Welcome Home to San Miguel | Mexico | Living in Mexico

Welcome Home to San Miguel

We've made it back to San Miguel or Bagdad, one or the other, judging from the sound of the shelling overhead. We walked right into a festival weekend. This one is the Fiesta de los Locos, one of the noisier and more annoying ones. Thousands of people pour in from the countryside, don costumes and papier maché masks, get drunk and dance through the streets for six hours in a long parade that brings the town to a halt more effectively than a Parisian civil servants' strike. The month of May in San Miguel is truly NFG: Not for gringos. I TOLD Jean I wanted to extend our stay in Japan, but did she listen? Humpf!

Things have been running downhill since we got off the plane in Atlanta. Uncaring service providers, disintegrating facilities, litter and grime were most obvious, having just come from Japan where these problems are essentially nonexistent. Waiting for our flight to Houston, we ate an unbelievably fatty lunch at the only sit-down restaurant in our terminal. The menu said, "Turkey Sandwich." What we got was a salad consisting of the tough outer leaves from a head of romaine thoroughly wetted down with gloppy ranch dressing, about a half a pound of turkey and a similar amount of American cheese food product on a huge bun slathered with mayonnaise, and a quart of french fries. All of it tasted dull and unexciting. There must have been 1500-2000 calories in that meal--pretty much over my daily limit if I'm gonna pass inspection by Dr. Hoffman during my checkup in October.

As I nibbled about 15% of my lunch, I noticed a grossly obese man shoveling a large mass of greasy food into his maw. As it turns out, he was on our flight. I was concerned that he might be seated in our row. Jean and I had booked a "straddle;" where you reserve, say, seats 12A and 12C in the hopes that nobody is gonna want 12B, giving you poor man's first-class seats.

Fortunately, he took a window seat far back. A diminutive man took the aisle, and no one took the middle. This was a blessing as Mr. Large put the arm of his seat up before even trying to sit. His buttocks occupied about two-thirds of the middle seat as well as all of his own. His meaty arms were jammed against the window and the little man in the aisle seat. I wonder how he was going to handle reclining, given that the control for one of his seats was mounted on the arm he had folded back and was now located in the center of his back. And there was no way his pudgy arms were gonna reach behind his back. I felt sorry for the guys immediately in front of him because his belly was gonna severely restrict their reclining room, sort of like they had seats just in front of a rear bulkhead.

I know all this because I knelt in my seat facing backwards, so I could observe the whole circus. I was hoping someone would come along to claim the center seat, setting up an entertaining confrontation, but alas, there were a few open seats on the plane, and the one between him and the tiny man on the aisle, and the one between me and Jean remained untaken.

There was a story in the news recently about a large woman who sued a major airline because they made her buy
two seats. She claimed racial discrimination, but thankfully, the judge didn't see it that way.

Before boarding, we sat in the Atlanta airport, listening to inane public service announcements blasting over speakers throughout the terminal: "This will be your 
final intermediate boarding call..." The announcers' voices had a hectoring quality, as if we cattle were too stupid to find our way to the gates and onto our flights. "Boarding is now closed for flight #1234 for ..." (Gee. I guess I shouldn't bother hurrying now.)

In Houston, we changed planes. For the run from Houston to either León or Querétaro, Continental Airlines flies the small Embraer 145 XR, which seats about 30 passengers in ten rows of three, one seat on the left of the aisle, two on the right. Since it ain't much of a plane, they don't provide much of a pilot. I think you need a high school diploma and about a hundred hours of multi-engine time to qualify for a job up front.

The callow youth piloting ours came on the intercom: "Welcome aboard Flight #1234 for ... uh, ah ... Kwer-uh-TAR-oh ... I think I pronounced it correctly." This caused considerable discussion among the passengers about whether he had any real idea where we were going, and where we were likely to land.

The plane took off, and an infant two rows ahead of us began squalling at the top of its lungs, which behavior it persisted in for most of the flight. At least there were no chickens aboard.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we've reached our cruising altitude of 28,000 feet and I'm gonna turn off the seat belt ... Oh gee. The sign
is off. Well, we're just about an hour into our flight to ... ah ... Mexico ... (blowing and puffing noises) ... er, ah ... Ker-RAH-ta-ro ..." The Mexican behind me mutters,"It's CaDET-ah-do, you idiot."

The infant's screeching makes a crescendo. It's mother stands up and executes a major diaper change right there in the tiny cabin. A rich barnyard redolence adulterates the limited air supply. The lone flight attendant walks by the scene and smiles indulgently at the smelly little tyke.


We land at the tiny and notoriously corrupt airport in Querétaro. We sail through immigration. We get a green light at customs. YES!

The shuttle van picks us up, along with a woman who is visiting San Miguel to see her daughter. The driver makes the quintessentially Mexican move of taking us to San Miguel via the winding back roads, so that he can pocket the money his boss gave him to pay the toll on the autopista. We enter San Miguel. Then he informs us he has never been to San Miguel. Did we know where San Francisco Street was? 

Now, San Francisco Street was nowhere near anyplace either Jean and I or the other passenger wanted to go, but I figured he must have his reasons, so I directed him to a narrow, winding, steep road that enters town from the east, instead of the highway to the south that would have taken the three of us directly where we wanted to go. We immediately run into a huge traffic jam. Nothing is moving. No turnoffs are available that are wide enough for his van to negotiate.

Yes. We've run into the goddamn Fiesta de los Locos.

A half-hour of creeping along, and we come to a small side street that'll allow us to go around the jam. I advise him we're gonna abandon the quest for San Francisco Street. I ask him to turn onto the side street. Then, block by block, I tell him how to get to the visiting mother's place. 

"Derecho," I say.

He asks, "Derecho?"

"Si," I say. "Por diez cuadras."

He comes to the next intersection.

He asks, "Derecho?"

"Si," I say. "Por nuevo cuadras."

He comes to the next intersection.

He asks, "Derecho?"

"Si," I say. "Por ocho cuadras."

He comes to ...

We finally drop the lady off and backtrack to my street, Aldama.

In front of La Conexión, an illegally parked pickup truck has narrowed the street too much for him to squeeze through. Now, any other driver in San Miguel would do the practical thing and put his right wheels on the sidewalk to get by. But this kid, who has been passing cars on blind curves and hills all night long, suddenly is too chicken to continue on. Cars are piling up behind us. He puts the van in reverse and yells out his window at the following traffic that the road is blocked and he's backing out.

A Chinese fire drill ensues. Some people are trying to back up. Others are honking impatiently. And all of them are making those illogical moves characteristic of Mexican drivers, none of whom have ever been to drivers' ed. Eventually he gets turned around. We go down Pila Seca another block and turn onto Jesús. More narrows. More illegally parked cars. But he makes it through. Up Tenerias and then it's a right turn onto Aldama.

I advise him that the turn is too tight for him to take in one go; that he's gonna have to make a K-turn to get around it. Ignoring my advice, he manages to hit the car-goring stone conveniently situated at the corner anyway. Crumple. He soldiers on. Damn the torpedoes! Finally we are home. We tip him $70 pesos. Into the house we go, where Rosie greets us. The ladies have left a few lights on, and left the house spic-and-span, the woodwork gleaming from a fresh application of aciete rojo.

We go to bed with Rose huddled between us, she shaking because of the noise of the fireworks.