We were going to depart San Miguel the way we’d come: some combination of buses and cabs. San Miguel de Allende is about a 3 1/2 hour drive from Mexico City and it’s not the easiest thing in the world to get there. In retrospect, given how tiring the trip was overall, it probably would’ve killed us if we’d done the bus thing again on the return, and fortunately, some benevolent family members decided to pay for the expensive luxury of a driver to take us directly to the airport hotel (we were leaving at 9:20 the next morning).
So, we get picked up in this big SUV by Freddie, who speaks perfect (albeit heavily-accented) English because he lived for a while in Dallas and Cincinatti.
He was friendly and, once we drew him out a bit, chatty. He has three kids, the oldest in junior college studying to be a teacher, which costs Freddy $160 a month. He told us that minimum wage in Mexico is $60 a week. For this drive, about 8 hours round trip, he was paid 300 pesos or about $27 (although we ended up more than doubling that with our tip; and to be clear, what he was paid was a fraction of what we paid the company). He worked for some time in a factory in Mexico that was so dangerous that an ambulance came every day for an injured worker. It came out that he crossed into the U.S. several times to work illegally and send money home. The last time he was caught, though, and under the new mandatory immigration laws, was jailed for three (?) months, and so he says he can’t try to go to the States again (next time he’d be jailed for a year).
Talking with Freddy was humbling. He seemed “like us,” and yet his perhaps-unattainable fantasy was to have a steady, non-dangerous job that would pay for his kids’ education. Specifically, he’d like to start his own tourism company — have his own car to drive visitors around San Miguel.
Driving into Mexico City at night was kind of eerie. Freddy claimed it now had a population of 25 million — I just checked on Wikipedia and greater Mexico City has 19 million, it says. You feel as if you’re entering an enormous presence — the air is terrible, of course, and you can kind of feel that population surrounding you, just this sense of so many people crowded in. The electric poles have little spider-webs on the top — illegal hookups from people in the neighborhood. Freddy says that he’s scared to enter the city b/c corrupt policemen will stop him on some pretext and demand a $20 or $40 payoff.
I should add that 13 or so years ago we spent some time in Mexico City and had a wonderful time — it is full of wonderful parks, museums and restaurants.