Brave New World

Recently,  I traveled to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. I realize that many people think traveling to Mexico is reckless at best, suicidal at worst. While I’m aware of the depraved violence that has taken root in Mexico, I also know that San Miguel de Allende is neither a border town nor located on a major drug trafficking trail. I felt safe, but I still was careful. (Some years ago I drove a Honda SUV from Los Angeles to Chiapas, Mexico, a journey I would not undertake now). Instead of flying into the small, neighboring airport in Leon, about an hour away from the colonial city I intended to visit, I had to fly from Los Angeles to Mexico City. Arriving too late to get a direct bus from terminal norte to San Miguel, at the airport I bought a ticket on a first class bus (Primera Plus) to Queretero where I could hire a taxi to travel the final half-hour and deliver me to my doorstep.

The Mexico City airport is large, and I wheeled two bags (one with 500 tea bags, a dozen bottles of vitamins, and a handful of natural fiber toothbrushes that a friend requested) along tunnel-like corridors as I looked for my bus. Usually, when I’m in foreign airports – Bangkok and Guatemala City come to mind – I’m amazed at how old, dirty, and inefficient USA airports seem in comparison. But the airport in Mexico City did not feel new or shiny, even though it is brightly lit with shops, food stalls, and money exchanges. Toilets, however, are difficult to find. Out of breath (the city is high and has horrible air quality) I finally found the exit to my bus. An armed guard checked my ticket before waving me through. I rode an escalator down one floor and found myself outside (although not on the streets). There was a line of people at a security check.

I know that trains in the USA started security checks a few years back, but I seldom ride trains in the USA and haven’t taken a bus across country since … the disco era? I surrendered my luggage, and it was passed through the same kind of X-ray machine used inside any airport. I was commanded to remove my jacket and hat and then my belt. I emptied my pockets. I walked through a metal detector. After clearing the metal detector a young woman in a uniform then patted me down in a manner that was – thorough. I’ve had dates that fondled me less (many of them). Finally, clothed again and  slightly aroused by the young woman’s careful attention to my anatomy, I checked my bags to go in the luggage bin, and then I boarded. As I settled into my reclining, first class bus seat, I thought about what I had just experienced. I thought about how everything I had experienced was designed to search for guns. Then I thought about all the states here in El Norte rushing to pass legislation that will allow almost anyone to carry a concealed gun. I wondered if I would feel safer on a US bus knowing that half the passengers are armed with semi-automatic guns.  Uh, no! I won’t.

Mexico is poverty-ridden, corrupt, and dangerous. But the country actually does not feel crazy. I wonder how long I will say the same about my own country (or maybe I already started believing we’re all crazy after 2001). Even so, I wonder how long it will be before US bus drivers replace “welcome aboard, folks” with “okay folks, lock and load.” Now that is crazy!

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