Off to Santa Barbara | California | Living in Mexico

Off to Santa Barbara

We're presently on a Continental Airlines Boeing 737, flying a roughly latitudinal great circle between Houston and Los Angeles. We began at 6 AM this morning in San Miguel and should arrive in Santa Barbara about 6 PM. Our purpose is to spend most of September helping Samantha with wedding arrangements. Oh yeah, and to get the hell out of San Miguel de Allende until after all the Independencia and San Miguelada madness is over and done with.

Our driver, Manuel, arrived to pick us up at 5:50AM.

OK. I know what you're gonna say.

"They have a driver? First you tell us they have a cook and a maid and a gardener. Now you're telling me they have a driver too? Well, excu-use me!"

Would you believe that our driver is an economy measure? I thought not.

Some months ago, the former President of the San Miguel School of English, where I teach as a volunteer, told me he was going to visit the school's treasurer, who lives some miles outside of town. He said, "I'll just call my driver, and he'll take me there this morning."

I was very impressed. I said, "Bob! You have a driver! I didn't know you were a millionaire."

"I'm not," he said. "I just realized one day that having a driver was cheaper than owning and operating a car. Think about it. A taxi anywhere in town costs $15 pesos—$1.35 U. S. Rides to Costco in Querétaro cost proportionately. And if you pay a taxi driver to take you shopping there, he'll wait for you, since he's gonna make his whole day's income on that one trip. Now, if you figure depreciation and license fees and gas and the high maintenance costs that you pay, what with everything shaking loose on cobblestone roads, you can afford a whole lot of taxi rides for the cost of owning a car. Plus, if you make a deal with a driver to use him exclusively, he'll give you a deal on rates. So, I got rid of my car, and whenever I need to go someplace, I just call him on his cell. When I'm not using him, he just drives his taxi around town picking up tourists or whatever. So I save money, and he makes more than he would if I weren't in the picture."

Well, hell! The more I thought about it, the more I realized what a good idea that was. Jean and I began hailing taxis. Soon, Jean ran into Manuel, an affable 30-year-old man who speaks colloquial English that he learned while working in Missouri. He's an excellent driver, skillful and safe, and he understands gringo mentality, so there's not so much cultural confusion. Like when I order scrambled eggs and the waiter asks (in Spanish), "You want bacon with that?" and I say "Sure," and what I get is bacon crumbled into my eggs.

So, now we have a driver. And he picked us up this morning to take us to Benito Juaréz International Airport (BJX) in León.

An economy measure, you see.

Most flights out of BJX are via cramped little commuter planess. We're going to LA via Houston, 'cause that's the way it is. We go most everywhere via Houston.

It's a beautiful day for flying. The sky is full of thunderheads. The countryside is green and blooming from the rains.

The pilot sets the flaps of the Embrauer 145 to 9° and we take off. In the distance we see the mountain that overlooks the city of Guanajuato, the huge statue of El Pípila (the wanker) at its summit.

Jean complains that she wasn't allowed to bring water and chapstick into the cabin. Dehydration surely is immanent. Our flight attendant, beefy Donald Price, whose male pattern baldness shines pinkly through his gelled and spiked hair, saves her with the quickest drink service we've ever experienced. Jean lives to see another day.

We're served a breakfast that might have come out of one of those tienditas that specialize in orange styrofoam with chile sauce. Our meal consists of three cello-paks of corporate food that seems more like litter than nutrition. We got:

• New York Style Cinnamon Bagel Chips (New York Style? I don't think so. And what the hell is a bagel chip, anyway?)
• Quaker Breakfast Bars—Very Berry Muffin flavor. (Sssweeeeet! A fruit flavor not found in nature. Because Very Berries aren't found in nature. I could only manage one bite.)
• Prize brand Natural Raisins. (Probably strip-mined. They were the only thing I ate.)

Can airline food get any worse?

The two-hour ride out of Mexico was up to its usual standards: A small disintegrating aircraft bouncing around in turbulent air carrying 24 people jammed into tiny seats listening to a squalling baby.

Can air travel get any worse?

Here on the Houston-LA leg, we got upgraded to Business Class, so things are looking better. Waiting for takeoff, we're surrounded by businessmen yelling into cell phones. It's annoying, but unlike infants, they have to stop when the aircraft door closes.

Still in store for us is car rental and a drive up the PCH to Santa Barbara. I'm innocently anticipating that I'm gonna enjoy it. We'll see.