the car stuff.
Where do VW Beatles go when they die? Not the plastic front engine atrocities that have all the soul of a marketing department. But the great old air cooled little beast that didn’t need a sunflower holder to market them to women and gay men, since they actually had real street cred. What’s their heaven like? I far as I can tell, its Mexico City. They’re everywhere you look. This is not a city to play punch buggy in. Two or three at a light, every light, and they didn’t survive for no reason. Not only did VW decide to give South America a gift by continuing to manufacture them well into the 2000’s here, but driving anything bigger in Mexico City is trouble.
Over 9 million people are crammed into this sprawling urban mess, and the traffic is either stopped for miles in all directions, or moving in a chaotic unregulated flow that’s an art to navigate. Cars pass within inches of each other at any speed. Roads have room for four lanes, yet none are marked. Busses travel the wrong way in traffic. Or is traffic moving the wrong way at the busses? Entire four person families fly by on scooters, squeezing between cars, no helmets, holding groceries and smiling as if the danger doesn’t even exist. Inadequate and worn down brakes scream at all times from all directions. I now understand why the Mexican kids back home “Pep Boys” out their cars. Why bother actually putting real chrome, or a real exhaust on your Honda if a runaway ford fiesta is just going to rip it all off at anytime. This is not a place for a car you care about. Did I mention there are a lot of VW Beatles here?
Black smoke pours out of tail pipes. You can actually see it rise from the street. There is no point trying to avoid it. It rises up and becomes one with the smog filled sky. After a round trip across town windows up or not, you will smell like you just rode a motorcycle across country. The exhaust smell mixes with street food to give you a strange smell of spicy delicious diesel. Outside of the Zocalo the streets are littered with trash as if every home and place of business collectively walked out and dumped a can of it right in front of the dwelling. It piles up, spreads out, and blows by like plastic crumpled tumbleweeds. Occasionally between Beatles you’ll see a person pass by with a straw broom and a 50-gallon drum, the mutli-tool of containers, welded onto a bike. Sometimes even two or three official sanitation workers will pass on a more modern version of this mobile trashcan. I’ve even seen them sweeping, but it’s a battle they are severely losing. Mexico City is the street sweepers Dunkirk.
The only thing more plentiful than the trash is people. They walk, run, or stroll by. But mostly they seem to stand around. They hang out in front of the thousands of shops that line every street, no matter how rich or poor. The street scene here is one of small storefronts and eateries. Small openings that lead into long trailer like shops selling all kinds of junk in all kinds of neighborhoods. It’s like driving down the boardwalk at Ocean City MD, for miles. The entire economy of Mexico City as far as I can tell consists of selling trinkets to each other. The only thing that changes is the junk. Near the Zocalo it’s jewelry, hats, suits. The next ring is cell phones, electronics, bootleg DVD’s and software. Stores advertise that they sell bootlegs. Guys stand on the street wearing cards that have listed all the pirated software they have, while the “policia” stand right in front of them, either not caring, or about to pounce. Apparently it can be either. Further out it becomes T-shirts, toys, and general cheap crap. The kind of stuff you see at flea markets. In some cases once you enter the “small” storefront it opens up into a collective flee market, a maze hidden from the street by stands selling even more junk. Even further out the crap becomes even cheaper, until it’s latterly just junk. Piles of it are set up in little booths or stores intermixed with auto shops of every specialty. Welding, grinding, more welding right there for VW Bugs to watch as they either pass by, or sit in traffic.
The only constants in the stores are the food vendors, and medium sized parties. The food is self-explanatory everyone need to eat. And come to think of it, so are the parties. On every block some store or business blasts out either music, or some Shanghi Sally messages through bullhorns. Depending on the neighborhood, the musical ones seem to attract large groups that turn these audio adverts into a sidewalk party that many times spills out into those already dangerous streets.
If Mexico City’s population is really 9 million people, at least half a million to a million are policia. I have never seen this many cops before. They line the streets, even in the Zocalo. Hell, in the Zocalo they literally line the streets one every few feet. They stand in groups at intersections, in front of stores, on top of buildings, and anywhere else you can think of. As far as I can tell though, they don’t seem to care about much. Or perhaps not that much is against the law here. Jay walking, speeding, blocking traffic, bootlegging (sometimes), all seem to be fine. It’s as if they are waiting for a branch of criminal that has yet to arrive. Or a war that has yet to come. Or did it already happen? There are Policia stations with cops on the roof and razor wire that look like they have been shelled, but no shelling has happened here in 80 years. It’s as if they are just official bystanders, watching the decay of a modern city. Reporting to the government on the decays progress. Or is it the birth of a modern city, from an old they are witnessing? Hard to say at this point. Further investigation is warranted.