How can I say this? It seems as if written information is not reliable here. All written information. I feel bad to level such a sweeping critique, but lately I’m having to adapt to it. A store has five separate OPEN signs hanging in its windows, but it’s closed until next week. Four consecutive hotels have giant banners outside advertising a cost per night, but their cheapest room is three times that price. The distance signs on the highway to Guadalajara were sometimes off by thirty kilometers or more, sometimes counting by random increments in the wrong direction; the city just kept getting farther and farther away as I approached. What can you do? Learn to roll with it, never let it give you bile, accept that you can only get the truth from a human being. It’s not so wrong once you think of it that way.
In general I’ve found this travel to be humbling. Not only because I am small and at the mercy of my surroundings, but because I don’t feel like I need to judge anyone here. In my own city and country, as a citizen, it was my duty to shout at horrible drivers, as surely as voting. So as to contribute to the discourse. To enforce the social contract as it pertains to turn signals. But because I am not a citizen here, if someone steps on my toes, I feel liberated from judgment, free to do nothing, as I never have before.
Yesterday in this beautiful and enchanting city, I was awed to discover a writhing vortex of consumerism the likes of which I have never in my life beheld. The market is built in the concrete and brick style of Pike Place Market, but it’s the size and shape of Key Arena, and its interior space is a multi-tiered claustrophobic labyrinth of thousands of closet-sized stalls, each one as packed with stuff as seems geometrically possible. Each one contains a sales person buried up to their neck in the shoes or jeans or plastic toys or gadgets or bootlegged DVDs. The corridors between them are three feet wide and only a few inches taller than my head. Haystacks of leather goods. Glittering oceans of makeup. Mountains of meat and entrails. It was sort of terrible and insane, but it all delighted me too. Here was the manifested destruction of the world as surely as any Wal Mart, yet it was not faceless and sterile, but deeply human.
Later I was riding a bus to nowhere when a man climbed aboard with a speaker system strapped to his chest. He stood at the front of the bus through five straight stops, blasting Looney Tunes theme music and shouting at us about how we needed to buy a portable DVD player like the one he held before us. No one so much as looked at him, but his resolve was unshakeable. I began to see how I was mistaken if I thought that Mexico is just echoing America’s globalized style. In many respects, Mexico is more truly American than America.
It’s perpetually sunny and 80 degrees out, but the trees here are all shedding brown leaves, and people are walking around in wool coats. It gives me a surreal twinge of homesickness as I try to well up some celebratory impulse for my first hundred days on this road.